Comfort With The Unknown: Sculling for The Hesitant Sweep Rower

For rowers at colleges or masters clubs who place a huge emphasis on sweep rowing, sculling might be seen as a foreign activity or one that you only practice when you are otherwise unable to row in bigger boats. Why would I want to be alone in a boat? Isn’t this a team sport? What if I flip? While these are all valid questions not trying sculling is a disservice to yourself as both a sweep rower and an athlete. Sculling has provided me a place of healing, contemplation and learning in a new and different way, and one I never experienced with sweep rowing.

Sculling was something I started because I was injured. As a college rower with an overused right shoulder from 5 years of starboard, daily racing practices would cause severe pain. As a way to keep me on the water and engaged with the team, my coach transitioned me to sculling with other team members who were also recovering from injury.

I have been sculling for almost 10 years now. I remember distinctly my teammate and friend Elissa coaching me through my first few times in a sculling boat with the words, “You already know how to do it.” This is something I have carried with me since then as a mentality for coaching rowers new to sculling. You really do know how to do it already! What is unsettling or new about the experience is now there is no one to serve as your training wheel. As a single sculler it is all about you but that is one of the things that makes it so great. You have time to explore your own stroke and rhythm, mess up, get wet and try again. There is a connection with the process of the rowing stroke that I think you are slightly farther from in the big battleship world of an eight.

Craftsbury Sculling Center Boathouse

As the years progressed I moved from a recreational single to racing in a double, competing in mostly women’s open double events. I then transitioned to single and mixed double racing. In 2016 my mixed double earned a silver medal in the Mixed A 2x race at Masters Nationals and in 2017 I had the honor of coaching at Craftsbury Sculling Center for a weekend program. 



Women’s Masters 4x Race at Derby Sweeps and Sculls

In masters rowing you can take rowing, in any form, as far as you want based on your interests and energy. I am continuing to learn and grow as coach, rower and person through my sculling practice. My favorite part of the whole process has been teaching and growing the confidence of other new or experienced scullers. FVRA has yearly trips to Craftsbury and each year we bring new club members along. Last year we purchased a 4x which was raced multiple times including as part of the Women’s Director’s Challenge Race at Head of the Charles. Sculling allows me to think of new ways to describe things, “Imagine you are throwing open swinging doors as you burst into a western saloon” and I try and absorb as much as I can from other coaches and what they know from their own experience. This year Holly Metcalf described squaring down your blade during her talk Making Drills Stick, at The Joy of Sculling conference in Saratoga Springs, NY, as “Reverse Milking the Cow,” finger by finger.

Sculling in a single teaches the logistics of steering blind, how to be comfortable with the unknown, how to control your own rhythm, how to stay relaxed, the dynamics of your own body, how to feel the motion of the water underneath you, how to excruciatingly over analyze every aspect of what you’re doing and the benefits of not caring at all. At its best you are allowed to live in and work with each stroke on its own, growing your control and understanding of the strokes we all practice. Whether you are a new rower, or you’ve been sweeping for years, stepping into a sculling boat should be a welcome, and recommended, new challenge. It will only make you a better person, rower and teammate.

FVRA offers one-on-one coaching sessions for both new and experienced scullers. New in 2018 FVRA is also offering a Learn to Scull program on June 9th. For more information visit our Clinics page. This year’s FVRA trip to Craftsbury Sculling Center is planned for June 22-24th. For more information on this and other weekends/weeks visit,