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One thing to teach scullers to do better (Part 2)

When planning my interview with Penny Chuter for RowingChat, I wanted to ask her When watching rowing today, … read more

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When planning my interview with Penny Chuter for RowingChat, I wanted to ask her

When watching rowing today, what’s the number one thing you think you’d like to teach athletes how to do better?

We ran out of time during the interview – but I asked her off -air and her answer was instructional.

Teach Scullers how to scull their boats level

The hull of a sculling boat is not symmetrical under the water line if you are not sculling the boat level.  This leads to steering problems and “syncopated scullers”.  I would draw coaches attention to this.  Ensure your crew are sculling in time with each other (not syncopated).  Blades in and out of the water at the same time.  And also check that they are leading out with the left hand and sculling left in FRONT of right (not left over the top of right hand). The photos are Tim Crooks.

sculling, hands in rowing, Sculling with hands close and left in front of right


Go and watch a regatta and you’ll see so many crews are out of time with each other.  Mostly, this is because the boat is not level.

I experimented with setting the riggers level in my boat and also with setting one side higher than the other.  If you scull with one hand above the other (at cross over) it is impossible to rig out the difference in heights to force the boat to run level.  This is why you have to scull left in front of right.

I found that for a double scull 0.35 cm to 0.5 cm height differential works very well and for a quad scull half a centimetre in height difference between the bow and stroke side riggers.

Why does UK scull left hand leading?

In 1977 I decided the UK would scull a standard technique with the left hand leading.  I went to watch the autumn sculling heads and from observation, saw 60% of scullers had their left hand in front and 40% hand the right hand in front.

My reasoning in choosing left over right is this.  If the left hand leads, the under hand’s task is more difficult.  Because most of us are right handed people, giving the more dextrous task to the right hand is logical.

Why don’t sculling boats run level?

Scullers who “knit” in their pattern of movement draw in with one hand closest to the body and reverse this to push out on the recovery, they lead away with the other hand.

Teaching athletes how to balance the boat with their hands is the key skill.

First look at their knees if one goes down before the other they are not pushing equally on both feet.

If you see their knees wobbling on the recovery to bring the boat level, they should be using their hands to level the boat.

When sculling the right hand is “in charge” during the drive phase of the stroke.  Especially towards the finish because this hand can lift up to keep the riggers level.

When sculling the left hand is “in charge” during the recovery phase as it controls the balance.

One of the biggest challenges to level sculling boats are the wrists at the finish of the stroke.  If you have weak wrists and you cock the wrist in order to extract the blade at the finish, it’s hard to lead the recovery with a cocked wrist.  When I wrote the Instructors Award (coach  training), I taught new rowers only square blade rowing for the first three months of learning so that they were confident pushing down on the handle to extract the blade.

A drill to teach this is open palm sculling.

Open the fingers from their grip around the oar on the recovery – then you have to push down with a flat wrist to extract the blade.  If you cock your wrist and open your fingers, the oar handle will float upwards out of your grasp because your fingers are pointing vertically not horizontally.

What I observed is that if the fingers are pointing towards the stern of the boat, there’s a tendency for the wrist, elbow and shoulder to line up behind them all in a straight line, which is what you want.

A more skilled variant of this drill is to open the fingers at the finish on only the lead hand – the left hand.

To lead with one hand you have to make compromises – either by pushing the shoulder forward or slightly rotating the body – Penny says most people use a combination of both.

More photos – Peter Michael Kolbe with “bad” hands. And several with good hand positions.

Peter Michael Kolbe sculling with poor hand positions Peter Michael Kolbe sculling with poor hand positions

Beryl Crockford and Lin Clark GBR WL2x Beryl Crockford and Lin Clark GBR WL2x

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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