I’m the senior girl’s cox for my school club and my crew is really struggling with having a slow recovery then accelerating to the finish and putting in pressure. When I call to go slow up the slide they might slow down 1 or 2 points or not even at all. And the pressure dies when the rating slows. Then the rating goes up when I call pressure. Do you have any ideas about how I can help them get into a slow steady rhythm but still put in pressure?
Pause drills, acceleration drills, emphasizing slow recoveries with painfully slow stroke rates, and lots of patience. Also, instead of saying “slow up the slide”, find other ways to say the same thing. If you’re consistently repeating the same call they’re going to tune you out (either voluntarily or involuntarily) because it will have lost any and all of it’s meaning.
Pause drills are a good place to start because they give you checkpoints throughout the recovery to make sure everyone’s timing is right. In this case I’d probably start with a triple-pause (hands away, bodies over, half-slide) and eventually work up to a double-pause (hands away, half-slide), then a single-pause (half-slide). Depending on how experienced the crew is I’d probably start off with 4s (bow four and stern four) then eventually go to 6s (stern six and box six), with “eventually” being after a couple of practices. Don’t move on until they’re ready though – it does absolutely nothing for anyone to move on to something that’s a little more difficult (even if that’s just rowing by 6s) if they don’t have a firm grasp on the basics. If the crew is more experienced then you can do sixes (bow and stern) and then all eight. The reason why pause drills tend to be effective is because it gives them, like I said before, checkpoints so they can make sure they’re in the right place at the right time. If they’re rushing it’s going to be a total pain in the ass for your stroke but that’s when you’ve gotta lean out and talk to individuals and say “7-seat, make sure you’re backing [stroke] up, get on their rhythm and then send it back. 5 and 6, relax, focus on that swing through the back end and matching stern pairs movements up the slide.” … or something to that effect.
The key here is to help them understand that they shouldn’t be rushing from one pause to the next, rather they should be “floating” into it. It’s not a race to see who can get to the catch first. I say this to pretty much everyone (even the guys on my team that have been rowing for 6+ years) but just because your butt is on wheels doesn’t mean you can just fly up the slides with reckless abandon or assume that you don’t have to exert some kind of control over your own movements. Alternatively, if you’re physically pulling yourself up the slide with your feet instead of letting the boat run out underneath you, that whole floating thing can’t/won’t happen. We say “coming up the slide” because it’s easier but the way to actually think about it is to visualize your seat staying in the same spot while you bring your feet back towards your body. (This is something you can actually see when you’re in the launch too. Pick a rower and watch their body in relation to something stationary on land, like a tree or something. You’ll be able to see the boat running under them while their body stays “fixed”.)
When I’m coxing pause drills I like to give them one simple instruction at each pause (which should last for about two seconds, hence why what you say has to be concise) for a few strokes and then I’m silent (except for saying “go”) for a stroke or two. This gives them a chance to process what I just said and how the boat feels while also implementing any changes that need to be made. So if I’m coxing double pause drills starting from the previous stroke this is probably what it’d sound like:
“Let’s go double pause starting at hands away … on this one. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Deep breath, relax the shoulders, go. [Half slide pause] Easy into the catch now, go. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Little more control this time, go. [Half slide pause] Float into it, go. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Better, go. [Half slide pause] Light into the front, accelerate through, go. Hook, squeeze. [Finish, hands away pause] There it is, go. [Half slide pause] Go. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Go. [Half slide pause] Control the front end here, go. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Chins up, eyes up, go. [Half slide pause] Keep it smooth, go. [Catch, finish, hands away pause] Go…”
And on and on until we switch. Something else you could/should emphasize is getting the bodies set early, meaning that by the time they’re at bodies over they’ve gotten all the reach they’re gonna get. Sometimes rushing into the catch doesn’t have as much to do with the slides as it does people throwing their upper bodies forward because they didn’t get enough (or any) swing in the first half of the recovery. In my experience it’s usually a 50-50 split between that and the slides so I’d talk with your coach and see what he/she thinks is the underlying issue and then go from there.
Acceleration drills are fairly straightforward, all you’re doing is starting the stroke at a low pressure and then gradually building to full pressure by the time you get to the finish. This is best done at lower rates (16-20spm) so you can really feel the boat pick up. Engage the legs muscles right at the catch but don’t “slam” them down until you get to about half-slide or so. That split second of patience vs. slamming them down immediately tends to make a big difference because it lets you feel the connection between the blade and the water before you start applying power.
It sounds like you need to also remind them (or emphasize, if they’re novices) that stroke rate and pressure aren’t the same thing – low stroke rates don’t necessarily mean low pressure just like high stroke rates don’t necessarily mean full pressure. Try rowing 12-14spm at 3/4 pressure – not only will that help them with slowing the recoveries down but it’ll also hopefully get them away from the idea that you have to be rowing high in order to pull hard.
In addition to all of that, I’d spend some time talking with your coach about what you’re seeing/feeling, that way they can watch from the launch and address the issues during practice. Another thing is pay attention to how the boat feels when you’re rowing by 4s and 6s (especially by 6s). You can usually pinpoint which pair the rush is coming from or who isn’t rowing at pressure when you switch people in and out. Depending on your relationship with them, how experienced you all are, etc. you could say something to them in the boat (“3 and 4, when you guys came in we started to feel the rush a bit more so once we get going again make sure you’re getting the bodies set early and controlling the slides as you come into the catch…”) but it might be best to talk it over with your coach first and see what they say. Most of the time my coaches would say to just tell them when I notice that happening but other times they’d say to hold off and wait for them to address it first. Talk with your coach and find out what to do in situations like that and then address it as necessary.