WWR manual chapter 13

13.2 Splits

Splits are used to communicate information to athletes about their performance relative to other athletes in the race. Splits can either be communicated during a race or be analysed after a race.

13.2.1 Splits during a race

Splits are most effective for athletes who are aiming to win the race. A simple up or down split on the fastest boat conveys all the information (and motivation) needed. Splits become more difficult to use when an athlete’s goal is to finish, say, in the top 10. A number of approaches are available.
  • 1. Give splits against the athlete’s own target time. The target time could be derived from past results on the same river or from a timed training run. Obviously the split point needs to be the same for all the runs to be accurate.
  • 2. Give a positional split i.e. call the position in the race so far. If an athlete is 4th at the split and only 6 athletes are still to come, then they are on target for 10th place or better. Additional information can be given about how far down on the place in front they are.
  • 3. Simply shouting encouragement. A split position is often a good ‘marker’ on the course for an increase in pace so a lot of motivation can be given to an athlete at a key point in the race.

Splits must be practiced by both athlete and coach. An athlete must learn how to receive the information whilst concentrating on racing. It is useful for the split taker if the athlete acknowledges they have received the information, perhaps with a nod of the head. They also need to learn how to react to the information. They need to learn to cope with up and down splits. An athlete often fears how they will react to a down split. This in itself is revealing about the confidence level of an athlete. However, it can be turned into a positive, because that fear could be the motivation they need to go hard from the start to get a split they want. If good and accurate goal setting has been done throughout the season, a worry about splits should not arise as the athlete will be clear about their goal and what they need to do to achieve it.

A split taker needs to learn how to do splits. The maths itself can be difficult. The split taker should use a marker at least 10 seconds, preferably 15 seconds, upstream so that there is plenty of time to do computations and decide what they are going to say. It is useful if the split taker is a coach as they can decide what it will be best to say to motivate the athlete. The split information should be shouted clearly and concisely and shouted twice. Ideally the athlete will confirm receipt of the information with a nod. Once the split information is conveyed, other encouragement or technique points, perhaps, can be shouted as well.

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13.2.2 Splits after a race

Splits can simply be recorded and analysed after a race. This can be very useful to assess the performance of an athlete and perhaps identify areas for improvement. Did an athlete lose time in a rough technical section? Did an athlete go too easy or too hard off the start? Did an athlete fade in the last part of the race? All these may point to technical skills or fitness areas to be worked on.

This kind of split analysis is very useful during Sprint racing. Margins in sprint racing can be tiny, so gathering split information from a sprint run can help identify areas for improvement for the second run. If the split information is combined with video coverage, it can often indicate the exact part of the course where an improvement can be made.

13.3 Team Racing

Team racing is an enjoyable form of Wild Water Racing that can be enhanced with some extra knowledge and practice.

Ideally a team will comprise of 3 boats that are very similar in speed, however this is rarely the case and so strategies have to be adopted to get the slowest boat from start to finish in the fastest time.

Miracles rarely happen, particularly when the team is made up of more experienced paddlers. Athletes will not go 30 seconds faster. Generally the best that can be hoped for is going a few seconds faster than the slowest boat’s individual time. There is a higher risk of errors due to washes and potential over exertion of the slowest boat. A good team race needs good planning and good execution to minimise errors and get the best from the slowest boat.

A team will only perform to its best when there is a complete understanding of each other. Each athlete must understand the speed, skills and psychology of their team mates. This only comes from training together in close proximity. They should vary the boat order in training to learn about each other. Only when all 3 team members appreciate and respect the attributes of their team mates will the best performances be achieved. Many hours of practising rivers together are required so they have to want to do it with each other and for each other.
The tried and tested order is for the 2nd fastest boat to lead, the slowest boat to go in the middle and the fastest boat to go last. Other boat orders have been used, but usually it is in a desperate attempt to chase a miracle and rarely does it work.

13.3.1 Lead Boat

The lead boat is usually the second fastest boat. They have a very important role. They need to execute a good line and paddle the race at a smooth pace to allow the middle (slowest) boat to simply follow. It requires very good white water reading skills to choose a good line, good paddling skills to execute a good line and excellent pace judgement to set the right speed for the middle boat. It is important to practice many times with the middle boat, both leading and following them, to learn what the pace of the middle boat is and to learn what lines the middle boat prefers and how they like to execute them.

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3.3.2 Middle Boat

The middle boat is usually the slowest boat. This is the least enviable member of a team. They simply have to follow the line of the lead boat and try and keep up! They should have complete trust in the lead boat and follow everything they do. The aim is to try and ride a wash and gain some advantage. This can be difficult as current flows narrow and widen and water depths change. It is important that the middle boat communicates with the lead boat if they are getting dropped or if they could go faster. When the last boat comes to overtake, the middle boat should be aware of the fastest current and the abilities of the last boat to decide how much room and how much flow the last boat will need to pass by.

13.3.3 Last Boat

The last boat is usually the fastest boat. This is because they have the toughest washes to overcome, can paddle within themselves to manage the team in front of them, but most importantly can overtake the middle boat before reaching the finish line. Their job is to assess the middle boat and call, if necessary, to the lead boat to slow down or speed up. It can be easy for the last boat to get dropped. They should be the fastest boat, so should be able to catch up, but it should be done sensibly and gradually. It is vital near the end of the race to be close up tight to the middle boat so as to pass them before the finish. The last boat may have raced the individual race 15 seconds faster which equates to 1 second per minute. When they are 2 minutes from the finish that means they only have a 2 second advantage which is only 2 boat lengths, 1 minute from the finish only 1 boat length! The last boat needs to be closer as the finish gets nearer. The last boat should pass the middle boat before the finish as it is wasteful for the fastest boat to be last over the finish. Care must be taken not to harm the progress of the middle boat with a dirty wash. Awareness of what line the middle boat will be taking is vital to execute the overtake efficiently.

13.3.4 Wash Hanging

A side wash gives the best speed advantage, however in a wild water racing boat this requires a lot of energy to steer, particularly if the pace is uncomfortably fast. Often the fastest current line is narrow and a side wash would actually be through an eddy, thereby negating any advantage it may have had. If river conditions allow and the slowest boat is experienced and skilled at wash-hanging on the side then use any opportunities that may arise. The lead boat needs to know when this will occur to allow the middle boat to come up and over the wash. Alternatively, the last boat can move up and down to give a half-V for the middle boat.

Any involvement of side washes can be very energy sapping, so the best and most reliable wash is the stern wash. It makes the task of the middle boat simple, just to follow the lead boat. Riding a stern wash requires practice as the wave behind can move forwards and backwards as the river depth changes. It requires great experience and lots of practice to ‘feel’ the wash.