In this post, I provide a short video that explains how a coach could approach teaching the importance of bringing the blade to the water at the end of the recovery to achieve a longer stroke length.
A typical technical mistake of novice rowers is skying the blade as it approaches the catch. Typically, the rower drops their hands as they near the end of the slide and the blade moves away from the top of the water. One of the causes of this could be not getting the upper body angle established early in the recovery. As a result, the rower establishes the body angle too late in the recovery and their hands drop as a result of the late correction. This results in the blade moving away from the water when it should be moving down to the water line in preparation for connection at the start of the stroke.
If the blade is raised above the water line, the rower will usually miss water at the beginning of the drive because the blade is not in a position to connect with the water at the start of the drive. If this happens, stroke/drive length is lost, and boat speed lowers.
I like to draw an image on the whiteboard before practice to visualize this inefficiency in technique so that my athletes can see how much potential boat speed has been lost. When a rower misses the first 20 cm of the drive each stroke (I call this x in the video), the length of the power application decreases. As a result, the number of strokes in a race or piece will multiply this 20cm each stroke over the entire period of the race.
By improving the blade placement on the approach to the catch, the amount of stroke length improves by the percentage of the improvement (I call that a in the video). A small improvement of 2-3% results in more significant gains over a long series of strokes. An increase in the micro allows a substantial change in the macro.
This drill helps to teach a rower to set the upper body angle early in the stroke. It is often the case that the cause of a technical error is what occurs before the problem manifests. In this case, by teaching novices to set the body angle early, you are part of the way to training proper blade placement at the catch.
You can also perform a pause drill and pause at the body over position. Novices need stopping points so that they can do an internal check to see if they are in the correct body position before proceeding to the next part of the stroke. Pause drills are essential drills for every coach, especially coaches of rowers in their first year of rowing.
A great deal of technical improvement can be made when the boat is not moving. The catch placement drill is an excellent drill to help athletes learn the correct sequence of the recovery and to learn how to place the blade correctly at the catch. Additionally, athletes should be encouraged to perform catch placement drills (or a similar stationary drill) when there is a pause in the practice. For example, if rowers are waiting for all boats to catch up so that the coach can talk to all boats and there is time, use this kind of a stationary drill to maximize use more of the practice time to make changes and be productive.
Slap catches is a helpful drill, and the kids usually have fun with it. It is very similar to catch placement. The difference is that the blade is always feathered and never squared. When the athlete approaches the catch and the position of blade entry they “slap” the water with the feathered blade. It’s fun when four or six rowers in an eight do this drill and try to hit the water at the same time. Therefore, this exercise also helps promote timing in addition to being a catch placement drill. A more advanced version of the exercise allows for the slap and then the quick squaring of the blade followed by the drive. Start with the stationary version and then use your judgment to decide if the rowers are ready for the advanced version of the drill with the continuation of the stroke.
There are more drills to help novices learn catch placement and connection, but the above can act as a primary start point for beginners. If you have other drills that could be used, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.