Question of the Day

So my coach was telling me how this spring there’s a good chance that I’ll be racing a single due to the fact that we have a very small squad this year (only 3 girls) and the other two girls have raced a 2x prior to this season. The only time I’ve really been in a single is paddling around every so often over the summer. What are some tips about racing a single? Being all by myself just seems kind of daunting.

Assuming you already know the basics of sculling, I’ll skip over that and tell you what I’d practice if I was rowing a single. For you scullers out there, send me a message or leave a comment with your tips and tricks!

Practice racing starts. Out of everything, I think this would be the toughest to execute. The smaller the boat, the more disastrous  a bad first stroke can be, so it’s important to spend time working on those first four or five strokes. Think of your start like a basketball player thinks of foul shots.Making them might not win you the game but missing them can definitely lose it for you. Starts are the same way. Races aren’t won at the start but they can be lost there. Talk with your coach and figure out which one works best for you. 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full is the most common starting sequence in sweeping and sculling, so that might be a good one to practice with before you ultimately decide what you want to do. From what I’ve seen of scullers practicing starts, the most important part is making sure your strokes are short, sharp, fast, and clean, that way you can build on them as you establish your rhythm. Some basketball players won’t leave the gym until they’ve made 100 free throws – those are the guys that shoot 85-90% on a season. Commit to doing at least 5 GOOD starts each practice. If that means it takes you 13 tries to get four good ones, so be it. Focus on one stroke at a time before moving on to the next one. Try and perfect it, then move on to the next and try and perfect it. Then combine the two and perfect them as a pair. Do the same thing with the last two strokes, then combine both pairs to get your full start. Practice makes perfect. Once you’ve established the starting sequence, start adding in your high burst and settle.

Focus on steering. Since you no longer have the luxury of having a coxswain you now have to figure out steering for yourself. If you’re lucky you’ll race on buoyed courses so you’ll always know when you’re in your own lane, but you should still practice on getting your point and maintaining a straight course. My advice if you’re on non-buoyed courses is to get out ahead early and stay there. Actually having everyone in your eye line when you’re ahead of them can help you avoid rowing into their lanes. At the start, know how the wind or water conditions will effect you coming off the line so that you can make the appropriate adjustments.

Study, study, study. Get course maps for every race you’re going to. Even though they’re all straight, each one is different in that they all have different landmarks. For more info on that, read this post I wrote before the Head of the Charles. Even though I wrote it during head-racing season, it’s still applicable to sprint races. Make sure you understand the traffic patterns, how to get to the starting line, the procedure for getting lined up, etc. Make sure you go to the coxswain meeting too. Yes, it’s at an ungodly hour in the morning almost every single time but trust me – the time spent listening to the race official give you all the specifics of the regatta is well worth it when you have to utilize something they said later on. (Tip for everyone – they’re not JUST for coxswains; scullers should always attend the meetings so that they know what’s going on and what the procedures are.)

Develop a plan. Just like coxswains have strategies for calling a race, so too must you. Know what your starting sequence will be, how many strokes your high burst and settle will be and at what stroke rates, have a stroke rate in mind for the body of the race, determine at what meter marks you want to make a power move, where you want to start your sprint, what the build to the sprint will be, and what stroke rate you’ll sprint at. If you can get your hands on a speed coach to take in the boat with you, that will really help you stick to the plan as far as sticking to a stroke rate goes. Get a good feel for the plan before you get in the boat and then once you’re out on the water, put it into action when you do race pieces. The best way to eliminate any nervous jitters before a race is to ensure that you are as prepared as possible ahead of time. Before you head to a regatta, make sure you get at least two GOOD practice race pieces in.

Be self-motivating. You really have NO choice in this area – you don’t have a coxswain telling you to get your ass in gear, you’re being walked on. YOU have to recognize that and tell yourself what you need to hear in order to get yourself down the course. I feel like sculling is very personal in this respect because you are completely in control of everything that happens to you during the course of that race. You have the power to tell yourself when to make a change or to push a little harder or now’s the time to lay it all on the line. A video was posted recently about Alan Campbell and his winter training boot camp that he undertook this past month. It’s fantastic and the undertones of it are very motivating.

Also, just for an extra kick of motivation…watch this. There is a LOT to be learned from this race.

How to prepare your crew to row

One of the best ways to keep practice moving and avoid wasting time is to give clear instructions before you start rowing. Telling the rowers exactly what you want avoids  having to listen to them say “well, I didn’t know where we were starting from” or “oh sorry, didn’t know it was just stern 4 rowing”.

Before you start a drill or a piece, here’s what you should be saying to your crew.

Who is rowing – all eight, stern four, bow four, outside pair, etc.

Where to start from – the catch, finish, 1/2 slide, etc.

What sort of rowing – a) slide position, either arms only, bodies over, quarter slide, etc, b) feather or square blades, and c) continuous paddling or paused (don’t bother saying unless it’s paused)

How hard to row – light, quarter pressure, half pressure, three-quarters, firm, full, etc. Make sure that when you ask for a pressure, the crew respond appropriately. Don’t be afraid to tell them to bring it up if it seems inadequate to you.

When to start – “Ready all, row.” Remember, you’re not really asking them if they’re ready…you’re more so telling them. If someone isn’t ready, more often times than not you’ll know before you make this call.

“Ready all, row” is a significant call that means many things. When I first started writing this blog, this was what I said about this particular call.

“The title of the blog comes from the command that coxswains make before the rowers begin rowing. It signifies that everyone knows what’s going on and they’re ready to row. For coxswains, it signifies an understanding of the instructions given by the coach.”

When you’re transitioning between exercises, pairs, etc. it’s always “in two”. Make sure you say “one … two” with the stroke’s catch, since that is what everyone is following. One of my biggest pet peeves is when coxswains say “one, two” like they’re counting seconds … the rowers probably aren’t even at the catch yet when they say “two”, which causes them to rush up the slide to match what you’re saying and it just turns into a clusterfuck because people don’t know what’s going on. Yes, the transition is on your call but your call has to match up with when the stroke is rowing. With more experienced crews you can say “on this one” denoting the transition on the NEXT stroke instead of in two. This is what I frequently use with my eight. If you have strokes 1, 2, and 3 and you want to make a transition on stroke 4, you would call “on this one” at the finish of stroke 3.

The specific calls themselves tend to differ between countries (in the UK, “easy there” vs. “weigh enough”, “from backstops” vs. “at the finish”), but the instructions themselves are relatively similar. The end goal, however, is the same – everyone doing exactly what you want. (That sentence is probably the main reason why coxswains get egos too big for our tiny bodies.) Giving clear and concise instructions when you’re on the water maximizes the time you’re able to spend rowing and minimizes the amount of wasted time, so be sure that you are giving them the information they need to be ready to row.