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Shell Games


The best way to learn to row is in a single. It’s better than the erg, the tanks, or even a larger boat. The single tells you faster than a coach can vocalize what you need to improve. Like a bicycle, a small boat requires balance.

However, introducing athletes to the single comes with logistical challenges, not the least of which is needing more coaches to ensure safety and the right amount of coaching. A typical ratio of coach-to-sculler is one to five, but clubs seldom have the coaches and singles available to accommodate this ratio.

I do not recommend teaching novices in pairs—the boat is simply too unstable to allow for proper learning. Coxed or straight fours are a better alternative. Just don’t forget to train your coxswains alongside your rowers. Land training also helps to accelerate the learning process.

Going over the rowing stroke on the erg, a simulator, or a tank can be extremely helpful before sending your novices on the water. Make sure your rowers can swim, are aware of boating practices, and know the traffic pattern on the water. If smaller boats are not an option, rowing by pairs or fours in an eight is a suitable solution.

Remind your rowers who are sitting out that it’s their job to keep the boat level for the rest of the crew. Instruct them to hold the feathered blade on the water with one hand on top of the handle and the other beneath it. Eventually move to sixes, rotating out a new pair every eight strokes.

I like to end long technical rows with a little competition just to keep things fun. Check-in with your novices afterward to be sure they understood what you were saying to them out on the water.

For those having difficulty, coach them on the erg until they are comfortable with the rowing movement. Stay patient. Chances are you tried the patience of a coach somewhere along the way as you were learning to row. 

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