Crews who are new to racing face a novel set of challenges in addition to those related to fitness and rowing technique. Crew rowing requires a particular form of mental discipline which keeps the crew working as a cohesive unit regardless of the psychological pressures of competition. It is a common experience for novice crews in their first few races to ‘come apart’ under pressure. The excitement of the event drives concentration, technique and co-ordination out of their minds and they are left as a group of individuals all ‘pulling hard’. This is invariably a fast route to failure as a competitive crew.
Coaching concentration, technique and co-ordination is what coaches do most of the time. Getting a crew to execute the required concentration, technique and co-ordination in competition requires first of all actual experience of the pressures and excitement of competition. The nearest parallel I can think of is in the performing arts. A musician trained to a high level of technical perfection without being exposed to the pressures of playing a live concert may be an artist, but they are not a performer: and only actual performance in front of an audience can give them that experience.
In exactly the same way, a crew training for competition needs – in additional to good coaching – actual experience of competition. Only the tension and excitement of competing against other crews can provide the “stress-test” which will enable them to learn the grace under pressure required to compete effectively.
It would be wonderful if there was a coaching technique we could use on every outing to simulate competition, but there is no substitute for the real thing.