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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

Think Outside Your (Station) Box

Traiser Cigar Box with Harvard Rowing Graphic. Circa 1890's.

If you're like most masters rowers you spend a considerable amount of time thinking about rowing and working on either, making your rowing better, training your body for rowing, or being distracted by all the rowing stuff that is popping up on your screen.

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But one thing I don't think we do instinctively as rowers and athletes, is to connect to our creativity in relation to our rowing. Creativity during physical exertion is not the first thing that usually comes to mind, and I get that. But during those times when you are putting in the miles either on the erg or in the boat it can be beneficial and down right fun to add in a little of your own color to the row.

But rowing is a serious game, right? Insert picture here of me, with my serious coach face on. Well, ya, I mean sure. We put all of this "work" in and spend a serious amount of time on it, but this thing we do should also be fun and interesting to us on other levels besides just the rowing.

As I said in my talk at the USRowing National Convention this past weekend, "It's not about the rowing." It is, but for myself, I am interested not only in the actual rowing but in the deeper meaning(s) that can come from this sport. I mean once you get right down to it how much more can one squeeze out of whether one is squaring or feathering at just the right moment, or what your weight adjusted erg score is compared to your 190lb, 6ft teammate. Right?!

It's about personal development and how much you can squeeze out of YOU! And I'm not just talking about the physical here. But I digress.

So, let's get creative and think outside of our box, or our station, as the case may be and discuss how and why to insert a little creativity once in a while.

First the why. Because you know I like the why part.

It's really very simple. Using the creative side of your brain for something that you don't consider a creative endeavor is good. Good not only for your brain but also for the task.

This type of brain use activates different areas of the brain not usually associated with the task which helps to create new ruts or ways of thinking about the task that ultimately can inform it and produce better results.

Now the how part.

Doing the task in a slightly different way or with music, or with the opposite hand, or with your eyes closed are all ways that I would consider creative and challenging and possibly fun.

Now hopefully the eyes closed thing is something that you practice when you're in a coxed boat of course. Let it not be said that Coach K. encouraged rowers to scull with eyes closed! Safety first!

Eyes closed rowing is a fairly common drill, at least in the boats that I've coached. So it may not be considered to be something "creative", but it does draw on other parts of the brain to kick in a little heavier when you take away a sighted person's sight.

But let's go back and talk about the music piece.

Have you ever rowed with music? Or to music I should say.

Most likely your answer is "not on the water", but erging to music is very common. In fact many rowers prefer to erg to music. But what about in the boat? Can music be a good thing while rowing on the water? Absolutely!

Music initiates parts of the brain that act as dampeners to physical discomfort during a workout which enables one to workout for a longer period of time. Music also can break up long endurance type workouts helping the time to pass quicker.

But how does one use music while rowing on the water?

Again, safety first! Scullers, do not put those earbuds in! We need you to come back to the boathouse, with you and your boat in one piece and therefore we need you to have all of your senses available while on the water. Assuming you had them when you launched. :-)

One way to use music while rowing is to have your coxswain bring some music with them and either hold the mic of the cox box close to the music source, or there may be a way to connect something to the box so mic holding is not necessary, but I'll leave that to you to figure out.

Bottom line is that having music in the boat can do several things.

1. Establish a rhythm within the boat. This is extremely helpful when used to help rowers understand rhythm and swing in a boat.

2. Relax the rowers mentally in between hard pieces.

3. Depending on the song choice it can get rowers to lighten up and laugh a bit. Always good thing.

4. It can extend the duration that one is able to continuously row at an aerobic pace. Essentially it's a distraction and since rowing is a continuous task that doesn't involve any offense or defense or time outs or substitutions, this is a good thing.

So consider this as a possibility when you want to try something completely different in the boat and have a willing coach and coxswain. Or, do what I know one crew did and that was to play the music out of the coaches ear shot. Worked for them but you didn't hear it here.

And just to be clear, this was not one of my crews, nor a crew that I coxed. I was never that creative as a coxswain. All though I was known to speak the lyrics to certain songs to my crews, but that's a different story. And, once again, I digress.

Or flip the music coin and consider singing while rowing.

WHAT?! Singing while rowing? Are you crazy? I can barely breathe while rowing and don't forget there's no talking in the boat coach, let alone singing.

I know, I know, but here's the thing. There are certainly times when a little song sung by the rowers could not only be fun but could reveal some rower's hidden talents, or lack thereof.

Here's an example that I found particularly entertaining, but that may be because my dad was in the Navy. No, this is not my dad.

How about a little singing as the crew rows back to the dock or maybe rowing back to the dock and dropping pairs in and out and as those pairs drop out they need to sing a couple bars of Yellow Submarine. Just sayin'.

Moving on.

Here's a thought from a rower that answered this question on my facebook page.

This rower uses images and pictures creatively to generate her Umph.

"...sometimes I like to visualize the catch and drive like the starship Enterprise going into warp drive. All I have to think is: "Engage"."

What a great image! The real beauty of this is that it is completely individual to this rower. This works great for her and that's another excellent reason behind getting creative. You may end up finding something that really works for you around a technical aspect or a power application aspect.

Another way to get creative that I liked was to guest row at a different club, either when traveling or maybe visiting another club close to home. I like this because it exposes one to a different environment, different people, maybe different water, different boats.

This may not be considered "creative" in the sense similar to music, but who's definition of creativity is this anyway? It's yours! Being creative in your rowing can mean whatever you want it to mean. Whatever FEELS creative to you in comparison to what you normally do, is creative.

Here's a perfect example of a little creativity during a bit of rowing. I would definitely suggest giving this a go. There are so many elements to this that are good. Rhythm, following the person doing something a bit more complicated than what you are used to them doing, setting the boat, and the best part...they are clearly having fun with this. Well done!

Start considering how you can bring in a little creativity into your rowing. Have some fun with it and expand your idea of what it means to Practice, and yes I meant to spell practice there with a capital P to illustrate that sometimes I think we take ourselves and our rowing a little too seriously.

Creativity in the boat can help to bring a little levity to your outing. Stay open to the possibilities, try not to get too dogmatic about your practices, and remember that every once in a while breakthroughs happen when you are not even trying to break through.

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

P.S. Taking the next couple weeks off from blogging life to enjoy the holiday with Mom. Keep an eye out for my next post after Jan 1, 2019.

Wishing all of you a happy and safe holiday season.

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