I was thinking about inter Rowing club rivalry the other day following a conversation about clubs merging.
Obviously you can't really generalise about such matters, each Rowing club has its own characteristics, personalities & perhaps most importantly unique identity. These characteristics are often built up over many years, after all, many UK Rowing clubs have been around since 18xx.
I am generally of the opinion that it is healthy for there to be more than one rowing club in even the smallest of towns, the reason for this is having rivalry generally is a positive thing & Rowing is certainly no different to any other sport in this regard.
I am aware that some Rowing Clubs have struggled where others have prospered, often you see a real disparity between clubs in close proximity, particularly in terms of membership, training & overall facilities. This disparity can arise as a result of many factors, a benefactor, an entrepreneurial committee or just more active members. Nevertheless such disparities can lead to some real problems for the club which might be less fortunate.
Such problems can be realised in more talented competitors “migrating” to the better equipped club, the draw of better training facilities can be a very real attraction.
One interesting observation is the rise & demise of success within a club can be quite cyclic, why is this?
Some would contest that it is people rather than facilities that decide if a club is successful.
I believe the presence of a good coach can make a profound difference to a club, its an old cliché, success breads success. When a club has access to good coaching the success of a club (measured in this case, in terms of regatta wins) tends to be high, when the coach leaves the success rate tends to take a marked downturn, this in part supports the earlier comment regarding cyclic nature of rowing club success. If a club is fortunate to have a good coach or better still a number of good coaches I recommend that at all cost they ensure they foster this key ingredient, they should realise that quality coaching forms their most prized asset (IMHO the crown jewels of any club).
I suggest the value of this prized “possession” cannot be under estimated & will have a huge impact on a club, particularly ones which have limited resources.
If you review success levels across a broad spectrum of Rowing disciplines, generally the essential ingredient will be a competent coach, obviously the athletes need to be dedicated & truly committed to the point of obsession if they are to reach the higher echelons of the sport.
Another interesting aspect of clubs in close proximity is that most members of a club have at sometime been a member of the rival club. Rowing folk generally have very polarised opinions, things tend to be black or white, there are very few shades of grey. I am not for one minute suggesting this is inappropriate, it's just the way it is.
I have met many Rowers who form an instant impression of a fellow Rower, more often than not this takes place at their first meeting. Such an instantaneous decision, formulated under such circumstances has been described to me by a very good friend, as a means of avoiding wasting time making excuses for another's behaviour over time, only to realise their initial impression was well founded. Furthermore this same Rowing friend has advised me, that there have been very few occasions where their initial impression has been wrong. I suggest that such strong views can on occasion lead to some disagreement which occasionally causes a rift which is irreversible & the result often is a transfer of allegiances to the rival club.
Returning to the theme of Coaching, I am often bemused by club officials that take on roles which clearly they are not qualified or able to perform. How often have you heard an individual attempting to coach a novice or intermediate rower by repeating common Rowing phrases they have overheard. It is quite apparent that these individuals are quite unable to explain coherently what is needed to improve an aspect of a Rowers technique & they simply impart rowing “sound bites”. I have little doubt, they believe they are imparting words of wisdom, more often than not, they are not helping one bit.
So, club officials, you really should if you have not already done so, invest in your coaches & ensure the club develops coaching skills which are predicated upon a real understanding of Rowing, do not allow your club to make do with “virtual”coaches that just haven't got a clue. If you allow the art of virtual coaches to flourish your membership will in the medium term wane, competitors will reach a level which cannot be improved upon, because the individual or crew just have not been given an appropriate level of technical & psychological support from an experienced well qualified coach. They will inevitably decide to move to pastures new & seek better coaching.
The best coaches more often than not, are accomplished rowers with good communication skills who are able to impart effectively their knowledge having experienced the very things they are communicating. Clearly there are exceptions to this, eg coaches that have built up competences from other sport disciplines but this is less prevalent.
One thing I have noticed is that there appears to be a lack of younger coaches around, I guess the most able athletes wish to spend as much time competing as possible & I fully appreciate this. That said I have met a number of athletes who when asked are only too willing to help out coaching, I believe clubs should encourage these people to spend some time with Juniors & novices /intermediate Rowers. When engaged in coaching, they generally find this quite rewarding & frequently can interact very effectively as mentors.
On the subject of Junior coaching, building a framework or template which enables Juniors to develop such that they can race competitively beyond their Junior years is also a very important aspect that frequently gets neglected. Clearly some clubs factor this transition, others do not & such decisions can have a profound impact on a Rowing club. After all, a successful Junior is likely to want to become a successful Senior squad rower & I would contest that an investment in Junior Rowing & the subsequent transitioning into Senior squad is at the core of a clubs long term development potential.
It is quite interesting to review how clubs compete effectively along side Schools which actively promote Rowing within their curriculum (eg as part of the schools Physical Education provision).
Specifically ensuring training programs, whilst balanced during Junior years, remain challenging to this end it should be a constant objective of coaches to ensure these programs remain vibrant & dynamic.
Highly repetitive & unimaginative training will lead to poor results & a gradual decline of Junior Squad numbers which is all fairly predictable, clearly also true of Senior squad athletes.
On the matter of the quantity of training relating to Juniors, I have seen a number of instances where an ill informed Junior Coach has severely constrained the level & amount of training a Junior should engage. The rationale behind such an approach is frequently misinterpreting ARA guidelines, typically such an approach often discriminates purely by age, rather than physical attributes of the Junior. Juniors develop at different rates, their physical attributes & rowing proficiencies can vary hugely, to generalise, that is to insist that all juniors of a specific age must follow some regimented training pattern is just wrong. If a club has the competences available it should attempt to personalise the training around the physical attributes, competences & aspirations of the Junior, just as Schools that encourage Rowing as part of their curriculum will be doing.
Clearly many of these “Rowing Schools” have highly qualified & experienced full time coaches available to ensure they always provide the very best instruction.
With this in mind I was very surprised recently when I came across a Junior coach that had deemed it inappropriate that “his” Juniors should attend Head races, this unilateral decision appeared to disregard a Juniors ability, clearly this preclusion from such events will be a significant disadvantage to many Juniors that undoubtedly would have benefited greatly from such a competitive opportunity.