How to step up from recreation to Masters competitive rowing


I am a female rower in her 30s who has been rowing for several years recreationally. I want to advance to the master’s level, but every season I seem to run into the key problem of not having a steady rowing partner. It doesn’t help that I’m a slow learner, that the other master’s rowers have better technique than I, or that the recreational rowers don’t mind rowing in touring boats in windy weather (conditions that I find impossible for technique improvement). I think I may have a reputation in the master’s group as being a poor rower whom no one wants to row with, but I think all I need to improve is a lot of regular, ongoing, consistent water time in racing shells with rowers who are better than me. I am not sure it’s worth it to go to a rowing camp for a few days, only to come back to the same problems. The master’s coach takes a very laidback approach (she’s also a pre-occupied master’s rower). She sees that I’m not as good as the others and suggests that I row in a single. That’s okay, except for two things: 1. It doesn’t help me in windy conditions (which happens a lot) 2. Someone told me once that singles rowing can lead to the perpetuation of mistakes, rather than improving when you’re with a better rower. Is it fair to ask my coach to assign someone to be my partner, as long as that person is better? Any other solutions to my predicament? Thanks for any advice.
What a situation – it’s tough place to be because clearly you want to learn but some parts of your situation is holding you back.

I can help you prioritise with a couple of observations.

  1. to learn you need instruction.
  2. to advance what you learn you need to practice

So with that in mind I recommend getting more instruction / coaching and I have two suggestions. One is yes to go on a camp if you can afford it. Second is to buy online coaching support. We sell this service and Raf or I would be delighted to help you.

With regard to practice you have been mis-advised about singles rowing can lead to mistakes being perpetuated. That applies to ANY boat, not just singles. So ignore that.

The key is that if you practice what you’ve been taught and then go back for more instruction you create a virtuous circle of learning and practice which WILL improve your skills. However fast or slow you learn, a good coach will work with YOU and the circumstances you are in. So don’t worry about your perception of your learning speeds, just find a coach you can work with (the club coach doesn’t sound very sympathetic) and I”d say try out a couple of different coaches if you can until you get one you personally engage with.

My last bit of advice is with regard to your search for a crew mate.

If you can only get practice in a single stick with that and the coaching. If you can find a more experienced rower (man or woman) who will agree to go out once a week for 30 minutes with you, all the better. It fast tracks your learning by being with better people, but remember, athletes are competitive types and so you are right about their perceptions of relative skill.

Don’t worry about your club members who don’t want to row with you right now – as you get better you become more desirable as a partner. Enter races, practice regularly and demonstrate your skill by being there, being seen to train hard and eventually by getting faster in races. We call this “Write your name on the water” and believe me, when they see you beating other members of the squad, they’ll be lining up to row with you. So patience is needed.

You may be inspired by this interview we did with Nicky Coles who, although at a different life stage, found herself ignored by the coach and she did exactly what I told you to do, practice and start rowing or sculling faster – then the interest will focus on you. Nicky says

“suddenly you may notice things like you’ve been dropped from a crew or you’re the worst person in a boat and you start to think “hang on I am not happy with where I’m at and I’d like to be somewhere else, I feel I could do better than this“. If you aspire to a higher level than you’re currently achieving, a certain amount of frustration sets in and you have to ask the question ‘how am I going to do make a step up?’”
And if you want to share your phone number or Skype with me, I”d be happy to have an exploratory chat with you.


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Murray McLeod-Jones

    Tricky situation I agree with the comments so far, but would add this from my experience of trying to break into an established squad, get into a single, learn how to move it efficiently and quickly. Get some coaching, even if it is no more than someone videoing you and then you comparing it with the GB Rowing stroke as a model. If you have access to a RP, get on it before you get in the boat, it will help you time the stroke properly. Ignore any negativity, focus on your aims; physical, technical and mental. The key bit about a single is there is no where to hide, your a single sculler with a single focus, to become fast. If you can move a single, you can move any boat. Have a goal for every session and keep learning. Once you are quick and have good technical skills the others will want to row with you! Come back to me if you want advice on how to structure sessions, goal setting etc. Happy to help.

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Murray – thanks for a most detailed reply. Would you write an article for us on goal setting? Seems there’s an un-met need. Best wishes Rebecca

  2. graham cawood

    Ask a good sculler to stroke a double with you sometimes. Use 2 breaths per stroke – out at catch and release, at 26+ spm. Light short strokes to start with. 1:1 in:out ALWAYS.
    WATCH and COPY stroke! No drills. Develop rhythm!!!!!!!!!!!!.
    Watch videos of top regattas. See how Rhythmic and graceful even the most powerful rowers are. Try to copy them!!

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