Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bad rower

I'm not a bad rower because I missed practice twice last week and once this week.

I'm a bad rower because I talked back to a coach. I have only done that one other time since I started rowing again and it was the same woman. She is not one of our regular two coaches, but someone who shows up every couple of weeks to help out. When I saw her I thought, "Oh, it's the mean coach." Sadly, she was with my boat the entire practice.

The first thing she did was pick on me. While we were doing the warm up drill, she yelled at me from the launch, "Four seat—put both your thumbs under the oar handle!"

I didn't hear her at first, but she yelled at me a second time. I ignored her.

In sweep rowing (one oar per person) each hand does a different job. The "inside" hand (the hand closer to the oarlock) feathers the blade (flips it from perpendicular to the water to parallel to the water and back). The "outside" hand (the hand on the end of the oar handle, furthest from the blade) pulls the oar. The outside arm does the pulling (though the main force of the stroke is from the legs). The inside hand must grasp the oar handle because it does the feathering. Even so, you want to grasp the handle as lightly as possible to accomplish the feathering. Likewise, the outside hand is just "hanging off" the oar handle; it should be grasped by the fingers not the palms--and use the loosest possible grasp to accomplish the task. The outside hand acts like a lever on the oar. It helps keep the oar at the right height and guides it through the water.

During my time at UNC, I had a problem with grasping too tightly with my outside hand. Possibly it happened when I changed from port to starboard. When I made the switch, my outside hand, which used to be the inside hand, wanted to feather. Muscle memory was causing me to grip too tightly. As a way to stop the strangle hold on the oar handle, I put my thumb on top of the oar. It solved the problem. I've rowed like that ever since. In fact, sometimes I even ride my bike that way—with my thumb draped on top of the handle bar—to keep from cocking my wrist too much.

Anyway, I know why I'm doing it and I've never been told that it's bad form. I've been rowing in my current club since May and no other coach has said boo to me about it. (In fact, the other time the mean coach corrected my form she said I was feathering with my outside hand. I ask you, how could I feather with my outside hand if I didn't have my thumb under the oar handle?)

When we came to a stop, the mean coach made a point of telling me, again, that I had to put BOTH thumbs under the oar handle.

I said, "I've been doing it this way a long time."

She said, "It's wrong."

I said, "I've been rowing for a lot of years and no other coach has said anything to me about it."

She said, "It's not right. That's not how you row. You don't have enough control if you don't put your thumb under the oar."

I said, "It's not a problem. I'm not the only one in the boat doing it." This last statement was based on my observation of the rower in front of me.

"It's still wrong. It's the wrong way to row."

I was furious. I'm sure she picked up on it. She was pissed too. Worse, everyone else got to listen to our little tiff. However, I did not change my hand position. (I did scour the internet when I got home to see if I could find anything about it; I couldn't.)

After practice, I was in the office, gathering my stuff. A couple of the other women from my boat were there and one of them said, quietly, "Don't worry about what she said. If it was a problem, I'm sure one of the other coaches would have said something by now."

"I know, but I shouldn't have said anything. I know better. Don't fight with the coach."

"I just didn't want you to feel bad."

"Thanks. Anyway, maybe she's right, I mean, I don't think she's right. But even if she is right, I'm not going to change my stroke three days before a race. It would throw everything off."

The other woman in the office heard us. She said, "Don't let it get to you. Don't take it personally."

I said, "I usually don't, but I think after my last week at work, I'm hypersensitive." I explained a bit about my run-ins with TCW and she nodded sympathetically.

I wonder if that's what it was. Was I just in no mood to be disrespected by anyone, even a coach? Especially a coach I already don't like.

Thinking I'd avoided coming face-to-face with the mean coach, I went to unlock my bike and there she was, standing by the bike rack, in conversation with the good coach. The good coach, who I adore, asked me, "So, how was it?" I told her about the row, what we did well, and what we needed to work on. The good coach respects me and values my opinion. I may not be the best rower, but I have a good feel for what's going on in the boat. While I'm talking, the mean coach said nothing. Then they headed back to the boathouse and I got on the bike and rode home.

I sort of wanted to apologize to the mean coach—not because I thought she was right—but because my behavior was inappropriate. Altogether, the members of this crew are more likely to talk back than collegiate or competitive rowers. Sometimes that's fine, say, if you don't understand an instruction. But what I did was wrong. But how wrong was it? Maybe if I see her again, I'll say something like, "I was having a bad day and I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I'm sure you're right about the technique thing, but I didn't want to make a big change like that going into a race." If I could say that with a straight face, how awesome would I be? That'll be the day.

Grateful for: the good coach.

Drop me a line.

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