As clubs and international teams around the world seek to improve athlete performance to make boats go faster, the inputs of physiotherapists and strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches – and relationships between these two and with the rowing coach – are becoming more important.
Speakers at the Rowe.rs ‘R2: Technology and Performance’ conference at Dorney Lake in late January told participants that the work and feedback provided by physiotherapists and S&C coaches complement the rowing programme.
Sarah-Jane McDonnell, a physiotherapist who has supported the Irish rowing team through four Olympic cycles, told the conference that the relationship between the physiotherapist and the coach is crucial.
A physiotherapist’s key role is to disseminate feedback on an athlete to the coach so that the coach knows how to manage that athlete, both in returning to training after injury and to minimise injury re-occurrence risk, said McDonnell.
Similarly, she added, the physiotherapist needs to understand the minimum training requirement in order to design rehabilitation work to help move the athlete towards getting back in the boat. This can include bringing some form of rowing movement as early as possible into the recovery process – something itself that can help an athlete overcome any concerns about the impact of the injury in rowing terms.
Developing such mutual input and trust will also help the coach be sure that the physiotherapist will only pull an athlete out of the boat when absolutely necessary, McDonnell argued.
Milosz Wrobel, an S&C coach for Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC), and for the university’s women’s rugby club, told the conference that “In terms of the rehab time, once you’ve got a diagnosis then you’ve got a structured plan, and that structured plan should really work with what the S&C coach can provide, and what the programme should be as the athlete … returns to normal training.” This helps ease the athlete back into the training programme, Wrobel said.
Wrobel noted also the importance of a two-way working relationship between the S&C team and the physiotherapist. In Cambridge’s case, Wrobel said the two have “very, very joined-up teamwork, in terms of how we are going to deal with an athlete [with an injury]: how we are going to work on this so it doesn’t re-occur. That’s the most important part.” Such a relationship, he continued, “is a key part of your support staff.”
In terms of support team contact with athletes, McDonnell said: “It doesn’t necessarily always mean contact time when you are working with athletes.” However, she noted, there are other ways that the necessary feedback is gleaned. “I get information from the S&C coach, I am out in the coaching launch with the coach, and in and around maybe tweaking some of the work [the athletes] do in the gym,” she said.
Wrobel reinforced this point, noting “You haven’t got an amazing amount of time with athletes,” and he underscored the need for S&C staff to focus on what must be achieved with the coach and the athletes.
CUWBC head coach Rob Baker pointed to the importance of the pool of expert support staff for his programme. While he noted the challenges of a limited amount of contact time with the support team, he said that S&C work “complements the rowing programme”: it “helps our athletes get through it”, he continued, by making them more robust (and not just building more power).