University Rowing – A Guide for Freshers and Boat Clubs


University Boat Clubs provide a great opportunity for new students to take up rowing, as well as being the first taste of boat club management for those who already row. This
Cambridge colleges rowing colors Cambridge colleges rowing colors (Photo credit: The Happy Rower)

article is in two parts: firstly for the student athlete and then for the club committee who want to recruit.

If you’re new to rowing, or new to running a university boat club, one of the first ‘unknowns’ you’ll face is your first Freshers session.

New Rowers – What to expect…

This will depend on the size of your university boat club and how it is set up.
Most university boat clubs will run a ‘taster/introductory session’ for potential new recruits. These sessions will be introductions to both the sport and the boat club and give you an idea of the kind of setup at your particular club.

Rowing is popular and most universities are inundated with people signing up to try it. The first sessions will be busy but, as with many university sports, people will drop out as they find their particular niche. You may not get much time on the water or with a coach but if rowing is something you want to commit to, persevere.

What to bring…

Patience. You may well have a new club committee facing their first challenge: providing enough equipment for dozens of eager new rowers. Bear with them. Offer help where you can.

Warm clothes. There may be a lot of standing around and some clubs won’t have much of a boathouse to shelter in.
Change of clothes. Just in case it rains, or you fall in.

What to wear…

You don’t need to buy rowing specific clothing yet. Base layers or fairly tight fitting tops are best as they won’t get caught up in the oar handle. Tracksuit trousers (as long as they’re not too loose fitting) will be fine. Leggings are ideal or rugby shorts will work well. Anything too loose will catch in the seat and slides. Although rowing should be one of the dryer watersports a splashproof jacket is a good idea (not too baggy). You won’t be doing much physical work in your first session so wear clothes which will keep you warm. If your boat club is on a river you may have to wade in to get in the boat, so wellies may be a good idea.

Enjoy yourself and don’t worry if you don’t pick it up straight away. Most people take a few months to learn to row.

Boat Clubs What to expect…

Lots of people! Rowing is always a popular sport at university and many freshers won’t have had the chance to try it at school. The surge in interest from the Olympics will probably double your number of recruits. For some, rowing will be the sport they want to do at university. For others it will just be one option they’re interested in. A large proportion will drop out fairly quickly once they decide on another sport, or when the cold autumn weather and early mornings become reality.

What to plan…

Put on taster sessions where you can present your club, your squads and routes available to your athletes, be they recreational, racing etc, as well as giving people a chance to get on the water. You need to plan your introductory sessions to ‘sell’ rowing to your potential recruits. Remember that you are competing against many other sports and this is a great opportunity to find some new rowers and develop the future of your club. The limiting factors are usually equipment and volunteers. Talk to local clubs who might have boats you could borrow for these sessions, particularly stable ‘Explore Rowing’ boats. Talk to your British Rowing Regional Development Officer about getting help from local clubs or whether British Rowing coaches are available. Ask your alumni to come and help for the day. This is a great way of showing how your club maintains alliances after university.

Think about how many introductory sessions you need. If you don’t have enough equipment it may be best to split sessions into time slots or different days; you don’t want to look disorganised by having nothing for people to do while they’re waiting to get on the water. This could be a tour of the club, an introduction to technique using the ergos, or opportunities to meet the current squads.

Having second-year rowers talking to groups about their experiences learning to row at your club is a good way to put your recruits at ease and gives them an opportunity to ask questions.

Above all, make it fun. Plan in a social event (a post-outing drink at the student union) so your potential recruits can chat to the existing rowers and fellow freshers and feel part of the club. Show off the social aspects and strong friendships that make your club what it is.

Provide resources…

Students are more likely to commit to a club that is well organised and gives them a clear understanding of what its aims are and how they could fit in. Consider printing a leaflet or even just some pages explaining the structure of your club, whether you have coaches and how their time is used, what the squad setup is and the training times for each squad. Provide a list of contacts. Set up email addresses for your officers, ‘captain@…’, ‘president@…’, ‘secretary@…’  etc, so that new rowers have an easy point of contact which doesn’t change each year with changes of personnel.

Provide for new rowers…

An excellent way of ensuring your new rowers are properly catered for is to establish Freshers Captains in your club’s structure. Rowing is a difficult sport to learn and investment of time and coaching resources in new rowers will pay off quickly. Freshers Captains will ensure that your boat club is not neglecting new rowers and only focussing on those who already have experience. Ideally they should be people who have come through your system, so know its strengths and weaknesses, but have done enough rowing to understand what is required to successfully develop new rowers.

See our article “How a rowing club deals with lots of new members” for more ideas and links to coaching resources in our shop under ebooks.


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