“The art and the science” of coaching the GB Rowing Team

8 March 2018 – Paul Thompson, GB Rowing Team’s Chief Coach for Women, has highlighted the crucial role of data analytics to coaching a successful international team, while on an overseas training camp with British Rowing’s women’s squad in Seville, Spain.

As part of the coaching set-up for one of Great Britain’s most successful Olympic disciplines, the Australian is quick to set out the team’s ambitious goals: “We [British Rowing] have won five medals in Olympic class boats, and we want more.”

The acclaimed coach knows how to get his squad to exceed expectations, having helped lead British Rowing to a number of historic Olympic medals, including its first for the women’s eight at Rio 2016. “You’ve got to be evidence based to use your judgement. In a coaching sense it’s the art and the science, and that’s where the two interact,” he explained.

“We measure the athletes to see what their morning monitoring is like. That is to say: how they wake up in the morning, their readiness to train, their readiness to compete, what they do on the rowing machine, what they do on the water, and how compatible they are.

“We can measure lots of things. The skill for me is finding out what the most important thing for that athlete to focus on is and what we can actually change.”

To support British Rowing to do this more effectively, data scientists and consultants from SAS, the global leaders in analytics and Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing, have been working with the team to explore the data from training and biomechanics to weather and diet, in a bid to unlock marginal gains that could help make the boats go faster.

Zoe Lee, from Richmond, North Yorkshire, was part of the women’s eight that won Britain’s historic silver medal at Rio 2016. The 32-year-old, who is returning to the squad from injury, described a typical day at a training camp: “I’ll get up and go to our morning monitoring where our physiologists will record our data on how we’re feeling, how we’ve slept, how we’ve recovered from the previous day’s training. Then off to breakfast before a first session, which today was on the water, probably do some weights after a second breakfast, then we have lunch, a little bit of relaxation before a final session in the evening.”

Lee, who has a PhD in geography, continued: “Being a bit of a scientist in my life away from rowing, I love data. And I love being able to use any data that I’ve recorded to track the trends in my improvement and how a crew has evolved over time. It’s been really important to me coming back from rehab and injury last season to be able to go, I’ve improved this much in the last month and that puts me on track relative to my best in 2015/2016 seasons by this much.”

Peter Pugh-Jones, Head of Technology at SAS UK & Ireland, said: “At SAS, we have the capability to use innovative software and services, including the latest advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI), to transform a world of data into intelligence that empowers and inspires our customers.

“With British Rowing, we use powerful analytics that puts it at the leading edge when it comes to extracting insights from a variety of data within the sport, helping the squad to maintain its reputation as the dominant force in the world of rowing.”

Find out more information about the partnership between SAS and British Rowing.