The conference plays an important part in the calendar for coaches as it is an opportunity to come together, share experiences and develop knowledge which they can bring back to their respective countries and clubs.
This year’s programme offered topics in areas such as physiological research, biomechanics and performance related lessons from the successful German junior rowing programme.

As well as these seminars, coaches visited the Hamburg regatta course which will host the 2014 World Rowing Junior Championships. The group of 32 coaches inspected the rowing centre, went on the water and had the chance to ask questions on conditions, transport and accommodation. to the local organising committee.

Arne Gullich opened with his presentation, Considering long term sustainability in talent promotion – Implications for talent development in rowing.’ He posed the question of what age it becomes functional to begin training in a sport. Gullich’s objective was to address through research based evidence the notion of specialisation in sport, particularly from an early age.

Gullich posed four questions for the basis of his presentation:

  • the ‘ideal’ age to start rowing.
  • what volume of training and competition are optimal.
  • to what degree a young athlete should specialise or vary in their sporting activities.
  • what effects specialisation and variability have in the short and long term.

Many people believe that the ‘theory of deliberate practice’ applies to young athletes in sport, which suggests that through repetition and correction of one single activity success is more likely, that is whether starting rowing at an early age and making it one’s sole focus, with adequate coaching and support will be more likely to lead to success. Gullich however disagrees citing a more recent ‘diversification theory’ as the route to a successful elite sporting career. This theory supports a child’s participation in multiple sports and sporting leisure play in long-term performance development.

Gullich focused his presentation on examples of athletes from specialised (coach-led) backgrounds with those who had a diverse, peer-led sport pathway in their athletic development. What he illustrated was that at youth level, early specialisation is more likely to lead to results at junior level in sport. However, at a higher level it was the athletes who had participated in multiple sports at a young age who ultimately achieved higher results.

Interestingly, Gullich explained how the volume of training between domestic level athletes who had specialised in a sport from an early age and elite athletes who had come to specialise in their sport later did not differ by much but their level of performance obviously did.

Gullich referred to how the British Rowing ‘Sporting Giants’ talent transfer programme focused on athletes in the age range of 18-23. One year into the programme 19 of the 48 shortlisted rowers met world class level benchmarks, also showing that new sports specific skills can be learned at an older age.

Chair of the FISA Medical Commission, Dr Alain Lacoste then presented on changes to FISA rules in relation to issues relating to doping, the ‘No Needle Policy’ and sudden death in athletes. Lacoste illustrated the main causes of sudden death in athletes as cardiac arrest and heat stroke (in lightweights after pre weigh-in sweat down). Measures can be taken to eliminate this risk of sudden death in athletes through education and screening. In 2014 there will be an online athlete survey compulsory for all athletes. This screening method will allow team doctors to spot irregularities and potential risks facing individual athletes and so proactive measures can be taken to ensure that they are treated.

Lacoste also presented on the issue of safety on the water. Often coaches and athletes worry about the impact of a collision on their equipment but Lacoste warned coaches about the serious injuries that can arise when due care is not taken on the water. Most recently French lightweight Stany Delayre had his season cut short when he was in a collision with a crew boat during a training session in his final preparation for the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju.

Coaches then got a glimpse into one of the structures behind the very successful German high performance rowing programme when Marc Swienty presented the ‘Olympic training centre and rowing boarding school Ratzeburg: Structures and objectives.’ While not actually a school in the traditional sense, this rowing academy provides a high performance atmosphere that combines education and sport. Offering full-time boarding and part-time options for rowers, the academy provides everything young rowers need to succeed.

London 2012 Olympic champions Lauritz Schoof (men’s quad) and Florian Mennigen (men’s eight) were part of the academy in Ratzeburg which encourages athletes to set their sights high. Swienty explained how they encourage young rowers to aim for a senior level, not just junior success. “The academy tries to leave a lasting impact on students and encourage and open doors for them,” he explained.

Coaches then listened to a presentation on the ‘Actual aspects and considerations of ethics in sport' presented by German rowing’s high performance director, Mario Woldt. Ethics in sport is becoming more topical for coaches, clubs and federations. As the conversation grows more questions arise. Woldt defined ethics as different to morals. Ethics are not innate, but instilled upon you and can rapidly alter and can change without you realising because they are imposed on you.

Most coaches will be aware of the ‘hard factors’ in ethics; those which are both legally unacceptable and morally wrong, such as doping and match-fixing. It is the ‘soft factors’ that Woldt described as concerning all athletes and federations. “They are part of the fabric of the continuous interaction in the sport and play into every element,” he said. He discussed the ethical questions in the daily practice of rowing such as dieting and body alteration related to lightweight rowing, early performance orientation in juniors as well as the ethical factors surrounding expectation in athletes.

This topic opened up a lot of discussion amongst the coaches as they delved deeper, questioning where the lines of ethics should be drawn in different cases.

The first day concluded with presentations by Klaus Mattes and Nina Schaffert. Mattes’ presentation, ‘Diagnostic of rowing performance and technique to optimise technique training opened with an illustrative comparison of the sculling technique of both 2012 Olympic Champion Mahe Drysdale and 2013 World Champion Ondrej Synek. Mattes explained how it is important that an athlete can apply technique under varying conditions and at different points of a race such as at the start or during the final 250m of a race. He also noted how individual characteristics of internationally successful rowing teams are often misinterpreted as a development of rowing technique.

Mattes gave a detailed explanation of the interpretation on three key points:

  • How rowing technique can be tested with the help of biomechanical methods.
  • How results from biomechanical measuring can be interpreted.
  • Biomechanical feedback from racing.

He analysed the areas of the stroke that are key to biomechanical measurement such as force angle curves in the gate, stretches and boat, the rowing angle and stroke phases and the characteristic values of boat velocity.
Biomechanical feedback is important to identify deviation from ideal rowing technique and Mattes explained, with graph illustrations from elite German crews, that there were differences in measurement curves before and after feedback which dispels the suggestion that such biomechanical curves are difficult to impact.

Schaffert’s presentation brought coaches to think about the science behind listening to the boat run in ‘Visual and auditory/acoustic feedback to optimise rowing technique and boat acceleration.’ Schaffert explained the causal relationship between movement and sound and so when this relationship is heightened the crew’s perception is enhanced.

Schaffert introduced the method of sonification to coaches; the synthetic transformation of data from the boat's movement and speed into sound. She showed a number of videos of German team boats using sonification through a system called Accrow which creates a specific sound which reacts to each phase and rhythm of the stroke resulting in an intuitive understanding of how the boat is moving. For all boats tested using sonification there was a significant increase in mean boat velocity and qualitative changes in boat acceleration trace when the data was analysed.

Presentations from the World Rowing Youth Coaches Conference are available for download here.