Multi-sport competition & cooperation or Rowing versus the ‘rest’


I have heard rowing coaches bemoaning the competition they face with other sports if they want to keep ‘their’ athletes; heck, I’ve even done it myself as winter turns to summer and they’re still playing netball or at the other end of the season just as we gear up for Nationals and ‘you what?

You can’t come to training because of rugby . . .?’
Even when I thought I was safe in a 12-month programme you had to work to shield ‘your’ rowers from the attractions and dangers of things like snowboarding or tennis or any of those once-a-week games/activities (sneer, sneer) where you don’t even have to train . . . don’t have to get out of bed early . . . can just get out there and do it . . . ahem.  Is it just me or have we put our blinkers on and not opened ourselves up to the other possibilities out there?

Why shouldn’t rowers do other sports?

I remember attending a coaches conference where we were introduced to the Norwegian High Performance Sports structure.  Sport in Norway is run by the Ministry of Culture which has grouped their sports together in lots of 5 or 6 to share resources, not just money but access to sport scientists and research and facilities.  So guess who rowing’s partners are?  Forgive me, my memory is a little hazy but the list went something like this:

  • Nordic Skiing – oh yes, the same sort of physical demands, using all the big muscles, just as we do and we all know that some of the best Norwegian rowers were also some of the best Norwegian skiers and in a country that far north how else do you train over the winter?
  • Wrestling – hmmm, well, I guess they need to be strong as well and have probably appreciated the need for core strength for much longer than we have.  They have weight divisions too so there could be something for our lightweights there . . .
  • Rhythmic Gymnastics – now hang on . . . oh, alright.  Now here’s a group of people who train more than we do and with much more attention to detail and timing.  As for flexibility, I don’t think getting into the catch position is going to be a problem.

And then my memory fails me but what there wasn’t was the obvious partnering of water sports.  Rowing wasn’t sharing with canoeing, didn’t, I think, even get in the pool with swimming.  Those clever Norwegians had reasoned that to get changes in their sporting bodies then they had to get them thinking in different ways, seeking answers from different people.

How can rowing think “different” to our advantage?

And maybe that’s what we could be doing when we confront our rowing vs other sports problem.  Maybe if we bring in elements of the other sports to strengthen our programmes then just maybe with a hold on our rowers’ imaginations we keep hold of their bodies.

Think about offering the rugby coach an aerobic session in a boat the day after the match – the best way for the bodies to recover from their pummelling and a good way to keep up the rowing skills over the winter.  Think about incorporating some netball drills in your warm up – it stops us from always thinking in straight lines and will improve the hand-eye coordination as well.

Oh, if you’re doing it already – let us know how you’ve learnt to turn your competition with those other sports into cooperation?  Share your knowledge and then we can make our own choices.

Raf Wyatt is a rowing coach and has trained clubs and international crews.  She is available to ‘hire’ for remote coaching, training plans and coaching the coach sessions.


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