Chapter 3 part three – How to run a learn to scull course


This part deals with the sections on Different ways to teach beginners, Other facilities you'll need, People you'll need, Safety and Child protection.

 7.     Different ways of teaching beginners

There are lots of ways to teach rowing and sculling – think back to your own days as a novice – how were you taught?  Chances are you were either taught in an eight if you learnt sweep rowing first or in a single scull if you learnt sculling first.  Now that’s based on my experience in the UK – and my age!  

Today there are opportunities to teach in new ways using equipment that has been introduced or become more widely available in the last ten years.  Consider these:
•    Virus sculling boats with plastic floats under each rigger
•    Bank tubs
•    Flat-bottomed single sculls
•    Coxed quadruple sculling boats
•    Indoor tanks
•    Rowing simulator machines
•    Sweep rowing ergometers
Each of these offers the opportunity to introduce a newcomer to the sport in a way that replicates part of the rowing and sculling skill base and can be a useful ‘stepping stone’ towards a fine shell.  

I have taught many beginners in both rowing and sculling over the years.  Let me set out some of the ways I have succeeded in using as “first” steps and then you can decide which suit your circumstances best.

For juniors on the tidal Thames,  a progression to fine single over the course of six months
–    Coxless quad with the coach sitting in the bow seat steering and coaching
–    Coxed quad with all athletes taking turns at steering and rowing
–    Double scull
–    Single scull
For adults learning rowing over a course of four weeks
–    Rowing Ergometer
–    Bank tub
–    Tub coxed pair
–    Eight (first rowed in fours then sixes and then all eight)
For adults learning sculling over a week
–    Virus single
–    Fine single
Remember, everyone learns at their own pace – even world and Olympic champions were novices once.  I have seen people get into a fine single scull and within two lessons have no balance problems and be able to scull square blades at nearly full slide and I have worked with athletes who take weeks to move to sculling full slide in a fine boat.  There is no “right” or “wrong” method because each person is unique.  Their speed to learn at the beginning in no way reflects their ultimate potential as an athlete.

But for the purposes of running your learn to row / scull course, you need to consider what equipment you have available, the age of your participants and the number of coaches you have as teachers.  I am sure you will work out a combination of equipment and coaching expertise to suit your learn to row / scull course.

I will add one more thought – if you are teaching sculling and you are using single sculls, in my opinion, you don’t need to have one single per athlete for the first few lessons.  Many people learn best with short intensive bursts and then having a break.  I have put two or three athletes to share a boat during a learn to scull course and the advantage is that each gets a go and when they are not rowing, they are on the bank coaching / watching and giving steering advice to the other athlete.  It helps them to see what another person is doing when both are taught the same thing.  Visualising and then doing for themselves help accelerate acquiring the skills.

8.     Other facilities

In any learn to row / scull course people are likely to get wet in the UK either by falling in the river or from a rainstorm.  And so the availability of changing rooms and hot showers is an advantage.

Secure storage for valuables – most people come to a rowing club with mobile phones, car keys and wallets and so having a secure place to store these away from the vulnerability of changing rooms is an advantage.

Coaching launches or bicycles – depending on your river, the means of coaches keeping up with the athletes will probably be motor boat, bicycle, car or what my friend Nicholas calls “Shanks’ pony” meaning on foot.  When teaching beginners you may find that running beside your crew is possible for a while.  Check that you have an appropriate ratio of coaches  to athletes and the means to keep up with the crew each is coaching.

Throw lines are a useful safety item to have for beginners courses [go look up ARA advice on this] they comprise a coiled rope inside a bag with an external rope loop.  If an athlete gets into trouble, you can throw the line to them and pull them safely to the bank of the river.  You’ll need ideally one per coach.

Video cameras and televisions to play back videos shot of athletes.  Seeing what athletes are ‘actually’ doing is a useful way of getting feedback to athletes and since it’s hard to row outdoors with mirrors to see what you are doing, as you can in a gym, a video camera is a useful tool for a coach.

Laptop or desktop computer – for advanced courses you may have the means to measure boat speeds using tools such as a NK speedcoach or a Coxmate HC or SCT for coxed boats.  These have the option to download speed data from the boat onto a computer for later analysis.

Ergometers or indoor rowing simulators are useful for teaching and demonstrating parts of the stroke and also drills and exercises before you go on the water.
Indoor rowing tanks are sometimes available and can be used in a similar way to ergometers.

Gymnasium equipped with weights and floor mats for use for circuit training sessions and for stretching.    

9.     People

The home team from your club who are running the course are very important.  Consider all the different tasks that will be needed in order to run your course.  I have made a list of the range of skills you may need.  Write names of people against skills you know they have as you draw up an ideal team to run the course.
–    Administration
–    Coaching
–    Cooking / catering / buying food
–    Cleaning up
–    Launch drivers
–    Promotion and marketing
–    Finance – budget / payments received / purchases

10.     Safety

Running a course safely so that nothing untoward happens is of primary importance.  Every UK rowing club  has a “Safety Officer” and it is their job to keep abreast of good practice in all aspects of safety and advise the Captain and Committee on how to implement best practice for the club.
Speak to them and show them the risk assessment you have completed.  Check there is nothing you have overlooked.
Some things to consider:
•    Give all coaches a ‘crib sheet’ including phone numbers of local police and doctors
•    Check throw lines work in advance and coaches can use them
•    Find and test life jackets (especially if participants are wearing them because they can’t swim)
•    Write a safety briefing to give to athletes on day one
•    Draft a safety statement for athletes to sign that they understand the risks
•    Can all your participants swim 100m in their clothes?  

11.     Child Protection

Best practice states that coaches who teach children should be Police-assessed and have passed a Child Protection Safety Certificate.  [Link to website].  Each rowing club in the UK has a Child Protection Officer who can advise you on the state of the law and which club coaches are approved to teach children.

This certification takes time to acquire and so apply well in advance if you need to certify new coaches.

However, the children you may be teaching to scull / row may not yet be members of your club and covered by the Child Protection certification.  Therefore, as a temporary “work-round” you can sign them up as club members for the duration of the course.  This has the benefit of enabling all attendees (adults and children) to be covered by club insurance while using your equipment and also ensuring that child protection certification legally covers them as club members.  

On day one of the course, get parents of juniors to sign a Parental Consent form for their child to attend the course and become a member of your club.  This could also contain statements about  their ability to swim 100m in their clothes, any disabilities or diseases the child has and understanding that the child may fall in the river.
Sorry to labour this point – but in this day and age it is important that your club doesn’t become vulnerable to accusations of laxity in either safety or child protection.  That’s the way it is.

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