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What's That Racket?

On August 1st Bill Tytus held his 5th and final in a series on the finish. Bill observed, Effective strokes fall somewhere on the spectrum of rowing technique, between smooth & elegant but lacking power on one end, while powerful but rough and inconsistent on the other.

The goal for the practice was to find where on the spectrum our current ability places us and how we might go about working from both ends of the spectrum towards the middle, a powerful, clean and easy finish. Coach Tytus asked the rowers to notice how noisy rowing is and he pointed out that most of that noise is generated at the finish by the oars banging into the back of the locks. He asked us to consider this: “Each of your oars is considerably heavier than a large hammer. Imagine using a couple of big hammers to pound you backward every stroke. That is exactly what is happening if you hear banging and clunking at the finish. Silent Rowing Drill Bill had us start with easy Dave drills, trying to row silently. How hard can you pull without making any noise?” and he gave us a hint, push out on the handles with your thumbs. Racing Starts We followed the quiet rowing with racing starts. Bill asked the class to observe how the first ten or so strokes of a race are often the technically best strokes a rower ever makes. Bill added, Why do you suppose this is? I think maybe it's because the goal of a start is to get the boat up to top speed as quickly as possible. It is a simple goal and different from the usual goal of rowing well with the usual bad habits. Also, because a racing start is generally at a higher rate, there isn't enough time to indulge those bad habits. For the balance of the practice we did racing starts off the paddle. We began with an easy paddle, lining up with at least a couple of other boats. On the coach's call we took a ten stroke start as fast as we could, then resumed our paddle. He asked us to try different rates, length of stroke, etc. and draw some rough conclusions by comparing our speed to our neighbor's.

Observations from legendary Coach Frank Cunningham shared by Bill

I can tell without looking whether a crew is capable of this sort of finish by simply listening to their locks... unless he (or she) just likes noise, it would be apparent that smooth, quiet, economical use of the oar is the more appropriate object. Why not regard it as a musical instrument played pianissimo?

I also became convinced that instruction does not translate readily into performance. For mastery you have to have a model and you have to be willing to experiment. I have learned that the rower learns best who listens to his blade and his lock, hears what the blade is doing to the water, and what the sleeve is doing to the lock. Who feels what is happening at both places and accepts what his senses tell him.

Doing what you are told only works in the Army.


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