What do you mean “other” sports?

You might think that rowing and roller derby are pretty different sports.  Actually, no two ways about it, they are different sports.  But there are key principles in common.  These principles are probably common across other sports too, but I’ve not coached those ones, so you get to hear about rowing and roller derby.

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Pushing through the finish

You don’t stop rowing 10 foot out and coast over the finish line, right?  And in roller derby we have to train to the whistle.  Jammers are capable of scoring points right up to the end of the fourth whistle that signals the end of the jam.  That means they have to play to the finish.

In rowing, it’s hard to stop paying attention in the boat, the rhythm of the team and the stroke keeps all rowers working at generally the same pace.

In roller derby training sessions, it can be easier to relax in drills. Even though we’re working together, we’re not connected.  Blockers don’t chase down the jammer.  Jammers don’t sprint chase around the track to make sure they get that one point before the other jammer calls the jam.  The team dynamic allows for individual action (or inaction).

If you have skaters who don’t follow through, put them on track with skaters who not only follow through but also take people with them when they do.  It’s not quite like stroking a boat, but it helps skaters realise when they aren’t as engaged as they thought they were.

Lesson to take away: Skaters need to play as hard in the last two tenths of a second as they played in the first minute, because it can make all the difference.  If you want them to play to the finish, you need to train them to the finish.

Comparing splits to hits

In rowing, your aim is to make the boat go faster.  To practice doing this you get on an erg and you watched the little numbers flash on your Concept2 monitor (it might be Concept3 by now, it’s been ages since I’ve been down the club).  The main things you’re thinking about are your stroke rate and your splits.  You want those splits to be as low as possible and the first thing people will do is row faster to lower their splits.  But, actually, that’s not the really the most effective way to train. 

The goal is to improve your technique to bring those splits down without changing your stroke rate.  (yes, this is a simplification).  You do this by identifying how to load your legs to increase your power, by moving your hands faster at the catch, by engaging your core and transferring energy at the right time.

In roller derby, your aim is to move someone out of the way.  There’s no little machine to help you gauge your progress.  You’re thinking about getting another human being over a line.  And the temptation is to hit them at speed.  The faster you hit an object, the more power behind it, right?  Maybe, but much like increasing your stroke in rowing, it’s not really the point.  You want to be able to drive that person off track whatever speed you’re going.  So the goal is to improve your technique.  You do this by identifying how to load your legs to increase your power, by moving your body faster at the catch, by engaging your core and transferring energy at the right time.

Oh wait… this all sounds familiar…

Lesson to take away:  Power should come from control and timing, not speed.  The better the technique, the greater speeds they can perform at, and eventually become unstoppable. 

Individual impact

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In rowing the boat either runs smoothly, or it doesn’t.  If someone is out of sync with the stroke or late to the catch it can feel horrible in the boat.  But as a rower, you can’t always identify who or what the reason for the boat shudder and that’s because usually it’s due to more than one thing and more than one person.  To feel the boat glide, everyone has to be in sync.

Similarly, in a wall, every single person has a role to play and if one person isn’t quite as quick or one person isn’t quite as strong or one person over compensates or, as is more likely, small versions of all of the above, it can feel like the whole wall falls apart.

In both situations it’s not always easy to identify which part of what isn’t working.  It’s also hard for people to accept that due to the inherent complexity the cause lies in the team rather than on one individual not doing their part.    

Frustrations about not understanding why things aren’t working can build into blame or self-deprecation or, most often, a hardy collection of both.  None of the above is helpful in fixing walls (or boats).

The conversations with athletes either rolling or rowing, interestingly, tend to be very similar, you can talking about timing on “the catch” or power in “the drive”. It all still makes sense.  

Photo credit: Jason Ruffell, Roller Derby on Film

Photo credit: Jason Ruffell, Roller Derby on Film

Everyone needs to be reminded that they each have a role to fill and they need to focus on doing that as well as they can.  One way to address the frustrations is to film training and watch it together, looking at the different elements both that contribute and detract from the successes.

(Coach W recently posted about a great coaching app that can help with this : http://femalecoachingnetwork.com/my-favourite-coaching-app/)

Lesson to take away: Everyone has equal responsibility for making it work and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.   Help them to break down the different factors that go into a strong wall so that they can be both accountable and aware of the impact that they have on the wall and on their teammates.

First published on the Female Coaching Network March 2015