Vesta Rowing Club is like many other rowing clubs throughout the world. Its amateur athletes are coached by amateur coaches, with athletes and coaches alike looking to enjoy the sport, be part of the rowing community, and go faster on the water.
Like many other clubs, Vesta – based in Putney, UK – is using technology to improve the rowing experience for athletes and coaches. Like many other clubs too, while Vesta’s athletes and coaches are amateurs in rowing terms (as in, they do not train or coach full-time), they are working professionals with jobs and other commitments off the water.
For athletes at clubs like Vesta, busy professional and personal lives make time-efficient training a priority. Vesta has been using technology to help find the right balance, for example introducing the Rowe.rs training data and communications platform. Ross Martin, head coach of the club’s 30-strong senior men’s squad, said that the main benefit of using technology such as Rowe.rs is to help coaches “manage things in a smoother way”.
Talking to Rowe.rs at Vesta’s boathouse, Martin said: “In our squad, everybody is basically a professional. They’ve all got jobs that are at least 9-5 during the week, and the same with all the coaches.” Helping athletes and coaches fit training around work and other commitments “is really where Rowe.rs comes in for us,” Martin said.
Club captain Harry Bond added, “Everyone involved is here giving up time, so everything we do has to be as efficient as possible.” For the coaches, Bond said, “if they are willing to give up a certain number of hours a week, if I can get them to use less of those hours on admin and more of those hours on actually coaching, then we get better results.”
With multiple squads to manage too, Bond added that using Rowe.rs “basically simplified and unified the approach across the whole club”.
Leigh Curtis Green, head coach of Vesta’s 40-strong senior women’s squad and part of the Vesta team that originally rolled out the use of Rowe.rs in 2014, said the system has proved to be “incredibly helpful” in terms of monitoring attendance and planning sessions. Email communication with 40 different athletes was “heavy going”, she said. Now, Curtis Green rarely uses anything other than Rowe.rs for communicating with athletes, adding that “It’s much easier than all the different paths we had before”, and has “really [been] a time-saver” in terms of squad administration.
Martin continued: “Particularly as a head coach, I think a lot of the job is setting the structure … within which the athletes can train …. That helps them manage their lives.”
Using Rowe.rs “helps me to better organise, which means that in turn the squad has more clarity, so it saves them time”, said Martin. “That is value to the [athletes], because it enables them to have more time outside of their training,” he added.
In terms of ranking what Rowe.rs provides for the coaches, Bond said that the priorities are attendance and crew selection. Athletes mark their session availability in the Rowe.rs system, and those available for water sessions are ‘dragged and dropped’ into crews. Martin added that, without this, he “would be having to get 30 emails from 30 different people telling me their availability …. I’d be having to create crews for every single session.” To distribute the training programme and crew lists to all athletes at once, the coach clicks a ‘publish’ button.
Martin noted that athletes were now often asking him when the training programme would be posted. “If they’re asking me, that tells me they see the benefit in it, because they want it up there.”
Rowe.rs also helps Vesta’s coaches to track athlete training. “If they’re doing an ergo off-site, we know they’ve done it,” said Martin. “When they’re doing an ergo down here [at the club], we don’t need to record the scores and try and compile them …. We’ve got it there, we’ve got the comparison, we’ve got the detail.”
Bond added that the next priority is athletes monitoring their own performance. For the coaches, Bond said, “rather than spend the time explaining to athletes how important it is that they monitor things, you’re forcing them to monitor stuff because they have to input the data otherwise the coaches start to say ‘well, you’re not doing the training’.”
Vesta’s athletes know that Rowe.rs is the system in use, and that attendance and ergo information must be entered. While a range of methods and metrics are used in crew selection, the athletes know that the coaches will pay attention to attendance and ergo data entered. “There’s one, centralised point. They know the data is correct,” said Curtis Green. There is “very little hesitancy to want to engage with it”, she added.
Bond – who has oversight of the use of Rowe.rs and who was an athlete and vice-captain when Vesta first introduced it – said the ability to analyse data and generate reports to demonstrate athlete progress is important. Using the review system, he said, means “You can show them … and say ‘this is where you were two months ago: this is where you are now: here are your results.’”
Reinforcing this point, Curtis Green added that – in terms of the increasing use of information in rowing – using data helps athletes to “see where they started, and where they are headed”.
The data collection and collation also provides a head coach or a club captain with the ability to oversee progress across a squad or number of squads. “If I can see, over a two-month period … people aren’t progressing,” said Bond, “I can say ‘right, what are we doing as a club?’” If, historically, “we are struggling in [certain] months, … is there something we can do to either make it more fun, more effective?”
The data collection capacity also means that a new coach will have access to athletes’ history and crew results. Previously, transitions between coaches often saw lessons forgotten regarding proven methods for achieving success. Thus, said Bond, “we never progressed: we’d stay around the same sort of level.” Now, he continued, “you can bring a coach in and say ‘these were the results, this was the programme, this is what we found effective, let’s develop it’, rather than come in on a blank sheet of paper.”
Curtis Green argued that using Rowe.rs has also helped sharpen the competitive edge in the club’s training and racing. The greater level of information-capture and –sharing has made athletes “very aware of the power of information”. Prior to the use of such technology, athletes never really saw much of their own data, nevermind compared it to others, she said. Rowe.rs has helped re-introduce this element of competition, Curtis Green added.
The availability of data makes progress and competitiveness more transparent. “Having all that data in front of you, without debate, … has become huge,” she said, adding that it also helps athletes understand what makes a boat go faster.