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    Sideways Glances

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    What you glimpse out of the corners of your eyes tells you where other boats are on the race course, where your blade is during your stroke, and helps you steer a course in a single or coxless boat. Information that you take in through your peripheral vision travels quickly to your brain so you can sense movement beyond the point where your eye is focused. It also plays a role in helping you maintain your balance, which is crucial in rowing. 

    One of the most straightforward exercises for improving your peripheral vision involves a straw and two toothpicks. Your central vision is more focused, but as you move to your near, mid, and far peripheral vision, objects get hazier, so you may not be able to pick out precise movements or details. The straw and toothpick exercise can improve your ability. 

    Start by drawing a black line on the center of the straw with a marker. The line should go around the circumference of the straw. When you set the straw horizontally on a flat surface, the mark should appear as a vertical line that runs around the straw. 

    Now have a teammate hold that straw horizontally in front of you. Take a step back, so you’re one to two feet from the straw. With a toothpick in each hand, focus your central vision on that black line. Now, try to place the toothpick into each end of the straw. Keep focused on the black line. As you continue to perform this exercise, you will train your mind to have a sharper focus on your peripherals. Eventually, you will be able to place those toothpicks into the straw with no problem.

    Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She specializes in training masters rowers, and her coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides the program and support to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

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