Coaches had the opportunity to see presentations on psychology, physiology and learn from best practice in sports outside of rowing. Discussion on the international calendar and other issues made up an important part of this conference as coaches discussed their opinions on the direction they would like to see our sport move in the coming years.

The conference opened with the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue; 2013 World Rowing Coach of the Year, Johan Flodin. Flodin presented as ‘Coach in the Spotlight.’ From the beginning he explained that he had no secrets. Flodin was the coach behind Norway’s remarkable World Rowing Championships results that saw his crews win gold for the men’s double sculls and lightweight men’s double sculls.

Flodin’s origins in the sport are in a boat. He earned two World Championship medals in the lightweight men’s quadruple sculls before moving to the open weight quad, finishing sixth at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Always interested in the movement of rowing, Flodin completed a masters in physiology during his rowing career. After rowing he went on to become a school headmaster.

Although Flodin spent many years working with 2010 World Champion in the women’s single sculls, Frida Svensson he did not become a full-time coach until he took up the position of head coach in Norway after London 2012.

Norwegian structures
The Norwegian structure is very open to learning from what works in other areas as they develop their programme. Inspired by the Danish structure, Norway has four regional high performance centres. Drawing on the success of British Rowing in developing and working with talent, Norwegian Rowing acknowledges the need to have professional coaches at the regional centres and they plan to introduce a number of paid positions. Despite the fact Norway is one of the world’s richest countries, sports funding is limited but the Norwegian Olympic Committee is supportive of the federation.

Flodin highlighted the point that the average age for rowers in Norway and Sweden to earn their first international medal is 25. In these nations the focus is not on achieving excellence at the junior level but rather on creating a system where athletes want to continue rowing for a long time. The key to this is supporting athletes in the five to six years from the junior level to their first medal. Using Svensson as an example, Flodin says he began working with her in 1997 when she was not an obvious talent and at the age of 25 she earned her first World Championship title.

The Flodin way
A little known fact is that for a period during the 1980s Sweden was the top country in tennis thanks to player Stefan Edberg. But nobody in Sweden knew who Edberg was because he was ranked just seventh nationally. All of these top players were from the same small town.  It was not about the number of courts at their disposal or equipment – the secret to success was in the environment in which they grew up.

Flodin is very much concerned with how conditions lead to performance. He cited a number of studies that illustrate the importance of conditions. The Hawthorn Study shows the impact of continuous motivation, therefore Flodin ensures his training programmes are varied as this study proves that once things get boring performance goes down. The Michigan Study shows that the best leaders in the world are not much more intelligent that the tier below but where the difference lies is in that leaders are never lazy. This is significant for both coaches and rowers. Flodin tries to apply these learnings to ensure conditions are optimal for top performance.

Flodin looked to other sports when planning his programme and adapted a focus on year-round strength and power development. He saw the impact ten second high intensity burst had on 2012 Olympic Champion in the K1 kayak single Eirik Veras Larsen (NOR) and so brought this into his programme. Flodin says the impact of this training can be seen in the 2013 performance of Norway’s World Champions, the men's double sculls and the lightweight men's double sculls.

While this one method worked well for the two boats, Flodin’s belief is that individualization is also key for success. Rowers who follow each other’s programmes ultimately end up getting slower. He illustrated how men's double sculler Nils Jakob Hoff’s type 1 fibers thrive on voluminous training whereas Kjetil Borch is immensely strong but overloading him can knock him back for a long time. There is not a big pool of athletes in Norway and Flodin does not have spares to slot into boats should injury occur, so the need to take care of the athletes is great.

Planning for success
Flodin doesn’t plan on letting 2013’s success be a one-off. His 2014 plan for Norway’s top rowers is already well thought out and includes 6,500km of rowing on the water and erg. However Flodin is realistic and is prepared for the likelihood that changes to this plan will be needed. “It’s only if you have a good plan that you can improvise,” Flodin says. In order to create an optimal programme he discusses training methods with other Norwegian sports.

Flodin illustrated five key factors crucial to success:

  • Long term work.
  • Thinking outside the box: finding new and legal ways to maximize performance.
  • Work with values.
  • Control what is controllable.
  • Make a decision don’t initiate discussion.

After the final 2013 World Rowing Cup he asked the two doubles to think of three factors that would result in them being five seconds faster than their opponents by the Championships. The aim of this was to give the rowers perspective over a limited period.

The performance environment
“Performance is the sum of all behavior. It is what we do every day; it is our environment,” Flodin says. As a coach he must consider all the variables that have any influence on the environment. For instance, what effect will Olaf Tufte’s decision to return to rowing in 2014 have on the team.

Flodin creates an awareness of the key factors to create a successful performance environment. ‘We are who we choose to be’ is his motto. On a training camp in Avis, Portugal in 2013 Flodin asked rowers for the most important factors and together they combined them to set standards for the ideal performance environment:

  • Stay positive.
  • Be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.
  • Control the controllable.
  • Resolve issues with the least energy.
  • Training is top priority.

These ideas remain at the heart of the team, defining the individuals within it, resulting in better results and more fun. Newcomers to the team, be they athletes, coaches or support staff respect these values.

View Johan Flodin’s full presentation here.