Way back when it was believed that if you wanted to go fast you had to have a big engine. That is until we read about Joe Kittinger.
US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger didn't have a big engine when he went fast — so fast he broke the speed of sound. In fact, he had no engine at all. In 1960, he jumped out of a balloon at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. He went as fast as a bullet. Just him and his parachute.
If you are going to fight the force of friction, as we do in the world of rowing, you will need to have an engine. (The engines I'm talking about are people — not Evinrudes.) And if you are racing and want your boat to go faster than the one next to you, you will need to have a bigger/stronger/faster engine than they have. Pretty simple.
But what is not so simple is how do you get those engines in your boat?
In the business world, a "fast" company is one that can recruit the people it needs, and once those people are working at the business, it retains those employees in a very competitive market place.
So with that in mind, it is time to ask you a pretty pertinent question — is your program fast? Do you recruit the best people possible, and once those people are at your program, do you retain them?
Okay, time to answer part one of the question– do you get the people you need (and want) to participate in your program? Regardless of whether you are a juniors program rowing out of someone's backyard or a college/club rowing out of a multimillion dollar boathouse, there is one basic fact the same to all rowing programs. If you want to go fast you have to have the athletes. And the faster you want to go, the faster the athletes have to be. So, how do you get them? The steps aren't that hard.
The first step is to figure out who you are (if you are coaching), and what your program is trying to do. What is your coaching philosophy? What is the goal of the program? These are questions that although hard to answer need to be answered. People want and need to know the answers to them before they are willing to commit to a program. They want to know if you are a cool coach, or a "yeller." They want to know if the program they are looking at is designed to "win it all — at any cost" or if the plan is to "go row and have fun."
Once you know who you are, and what your program is trying to do it should be easy to figure out what type of folks you want to attract. That is the next step. Want to win the nationals? Then you want strong/hardworking/aggressive rowers. Anything less probably won't get you where you want to go. Looking just to get out, count blue herons, and laugh at the post-practice breakfast at the local greasy-spoon dinner? You're looking for comedic rowers who are willing to pick up a check.
After you have completed the first two steps you need to let them (the people you have identified) know who and where you are. Tell the folks, whether on campus, in the local community, or on the other side of the world what you are trying to do at your program. Wave the flag, promote yourself. How else are they going to find you? Promote — almost unashamedly promote. Keep it honest, but get your message out.
The final step is to hook them. Get them to the boathouse, explain what you are trying to do, let them row, and set the hook.
Now, this is the important part. Once you have the people involved in your program, keep them involved! An interesting quote that might shed some light on what you could be dealing with was written by Ernst Maglischo, in his book Swimming Even Faster (1993):
It has been estimated that nearly four out of every ten nationally ranked age group athletes drop out before they reach the usual age of senior competition for their sex — that is, age 14 for women and 18 for men. This is true of most age group sports and is not confined solely to competitive swimming.
People quit sports, especially high-intensity sports like crew. The number one reason people (especially youngsters) leave a sport is because it stops being fun. That holds true for coaches as well as athletes. When the sport stops being fun, people often stop the sport. And those who don't quit can oftentimes be miserable, or if they stay they can make life miserable for those around them.
One solution — make it fun. Another way to look at it is to make the sport engaging for the person. Sounds easy, but isn't. What is fun/engaging for one person can be another's boredom. The best way to make it fun is to talk to the individual and find out what they are after. What do they want to accomplish? What are their goals? Knowing this will help their fun/engagement levels, and hopefully keep them around longer.
Another solution, help them grow. If you're coaching, your impact as a coach on the total development of a rower — young or old — can be big. In the simplest of terms, a rower will grow physically, will develop mentally, and will learn as part of participation in rowing. If you can help insure that this growth, development, and learning is positive and helpful to the rower, then chances are they will realize they are benefiting and stay involved.
So back to the original question — is your program fast? Do you recruit the best people possible, and once those people are at your program, do you retain them? Hopefully you answered yes to both questions. If not, then get to work, and then maybe you too can be as fast as Joe Kittinger.
We hope these articles have been somewhat helpful to your rigging and rowing.