Dock Talk: How often do you incorporate drill work in to your practices? 

With Kevin McDermott, Associate Director Craftsbury Sculling Camp, Head Coach Trinity College men’s rowing team  

“I don’t have time for drill work. I need to get on the water and go.”
“I don’t like doing drills. And changing my routine isn’t for me.”
“Drill work has never been effective for me. I just don’t see the point.”
With surprising frequency, many scullers coming to the program do not regularly use drill work as a part of their practice routine at home. In the recent past, I’ve heard all of the excuses listed above. These scullers miss an opportunity for improvement by skipping this portion of work. I always encourage the drill-work-non-believers to reconsider and to make a habit of incorporating drill work into their sessions. The truth is, by adding a short, well-executed, thoughtful section of drill work, a sculler can make significant technical progress.
First, identify a portion of the stroke that you want to address. Maybe you’ve been struggling to release the blade cleanly. Perhaps the sequencing of your drive has been feeling wonky and weak. Or, maybe lately, a lack of rhythm and smoothness during your recovery has been disrupting the run of the boat. There are drills that can help you focus on and improve the problems listed above and any other specific portion of your stroke.
Then, identify a drill or set of drills that will address the problem. Struggling with blade depth?  For three minutes, try sculling with only half of each blade covered and observe how half-blade sculling impacts the placement of your blades. Feeling out of order on the recovery?  Carefully execute a four minute version of the release-end pick drill to help put your recovery movements back together with rhythm, order, and consistency. Finding it hard to engage your lats during the drive?  Reduce your inboard by sculling with a wide grip, placing your hands just below the handle; figure out how to take full strokes and you’ll feel your lats engage in a major way.
Also, understand why you are doing a particular drill. A coach does not typically request an athlete do drill work just for the fun of it. Good drills have purpose. Feet-out sculling provides a good example. Some people love sculling with their feet out; others abhor it. When I ask a sculler to take their feet out and scull, I encourage them to focus on executing a well-sequenced drive, with particular emphasis on their hip opening and arm draw. I also ask them to consider how effectively they engage their trunks, from glute to shoulder, when the blade releases from the water. If the sculler smoothly accelerates the handle, maintains strong connection to the water with the blade, and supports their torso upon release, sculling with the feet-out can feel wonderful. Conversely, if there is a break in the drive sequence, a loss of connection to the water, or a failure to support the trunk at the release, then feet out sculling will feel lousy. Either way, the drill provides valuable feedback.
Drill work doesn’t need to consume a significant portion of your practice and can easily be incorporated into your warm-up. Well-selected, well-executed drill work can make a huge difference in your efficiency and comfort. Make it a habit and enjoy the improvements in your sculling.

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