This is an interesting topic that many novice coaches need to face. When rowers start rowing, they are blank slates so they don’t have any rowing coordination or skill to control the boat or their oar. New rowers, novice rowers don’t have a body built for rowing. Rowing bodies develop with good and consistent practice. So the first step of the process is to understand that and then develop a system where you can give to your athletes the best platform to develop as quickly as possible their bodies and all these skills required, like blade depth.
So how can we fix or help rowers to control their blade depth?
Blade depth is something that the rower controls if the boat is rigged properly and the boat is balanced. So to start giving the rower the chance to understand how to play with the blade during the drive give him these 2 requirements: a balanced boat and a well rigged boat. You can have the rower row in a team boat with part of the crew stopped, balancing the boat. Make him row slowly looking at his blade depth and as he does it, give him some good feedback.
Also you can do work on a rowing machine and control the hand level at all the times. So make your rowers come in and out of the cage maintaining the same level of hands. I’m sure you can work a lot on land with the hand level.
Blade depth has a direct relationship with connection to the water and how you control your body during the rowing stroke cycle. If you have good posture, good connection during the rowing drive and a good sequence of organized movements for the rowing cycle, it is easier to teach blade depth. When I work with novices I teach them first all those parts on the dynamic rowing machine Rowperfect3s and work on their grip and coordinated drive so when I get on the water it is easier to focus on blade control and blade skills.
When you sit in a balanced boat and hold an oar for the first time and start rowing, one of the first big challenges is to learn to lever the oar against the oarlock correctly when the blade is on the square. Just placing the blade on the water on the square and finding pressure in front of the blade is hard. Keeping that blade pushing against the water on the square is hard too. To be able to improve on that and wire the correct movements I will follow some of the points listed below.
1- Make your body do what your brain wants to do. The rower needs to know what he needs to do and watching good video of blade depth and good slow blade work is really helpful. The rower needs to know exactly what he needs to do and take charge of his actions. He needs to have connection of his brain with what he does all the time.
2- A balanced boat to practice those perfect strokes and a well rigged boat.
3- A relax upper body with good posture and good grip to the oar.
4- Rowing with both hands gripping the oars, inside arm only and outside arm only, alternate all those on the square. You can add a pause at hands away to give the rower a moment to think after each stroke and before the new stroke to make a change.
5- Do part of this rowing on the square when we have a balanced boat so we don’t confuse the rower with the drive depth and the feather – squaring action.
6- Slow down the movement to 10 strokes a minute and take very long strokes. Teach the rower to hang and to position well his body, his wrist, engage the right parts of the body, suspend his body weight and all the time be relax and lose.
7- Every 20 strokes stop him and ask him to give you feedback of what he is feeling, he has done and he can do better. The rower cannot lose the connection from his brain to the body parts. His brain needs to be engaged all the times.
8- Make him do the same rowing closing his eyes and help him with feedback.
9- Play with the distance between the grip of both hands if you are rowing sweep, row touching both hands, and later have them as far apart as you can and on sculling get your hands closer to the oarlocks and normal grip.
10- Row with the handle of the oar as far in front of your fingers as you can and use your thumb to help you to not lose the oar. Try to not touch the grip with your palms. Do that for a few strokes and go back to normal and that way you can understand how you play with the handle in your hand and how you grip it.