SENIOR ROWING IN THE UK
Looking at the growth of rowing as a whole appears to be exciting. Club level growth has been driven in the form of junior rowing, masters rowing, learn to rows, gig rowing and coastal rowing, however, once these figures have been broken down, it’s clear to see that there is a void that seems to be expanding rapidly. Senior rowing is recognised as the 18 - mid/late 30's age range when a human being is in their prime physiological state and over the last few decades, has been a worrying decline in senior club rowing in the UK.
This is a great question and simply there is no single answer. On the surface, rowing is a physically and time demanding sport which requires athletes to train with huge volume and intensity. In essence, bloody hard and bloody often. Competitions can range from lower level, local regattas to multi lane high level competition. The reality is that to be competitive at a local event, you need to be training 3-4 times a week to be remotely competitive. If you show potential and decide to race to a higher level, training demands grow up to 6 days a week. Without this, you cannot be competitive. The average 20-year-old that pops to the local rowing club to express his or her interest has now run for the hills upon hearing the training demands required to get to any form of racing standard.
Most programmes that do attract and retain senior club members are aiming at the pinnacle of senior club rowing, Henley Royal Regatta and/or Henley Women's Regatta. In order to qualify for these events requires upwards of 12 training sessions per week, in which, for most, is simply not realistic. At senior level, rowing is a sport which is difficult participate in at a leisurely and recreational level. Through culture, competitions, and the nature of the sport funnels athletes into thinking in one way. Do it properly, do it well and be as competitive as possible.
The modern day, money driven society promotes people to focus heavily on their career at a younger age and take on greater time demanding responsibilities which draws people to devote precious time to their jobs rather than rowing backwards for miles on end. The question is... has this changed? or has perception of personal time changed. The growth of cheap, accessible opportunities has increased and may be an influence on the precious time people have to spare. Foreign travel is more accessible, technology has advanced, prevalence of social media, options of cheaper, alternative sport and less physically demanding thrills now better line with people’s idea of ‘fun’. The increase in sedentary lifestyle has become more fashionable with social media, Netflix and gaming encouraging now soft minded people to stay at home rather than participate in and use sports to meet new people, socialise and challenge themselves.
Senior Rowing at Universities?
University rowing numbers has increased and makes up a large portion of senior rowing at events across the UK. Some argue that senior category events at the likes of MET regatta, Marlow regatta and Head of the river remain filled and attract healthy numbers, however, is this the fact that University crews are filling the gaps left behind? University rowing allows students with less responsibilities and more time to train often to hit their competitive aspirations. After 3+ years of socialising, competition and student boat club dinners now feel content and realise they aren’t going to go further in the sport. For most, this marks the end of their rowing and decide to start a career in order pay off their enormous student debt.
How do we change this?
A shift in culture and the change in personal values has a lot to answer for. Those that row 6 days a week and better themselves daily through training and competition are seen as anomalies or even ‘weird’ by society. Surely this should be celebrated and attractive? Time hasn’t changed, whether it be 1970 or 2021 we have always had 24 hours per day to fit in our lives and frankly its about how this is managed and removing some of the time wasting aspects which don’t add anything to your life. Have a look at your daily screen time on your phone and you’ll probably be mortified to find out you’ve wasted 4 hours of your day!!
Remember, you are only in your physiological prime for a short time frame, get out there, challenge yourself and be the best version of yourself whilst you can!
We would love to generate discussion and bring ideas together to attract senior rowing back to the majority of clubs around the country. Rowing has an array of positive attributes that help to build character, form lasting friendships, health benefits and create opportunities you may never have had the opportunity to experience without. Clubs have a level of responsibility to come up with new and creative ideas to attract this demographic back to the rowing club as well having external support and guidance from the governing body.
Please comment with your suggestions, personal opinions, experiences and hopefully the community can better understand and grow the missing void of senior, club level rowing.