Adaptive Rowing project at Doncaster Rowing Club

“The satisfaction and enjoyment of seeing the lads progress has been so fulfilling and when every week they continue to turn up with enthusiasm and the desperation to get on the water I would recommend similar projects to any coaches out there thinking about trying something different”.

In September 2009 an adaptive rowing project was begun in South Yorkshire at Doncaster Rowing Club after a rower at the club wanted to offer the students at his school the opportunity that he had been given to gain enjoyment from the sport. The pupils are all students at Wilsic Hall School, Doncaster. Wilsic Hall School is a residential special school catering for young people with severe learning difficulties, many of whom also have autism and difficulties with communication as well as difficulties in accessing social activities.

Initially the students were brought down to the club and familiarized with the facilities, the equipment and coaches. The project started with sessions involving indoor rowers and other gym equipment. All the sessions had to be adapted and aimed at the appropriate level of each student as levels in understanding and communication were all different. Although this was a challenge to begin with, the experience and knowledge gained was fantastic. After several weeks indoors the British Rowing dry skills programme was adapted to allow the students to have some aims and targets.

In the early days of the project the subject of getting on the water was never really talked about, but after seeing the progression of the students and the hard work being put in it was decided to give it a go. After jumping over several hurdles and several risk assessments later, permission was finally granted and on the water work started. All the students started in double mondego’s allowing an able-bodied rower to provide stability and a cox to be present to ensure their safety, with coaching from a launch.

The project has now been running six months and the progression has been incredible; one student is now in a virus, two students are in single mondego’s and the fourth student who we thought might not get on the water is now 4 weeks into rowing in a double mondego. The project has given these students an opportunity they would never had. Although it has been incredibly hard work the satisfaction and enjoyment of seeing the lads progress has been so fulfilling, and when every week they continue to turn up with enthusiasm and the desperation to get on the water I would recommend similar projects to any coaches out there thinking about trying something different.

Dave Senior, teacher at the school commented that;

“Rowing on the River Don, as part of Doncaster Rowing Club, has offered this group of four students from our school an excellent opportunity to broaden their horizons by trying out a new and exciting activity with all the unique challenges and thrills embodied by rowing. All the students have risen to the challenge and far exceeded our expectations in getting to grips with sculling and rowing technique on open water. Their increase in confidence and self esteem as well as their enjoyment of the activity has been clearly visible in the weeks they have been rowing on the river. Initially the students became acquainted with the basics of rowing technique on the ergometers housed on the upper floor of the boathouse, but it wasn’t long before they had grasped the basic concepts of the stroke and were ‘chomping at the bit’ to get out on the water.

Bearing in mind our students’ difficulties with communication we have been careful to offer instruction based on everyday language rather than complicating matters by using specific rowing terminology and this has paid dividends in accelerating the progress students have made. Whilst initial outings on the water were filled with both excitement and trepidation the students’ confidence has visibly grown over as they have become more competent in applying what they had learnt on the ergometers to working with two blades on the water with the added complication of the instability of the boat. For one we took the interim step of using just one blade for him to practise sweep rowing before giving him a go at sculling with two blades as this initially proved quite difficult for him. Nevertheless, all our students have made giant strides since taking their first few strokes and all look forward to returning every week to build on their previous successes. The progress the students have made in rowing and sculling represents outstanding success and they all thoroughly deserve to be commended for their achievement. Well done lads!”

The project is going to continue throughout the summer of 2010, and hopefully expand to offer more students at the school the same opportunity.

Eddie Bryant
British Rowing
Club & Coach programme, Yorkshire

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