Thursday, November 27, 2008

Teaching Rowing To Children

Teaching Rowing – Teaching Rowing To Children
By Ariane Kissel and Werner Raabe
1. Aims of children's rowing
The main goal of teaching rowing to children should be to make the sport attractive to the widest possible range of children - as a positive emotional experience, both alone and together with other children. The training should enable children to approach rowing playfully as a sport as well as an experience and, most importantly, to find pleasure in an athletic activity.

This approach does not preclude a good, broad development of rowing technique or the general development of athletic skills. Only a comprehensive athletic training – in contrast to early, exclusive specialization - together with an education directed towards independence can prepare the children to later decide whether they want to continue rowing on the competitive of high performance level, as a leisure activity or in the form of pleasure rowing.

2. Requirements
The following will summarize the most important material requirements for children's rowing.

2.1. Area
A lake sheltered from wind, with shallow water - to make reboarding the boat easier - and without current offers ideal conditions for learning. Of course, it is equally possible to learn rowing on waters with high traffic and strong current, but a different approach is necessary under such circumstances. Thus, the approach depends on the area as well as on the situation.

2.2. Boats
Generally, children can row in all boats, which can be adjusted to children's measurements.1 According to the aims stated above - acquainting children with the varieties of movements that rowing offers - it is best to provide a wide variety of boat categories. It would be ideal if the club or organization could offer enough children's boats in the different categories. The skiff as a "cybernetic teaching machine" (Schröder) still remains the most important boat.

2.3. Opportunities for sports and games on land
In addition to rowing, it is helpful to offer other opportunities for games and athletic activities on land. Ball games like soccer, basketball, volleyball or handball are possible almost everywhere. In bad weather or in the cold season, an indoor gym is useful for games or children's gymnastics, aerobics, or circuit training. The rowing or bicycle ergometer or rowing in tanks is other options. But in the interest of a comprehensive training of flexibility, games should get preference over the often-monotonous ergometer training or rowing in tanks. Equipment and rooms for weight workouts are not required.

2.4. Motorboat
The use of motorboats makes sense not only in top-level sports, but offers many advantages in the children's area as well. The motorboat helps keep to direct contact with the team and to work with the rowers from a fixed point. In addition, the use of a motorboat allows the supervision of a larger number of children. Since it can be very helpful when assisting capsized rowers a motorboat is also a safety factor, especially in cold water and unfavorable weather conditions. However, it is not absolutely obligatory for the supervision of children. Depending on the circumstances, assistance can also come
- from another rowing boat (the supervisor rows next to the children, steering them, or rows with them),
- from the landing stage,
- from a bicycle.

Generally, supervision is more difficult, less effective, and requires more organization without a motorboat.

2.5. Megaphone
For clear instructions, especially from the motorboat, a megaphone is indispensable.

2.6. Stopwatch and stroke timer
Stopwatch and stroke timer are absolutely necessary aids for training children as well as adults. The purchase of relatively expensive mechanical watches is not necessary. Much cheaper digital watches, which often combine both functions, are completely sufficient for children.

2.9. Life jackets / neoprene suits
The use of life jackets is advisable in the following situations:
- in dangerous areas (rivers with strong current, heavy traffic, in locks, etc.)
- in cold water and/or cold temperatures
- for longer trips, especially on waters and lakes which are liable to experience wind and/or high waves
- for anxious or handicapped children

In this context, we have achieved good results with neoprene suits. In contrast to life jackets, they provide true protection against cold water. Thinner suits allow freedom of movement, they have good buoyancy, and are sometimes even less expensive than life jackets made especially for rowing.

2.10. Written agreement by the parents / health certificate
For the legal protection of both club and instructor, parents should sign a written statement that they agree with their child's participation in the sport. If possible, a health certificate should show that the child is able to participate. It is absolutely necessary for children who want to participate in competition.

2.11. Swim certificate
Children who want to row must be able to swim. This should be proven by a certificate or similar proof. If no such proof exists, the instructor should test the child's ability himor herself. An exception can be made for handicapped children, but they must be equipped with life jackets or similar aids.

2.12. Sportswear
Appropriate sportswear is necessary. It should be selected according to the weather and should allow sufficient mobility. Adequate sun protection is necessary in sunny weather.

3. Children learn to row
After this summary of the prerequisites for the instruction of children, the special features of a beginner training with children will be described in the following, beginning with the question of the right age.

3.1. When to begin?
Rowing can be learned at any age and under almost any conditions. According to different development psychologists, the best learning age is between 9 and 12 years. Children at this stage show a strong desire for physical exercise; new physical tasks are usually learned quickly and skillfully ("instant learning"). Our own experience confirms this. In recent years we have reduced the beginning age from 12 to 9 and 10 years of age. In this context, it is especially important to offer exercise forms (f.e. games) and equipment (f.e. boat and rowing equipment) adequate to the children's developmental stage and size.

3.2. How to begin?
The literature offers several methods of beginner instruction. All of them have advantages and disadvantages, and none of these methods is exclusively the best. Which method is chosen depends very much on the situation - water conditions, boat material, age and talent of the children, number of children, additional rowing equipment etc. On a shallow lake with little current, very talented children are could start in the skiff right away. On a river with strong current and with anxious children, this would of course be completely wrong.

Despite this dependence on the situation, the following will present some typical learning steps. They are suggestions based on personal experience, and not necessarily the only possible way.
3.2.1. Teaching a sense for the right movements
In our opinion, it is important to begin with giving the children a practical understanding of the correct rowing motions. A clear understanding of the motions coupled with knowledge of their function tremendously helps the rowing beginner. This understanding can be transmitted with the help of film or video, but children learn better when the instructor demonstrates the movement him- or herself. If the demonstration takes place on a rowing ergometer, in the rowing tank, or in a gig at the landing stage, the children have a chance to participate right away.

After a short demonstration, the children should get a chance to try out what they have just seen. In our experience, they usually master this very quickly. One practice unit on land is completely sufficient to get a sense of the necessary motions. Often, 20 or 30 minutes of introduction before the first practice unit on water and perhaps another before the second are enough.

Practicing the rowing movement on stationary equipment has several advantages:
- questions as to the motions can be answered immediately,
- mistakes can be corrected right away, before incorrect movements are learned,
- learning is interactive (the instructor can show what he or she means and does not have to use long verbal explanations),
- rowing ergometer and rowing tank provide an opportunity to "reduce," to go "from the easy to the difficult" - and the children can concentrate fully on the movement without having to balance a boat at the same time.

3.2.2. First practice unit on the water
Following the didactic principle "from the easy to the difficult" on the water as well, one should begin sweeping in the gig boat. In our experience, the majority of beginners has problems with the hand position in the scull boat (the thumbs touch each other) and find it difficult to feel the right position of the sculls and their correct depth in the water.

In the sweep boat, the children only have to concentrate on one side. They can learn the complete stroke including feathering and dropping the wrist. Rowing also often provides a faster sense of achievement because the children can cover short distances faster and with better technique. However, to avoid unbalanced stress, the children must switch from portside to starboard-side and back. Once the movements in the sweep boat have become fairly automatic, the children can concentrate on the correct hand position in the scull boat.

Of course, all important maneuvers - stopping, rowing backwards, wide turn, narrow turn, oars, sculls long - can be learned both in the sweep boat and in the scull gig.

3.2.3. First experiences in the children's skiff
When the gig is mastered to a certain degree - don't wait too long! - the children's single (skiff) is the next step. As always, a step-by-step approach can be advisable depending on the situation. Here, it is especially important to help the children overcome their fear of the unusual instability of the single. The following steps are possible:

Step 1: The instructor holds the boat while the child enters it. The child assumes the safety position - both sculls flat on the water, legs extended, sculls held over the knee. The instructor continues to hold the boat.

Step 2: Out of the safety position, several balance exercises can be performed. So-called "rocking exercises" are typical. For example, with blades flat on the water, the child is asked to lift the blades, first on one, then on the other side. If the portside blade is lifted, the boat tilts starboard, and vice versa. It is also possible for the child to push both inboard parts of the sculls into the boat and rock itself from one side to the other. In this exercise, the instructor can continue to hold the boat if the child still feels insecure.
Once the child has achieved a feeling of security, the exercise can be performed without the instructor's help.

Step 3: The next step is rowing ahead. Under constant extension of the sliding distance, both sculls are pulled toward the body, lifted, and recovered with the blade dragging on the surface of the water. In strong current, or to reassure insecure children, a safety line attached to the boat can secure the boats return to the landing stage. Usually, however, the children are able to master the following step immediately.

Step 4: Usually, this next step is rowing backwards. Similar to forward rowing, it is introduced under constant extension of the sliding distance. Once forward and backward rowing has been practiced a few times, other maneuvers are introduced, like wide turn, narrow turn, stopping, portside and starboard-side scull long, embarking, landing, etc.

Depending on talent of the children, these maneuvers can also be broken down into several steps.

Step 5: This should be a very important safety exercise for the skiff - reboarding the boat after capsizing in deep water. After an inadvertent bath, the children should be able to get back into position in the skiff without damaging the boat. This could be practiced extensively on a "bathing tour" in a plastic children's skiff, perhaps as a competition in which the time needed to get back in the boat is taken, and the winner crowned as "king of baths."

With the handling of the skiff, beginner instruction is generally finished. Usually, rowing in other boats does not present any difficulties after that.

3.3. Keep in mind!
There are some basic rules for beginner instruction:
- Becoming acquainted with the rowing equipment should be a regular part of the training. Use and function of different parts - sliding seat, footrest, outrigger, swivel etc. - should be explained.
- The children should be shown how to carry sculls, oars, and boats, and learn how to launch, take out, and later clean the boat.
- The children should help each other when carrying the boats.
- When explaining movements and tasks, the necessary technical terms and commandos should be used from the beginning.
- The instructor must continue to see that oars and sculls are positioned correctly and the footrest placed in the right position.
- The children should be introduced to the special features of the area - hydrology, dangerous spots, environmental protection, and traffic rules.

Within the German Rowing Federation, the introduction of a rowing skills certificate has been successful. When a certain level of achievement has been reached, boys and girls can pass an exam with their instructor or a representative of the club, which includes practical and theoretical questions. Depending on the level, there are rowing skills certificates in bronze, silver, and gold. If the diploma is not used to put them under pressure, it is usually a nice reward if the children have something to show for what they have learned.

4. Training with children
In connection with children's rowing, the word "training" assumes a different meaning than in competitive sports. In accordance with the aims described above, repeated, continual exercise should improve the children's motor/technical and psychological abilities (like motivation, well-being, willpower) as well as their fitness.

Children's training, in contrast to the training of youths and adults, does not aim at selection and/or early specialization. Aims are rather:
- long-term attachment to rowing as a sport,
- development of a wide variety of different forms of exercise (games, exercises on land, other sports),
- development of a broad basis for individual motivation and skills.

4.1. Training schedule
In our experience, the following frequency and length of practice units is sufficient:
Age 9-10 11-12 13-14
Number units/week 2 2-3 2-4
Rowing km/unit 5-7 7-10 10-12
Rowing km/year 400-600 600-800 700-1200
Hours/week 3 3-5 4-6

These numbers are of course only guidelines. Special circumstances, like excursions, rowing camps, before competitions, etc. can change the schedule for short periods of time.

A warning: however, against too much permanent stress at a young age. Especially with a view towards a possible career in competitive sports, exaggerated training frequency and length tends to be counterproductive. The best rowing age is between 22 and 27. A child that begins rowing at the age of 10 still has to train for at least 12 years before he or she reaches the right age for top-level achievement. Daily practice with a high number of kilometers at a young age may lead to quick successes in the beginning, but it prevents a steady improvement from year to year. Often, such rowing "careers" end before the junior level because the rowers are "burned out," because they have academic problems in school, or because they have lost contact with other young people outside of rowing.

4.2. Training content
We have already mentioned that children should receive the widest possible form of athletic stimulation in the form of games. In general, the younger the children, the higher the percentage of playing exercises on the water and the higher the number of different games and competitions. This does not mean that the children should paddle around aimlessly on the water - although that is, of course, also allowed every once in a while - or that they be artificially kept at beginner level. The children should rather be confronted with a variety of different challenges, which they should be able to tackle with increasingly better solutions. It is obvious that working with different boats and forms of rowing leads to a wider selection of exercises and games. Only a few ideas can be presented here as examples. They should motivate the instructor to develop his or her own, new ideas and to try them out with different groups of children.

Examples for practice exercises:
- Balance presents a permanent challenge. One exercise for advanced rowers in the skiff is "flying." Here, the children push the inboard parts of the oars into the boat and hold them there without letting blade touch the water. Exercises in the sweep boat could be rowing with only one hand (inside hand, outside hand), hands crossed, rowing without shoes or without fixing the feet.

- To understand the interplay of motion and perception, exercises with reduced perception are helpful. It has been shown to be effective to let children row with their eyes closed. In addition to a better feel for the boat, this exercise teaches getting the stroke and team coordination.

- Varying the force of the stroke also promotes a good feel for the boat. Example: alternating strokes with force and without force, or alternating strokes through the water with strokes in the air or catching water. Alternating emphasis of middle phase of stroke, finish of stroke, leg kick, upper body, etc.

- A feel for the boat as well as for ones own body is also promoted by performing motions at different speeds or sequences. Examples are rowing in slow motion; rowing with pauses, e.g. after hand deployment, or before catching water; isolating partial movements, e.g. by rowing with fixed seat, or rowing with quarter, half, three-quarter slide; varying stroke rate or variations in stroke rate and force, e.g. the so-called "mounting-five": one fast stroke with pressure, one slow without pressure, then 2 fast strokes, 2 slow, continuing to 5 and 5, and then counting down again.

- Tasks under conditions which make mistakes impossible, e.g. if the rowers revolve the blade in the water, one could let them row with blade feathered.

- To correct movements, it can be useful to exaggerate, e.g. rowing with an extreme starting position if the length of strokes is too short, or rowing with extremely upright upper body if the rowers use their legs and hips before the catch.

- Of course, all exercises can be combined with each other, e.g. rowing with eyes closed and blades feathered at different stroke rates.
Examples for games:
- King of turns: who can do the fastest three 360¯ turns?
- Powerman/woman: who needs the least number of strokes over a fixed distance?
- Powerslider: who is the first to reach a fixed goal rowing backwards?
- Master of balance: who has the best balance; who can stand up in the children's skiff without holding on to the sculls?
- Boat-ball: a good-sized ball is played towards a goal with bow, stern, or oars.
- Rower handball/basketball: the children try to score goals or baskets by throwing the ball.
- Relays: depending on age, skill, and local situation, the distance in a relay should be between 200 and 500 meters.

As already mentioned, the rowing exercises should be complemented with or (especially in unfavorable weather conditions) replaced by athletic activities and games on land. Practically all forms of sports and games that promote motor abilities and skill and which help to increase fitness are possible. Moving in many different ways and forms helps children learn something about themselves and their own bodies as well as about the boat and the reactions of their partners in the boat. Developing fitness components such as strength and endurance is certainly a hoped-for by-product. However, the emphasis for children lies in the development of skill and technique.

4.2. Competition for children
Within the German Rowing Federation, certain forms of competition which on the one hand connect to the playful forms of rowing discussed above, and on the other hand prepare the ground for moving on to the junior level have been successful.

- Slalom: A course marked with buoys must be passed with the skiff as fast as possible. Although time plays a certain role in this competition, the playing element is still fore grounded.

- Combined competition: Here, children have to show versatility and teamwork.
Playing is still emphasized, e.g.
1. 3500m long-distance rowing in the four with coxswain
2. Basketball competition
3. 1000m. obstacle-race
4. Test of skill (e.g. attaching a disassembled swivel to the outrigger)

- Stroke rate rowing: Here, a certain distance (500m, 1000m, etc.) must be covered with the least possible number of strokes. A minimum stroke rate (e.g. 18 strokes/minute) must be reached. The absolute number of strokes multiplied by the time determines the result. In this form of competition, team spirit and a good technique are necessary. Time and performance of the rowing movement in its fastest form is not yet necessary.

- Combined middle (1000m) and long distance (3000m): For older children (13-14 years) with advanced rowing technique and a sound basic fitness, a combination of middle and long distance is offered. This form of competition prevents the tendency to power through which can often be observed in the short distance (500m), and which leads to uneconomic motions. The combination of middle and long distance also promotes the longer workouts with medium intensity which are favored by doctors.

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