(This is a sample chapter from Water Ready: The Ultimate Handbook on Getting and Keeping Your Rowing Equipment in Its Prime, co-authored by Mike and Margot Zalkind Mayor. Due out in December 2020)
There are so many challenges to overcome in rowing. Whether you row on your own small lake or are part of a team in a crowded boathouse on a much-used stretch of water, there is almost always something that can use improvement.
A critical aspect of rowing is overcoming those challenges. But, how?
Mike will let you in on a secret: A while back, he was in my office. The phone rang, it was a coaching buddy, and he could hear the manic in her voice. She blurted out, “I need a trailer driver, by tomorrow! I can’t find anyone anywhere!”
Ugh. You’ve probably felt that way. Obstacle. Need solution. Right Now!
That coach’s options were not good:
- Put an untrained driver behind the wheel
- Cancel going to the event
- Drive the trailer herself and forego some of her other duties
How did she get into this dilemma? She had not spent the time training drivers. No Plan B. She was stuck because she had no one else trained to drive. So, the secret?
The secret of quality downtime
How do we in the ‘World of Rowing’ overcome challenges like this coach had? Simple, we identify a potential challenge/obstacle and make use of our downtime to Prepare the Solution. Use the downtime. Creatively.
And not just any time of downtime—use quality downtime!
Quality downtime in rowing is a special, important time. We’re not talking about a few minutes left from a practice, or waking up in a fog at 4 am. We are talking about those times when you can bring clear thinking to a challenge and find a solution:
Start in your off-season
Start listing your challenges. If the driver-needing coach had identified that she would need more than one trailer driver during the season, what could she have done? She could have identified a few potential people with the maturity, sense, experience and time to cultivate as potential drivers. Maybe a coach, a crew parent, or even a mechanically gifted friend. They do not NEED to be a rower!
You don’t need to wait for an off-season. Teach someone trailer driving skills on a non-racing weekend in a nearby empty parking lot. Schedule a Learn-to-Rig Party on an off-the-water day. Watch a safety video at home instead of a game show.
Help your resources be well-trained
And more helpful! Look at your resources: coaches, assistant coaches, parents, waterfront directors, alumni, volunteers. For any of these people to be even more helpful, they will need knowledge and training. Here are a few areas of expertise, where education can create trained specialists:
- Trailer Driving
- Launch Driving
- Training coxswains
- Repairing equipment
- Recruiting members (and running Learn to Row sessions)
- Budgeting/financial management
- Events; management, volunteers
Where to start to make the rowing better?
There is lots of help out there and here are just some of the resources you can tap into:
- Online rigging course
- Trailer driving videos
- Coaching education programs
- Coaching education newsletters
- Boating safety course
- Rowing books
Each of those resources could be perfect to help a helper, to bring someone up to speed. And there are many more.
Website of your rowing governing body may have info on many of these topics.
Locate and ask mentors
Ask your experienced trailer driver to train others. Or, ask someone not in your club, a nearby coach or other teacher. An experienced Launch Driver is a gem of a resource.
Margot rowed out of Potomac Boat Club in Washington, DC for years after spending time at a club of 12 mostly-not-experienced rowers. Which meant almost none of them knew rigging or safety or many other critical pieces of information. When she got to PBC, she was delighted to meet some of the rowers who had been rowing since boarding school, and now were in their 70s. Their combined knowledge and experience was a treasure trove, some could (and would) rig a boat for every body type, adjusting and accounting for height and strength, body irregularities, and even the hardware. The welcome recipients of this generosity would then row better, be more comfortable.
If you are rowing out of a boathouse with a large, experienced membership, plumb the depths of their know-how. If you are not, either find these sources elsewhere or, join an online group to get advice.
But words of caution
Some folks think they are much better at rigging than they actually are, and they like to make suggestions, some of which aren’t helpful. Watch out who you get advice from. And most importantly, NEVER rely on “Learning under fire.” On the job training can work, but learning under fire is a possible recipe for disaster. Examples?
- Tossing the keys to someone with no experience in driving a trailer, at the end of a long regatta day. Can they navigate corners? Handle fishtailing? Figure out how to get in and out of a gas station? Navigate overhangs?
- OR someone who has never rigged a boat suddenly needs to get a boat rigged and race ready one hour before launch. How do they know what to do?
- OR, try driving a launch for the first time while trying to coach two novice eights and avoid floating debris?
The bottom line to make the rowing better
Use your downtime wisely, especially your quality downtime. You train your body (or others) to stay strong and be ready for rowing challenges—ergs, weights, stairs, running, etc…so do the same for the other challenges you will face. Quality downtime can be an amazing tool to have in your tool box.