Entries in Jurgen Grobler (4)


Strength Training for Men - Part 2. FISA Coaching Conference Video. 

By: Jurgen Grobler (Men’s Head Coach GBR)
From: FISA Coaches Conference, Budapest Hungary. November 7-11 2007

HighPerformanceRowing.net presented a journal entry on this topic of Strength Training for Men by Jurgen Grobler. Having now confirmed accuracy of articles and sources, we are now able to present the following videos. If you would like to see the slides and notes more clearly, please see Strength Training For Men - Part 1.  

Jurgen Grobler FISA Coaches Conference 2007 - Video









Strength Training For Men

By: Jurgen Grobler (Men’s Head Coach GBR)
From: FISA Coaches Conference, Budapest Hungary. November 7-11 2007

HighPerformanceRowing.net now has a journal video entry on this topic of Strength Training for Men which talks through the slides below. Having now attained approval, HPR is now able to present the following videos Strength Training For Men - Part 2.

Strength Training For Men - Part 1











































Understanding Rowing Technique - The Timing of the Catch

By: Dr Valery Kleshnev and Tim Baker
From: Rowing & Regatta Magazine.

The timing of the catch is a critical part of the rowing stroke which makes a significant difference to boat speed. The majority of rowers and coaches appreciate this and spend a lot of time working on it, yet what exactly rowers should be aiming for still seems somewhat shrouded in mystery.

To illustrate my point, I spoke to some coaches. “What is back-splash and is it a good thing?” I asked. “When should you place the catch?” There was little agreement about whether back-splash was towards the stern or the bow and certainly no agreement about whether it was a good thing or not. In fact the only common response was that “It’s a question that seems to create an awful lot of confusion.”

The timing of the catch is not a black art, but hopefully it is something that can be explained and understood. The aim of this article is to explain the basics and then discuss a subtlety that I believe may be the root of some of the confusion.


If we could put the blade in instantly, when would we do it?

When we put the blade into the water, if it’s moving more slowly than the water, we will get a splash towards the bow and a slowing force on the blade. If it’s moving at the same speed as the water then there will be no force on the blade and little or no splash. If it’s moving faster than the water then there will be a splash towards the stern and a force on the blade that will accelerate the boat and rower.

Figure 1 illustrates what happens in more detail as the blade approaches the catch. If you were to put the blade in at cases 1 or 2, then you would get a large force slowing the boat down (and may injure yourself at high speeds and rates). If you put the blade in at case 3, then you would still get a small force slowing the boat down. At case 4 the blade speed is matched to the water speed and there will be no be force if the blade is put in the water now (and little or no splash). By case 5 the blade speed is now high enough for the water flow to switch to the other side of the blade. If you put the blade in now you will be able to produce a force in the correct direction and accelerate the boat and rower.

So from these pictures we can see that case 4 is the first point at which we can put the blade in without slowing the boat down.

What happens if the blade is placed late?

A blade that is covered significantly after it has reached water speed will increase the catch slip. That is, it will reduce the effective stroke length. Put another way, the same effective stroke could have been achieved with a shorter overall stroke length and hence less wasted energy on relative movement between the boat and the rower.

What happens if the blade is placed early?

Placing the blade early will lead to a negative force on the handle. This should be avoided and could cause injury if done at high boat speeds or rating (more on this later).
These two opposing factors – wasted effective stroke length versus check on the boat – are what makes the catch so critical in maximising boat speed.

In reality, we can’t put the blade in instantly so what happens in practice?
It takes time from when you first start to raise the hands to when the blade first touches the water. I’m probably stating the obvious here but this is because the blade has to travel a certain vertical distance before it reaches the water and also because when you first try to move the blade vertically you can’t instantly impart it with velocity. The blade has inertia so the force you apply builds up the vertical speed progressively. Typically it takes around 0.25 seconds from when you start to raise the hands to when the blade first touches the water.

It also takes time from when the blade first touches the water to when it is fully covered.
Typically this takes around 0.1 seconds. Any time taken from when you start to raise the hands to when the blade first touches can be compensated for by simply starting to raise the hands earlier. However, it is important to minimise the time taken to cover the blade as this has a direct effect on effective stroke length.

Is it enough to let the blade fall under gravity?

If you raise the hands quickly enough that you allow the blade to fall under gravity, the acceleration is around 240 deg/s/s and this typically leads to a time to cover of 0.09 seconds. Club rowers are often slower than this. That is, they are still applying some downward force onto the blade as they allow the handle to rise, typically leading to a time to cover of around 0.13 seconds. Top-level rowers are achieving accelerations greater than gravity. Typically 300-400 deg/s/s at high ratings which lead to times to cover as low as 0.06 seconds. This reduced time to cover the blade is significant and can only be achieved by applying an upward force on the handle with the thumb.

So how do we time the catch?

It usually takes longer to make the vertical movement (0.25 seconds) than to accelerate the blade to boat speed (0.15 seconds) so you need to start raising the hands on the way forward in order to put the blade in at case 4 (typically 0.1 seconds before the horizontal direction change).

How do we know when we’ve got it right?

There will be very little splash initially because the blade entry is timed to coincide with the blade speed matching the water speed. This is followed by a larger splash towards the stern as the blade starts to go faster than the water and the blade force builds.


We are now going to talk about some subtleties, so don’t let anything said here confuse you about the basics which still apply. Ideally you would want the blade fully covered at case 4, but this is not possible. To do this would mean that the first touch of the blade occurred when the blade was going too slowly and there would be a significant check on the boat. If, instead, you time it such that the blade has reached water speed before any of it touches the water, you have missed the first few degrees of the stroke. What the top rowers do (from observation and measured data), is a compromise between these two.

Typically the blade entry is timed so that the blade matches the water speed when it’s around 50 per cent covered. That is, if the blade takes 8/100ths of a second to cover, then the first touch is about 4/100ths second early. Figure 2 shows this on a blade path shape where the magenta circle shows the point at which the blade matches water speed. This timing allows the rower to ‘sneak’ a few extra degrees of effective stroke.

Why do we get away with this?

  • It is only a very small speed mismatch.
  • It only occurs for a very small time (3-4/100ths of a second).
  • The rower doesn’t resist the blade handle.

When the blade first touches, there is a mismatch in speed but only a few centimetres of the blade are in the water so the handle force is very small. As the blade becomes more covered, the speed mismatch reduces until when the blade is 50 per cent covered the speeds are matched. The force is related to the speed difference and the area of blade in the water is always small. If the rower was to resist the negative force on the handle via the footplate then it would decelerate the combined system of boat and rower. (The same as if you hold the boat up.)

Instead what happens is the rower allows the handle to accelerate them towards the bow of the boat so the combined system of boat and rower is not slowed. In fact it happens so quickly that you don’t really notice it.

What does this look like?

You may see a very small splash towards the bow from the lower half of the blade, followed by the usual larger splash towards the stern (see main photograph).

What are the key points?

  • The splash towards the bow is not the thing to aim for. You are aiming to get the blade
    in as soon as is possible, which is done by practice and ‘feel’. This (very small) splash is
    a consequence, not the desired effect.
  • The blade should never touch the water on the way forward (case 1).
  • The blade should never touch the water when it has reached its furthest forward (case 2).
  • What we are talking about here is placing the blade after it has changed direction and started to move towards the stern. The blade is almost matched to the speed of the water before first touch and the mismatch only occurs for a few 1/100ths of a second.

I believe that some of this concept may have filtered down from top-level to club rowing and has been misunderstood such that people believe that a back-splash is a positive thing to be aiming for. Some coaches appear even to teach a large back-splash to encourage maximum forward placement which is not a sensible thing to do. You must match the blade speed to the speed of the boat at blade entry.


  • Use a high vertical acceleration on the handle to minimise the time to cover the blade.
    Start raising the hands on the way forward since it takes longer to make the vertical movement than to accelerate the blade to water speed.
  • Time the blade entry to coincide with when the blade matches the water speed.
  • There should be little or no splash initially – do not aim for a large back-splash.


Dr Valery Kleshnev is recognised as a world expert in rowing bio-mechanics and provides technical analysis to: Jürgen Grobler and the GB team.
Tim Baker studied engineering at Cambridge University and then worked for Rolls-Royce designing civil jet engines before setting up Precision Sport Rowing Electronics in 2003.


Doing the Business with Jurgen Grobler

By: David Bolchover.
Site link: TLS.

David Bolchover is the co-author of The 90-Minute Manager, which outlines the lessons that business managers can learn from football managers. His next book, The Living Dead: The Shocking Truth about Office Life, will be published by Wiley-Capstone in October.

In the fourth of our articles on lessons that business can learn from sport David Bolchover talks to Britain’s Olympic rowing coach Jurgen Grobler as he looks forward to success at Beijing in 2008 and, he hopes, London in 2012 


STOP a man in the street, ask if he has heard of Sir Steve Redgrave or Sir Matthew Pinsent, and he would probably be surprised that anyone would waste their breath asking. Of course he has heard of them. But mention the name of Jurgen Grobler and you would probably be met by a shrug of the shoulders.

Yet this quiet, unobtrusive coach has been the indispensable influence behind the scenes during the past 14 halcyon years of British rowing. The limelight doesn’t interest Grobler. Only his athletes getting gold medals does. “I see my job as a service, helping young athletes, motivating them to the podium,” he said. “If you read the newspapers, you will see only the athletes’ names. That’s right. I have no problems there.”

Public recognition does come along sporadically. In 2000, Grobler won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year coaching award and four years later he was given a lifetime achievement award by the UK Coaching Foundation. He was awarded the freedom of his adopted town, Henley, on his return from success at the 1996 Olympics. But after each award, Grobler returned eagerly to the background.

Grobler’s business equivalent is not the charismatic, rent-a-quote chief executive so beloved of the media, but rather the unsung middle manager who devotes his life to extracting the last drop of potential from the human resources at his disposal.

At least, that’s what a corporate middle manager should be doing. The conclusion from recent research based on Gallup interviews with more than 1m employees across a broad range of industries in different countries leaves no doubt as to the value of good managers: “Talented employees need great managers. The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits and its world-class training programmes . . . but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor.”

Grobler certainly knows this. “To be successful again and again, I think every athlete needs a coach,” he said. “You notice when a good athlete wins, the first person he thanks will be his coach. He knows how important the coach has been to him, setting the right programme, preparing everything.” And Redgrave, speaking after yet another Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000, knew it too: “Without his (Grobler’s) support and help we wouldn’t be here.

Too often business ignores the lessons of sport, epitomised by the likes of Grobler. During our conversation at the history-laden Leander Club in Henley he repeatedly referred to an overriding desire to help young people make the most of themselves. The history of sport is shouting at business that teams can only achieve excellence under the guidance of a talented people manager who forfeits the pursuit of his own achievements to dedicate himself to helping others achieve.

Professional sport, the most competitive environment there is, has not only long recognised the sheer power of effective and committed people managers; it also understands that such individuals don’t grow on trees. Whereas companies continue to promote people to management positions just because they happen to be good at what they do, sport has learnt that true managerial skill is much less common than functional expertise, the ability to perform well doing the job or playing the game.

So, in Grobler, who never even attempted to forge a career as a rower for himself, we have the embodiment of some of the key messages sport can convey to business. He is a type of individual you will rarely come across in the business world — a man asked to do nothing but get the best out of others.

From as far back as he can remember, as a youngster growing up in the rubble of post-war Magdeburg in communist East Germany, Grobler was both fascinated by the sport of rowing and resigned to the fact that he would never make it as an athlete. “I just didn’t have the right body shape to be a successful international athlete,” he said. “But I was always interested in the sport — the teamwork, trying to find out how far you can push your body. I knew I couldn’t do it myself but I wanted to help young people achieve their goals.”

So he enrolled on a five-year degree in sports science in Leipzig, then the leading university in that field in the country. On graduating, he returned to his local rowing club in Magdeburg and first attracted attention in his midtwenties when he won the club its first medal, coaching Wolfgang Guldenpfennig to the bronze in the single sculls at the Munich Olympics of 1972. He then went on to coach the coxless pair Bernd and Jörg Landvoigt to successive golds in 1976 and 1980.

His record now is remarkable. He has a haul of 15 Olympic gold medals, eight with crews he has coached personally and seven as head coach or technical director of the rowing team, first with East Germany and then, since 1991, with Great Britain. Redgrave won three of his five Olympic golds under Grobler’s tutelage and Pinsent all four.

Add on countless World Championship golds, and you start to wonder what it is about this seemingly unremarkable man that makes him such a supreme manager. What differentiates the average managers from the Alex Ferguson’s and the Jurgen Grobler's, men who achieve success consistently over decades, with different organisations and despite changing personnel?

According to Grobler, it is “how much you love the job, how motivated you are as a coach”. This might, at first glance, seem trite, but many businesses still ignore the essential truth contained in it. To be really good at anything, you surely have first to love doing it. But any ambitious individual who wants to ascend the corporate heights normally has to push early in his career to become a middle manager of some sort, whether he has any desire to manage people or not.

The result can be uninterested, weak management and a consequently sluggish workforce, as workplace surveys bear out with disturbing regularity.

A paltry 2% of UK Human Resources professionals interviewed by Personnel Today in 2003 stated that the people management skills of line managers in their companies were “excellent”, while 74% blamed ineffective line managers for low morale.

Grobler’s love of coaching has two primary effects. First, it enables him to think nothing of working flat out for all hours to go that extra mile, examining every last detail to prepare his athletes for victory. His own work ethic, enthusiasm and total commitment, he believes, also produce farreaching knock-on effects. They are in themselves a galvanising force, rubbing off on the athletes and making them strive harder to achieve their goals.

“As in any other business where you want to be successful, this is not a 40- hour-a-week job. You have to devote all the time necessary to make the young athlete achieve. You have as a coach always to be in front, in the driving seat. You have to say to the athletes, ‘Look guys, I can’t do the training myself, but I will be there an hour before you so that everything is set up. I will help you.’ I always think that’s a big motivation for the athlete. They know there is someone there who will really help them and believe in them right through the tough times.”

The second consequence of Grobler’s passion is that his thirst for more work destroys any potential for complacency, prevents him from resting on his laurels and pushes him forward to strive for future goals. When I asked him if he had any regrets, there was a telling silence. Eventually he shook his head and said: “I’m always thinking about the next one. Always looking forward.” And right now he needs to do plenty of looking forward, to 2008 certainly and possibly to 2012.

Redgrave retired in 2000. Out of the four who won the coxless four Olympic gold in Athens last year, Pinsent and Ed Coode have also now retired, and James Cracknell is taking a year out. There is clearly much rebuilding to be done before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 if the British rowing team is to continue its remarkable run of success.

Grobler said the monumental task of sustaining the level of achievement in the face of the departure of these rowing legends has provided him with a renewed sense of mission, and, if he needed any, yet more enthusiasm. “This is a big challenge. I am maybe even more motivated than I was at the Athens Games,” he said.

Grobler’s doubters should remember that the German is a proven master at bringing change and improvement. First he revitalised the ramshackle rowing club in Magdeburg, putting it on the Olympic map with a hotel and state-of-the-art fitness centre.

When he arrived in Henley in 1991, invited to replicate his East German success by the British rowing establishment, “it was just like Magdeburg 20 years before. A boathouse and a river, and nothing else”. With the help of lottery funding and driven by Grobler’s vision, the Leander Club now boasts the best training facilities and a refurbished boathouse, decked with trophies and myriad memories of triumph.

Dilapidated facilities were one fundamental difficulty he faced on his arrival in Britain. The other was a dearth of the professionalism to which he was so accustomed in East Germany, where sport was “the Mercedes-Benz”, the prized asset of a dysfunctional system. “In my first Olympics here, it was all about ‘taking part’. I didn’t understand ‘taking part’. This was something totally new to me. I had to go there and win,” said Grobler.

He might have learnt in detail the methodology of sports science and fitness training in East Germany, but coaching for him is much more than reading from a manual. It requires combining technical knowledge with a profound understanding of the mental and physical attributes of the individual he is dealing with.

“A coach might have a training programme to follow, but he will have a feel as to whether the athletes have to back off or push on. You need to find that line, that ceiling. Not to go too far. Push them two steps forward and then back off a little bit. That’s feeling.”

Each athlete is an individual and no coach can afford to ignore that, he said. “Matthew (Pinsent) and James (Cracknell) and Steve (Redgrave) are not copies. They are totally different. In one way, you have to bring them together as a crew. The result has to be the same, going as fast as possible from A to B with each rower. But to motivate them, to bring them to the same level of performance, you will have to go a different route with each athlete.”

Because Grobler treats each individual in a different way, there is always the chance that some may consider that others are receiving preferential treatment. This is where mutual trust comes in. The coach must know, on one side, that the athlete will not shirk any effort to achieve. On the flip side, all athletes must learn that the coach only has the good of the team at heart — there are no favourites. “The coach has to establish a partnership with the athlete. Like all good partnerships, it has to be based on trust. Nothing should be kept under the table.”

Grobler constantly conducts one-to-one discussions with athletes so he can gauge the mental state of his charges. “A successful athlete-coach partnership must be coach-driven but the coach cannot function without good feedback from the athletes. An important part of the coach’s job is to listen.”

Few people like confrontation and the amiable Grobler is no exception. But he forces himself to engage in honest criticism: “It’s never nice. But you must always start from a base of trust, partnership and openness. We shouldn’t be shy of bringing things out on the table. We could just make every day nice, with no problems. But you will never improve that way.”

Grobler normally reserves his sharpest criticism for one individual — himself. If an athlete is underperforming despite his or her best efforts, he takes it personally, and he challenges himself to come up with a more effective strategy for that individual. “I feel responsible and always say that we are in the same boat,” he said. “If the athletes win, it’s their victory. If they lose, then it’s the coach’s fault. I feel a lot more down than the athletes sometimes. I am always first say to myself, ‘Maybe I made a mistake’.”

It is difficult to imagine Grobler losing his temper. But if an athlete threatens the trust that has been painstakingly built up between the two of them, then self-criticism and constructive feedback fly out of the window: “If I see they are cutting corners again and again, then I get very upset . . . I always say the last stroke counts. The last stroke last year made us Olympic champions. They all have to learn that in training.”

That last stroke in Athens won an Olympic gold for the coxless four crew of Pinsent, Cracknell, Coode and Steve Williams by the margin of 45 centimetres — or 0.08 seconds. This victory was particularly sweet for Grobler, because it came in the wake of a highly controversial and widely criticised shift in selection policy in the weeks before the race.

Pinsent and Cracknell were originally down to compete in the coxless pairs. But Grobler decided that the best chance for a British gold would require them to switch to the coxless fours, displacing a devastated Rick Dunn andToby Garnett.

The ruthlessness of the decision inevitably created considerable tension in the squad. Grobler was again prepared to sacrifice a cosy atmosphere in the pursuit of excellence. “I don’t do things just to make trouble or show how powerful I am,” he said. “But nor do I run away from the job.”

The German is happy and settled in Henley, describing himself as “more British than the Brits”. Filled with energy by the prospect of the rebuilding process that lies ahead, he hopes shortly to get the nod to continue in his current role until the London games in 2012. Doesn’t he want to start to wind down, to relax a bit? “I relax in the morning when everyone comes in on time.”

Jurgen Grobler's leadership lessons:

Love your job. Enjoy helping others achieve their goals
To be a good manager, you have to love managing. This passion will ensure your dedication to the job. It will also be infectious, increasing the commitment of others and inspiring them to attain their own goals.

Mutual trust and openness are key — guard them jealously.
No manager can operate effectively without trust. The team must believe that the manager treats them with honesty and integrity and hides nothing. For his part, the manager must know that each team member shares his goals.

Question yourself before you question your team
You are responsible for the underperformance of any member of your team. Always analyse your own performance as a manager before criticising others.

Don’t run away from tough decisions
It is easy to sit in your ivory tower and avoid confronting awkward issues. Some decisions might antagonise certain individuals. That doesn't mean you shouldn’t make them. It’s your job. You’re a manager.

No two people are the same — deal with them differently
If you deal with everybody in an identical way, you will not get the best out of your team. It is your responsibility to find out what makes each individual tick and then manage them accordingly.

No criticism means no progress
For your people to improve, they have to know where they are going wrong. Criticising others might not be pleasant, but having a nice, cosy life should not be your goal.

Managing others is not a one-way process. Always listen
Listen to what your team is telling you. If you don’t, you won’t understand them. And if you don’t understand them, you can’t manage them.

Shun all favouritism. Performance is all.
There is no room for cronyism in any team or organisation that strives for excellence. Who is best able to carry out a specific task or fulfil a particular role? That is the only relevant question in selection and recruitment.