Monday, November 28, 2011

VOTW: 2012 Olympic Hopefuls Training at California Rowing Club



This week's VOTW comes to us from CRC head coach Bernhard Stomporowski, and features 16 athletes in contention for eight seats in London, at the outset of training camp (the number of athletes will likely grow next month). In addition to shots of the rowing (controlled rate pieces, roughly 26 s/m), there is also footage of the facilities and the available stretch of water, which we featured on RowingNews.com when Stomporowski first arrived in Oakland. While the group is not yet fully assembled, there is already a great deal of talent on hand (including David Banks, Josh Inman, Ty Otto, Mike Gennaro, Nareg Guregian, Steve Kasprzyk, Tom Peszek, Joe Spencer, and the Winklevoss twins, among others)–Mike Teti will have plenty of horsepower from which to mould an eight, and we are very excited to see what he can do in 2012.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The 2012 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race: The Challenge Has Been Accepted



According to the official Twitter feed of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the Challenge has been accepted as of 2pm PST today, and the 2012 edition of the regatta has been scheduled for 7 April at 14:45. The above video takes a look inside the Autumn training 'programme' at Oxford, with some insights into the nature of the competition from Oxford Blue and GB international Andrew Triggs-Hodge, OUBC head coach Sean Bowden, as well as 2012 OUBC President Karl Hudspith. This piece is the first in a series of six that will be produced by Oxford University.

For more on the Xchanging Boat Race, please visit the official website of the event. And stay tuned for more updates from the Tideway as we draw closer to the main event!

-RR

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Movember Updates: British and Canadians Going Stache for Stache

Megan Kalmoe's rating system is back in action, with the top 'tash talent' from the GB squad under scrutiny on her blog as the final days of Movember approach (see here for Kalmoe's latest post)–see the 'Rowing Chat' Twitter widget on the right side of the page for more updates. Not to be outdone, the Canadian men's team is also testing the limits of social awareness with some outstanding mustaches of its own, as evidenced by Kevin Light's classic photo of Rob Gibson and Will Crothers. While it's all in good fun, there is still time to support the cause that has given rise to the competition, and there are a number of athletes with fundraising pages in the fight against cancer–for a list of those mustachioed GB rowers seeking donations for cancer research, please see the official website of British Rowing.

So far, we're giving the edge on 'Movember Photo of the Year' to Crothers and Gibson–if you think you've got what it takes, then ship it on over, but the above is going to be a tough one to top this year!

Speaking of Kevin Light, he has just released his full-length DVD, 'The Spracklen Philosophy.' We've seen it, and it's good. Look for an interview with Kevin coming this Friday to RowingNews.com, about what inspired the film, how it was put together, and what it means in terms of Spracklen's legacy.

-RR

Monday, November 21, 2011

Video of the Week: The Men's Eight Final in Barcelona



This week's VOTW comes from the 1992 Olympic Games, which are on our minds as we draw ever closer to London 2012, as it was in Barcelona that Great Britain's Greg Searle won his first Olympic medal–a gold in one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport (for our VOTW feature on that race, click here). The men's eight in '92 was extremely aggressive, with stroke ratings sticking to 38 and above from the leading crews, and markedly different technique from what we see from the majority of international crews today. The race also features one of the smallest margins between gold and bronze of any Olympic final–as the saying goes, it's a 'game of inches.'

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 18, 2011

RR Interview: Beijing Gold Medalist and Reigning World Champion Mark Hunter of Team GB

Hunter (left) and Purchase after the A final in Bled (Photo: B. Kitch)
Mark Hunter is a racer, through and through. From his earliest days in the sport, he exhibited the right combination of talent and determination that it takes to succeed, and in September of this year he and fellow GB lightweight Zac Purchase successfully defended their world championship title (for a video interview with Hunter and Purchase from Bled following the race, click here). Next year in Eton, Mark and Zac will look to defend their Olympic crown on home water–something that means a great deal both of them as they embark on the path to London 2012. Here, Mark shares a little about his past, present, and hopes for the future with RR.

RR: You've been involved in the sport of rowing for quite some time now, and are currently among those GB oarsmen favo(u)red to win a second gold medal in 2012, in your home town (well, I guess technically closer to Slough, but near your hometown, anyway). How did your experience of rowing begin, and how much does the possibility of winning on home water add to your own and to team GB's determination to succeed in London?

MH: My experience of rowing began way back in 1992 when I was 14. I started the sport at a place called Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club on the River Thames. I use to wade in the mud to boat and then row between the Thames Barrier and Tower Bridge with ships and tankers creating a lot of wash. The thing that made me want to be an Olympian was watching the Barcelona Olympics on TV, watching the Searle brothers win gold made me want to embark on that journey to becoming an Olympic Champion.

Winning gold in Beijing was incredible and to achieve that was too special for words. London is the only thing that will be able to top that. Winning on home water would be something utterly unique and special in a very different way, with all my family, friends there and the immense support that every British athlete will be getting from the British public.

RR: In the US system, there is a tendency to change lineups nearly every year. When you and Zac Purchase first rowed the 2x, was there an immediate sense that it could work? Has the lineup ever changed during training?

MH: When we first got together we were two very fast single scullers who could move our sculls quickly, but we didn't have the skills to harness that in the 2x with other people. From the moment we got in the boat together, however, we knew it could go places. There is a saying that 2x either works or doesn't; and it's not something which you can make, it just clicks. But a double does need time to progress and develop so each athlete can learn about the other and work on helping each other with their weaknesses, and, most important of all, how to get the best out of each other. We have tried other combinations in training, but we know ours is unique as we have worked hard to establish ourselves as the best at what we do and the way we move and work together. It's about us as a crew now–not as individuals.

RR: During the journey toward Beijing, you and Zac posted better and better results on the World level, in pursuit of what had been a very dominant 2x in Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist. After taking bronze at Worlds in 2007, was there a feeling that all you two needed was time together in the lineup to find yourselves on the top of the podium?

MH: Our results did improve over the 18 months leading in to Beijing, and if you look back at the event all bronze medalist crews bomb out the following year, so we were up against it. We worked really hard behind the scenes with our coach and support team, we had a great plan on how we were going to improve and change the colour of our medal from Bronze to Gold. We covered every angle possible so we could give ourselves the best chance of Winning and make British rowing history.

RR: 2008 was a golden year, with three World Cup wins going into Beijing, and an Olympic Gold at the end of it. During that run, did you feel any added pressure being at the top of the heap? Or were you feeling still more confident as you were clearly at the top of your game?

MH: It was a perfect World Cup season in terms of results but we were never totally ready for those events, and to be honest we won most of the races because we are a good racing crew. But arriving in Beijing we were favourites and back home we were one of Team GB dead certs for Gold, so the pressure was building along with the expectation.

It was a strange week of racing at the Games. I felt in the shape of my life and somehow knew it was our time to win and the only way it wouldn't happen would be if we did something stupid. But the pressure was mounting as the week went on, and I became quieter and quieter because at my previous Games I came last in the LM4-, so this was truly my chance of going from the very bottom to the very top! The easiest way for me to give people an idea of being favourites at the Olympics, would be comparing it to sitting your college/school exams. Your studying is my training, every day turning up doing the best job possible to learn and improve. The world cups are like mid terms, and the Olympic final is like doing the final exam hoping the work you've done day to day will pay off on that final test where you have to get 100%. The only plus side of an Olympic final you know the result straight away and picking up your degree with the world watching!

RR: After Beijing, you took a year away from the UK and from training at the elite level, in order to pursue coaching in Los Angeles, California as a member of the UCLA Women's Rowing coaching staff. When you returned to full-time training after the Spring of 2009, it was clear that you were ready to pick up right where you left off in 2008. How important was it for you to have that time away, and how do you think it helped you as you stepped back into the Olympic training cycle?

MH: My time coaching at UCLA was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. To leave the UK after all the expectation of winning at the Olympics and be able to completely switch off and, in my eyes, have the best job in the world was unbelievable. I was living the Californian dream in Santa Monica by the beach, coaching in Marina del Ray then on campus coaching at UCLA– how does it get any better then that? At that point I had no interest of competing in London as I was enjoying normal life and I'd accomplished my life-long goal and dream. The Chief Coach at UCLA Amy Fuller Kearney was the one who planted the seed in my mind of a home Olympics after she told me about her experiences of stepping away from the sport, and the WOW factor of a home Olympics (Atlanta). Then after watching my novice/freshman girls race made me remember why I started rowing and why I enjoyed racing so much. Looking back now, that break helped me hugely as you realise that there is a real world out there, let me know that I can survive in it, and also that I had some unfinished business with rowing and needed to come back to defend my title in front of a home crowd.

RR: While you were away, Zac Purchase struggled for some time with a viral illness that hampered his training, and caused him to take Spring and Summer 2009 off as well. When you returned, was he ready to jump back into training? How long did it take until the two of you were once again physiologically ready?

MH: We started at a identical points having missed a year of racing and both believed the standard of the LM2x hadn't moved on. It was pretty much where we left it, but the depth of the event had grown.

We knew we had a lot of work to do as we were there mentally, but not physically, up until the World Champs in New Zealand. Winning at our first world cup back racing in the 2x in Munich was great but we purely did that with our skill of racing as a double. Then in Lucerne the bubble of winning was burst when we got 5th. We hadn't lost in 19 races until that point. That was really the turning point and what we needed. After that we trained better and harder than we ever had before and it was amazing and exciting to see how much more we both were able to get out of ourselves compared with 2008.

RR: Your performances in Karapiro and in Bled have strongly stated that you and Zac are the 2x to beat in the coming season. In the US, we often use the saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' With things going so well, has the structure of your training plan changed at all? Or has it remained consistent?

MH: We performed well in Karapiro and due to the challenging conditions we never got to race over the full track, due to winning all our races in the first 1000m. We didn't get to use all our hard work from our intense training because we were never really pushed. As a combination I suppose we are the crew to beat, but the event has other great combinations which we always respect and enjoy racing against.

Going in to this year's World Champs in Bled we had no racing from the World Cup season to look back on. We got back in the boat 6 weeks before Bled and were essentially starting from scratch. We knew we had a lot to do and we knew it was going to be quite stressful and challenging, but it would put us in a position to challenge the inform crews.

Our speed over the 6 weeks was increasing all the time, but we wouldn't be the fittest crew in the event, so our skills of racing as a unit would need to be even better than before.  We progressed really well through the regatta and made improvements and stepped up each round.

In the final we knew what we had to do and how we would win. When I look back I think this was our most satisfying victory as we were nowhere near our best, but could still turn it on and make things happen when we needed to. For me this summed up why we are such a unique and successful combination, and showed our total belief and trust in each other.

At home we still have to go through the selection process just like anyone else, which can make it difficult to totally focus on the big races at London 2012. The people after your seat don't look at the bigger picture they just want to beat you there and then, so it's always important we put in solid performances as individuals at trials and testing along the way. I can't tell you about the training plan as it's top secret, but all you need to know is we are working very hard!

RR: Following the London Olympic Games, do you have a sense for where you'd like your rowing career to take you? Did the experience of coaching at UCLA spark an interest in future coaching opportunities, at home or abroad? Or are you purely focused on your preparation as you build toward defending home water at Eton?

MH: After 2012 I'm keen to enjoy life once again, but I won't be dashing off and leaving the UK in the same way. It is hard to think about things after as I'm totally focused on having my ultimate row on August 4th, 2012!

I did enjoy my experience of coaching at UCLA very much, It would be something I'm keen to carry on with and maybe try and get to the top in once I'm finished competing. With my free time outside of training I do enjoy talking to youngsters and trying to inspire them in to following their dreams and making them understand it's a lot of hard work but anything is possible. I also enjoy speaking at corporate events, which involves me telling my story of how you can turn things around (Athens to Beijing), using certain attributes in the right way -- so I'm keen on some (or all) forms of teaching!

Thanks very much to Mark Hunter for taking the time. Also, along with many other members of the GB national team, Mark has a 'mospace' in honor of Movember, through which you can donate to the fight against cancer (direct link: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/1870014/)


-RR

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Avoiding Burnout

Tideway from Putney Bridge (Photo: © B. Kitch)
Frankly, I think avoiding burnout in rowing is pretty simple–don't expect to get burnt-out and you might find that you'll do just fine. Like lots of things in life, the more people talk about a concept or phenomenon, the more likely it is that it will come to fruition. I think 'burnout' is a prime example of the power of suggestion at work.

Look at some of the all-time greats in rowing, like Steve Redgrave, Elisabeta Lipa and Drew Ginn. Ginn, for example, has gone through about as much as anyone can go through in terms of adversity, battling serious, career-threatening injuries again and again, and yet he continues to not only row at a high level but also produce podium results (as has his Beijing pair partner, Duncan Free). We can also look to other sports, such as running, which is much more intense in terms of the toll it takes on the body over the long-term (given the impact to the lower limbs). One of the world's most famous runners, Haile Gebrselassie, who grew up running 10 kilometers to school and back daily as a young child, has continued to have tremendous success in the marathon at the age of 38. Although he is continually asked by the media when he is going to retire, and actually announced his retirement in 2010 after the New York City Marathon, he reneged on that announcement only a few short days later.

Of course, it is normal to be overwhelmed and exhausted at times, both mentally and physically, especially in the midst of a difficult training block, or in the moments right before or after a major peak. However, instead of expecting to be burnt-out at some point, simply allow yourself to step back and take a break. That is, give yourself a breather when this happens, but don't be so quick to pull the trigger and call it 'burnout.' The feeling of being overwhelmed is natural–it is a product of the necessary training in what is certainly a demanding endurance sport, which features peaks and valleys in intensity. The danger lies in the mental perception of being overwhelmed–once you tell yourself that you have reached the semi-permanent state of 'burnout,' you'll have trouble changing your outlook, and perhaps end a career in rowing prematurely because of it. How often does someone finish a collegiate rowing career, only to never take another stroke on the erg or on the water ever again, save the random alumni row once every few years? I don't think collegiate swimmers or runners stay out of the pool or off the roads as much as rowers stay away from the erg and boat. Because aerobic endurance and technical skill/savvy are huge factors in rowing, it is important that elite athletes stay in it for the long haul if they are going to reach their best. The commonly held belief is that it takes something in the range of 10,000 hours of practice to attain a level of expertise in a given exercise.

How common is the phrase, "I'm burnt-out from my high school rowing career, and I've lost the passion," or the ever popular, "It isn't fun anymore," when someone decides to 'hang up the spikes?' If you find yourself saying this, I would venture to bet that you probably never had the passion. Whose job is it to make it fun? In the simplest of terms, rowing is a racing sport. It is fun to challenge yourself and to race others. The nature of the sport itself doesn't change–the difference is that the level gets higher, the training gets harder and the competition gets better as you progress. As a result, it becomes harder to win, and harder to have success.

I understand the idea that heavy training loads in a highly demanding and competitive environment without perceived success can wear down one's psyche, but I don't see how it can lead to a permanent state of burnout. It's as though there is a perception that we each have a finite amount of energy to be spent on a given sport, like a light bulb. What's in order, when this happens, is a chat with a coach and a re-evaluation of progress, focusing on the positive, and addressing any problem areas with practical, potential solutions.

If we look at rowing compared to other sports, it becomes clear that, especially in the United States, rowing is not among those sports pursued the longest. By the time gymnasts, soccer players, tennis players or swimmers get to college, they have probably been involved in their sport for something in the range of 10-12 years. By the time the most experienced rowers in the United States get to college, they typically have less than half of that experience in their chosen sport. And while rowing is certainly intense in terms of year round training and racing, it is common for top-prospect Division I athletes in sports like swimming and soccer to train twice a day year round, and to play on club teams as well as high school teams. Obviously, the phenomenon of burnout is not unique to rowing, but it is alarming how prevalent it is given the relative length of the average career in the sport among young Americans. Simply removing the potential roadblock of 'expected burnout' will not solve the problem entirely, but I believe it could have a substantial impact. The problem of burnout can further be avoided by structuring an informed and balanced training plan. If coaches constantly push athletes too hard, it will expedite the 'burnout' process.

It is every individual's prerogative to do something with his or her life for a finite period of time, but just call it what it is–say that you don't want to do it anymore. I think that, in many ways, burnout is a construct of our increasingly cautious society. We are constantly living in fear of asking too much of people, or pushing them too hard. Yes, it is important to be wary of pushing young children too hard in year round sports before they can make the decision for themselves about their desire to participate, but, with high school age and older I think we need to take off the 'kid gloves' and let these teenagers and young adults participate in sports as intensely as they wish.

People often find what they are looking for, and if they are constantly checking their figurative pulse to see if they are burnt-out yet, they will most likely discover that they are–like many aspects of sport, and of life, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-Justin and the RR Team

Monday, November 14, 2011

VOTW: 2011 Head of the River Fours, Courtesy of Upper Thames Rowing Club



This week's VOTW comes to us from the Tideway in London, where the 57th Head of the River Fours was held just over a week ago. The video takes us past the Harrods Furniture Depository on the way up to the start, into the starting queue upriver of Chiswick Bridge, and down the course through Barnes and Hammersmith, all from inside the boat–nice bit of editing as well. For complete results from the Fuller's Head of the River Fours, see the official website of the regatta at hor4s.org.uk, as well as Bryan's coverage of the event on RowingNews.com, and check out stelph82's YouTube Channel for more 'first-person' videos from the Thames, including the HOR4s race in full (in two parts), and the Henley Head.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 Fall Speed Orders, and Issues with 2012 Selection



The 2011 Fall Speed Orders are underway, with rumors of 6k times flying around on the Rowing Illustrated boards already (according to these rumors, Warren Anderson and Glenn Ochal posted the top two times, both of them in the 18:30s). (For some footage, courtesy of CRC Head Coach Bernhard Stomprowski, see above.) There are a number of issues to discuss regarding speed orders, but perhaps nothing so grave as the flaws inherent in the selection procedures approved for the men's eight and men's four camps in 2012. While it is obviously an attempt to make the best of a complex situation, it fails in terms of generating clear guidelines for the country's best athletes, for reasons to be discussed below.

The interesting items at the speed order in Chula Vista include Glenn Ochal and Jamie Koven making the switch from sculling (which they have been doing throughout this quadrennium) to sweep, choosing to race in pair combinations (Ochal is paired with Josh Inman, and Koven with Silas Stafford). The broadest interpretation of this move might be that the two scullers feel they have a better chance at a medal next year if they are part of the sweep group, which is a natural conclusion, based on the current situation. Fewer athletes will be selected in the sculling group, and given the job that Mike Teti has done in the past when given the opportunity, he may just be able to pull it off again in London with the men's eight. It seems to me, as an outsider, that the athletes have faith in Teti's ability, and feel that they stand a greater chance at a 'fair shake' in Teti's camp. However, this is speculation on my part.

Getting down to more serious issues, the 2012 selection procedures have some clear flaws that no one seems to be discussing. According to the literature, which has also been posted to the Rowing Illustrated boards, the selection for the M4- will be conducted as follows:
Eight athletes will be invited to a M4- camp in Chula Vista; two athletes will be cut from this camp by January 30th; the final selection will take place in Chula and the four will be named by June 22nd. 
On its face, this seems reasonable. However, now read the selection procedures for the eight (which must be compressed due to the eight's failure to qualify for Olympics):
12 athletes will be invited to final selection camp by January 2nd; Camp may include up to 18 athletes, depending on coaches' discretion; final selection and naming of the eight by April 30th (for Olympic qualification regatta on May 20th).
See any problems with this overarching structure? The athletes that are invited to the fours camp (which will presumably be given 'top priority,' as it is a boat that is already qualified, and the head coach of the men's national team will be running the camp) should be the top athletes in the U.S. going out for sweep boats. The first cuts (Jan 30th) will allow time for those athletes to make the move north to try to break into the eight camp before the boat must be selected, but the final cuts will not be made until June 22nd. This is after the M2- Olympic Trials take place (set for June 11th-15th), so the men from the fours camp would have to take time away from their selection for the four to race the M2- at Trials (it is manageable, however, and should one of the Chula pairs win, they could always turn down the spot, but it would spell an unnecessary training disadvantage for athletes in a boat that is already qualified). There is speculation that Justin Stangel and Tom Peszek have elected to train in the M2- in OKC all year with the goal of winning Trials (and who are moving the boat quite well), though they are racing this weekend in Princeton. Should the two elect to stay in the pair, there would be risks involved, as USRowing literature states that athletes training specifically for the M2- (one of the U.S. men's boats that qualified in Bled) will not be allowed to train in Chula Vista, presumably because it is a Trials event (though this is not stated specifically).

If the four is the priority boat, it simply has to be selected before the eight–if the eight qualifies at the regatta on May 20th, it qualifies the athletes in the eight as well as the boat, not just the boat class (i.e. it must be the exact same lineup that races in London). If you select the 'priority' boat after having chosen the eight, then clearly you are risking losing two of the best athletes in the entire system, as the final group in Chula is cut from six to four, and the M4- is named.

Does this seem like the best possible way to attract the best talent to your 'top priority' selection camp? How is it that none of this is being discussed or addressed anywhere? Thinking from the perspective of the athletes, I would prefer the eight camp, where the selection would be conducted early enough for me to put something else together if need be, and I'd not be at risk of being the fifth-fastest rower in the U.S., sitting at home on my couch and tuning into the television broadcast from London next July. But, then again, that's just me.

As we've stated before, the good news is that there is a great deal of talent in the mix. Here's hoping that the best talent is given the greatest opportunity to succeed at the Olympic Games next year–the real reason for asking the above-posed questions.

-Bryan and the RR Team

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Is it best to be even-keeled?

Sunrise at California Rowing Club (Photo: B. Kitch)
It's 'common wisdom' among top coaches in major professional and collegiate sports (often echoed by athletes) that it is best to avoid letting the highs get too high and the lows get too low in reference to the emotions that accompany successes and failures. While there can certainly be value in not always succumbing to one's emotions, and reacting impulsively and irrationally in the wake of what appears to be an especially good or poor performance, I disagree with the oft stated cliché and feel that coaches and athletes need to both celebrate the successes and take time wallow in the sorrow and disappointment of the failures.

Rowing, as with all sports, is a competitive endeavor. The very word 'athlete' comes from the Greek verb athlein (to compete for a prize), derived from athlos (contest) and athlon (prize). Athletes, then, are those who compete for a trophy. It takes a lot of effort, talent, and hard work to succeed at any level. Winning in rowing is not easy, and as a result the successes should be celebrated and thoroughly enjoyed by all involved. This doesn't mean that every time you win a race or set a personal best in the weight room or on the erg, you should throw a party and proceed to rest on your laurels, but it does mean that you should allow yourself to feel the sense of accomplishment, and fully realize the connection between the work that was put in and the result of that hard work. Although it might be impressive to others as an external show or façade that you aren't celebrating a big win, there is nothing wrong with enjoying something you have earned, whether you wear it on your sleeve or not.

Similarly, the losses and shortcomings should also be recognized with the appropriate emotional response. Failure to let yourself fully embrace the gloom that accompanies a loss or failed performance can be even more detrimental than failing to enjoy the successes, as that period of gloom can also foster new thinking and a new approach. This is not to say that a reactionary approach is best–sometimes it is good to stay the course, even through minor failures, because reacting to every bump in the road is not a good strategy. However, if things are really on a downward path, something needs to change in order to prevent further poor performances in the future.

For example, if you lose a race to an important opponent whom you could have beaten by a couple of seconds, it probably isn't cause for panic. In such a case, athletes and coaches are usually best served to stay the course and maintain consistency in order to get the payoff down the road that often results from consistency and dedication. But, if you lose a string of three consecutive races by significant margins, it may be appropriate to re-evaluate things and think about trying a new approach. As the saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is 'the definition of insanity.'

If you fail to let yourself be emotional when it is appropriate, you are limiting yourself and your growth from those moments, whether they are successes or failures.

While I can understand why coaches cite the mantra of not getting too emotional one way or another as a means of staying rational and objective, I think that often this is simply because it seems like the right thing to say. When a coach or athlete wins a big race or game in another sport, it might be the cool thing to say, 'it was just another race, that is what we expected and that's what we came here to do,' in order to appear in control and composed. 'Act like you've been there before,' as people say. However, I think that not letting oneself enjoy hard earned success can have a negative impact rather than a positive one. In fact, I find it funny that some of the best coaches and athletes in the world are the ones who most commonly use the phrase 'don't let the highs get too high or the lows get too low,' because they are clearly driven by success and failures. The top coaches and athletes in the world have a tremendous desire to win, and hate to lose. So, somewhere inside, they are constantly pursuing the successes and working to learn from the failures.

Let's be clear–I am not advocating extreme, impulsive reactions one way or the other based on whichever side of average a particular performance falls. It is always important as a coach and athlete to maintain a level of objectivity and realize that a performance is never as bad as you initially think and never as good as you initially think. Usually, they are somewhere in the middle. This is where a level of objective rationality is important. It's not always easy to take a step back to try and really understand whether a performance is good, bad, or just average. With time and experience, however, this can be learned and used as a tool to spark change when necessary and reinforce success when necessary.

The next time you win a big race or set a personal best on the erg, allow yourself to celebrate and fully enjoy it as a positive reward for success. This doesn't have to be a fist-pumping, chest-pounding outward show of exuberance–it can be as simple as a smile–but it should be honest. What is important is allowing yourself to feel the weight of your accomplishments, as well as failures along the way, as both will further motivate you to succeed and allow you to fully live in the moment–to to draw determination from difficult defeats, and fully experience that rare, sweet instant when victory is secure.

–Justin and the RR Team

Monday, November 7, 2011

VOTW: NARF Interview with Brian de Regt, John Graves as 'Movember' Begins



This week's VOTW comes from the 2011 Newport Autumn Rowing Festival, which featured what was perhaps the largest field in the regatta's history, racing through stormy conditions (but, let's face it, how bad can it really be in Newport Beach?) on Sunday. Among the racers were several members of the Graves family, who teamed up to form an extremely competitive 'Little Knights' crew that took second overall in the men's open eight. John Graves (who represented the U.S. in the LM1x in Munich and Hamburg at the World Cups earlier this year) and Brian de Regt (who stroked the U.S. LM2x in Bled) joined Pete and Tom Graves (U.S. M2x at Worlds this year) in the lineup, and the crew was able to take second place behind California, ahead of Stanford's entries in the event. Not only this, but the Graves/de Regt duo are sporting some of the most 'Movember-appropriate' facial hair around, adding momentum to the movement that is taking off at home and overseas (here's a link to GB oarsman Chris Bartley's Movember fundraising page, by way of example).

For more on the weekend's racing, check out the weekend recap on RowingNews.com.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, November 4, 2011

Updates to RR: Coaching Page Added, Coverage to Come from Newport

This Fall has been quite a busy one at RR, with a great deal of new content on the way (currently in the editorial stages), more traveling to do (this weekend we are headed down to Newport, CA to cover the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival for Rowing News), and a new page added to the RR masthead–the Coaches' Corner page. Your requests have been answered and we've made it easier to find some of the more useful articles for coaching and training on RR by giving them a standalone page, to which we'll add any subsequent articles of a similar nature.

While the Fours Head on the Tideway will feature of host of GB international talent, NARF looks to be a 'mini hub' of international rowing in itself, with much of USRowing's men's squad now located in Southern California, and several 2011 U.S. national team members in the mix this weekend, including Peter and Tom Graves (who represented the U.S. in Bled in the M2x, and who just won their third straight title in the men's championship double at the 2011 Head Of The Charles–see Bryan's interview with Pete here from Rowing News' coverage of the event), and Brian De Regt, who stroked the U.S. LM2x in Slovenia. California and Stanford will also be in action, as will the Connecticut Boat Club junior women, coming across for another shot at a very talented Oakland Strokes team that just edged Marin for the top spot in Boston, while the Marin Junior Men will look to stay dominant.

Also, we have our hopes up for big things this Movember, with the GB squad already sculpting some wicked facial artwork (see Bill Lucas' cancer research fundraising page here, and the official site of GB Rowing for further examples), and we're looking for the best your can muster by the end of the month. Put something together on YouTube, send us the link, and the best of the best will be featured on RR in December.

More to come from SoCal–check out Rowing News' coverage through the weekend with additional updates to come on RR.

-RR

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coaches' Corner: Setting the Standard, and Building Mental Toughness

Mentally tough, to be precise (Photo: © Kate Mead)
Mental toughness is a necessary trait of all great athletes. It is a trait that, unlike many other important characteristics, is not based on genetics or natural ability. Anyone can be tough, be disciplined, and possess great work ethic if he/she makes the decision to do so. Mental toughness, resilience, tenacity–all are important in terms of pushing one's body through physical pain in training and racing.

It is also of the greatest importance to have the resilience and fortitude to be disciplined with respect to the technical aspects of the sport, in order to focus on all the details, with the goal of refining one's boat moving ability.

As a coach, the key to ensuring that the athletes develop this mental state of focus and attention to detail is having high expectations–do not accept anything less than the necessary standard. Obviously, it is important to make sure the standard is achievable and realistic–novice rowers cannot be expected to row like Olympians. However, I think the expectations can and must remain very high. In this way, the athletes will be pushed to achieve to their fullest potential.

I think that often times, coaches are guilty of not expecting enough from their athletes in the early stages of development. As a result, these coaches let the athletes get away with undisciplined rowing, which can develop into bad habits that not only become ingrained into their muscle memory, but also become a part of their level of expectations, and their understanding of the allowable standard. It only does the athletes a disservice to let them row at a level below the necessary standard, as they will be under the false impression that what they are doing is good enough.

So, while it is important to keep the standards achievable and within reason, it is also important that coaches push their athletes, from both a technical and physiological standpoint. It is amazing what the human body and mind can do. When you think about the fact that the body heals itself when sick or wounded, regulates itself in terms of chemical and hormone levels, and is a true biomechanical system, where usage strengthens rather than weakens, you begin to appreciate just how much you can accomplish. The body does these things because it has to in order to survive. So, if more is asked or required of the body as an athlete in order to have success in training and racing, the body will respond.

It's amazing what people can do when the bar is set at a high level. It has been said before, but I have found that people will rise or fall to wherever the bar is set (within reason). Lots of what separates different programs is the level of coaching, and the level of expectations. Expectations inform the athletes not only what is okay/acceptable, but also what is possible. It can be surprising how much of an impact can be made on performance, technically and physically, merely by raising the standard of what is acceptable. If a coach expects a lot out of the athletes, and knows how to go about teaching them the way to get there, they will rise to that level of expectation. If we make the mistake of having expectations that are too low, it will affect the ability to perform and achieve. If you don't first expect yourself to be great, you will lack the confidence necessary to achieve at a high level, and will naturally doubt yourself and your abilities.

If, in a given program, one only needs to go 6:20 on the erg to make the varsity eight, the athletes might not perform as well across the board as if they were in a different program, where an erg score of 6:05 or better was required for the varsity eight. There are two reasons why this would impact performance: first, by having no chance to get in the top boat without going a certain speed, the athletes are left no choice but to find a way to achieve that or get as close as possible–so, even if an athlete can't achieve the level required, they will likely push themselves a little bit further than if they could get into a top boat without going as fast; second, in an environment where athletes are going faster, the athletes will realize what is possible when they look around at their teammates.

This is why world records will continue to drop over time in all sports. Of course, technology and training methods help performance to increase over time, but merely having the bar set at a certain place will cause people to find a way to rise to that level. Even though things like training methodologies, technology and nutrition have improved significantly over the last 60 years, I don't think they are the sole reason we have seen the world record in the mile or marathon drop so significantly in running. The four-minute mile was a perfect example of this. Roger Bannister became the first to break four minutes for the mile on the track when he did it in 1954. Once he broke the magic barrier that top runners had been pursuing for some time, it opened the door for many others to go well under that mark with others doing it that same year. The world record in the mile has since been lowered almost 17 seconds under the four minute mark to 3:43.13. A similar progression has taken place in every nearly every other event in all sports. As the bar gets raised, so does the performance of the top athletes because what it takes to be successful is constantly improving.

This also applies to technical standards. If rowers can make a boat without being particularly disciplined or technically savvy, they may have unnecessary inefficiencies in their technique. These same rowers, were they in a more competitive environment, may be capable of eliminating those inefficiencies, and would be pushed to do so more quickly because of their situation. While some of this may be the result of complacency, a large majority of it is a sort of Darwinian-type 'survival of the fittest' phenomenon, by which people will achieve more if they are required to do so. It is part of the coach's job to create an environment that encourages this kind of evolution of athletic performance. This is a large part of the difference between collegiate club rowing programs and top varsity level programs.

We see it in many team sports, when a coach is fired and a new coach begins, takes the same athletes that couldn't win under the old coach, and turns those same athletes into winners by raising the bar, demanding a certain level of performance, and, most importantly, creating an environment which both forces and allows the athletes to find a way to succeed.

-Justin and the RR Team

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Edition VOTW: California v. Nereus, Henley 2011, and Movember Begins



This week's (slightly delayed) VOTW comes to us from the 2011 Henley Royal Regatta, and features the undefeated Cal frosh eight taking on Nereus in the Temple Challenge Cup final on Sunday, 3rd July. The video is shot from the official's launch, and gives the viewer both a sense of just how good the Bears were last season, as well as a virtual tour of the HRR course, form start to finish. For more content about Henley 2011, check out the 'On The Water' series–personal take on the regatta and the racing–that we put together with Matt Miller of Virginia men's rowing (The UVa men raced to Saturday in the Temple, when they were defeated by Nereus).

Also, today marks the first day of Movember, giving men everywhere an excuse to grow facial hair in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer research. See below for some inspiration:



CHALLENGE TO ROWERS: SUBMIT YOUR OWN Movember video to RR!
Here at RR, we are awaiting attempts from rowers to come up with quality Movember videos–break out the cameras, and get in touch via our contact page, or via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated) with submissions, and the top Movember rowing spot will be posted as an RR feature in December.

-RR