3-on-3: Getting the Most Out of Summer Camp

In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. This month, we talk to Allen Eubanks (Southeast Juniors camp director and coach), Sean Clarke (Vesper Boat Club programs director) and Kendall Chase(four-time under 23 world champion and 2016 NCAA champion University of California rower) about summer rowing and good times at camp.

1) Instead of recovering from what might be a long and tiring spring season by taking some time off, why should a developing rower stay active and on the water during summer break?

Kendall: “One of my great coaches once coined the term ‘sneak attack’ to describe gaining fitness and skill over break. Summer is usually a time to kick back and relax, but for rowers, it’s prime time to get an edge up on your competitors. Especially for developing rowers, staying active and on the water during the summer is a good opportunity to grow with skill, technique and most importantly, fitness. I believe that the foundation of rowing lies within fitness. Once you have the endurance that this sport demands, you will be able to mold your stroke and develop the technique you need to succeed. Rowing in the summer makes it easier to ‘sneak attack’ when you start the fall season.”

Sean: “The answer to this lies within your goals as rower and your motivation to achieve them. There are camps for technique development, camps for fun, for travel experience or for racing competitively. Each one is different. I think we all know it’s really hard to grow as an athlete unless you’re challenged. While a fun row can be fun or a unique experience, it’s certainly not improving your skills as a rower. Fun just capitalizes on the skills you already have to enjoy a warm day with no responsibilities for performance.

“If you’re an athlete with the U.S. national team on your mind, you have to recognize that those athletes are training hard, 12 months a year. If you expect to join them, you’ll need a performance-based racing camp. Of course, there are breaks and lower volume periods built into national team training, but none of those athletes have a period where they don’t touch an oar for three months.

“A competitive performance summer camp typically runs from June to early August, which gives an athlete around three weeks of rest between pre- and post-summer season, which is plenty of time for the talented and ‘rowing-proactive’ athlete to be recovered and rested. I’m never surprised when I hear that athletes have their best fall season after spending a summer rowing full-time. It makes them better technically and tougher mentally.”

Allen: “The summer is an important time to develop an athlete’s technique and overall conditioning. The typical summer break between seasons is 12 weeks. All of the valuable gains an athlete achieved in the spring are lost going into the fall. There are different levels of camp length, intensity and training focus for an athlete to select from and to get involved in to maintain or, better yet, improve on their conditioning.”

2) Summer rowing camps are a perfect way to hone your rowing skills. What’s an invaluable lesson that only a summer camp can offer?

Sean: “Summer camps open up a whole host of opportunities for rowers to try different sides of sweep, sculling and boat classes—as well as different oar manufacturers, different boat manufacturers and training and technique methods. The underlying benefit is the idea that you have to ‘buy in’ to something different in order to get the most out of yourself and the team in a short period. I think what summer rowing really can do is make a more adaptable and open-minded athlete return to their college or high school season with a new perspective on how to mentally approach the sport, their teammates and their coaches.

“Smarter athletes are faster athletes, as long as they know how to work within a team. Working with a bunch of different teams is a way to gain a wider experience. I don’t think most rowers know how secluded, exclusive and shallow their pool of knowledge is until they have to participate and bring something to the table in a whole new environment. If you’ve only ever been on one or two teams in your life, you’re really doing a disservice to your development in the teamwork department.”

Kendall: “I would say that one of the many important lessons that one can gain from attending summer camps is that you learn how to handle being outside of your comfort zone. When you go to camp, most of the time you won’t know a lot of people and on top of that, you’ll be rowing with your ‘enemies’ from teams you compete against in the regular season. I believe that a big aspect of gaining success in rowing is learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“While camps are mostly aimed at developing skill and technique, a huge aspect of the sport comes from what goes on in between your ears. Summer camps expose you to different styles of coaching and rowing while also being in an environment that you’re unfamiliar with. Being able to handle yourself while in an uncomfortable position will allow you to develop and mature mentally and become a more dynamic rower.”

Allen: “Camp is a very important time to become coachable. The question I’m most often asked about athletes being recruited is, ‘are they coachable?’ Camps give you a chance to work with other coaches and learn skills that you can take back to your home team. Most good camps try to give you skills that improve your existing stroke, not completely change it in just a few weeks.”

3) Everyone loves a good summer camp story! Can you share one of your favorites?

Allen: “In the early days of the Southeast Juniors camp, each coach was assigned a crew of athletes and the coach spent most practices just with them. I had the eight lightweights that attended camp that year. This group was very salty and loved to race, especially against the openweight crews at the camp. With no junior lightweight events at USRowing Club Nationals, these ladies competed in the intermediate and senior lightweight four events and brought home gold and silver in both events.”

Kendall: “In 2011, I was invited to the USRowing High Performance Camp, and I was asked a few days into camp to go up to the selection group for the U.S. Junior National Team. I didn’t know anyone or any coaches. Before the first day of practice, I get a text from an unknown number saying, ‘Hi Kendall, it’s (head coach) Liz Trond. If you want to stay practicing with the selection camp group, you have to bring two dozen donuts and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I expect to see you at 4 a.m. sharp, so you can set up.’ My naivety got the best of me, and I thought it was actually Liz. I remember freaking out because I had no idea where a Dunkin’ Donuts in Princeton was. I heard girls down the hall laughing hysterically, so I walked down there and they all pointed at me and started laughing when I walked in. I was pretty mortified for about five minutes, until I found out these girls were just messing with me.”

Sean: “There are so many to choose from. The actual races aren’t as important to me as the experience of being here and taking something away that impacts your life from there, on out. I like positive trends and patterns that I see developing in the athletes who attend this camp. I love how Vesper’s All Together motto means that I see athletes continue to work with each other, creating group texts that keep going for years, liking each others’ Facebook status updates, meeting up with each other at college races, the inside jokes and checking back in with their summer coaches to say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you.’ It’s not the actual six minutes of our races that’s special to me, it’s what going through those six minutes creates for the lifetime afterwards, that I enjoy.”

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