I am racing and coaching for my Cambridge (UK) club, Champion of the Thames , at the moment. It is great fun; I am making lots of new friends and enjoying myself thoroughly. Champs is the ninth club to which I have belonged over many years of rowing in quite few different countries.
Champs is, at least for me, a new experience. This year in the Town Bumps we have 17 eights starting, nine men and 8 women. All from a base, 10 years ago, of only two eights racing in this event. For the club to have grown so spectacularly it must be doing a lot of things right. This is even more emphatically so when one considers that we don’t have a club house. The club is loosely based in some borrowed space in a College boathouse (Clare College ), and has equipment stored in two others, and leases boats from at least two more.
The clubs I grew up in were hierarchical, there was a clear pecking order, and the club officials told you which crew you were going to race in. A top down, centrally run, state if you like. Training times were structured and, essentially, the whole club trained at the same time. If the club went to a regatta, the whole club went. Those who made the club run were visible because we were all at the boatshed at the same times each week.
Champs is run to a different social model. Our model is much more crew based and basically consists of a loose federation of crews, each of which has coalesced around a leader, an organiser. So the crew I am in is known much more as Champs Levien (David Levien is our leader) than Champs 5 which indicates our position in a mostly ignored hierarchy. Our club rivals are Champs Munby to us, not Champs 6. Each crew decides independently if it wants to race at a particular event. We are, if you like, a federal state. Is this perhaps a reflection of the new zeitgeist? Of the new way we organise our lives? It is certainly a model that would struggle without modern electronic communication. It is also a system that makes it easy to not notice the contribution from those who do the organising, the fundraising, the boat repairs.
This different management model works well while there are enough keen, eager and generous people to run the background organisation on which it is based. Champion of the Thames is well blessed in this department. Hats off to those who labour unseen and make it work!