April 03, 2001

back on the sliding seat again

I just went to my first rowing practice in 3 months, and it was a little rough. Since Coach had me cox for the first 3 of 5 8-minute pieces, then swapped me in to five seat* for the last two, it wasn’t too bad physically, though I did end up with blisters on both hands and one heel.

(*Note to nonrowers: This is funny. Typically, you put your strongest rowers in five and six seats. I’m what I call "coxswain-sized", at least 20 pounds lighter and inches shorter than anyone else in the boat this morning.)

One point on which I disagree with my coach is hydration. When I was coxing, I managed to let them stop for a quick sip of water between each piece. After I got in the boat, we didn’t get to stop between the two pieces or after the second one, before rowing back to the beach -- a total of about half an hour, which can be a long time in the desert. Judging by the speech Coach gave us afterwards, he thinks hydration is for wimps.

I did manage to keep my mouth shut after getting in the boat, something with which I’d have trouble in the past (and for which I’ve gotten scolded). The priciple is sound; if you have breath left over for talking, you’re not rowing hard enough. Also, it can distract other rowers or make it hard for them to hear the coach or cox. I said only one word ("Water??") which may be a new personal record. (There was a lot of unvocalized swearing -- at my own rowing -- but that doesn’t really count.)

The rowing itself was where I had the problem. According to Coach, I had "no body control" and was all over the boat. It felt to me like I did have control for some strokes, but not consistently (an outside observer, though, would just see that each stroke was different, hence the ‘all over the boat’ comment). Sigh. I wish the erg in my gym up north had had a mirror next to it. I was afraid I was getting bad habits, but it was difficult to tell. So the next thing to work on is concentration and consistency. I had been working on ‘quick hands away’, but body control is a little more crucial.

Next problem: why is it that Gatorade manufacturers make those damned bottles so hard to open?? One of the nice things about my job is the refrigerator they keep stocked with all sorts of drinks, including the Gatorade which is essential for survival after a rowing practice on a warm day. However, the Gatorade does me no good unless I can drink it. You’d think they’d realize that someone drinking it has probably just worked out, and would likely have tired hands. Last summer there were days I had to ask someone to open the stupid thing for me.

A related problem is convenience stores that store Gatorade on the hightest or lowest shelf. We once stopped off for gas, food, and drinks shortly after hiking Humphrey’s Peak, the tallest mountain in Arizona. It’s a strenuous 9-mile round trip, with about 4000 feet elevation gain. Bending down was so difficult I damn near had to ask for help getting a bottle off that bottom shelf.

Back to rowing: since I’ve been gone, my rowing program has spawned off Advanced and Fitness rowing classes, intended for those whose skills or motivation, respectively, aren’t up to the competitive level. Coach made it clear that anyone in the competitive class should expect hard work -- he said "borderline abusive" -- and few water breaks or other indulgences. As mentioned before, I don’t really see hydration as a sign of weakness. (Obviously, the solution to this is to drink up beforehand. Unfortunately, we don’t stop for pee breaks either.) But I really don’t understand why a coach would need to be "borderline abusive" to get top performance out of his team. Is that really necessary? Is this ignorance on my part, due to my lack of experience with coached sports, or just a choice of coaching style? And if the latter, why would a coach choose that style? As both a rower and a coach myself, I’d love to hear from people with experiences of different coaching styles, to hear what worked well.

Posted by dichroic at April 3, 2001 09:31 AM
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