Moving in sympathy with the boat

30 May 2021


Did Harry have a picture of the perfect stroke in his mind?

He had an idea of what an efficient stroke looked like. It might be different coaching a single to coaching an eight; in an eight everyone needs to have the same kind of picture.

But to me, a picture in… at the stage he coached me, I didn’t feel like there was a visual… you couldn’t draw it, because it might involve breaking your arm early, or it might not. It just depends what’s the best way for each person to get the blade in the water.

So I didn’t feel like he had a perfect stroke that he was working towards, that you could draw it. It was what was right for each person and it was about moving with the boat.

So I think Harry was very keen on getting you to move, I would say, in sympathy with the boat.

Now, a lot of people will just get in a boat and they think you just put the oar in the water and you pull hard.

Feeling how the boat is moving

Harry was very interested in making sure that you were sympathetic to what was going on around you. And that was easiest in the slower moving boat.

So the single and, better still, the single with a bungee around it, allowed me to get a very good feel for how the boat was moving. I think you can do it in an eight with a bungee around the eight, or with four people rowing and four people sitting there.

To get the idea as to… recognising how fast is the boat going, so therefore how do I move in sympathy to it; how do I move in relation to how the boat is moving.

So that at the back of the stroke, that would mean you can just relax and don’t move forward too fast, because you’ve got to wait for the boat to come to you. If the boat’s moving quicker, you move quicker to come to it.

And then to actually just get the blade locked in the water at a speed which feels right for the timing of the boat. So that the blade goes into the boat… into the water, at the time that feels right, the speed that feels right. You can’t put it in too early because the boat is going too fast, and if you put it in too late you’ve missed it, it’s going too slow, but in a way that just felt right.

And to me, it’s difficult to talk about feelings… to me it was this… recognising you’re only connected by your backside, your feet and your hands and learning to be more and more aware of exactly what you feel in your hands and exactly whether you’ve missed it and you’ve not applied any force, or actually whether you’ve got it and you’re applying the right amount of force. And that would require a greater level of feel.

And that feel started in your hands, but then it might go into my muscles. So to be going, okay, I can feel that I’m connected now in my lats, I can feel I’ve got it here under my arm, I can now feel that I’m working this quad muscle and this quad muscle is actually moving… and it’s moving the boat forward.

So I’m not just rowing along, slamming my legs down, bang, bang, bang, trying to keep up with the stroke-man; I’m actually going, no, I’m moving with the boat. Because at this point, I can feel my oar against the water and it’s connected, and it’s moving the boat somewhere. So I’m not just splashing along; I’m actually connected to the boat.

Like I say, the slower the boat, the easier that is. And that’s why I think it’s very important we all should learn to scull, and then we should all learn to row in pairs, and then we get the feel for it. And then you translate and take that over to the bigger boat.

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About the

Greg Searle

British rower Greg Searle was already an Olympic Champion in sweep rowing when he was first coached by Harry Mahon in the single scull.

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