3-on-3: Junior Coaches Talk Winter Training

by Jules Zane, | Nov 25, 2015
Three experts answer three questions, offering unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. In this edition of 3-on-3 we are talking about (junior) winter training with Chris Chase (founder, coach and regatta director at Saratoga Rowing Association), Liz Trond (head coach at U.S. Junior Women’s National Team and Connecticut Boat Club) and Marc Mandel (head coach at D.C.’s Gonzaga High School Crew).
3-on-3 copyThree experts answer three questions, offering unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. In this edition of 3-on-3, we talk about (junior) winter training with Chris Chase (founder, coach and regatta director at Saratoga Rowing Association), Liz Trond (head coach of the U.S. Junior Women’s National Team and Connecticut Boat Club) and Marc Mandel (head coach at D.C.’s Gonzaga High School Crew). All three coaches will be in Philadelphia next week at USRowing's Annual Convention and Advanced Coaches Conference. Registration has been extended to Sunday, Nov. 29.

1. Rowers want to stay on the water as long as possible. What’s your best advice to stay warm and safe before the freeze?

Liz Trond: “We safely try and stay on the water as long as possible before the freeze, and get back on the water as soon as possible when the ice breaks. Beyond the obvious beanie, hats and rain gear, my go-tos are: limber up and do your range of motion work indoors prior to heading out, but don’t get sweaty before you launch. Have your layers on before you get outside. Vests and neck wraps are key. One year, one of our seniors (hi, Juliet) knitted a neck wrap for me and I wear it at all coaching and rowing times. Thermacare heat wraps are magical under a unisuit. If you get too toasty you can always take it off and they are amazing for heating up the core. Hand warmers are a must for coaches. However, if you place them in your sports bra (I am serious), it takes rower warmth to a whole new level.”

LizChris Chase: “First, and foremost, the safety of the athletes is most important. Don't just go on the water to go on the water. Don't confuse simply being on the water with improving. Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. Make sure when you launch, the conditions will allow your crews a chance to get better and put in quality work. If opportunities happen and the athletes can improve their technique and/or log meters, then take them. But don't put them out there in conditions that are detrimental to their health. Certainly don't take too many crews out with too few launches. And be careful about the ability of the rowers you are taking out. Make sure they can handle the conditions on the water. Lastly, make sure they understand the expectations and the safety protocols if dangerous situations occur, such as where to go and what to do if someone flips.

"Dressing appropriately is very important. If you don't have the right clothing, you erg in the boathouse. Staying hydrated and getting a good warm-up is also important. Lastly, make sure you utilize equipment appropriate to the weather, the temperatures, and ability of the athletes on the water. Pushing off eight singles when the water is too cold is dangerous. The eighth-best rower is certainly not going to keep up with the best, and you'll be lucky to watch over all your charges. You'd be better off using bigger boats and keeping stable platforms to work on technique. At some point, although there may not be ice yet, you'll run out of positive experiences when going on the water. Recognize when the athletes are not gaining anything by going out. There's a fine line between being tough and being stupid."

Marc Mandel: ”We continue rowing through the middle of November, mostly limited by daylight, given that we practice in the afternoons. Compared to when we return to the water in early March, we are many months away from racing, the weather is warmer and conditions are normally flatter, so I think it is a great time to work on technical development. Common sense dictates athletes layer for warmth, and in terms of safety, have reliable lights on shells and launches if the crews will stay out close to dusk.”

mandel copy2. If a rower can’t row outside for a while, how do they gain an advantage while erging and how can they mix it up from just erging?

Chris Chase: “I've asked my guys to join the cross country ski team at their high school, or the swim team. Trying out something new can be exciting and helpful. Maybe the athlete realizes how much they miss rowing and come back hungrier to train hard. Maybe the athlete gains more flexibility, coordination or strength. Maybe the coach of that sport appreciates the give and take, and encourages his athletes to row during their off season. In my opinion, specializing in one sport has hurt our young athletes.

When you do erg, we adhere to the old adage that ‘milage makes champions.' We put in an awful lot of meters up here, however, we do most of the meters on sliders and in rows. We work on timing, rythym and length. Most of our pieces are 20 minutes or more. I like to focus on volume, no too much intensity, too often. We have so many rowers and too few ergs. You'll see a lot of circuit training, some plyometrics, cardio machines (biking and treadmills), and loads of core work going on in the boathouse. A big favorite in Saratoga is yoga. I really can't say enough about yoga!”

Liz Trond: “Consider looking at it as an advantage. The winter months are the perfect time to work on your overall athleticism and attaining tangible goals. Many young rowers spend too much time only rowing and erging. How about adding in realistic goals for pull-ups, planks for time, 400-meter track times, wall balls, bench press, rope climb and everything else your program has access to during the winter? Unlike spring, summer and fall when you are on the water, winter training is all about creating success for yourself.”

Marc Mandel: “We see it every year when erg-bound programs that don’t get out until late March or early April start slower, but by the end of the spring, have a higher ceiling given the tremendous base they developed through the winter. Taking ownership of one’s training by keeping a notebook is a great way to track progress and take things day to day during a long winter. Additionally, spending a good deal of time being mindful of how one applies power and recovers on the erg, not just the scores being produced, will pay dividends when spring finally comes.”

chase copy3. How do you make sure a team stays in sync over winter to be able to race in the early spring?

Marc Mandel: “Like many programs, in an effort to convey our ideal sense of rhythm to our younger athletes, we will pair them up with upperclassmen on the connected dynamic ergs during steady state workouts. In terms of getting ready to race, having at least one workout a week that involves some sort of racing and ranking is very helpful. Rather than rank the entire team in one group, we might have two or three groups, given the variability of erg scores within our squad.”

Chris Chase: “We encourage them to stay fit individually, for starters. You don't have to row, but do something. Many of our kids ski. With the winters we have been having, it has been great for them. However, we do start the winter training (officially) long before the ice breaks. The boathouse has a pretty hard-working culture. We really don't have to push too hard to get kids to show up and work. Establishing a culture is a big part of having a successful team in any sport. Creating standards and levels of expectations are huge.

Another major aspect of getting a jump on spring is hosting a training trip over winter break in February. It brings everyone together (in Orlando, Florida). We put in the miles, work on technique, and go to a theme park and beach. The bonding that occurs is important to team dynamics. The younger kids are pushed by the more experienced kids. In all, we get three weeks of strokes in a one-week period of time. The kids come back excited for the season and ready to pull hard for the last few weeks of winter training. We know we will be lucky to get 40 water practices in before Scholastic Nationals, so there is a sense of urgency to be as fit as possible before the ice breaks so we don't have to work on fitness and technique.”
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