Regular readers of this blog (all two of you) will remember that, way back in October, I wrote a post about coxing in French. This post will be an update to that, so if a lot of technical talk about rowing isn't your thing, do feel free to come back for my next post. I won't mind.
Over the months, I've been doing a variety of things around Régates rémoises, the local rowing club. I've coxed everyone from 10-year-olds to seniors; subbed in to row with 14-year-old girls; rowed in an Empacher with some university students on an exceptionally cold Wednesday evening. However, one thing that I've been doing a surprising amount of recently is coaching, particularly off-the-water coaching. The club is very well-equipped with ergs (les ergos) for training off the water, and if a particular age group isn't going out sur l'eau that day, I'm occasionally asked to coach them on the ergs for a bit. This has been a very rewarding experience, particularly since I've got a lot better at explaining things to do with rowing (in English as well as French - it seems as if expressing yourself in another language helps you with your mother tongue too!). What's that? You want an example? Good - 'cause here one comes.
On the day in question, I was coaching les benjamins. These are ten-to-eleven-year-olds, who have been rowing at most for one year, so generally they don't spend too much time on the ergs. When they do, though, it's important to get it right. Many of the mistakes made by these novices are the same ones made by novices in the UK of all ages (including myself, on the rare occasions when I have an oar in my hand), so the French coach and I were both looking out for them. The classic error made by novices is rushing the slide. Essentially, the rowing stroke is made up of two phases: the drive phase (phase d'appui) and the recovery (phase de retour). The drive phase is when the oar is in the water; the recovery, as the name suggests, is the time when you're coming back up the slide on your seat, getting ready to take another stroke. Lots of novices don't put very much power down in the water, and try to compensate by rushing up the slide; this is dangerous as (a) you tire yourself out by pulling yourself up the slide, and (b) as you come up the slide, you're moving against the forward motion of the boat and by charging up the slide run the risk of slowing the boat down drastically. For this reason, coaches encourage rowers to spend about twice to three times as long on the recovery as the drive phase, so that you can put more force in the water while allowing the boat to glide under you.
The difficulty, however, was getting the benjamins to take this on board. There's an old saying in rowing that 'ergs don't float', which means that you can get away with stuff on an erg that you can't get away with on the water; hence someone who pulls amazing times on the erg might not make a boat move particularly fast. (For an example of this, watch this video.) As a result, I was concerned that it might be tricky to make changes to technique on the erg, rather than in the water. This turned out to be the case, but we still managed to make some progress.
And with that in mind, the challenge was on. Each rower was given a cadence (stroke rate) and split time to aim for, and things started to change. I'm looking forward to working with them more on this in the coming weeks, since it seems like we may have stumbled upon a way to put my constant calls of ralentissez la coulisse ! into action.
While we're on the subject of putting-oars-in-the-water-and-moving-on-a-sliding-seat, I'd also like to take a minute to mention the heroic efforts of all the Cambridge crews at the Henley Boat Races yesterday. The results may not have gone the way we'd hoped, but from what I've heard everyone involved has a right to be proud all the same. Plus, the Clare College representation in the squad was phenomenal. Andrew, Ania, Claire, Esther, Jess, Moos, Rachel, Steen: absolutely inspiring.