Watching game film is nothing new to senior defensive tackle Bob Erickson. It's a routine practice for the W.T. Woodson football team to breakdown plays before and after a game and highlight what areas need improvement.
"In football, it's all about looking at what the team is doing," he said. "It's taking a look at each step you take and the plays."
But in the comfort of his home, Erickson spends time watching game film for his spring sport — crew.
"In crew, it's watching your full body motion," he said. "It's different from football."
Different and similar.
A football film session might highlight mistakes made by a group of players, but the crew film singles out each rower's performance and zeros in on minute mistakes that can slow down a boat, including muscle movement, oar water entry or body position during strokes.
"The video helps a lot," he said. "Really seeing how each muscle movement isn't correct or what you're doing wrong just helps a lot."
Since 2008, assistant crew coach Mike McKinney has been using a digital camcorder to tape crew practices on the Occoquan River in Lorton.
"I saw them do it at the Naval Academy's [crew] camp," he said. "So I thought I'd try it here."
Of course McKinney's set up isn't quite as advanced as the U.S. Naval Academy's, which he said featured a Telestrator and other high-tech functions, but he has managed to produce a similar version with a limited budget.
McKinney records a boat's practice run and then downloads the video footage onto his computer. After spending about 40 minutes to edit, slow down the video to one-eighth the speed, add a narration track and some motivational music, McKinney uploads the video to a private YouTube channel.
He gives his rowers a heads up that their video is on YouTube, and then members of the team go home and watch race footage.
"I just tell the kids ‘Hey your video is online,’ " he said. "And then they log in and can watch it whenever they want. Then, we can talk about it."
Watching game film at home, rather than with the entire team and a coach breathing down your neck, is a relief to junior rower and football defensive lineman Tim Kazimer.
"It's scarier in football because the coach is yelling at you the whole time," he said. "But this is more based on improvement and what you can do personally to improve."
McKinney doesn't just film the rowers in the water. While the team practices in the winter on stationary rowing machines, McKinney has the camera rolling. When the team is in the water, he waits until his rowers are dead-tired before hitting record.
"I film when they are very tired," he said. "That's when their technique will be worse because of fatigue."
On top of giving rowers a visual aid to guide their rowing, the video footage also helps McKinney track the team's understanding of the techniques.
"Now, we have a historical log of their technique," he said.
As evidence of whether McKinney's videos are helping, one can simply look at the team's results.
The Woodson boys' eight-man boats have placed in every race this season, and head coach Ashley Frese credits the video training, along with talented rowing, for the team’s success.
"This is definitely our best year ever," she said. "The general theory is that it takes four years to build a [eight-man boat]. This is only our third year into [the development]."
Results aren't the only thing the coaches are concerned about.
In a sport where technique is vital, Frese said that having the online video coaching helps the rowers understand what they need to improve on when rowing.
"It's great to have something we can show them," she said. "Out in the middle of the river, it's hard for them to recall what we've been saying. This helps them see what we're telling them."