Pre-, During, and Post-Camp, How to Maximize Your Experience

By Dave Payne | May 15, 2015

Making the excellent decision to attend a rowing camp is only the beginning. To get the most out of a rowing camp, you need to do more than just show up and let things happen a la Here We Are Now, Entertain Us. Below are some tips on maximizing your camp experience so you have an amazing time and get the most out of it.

Pre-Camp

Be in shape
Regardless of the type of camp you're attending, show up in shape. For shorter camps, this will make it so you're not spending the bulk of camp just remembering how to use an oar instead of building upon what you already know. For longer camps, greater gains can be made if you are in (or near) top shape rather than using the camp to get in shape. At camps that revolve around preparing for racing, if you are not physically prepared when you arrive you are going to have a much harder time getting into a top boat. Thinking back over the dozens of athletes I have worked with at the intensive training program I manage in New Zealand, the rowers with the biggest PR drops were those who pulled their assessment 2k at or near their PR. Those who were far above it spent most of the program getting to that level with little time to move beyond. Being physically ready will help you maximize potential gains and, almost as important, ensure your hands have those ever important pre-formed callouses.

Take care of yourself
Summer is fun. We want to go outside, be adventurous, and try new things. We also sometimes push ourselves too far or go too big and wind up sick or injured. While you cannot prevent everything, you should still make wise choices to ensure your safety. The consequences of being sick or injured before camp vary, but none of them are pleasant. If it is bad enough, you may have to cancel your attendance. Most camps have some form of refund policy (usually minus a deposit), but if it is too close to the start of camp, you may forfeit the entire amount. If you are still able to attend you may not be up at your full potential and will struggle getting back into top form. This can hinder your overall experience and growth. We still encourage you to have fun in the summer, but smart and safe fun.

Set Camp Goals
What do you want to get out of camp? Why are you attending this camp? Write down your goals for camp about a week before leaving for camp. You don’t need to create an extensive list, but your list should include at least a couple items. These can range from make new friends to drop my 2k by X seconds (be realistic). While your goals for camp may change once you arrive, it is important to have an idea early because they will help guide you throughout the camp. You should revisit these at least once during camp, usually halfway through, to see if you are on track or need to adjust them. Understand that you may not achieve some goals and achieve others you didn't originally list. Keep an open mind and know that working towards a goal is equally important to (if not more so than) actually achieving it.

Gather necessary items
It should go without saying, but make sure you have the appropriate clothing and materials for camp. Have enough spandex/trou/unis/zooties/lycra/etc to last more than one practice. Most camps will have a place to do laundry, especially if they're longer, but you don't want to be doing laundry every day, so bring several pair. If you’re a coxswain and have a cox box, bring it. Camps will supply them if you don’t have one (unless otherwise stated) but it’s always better to use your own equipment. A great resource is the packing list many camps will send you prior to departure. This is especially important if going to a camp in a cold location or where inclement weather occurs. At every camp, even if it is not explicitly stated, make sure you have at least one water bottle, snacks, and a notebook.

Get excited
Camps are fun. Camps are awesome. It's why we love them so much. As the start date approaches, get excited for what you'll be doing.

During Camp

Take notes
This is important for all campers, but crucial for coxswains. Rowers gain a lot being in the boat by going through the motions, building muscle memory, and getting a feel for the boat. Coxswains, who rely predominantly on mental abilities, lack this physical benefit. As such, coxswains must always (and we mean ALWAYS) have a notebook and pens (yes, plural) on hand to take notes; this includes practices on and off the water, meetings with coaches, and seminars. Your memory may fade over time, but these notes will last. To help solidify them into memory, type them up at the end of each day or the conclusion of camp into an online document where you can't lose them. Rowers should take notes for the same reasons. We don't recommend having a notebook in the boat with you, but keep one in your bag (with pens) and at the end of each practice take a few minutes to jot down the advice the coach said to you and the other rowers. The latter bit is useful because even though a coach doesn't say something directly to you it still may apply to you.

Try new things/Ask questions/Be proactive/Talk to coaches
Camps are all about new experiences. If you're doing a camp away from your home club, you're already taking a step in the right direction. Go even further and take advantage of every opportunity the camp offers. These range from social activities to signing up for meetings with coaches to creating your own opportunities to grow (within the confines of camp policies and safety, that is). While it's acceptable to come home from rowing camp saying “I rowed, rowed more, and learned about rowing”, it's better to come home saying “I rowed, I met these cool new people, I got great advice from Coach ____, I got to know my counselor...”

Remember, it is up to you to make the most of every opportunity. No one is going to force you to and no one is going to hold your hand. Be proactive and make the most of it. Even if it's your nth time at a particular camp, there is always something more to gain. There will be new people to meet, new advice from coaches, a new level to push yourself. Keep an open mind and look for new ways to enhance your experience.

Pay attention
You're at a rowing camp for a very specific reason: to learn more about rowing. No matter the length of camp or the particular goals, you are there to learn and improve. Listen to the advice the coaches give you and the others in your boat. If you're a rower, listen to what advice the coxswains receive and see if it applies to your coxswains back home. If you're a coxswain, listen to the way coaches describe different parts of the stroke to help you better understand what the rowers need to do. Coaches offer a lot of nuggets of wisdom, but you only get them if you are paying attention. Lastly, listen to the announcements the camp staff makes, you don't want to be the one who overslept because you weren't listening to what time wake up is.

Work hard
Few things worth doing are easy. If you want to improve it will take effort, time, and perseverance. You may not make leaps and bounds at a five day camp, but focusing and dedicating yourself to each practice will ensure you are getting the most out of it. At longer camps, it is critical to work hard if you want to see results. Bear in mind you may work hard and not see a drop in your 2k. That's fine. Sometimes we just have a bad day or the stars aren't aligned properly for us. If this happens, accept you tried your best (be sure you did) and see what else you can take away from camp. If you put forth your best effort, you did gain something. It may not be obvious right away, but trust us, if you stick with the sport and keeping working hard, the results will present themselves eventually. Lastly, work hard because that is what you are there to do.

Post-Camp

Review notes
Remember those notes we had you take during camp in the notebook we told you to pack and which you proactively typed into an online document? A few weeks after camp ends is a great time to go back and review those. If there is a large gap between the end of camp and the start of your next rowing season, review your notes a few weeks after camp and then again just before the new season commences. As your coach gives you additional notes, add them to this notebook. Over time it will help you track your progress and find patterns in your rowing. For rowers, this is also a great place for a training log. Most importantly, it's a great place to relive some of your favorite memories of camp.

Implement what you learned
There is no point in going to camp if you forget everything the moment you leave. Heed the advice coaches gave you (which you wrote in your notebook) and implement it into your rowing. Check in with your coach and ask about your progress. Talk with them about what you learned at camp and the best way to use it to improve your rowing. Every coach has a little bit different style, so keep an open mind if your coach gives advice contrary to what your camp coach said. Your coach at home is the one to follow because they are coaching the whole team in that style, and you following a different beat will only hinder you and the team.

Keep training, pushing, learning, and challenging yourself
Rowing is a lifelong process. Camp has ended but the learning continues. Every day, on the water and on land, strive to gain something. On hard pieces push yourself to a new level. On technical workouts see how well you can focus and how much you can improve your form. Muscles and minds atrophy if not used. Keep using them and keep striving to be the best you can. A camp is just one step on a long, long journey. Enjoy that journey, for however far it takes you. You may realize down the line that you gained more from camp than you originally thought.