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Class of 2020: Are You Done With Rowing?

Updated: May 10, 2021

Class of 2020, what is your relationship with rowing now? Given the incomplete and unsatisfactory ending to everyone’s spring season, “Should I continue rowing after school?” is a fair question.

A while back I wrote this piece about how rowing clubs can do more to recruit recently graduated rowers into the club ranks. Now I will speak directly to those who recently graduated, missed your last spring season, and now potentially consider themselves “done” with rowing. I will suggest that not only should you continue rowing, but now is the best time in your lives to continue your pursuit of rowing. For the first time, you can define your relationship with rowing with your own agency, without coaches, schools, or parents influencing your experience.

It is understandable why some rowers and coxswains, after four or even eight years of rowing, feel the need for a break. Often success was defined by coaches, parents, administrators and even peers. While you could enthusiastically accept team goals as presented, and transfer them into personal goals, invariably those goals were predominantly extrinsic. When the goals are so extrinsic, the training and practice time feels less and less fulfilling, and more and more like indentured work. After a while, you may feel ready to move on from it.

Now you are beyond that student-athlete life and you can build your own relationship with rowing, on your own terms. Here are some considerations as to why rowing can continue to provide value and meaning in your life:

You will need to continue building strength and fitness.

Regardless of your plans for world domination, this will always be a necessity for health and well being. To quote a gratefully under-quoted film: “Never Stop Never Stopping.” It may be impossible right now to comprehend life beyond your thirties, but it's coming regardless. Compressed morbidity is showing to be an effective long-term strategy for quality of life. You’ve undoubtedly heard that rowing is a lifetime sport. Rowing is uniquely situated to satisfy your body’s need to be active and strong at any age.

Stay in the boat and you can define your own standards of performance.

Too many times I’ve heard: “If I can’t pursue it at the same level anymore and I can’t workout twice a day, and steady state for an hour at 1:45/500m, then why bother? I won’t row, I won’t even work out.” In some cases, the “go big or go home” ethic can carry backwards into a motivational pathology. Some will literally go home and spend 10 years on the couch. You can choose your own standards independent of what was impressed on you when you started with a team. You could also set greater standards for yourself. Because you get to determine your training regimen and routine, you can build something that is optimized for your schedule and your physiology. This is where you have an opportunity to move beyond the “one-size-fits-all” team training plan. You can leverage what you have learned as an athlete, and work smarter instead of harder.

Rowing does not have to be your only activity.

For years it was all you did outside of the classroom. Now it can be a part of the portfolio of activities you do to stay active and healthy. You can run, hike, swim, surf, bike, play tennis, golf, play basketball, the list goes on and on. Many recent grads jump into all these other activities, but inexplicably leave rowing completely off the table, despite having a well developed skill set around that sport. Even if it is only a couple of times a month, rowing can still be a fulfilling part of your lifestyle.

Joining a rowing club can help with practical socialization in your new lifestyle.

As you enter the workforce, you may feel like once again you are a freshman, albeit in the real world. Joining a rowing club will help acclimate you to adult and real world living by introducing you to athletes who are older, have been through much of it before, and have a better grip on “adulting.” You may make some professional networking opportunities as well.

Rowing can minimize distractions.

You may be considering all the “fun” things you "missed" as an athlete, and feel you have some ground to make up. You were told as a student/athlete that the party life was a bad idea because it interfered with training. Guess what? Those things are still a bad idea because they interfere with a healthy and functional lifestyle. Stay with rowing because it fills a vacuum that could otherwise be filled with destructive distractions.

Goal setting in rowing can complement professional aspirations.

Goals are important to keep you moving forward. Without goals you risk stagnation. Previously your goal setting was hinged on competitive success, and it may have been more or less mandated by coaching staff, teammates and parents. While you can still pursue competitive success, you can also set goals that are more intrinsically based, like simply learning how to row a single, as a coxswain learn to row, and as a rower learn to cox, seeing three sunrises a week on your own schedule, or even developing into a pre-elite or elite athlete. Your goals suddenly become intrinsic, and even if it is work, it is way more fun that way!

This point is last because this is the absolute best reason to keep rowing: it feels awesome.

This is the most undermentioned quality of rowing. When you first learned to row, and learned to love it, you undoubtedly had a moment of “connection”; not the intra-personal connection with your team or crew, but the physical drive sequence connection. That one stroke where you felt connected to the oar and the boat and the water for the first time. The feeling like you were “sending it” and the acceleration and speed that came from that.

If I can wax poetic for a moment: this, to me, is the absolutely best thing about rowing. It is one of the most purely human physical feelings, that drive-push connection, and there is a good reason for that. You are using your whole body, all of your muscles, energy systems and full neuro-muscular engagement. I always coach that the rowing stroke is basically the motion of standing up straight from a full-squat position. That motion of standing up is the most basic human motion since the point when we stood up on our hind legs. All of our muscle groups are built around that motion. Before we were ever running, throwing or hitting, we were standing up. This is why rowing is truly the oldest sport. When we row, we ritualistically practice again and again the motion of standing up, over the water that we evolved from. Existential that the next time you go out.

Class of 2020, you spent time and energy pursuing this sport to its maximum benefit. Do not go quietly into the night, never to be seen again except at the Head of the Charles alumni tent in 20 years. Rowing can and should continue to be a part of your life. The beauty of rowing as an adult is that you can pursue it at any level of commitment you choose: Your Choice. You can go as fast as you want, or as slow as you want. You can focus on good technique, you can focus on fitness, or you can focus on power. Regardless, you will continue to grow and learn, and you will be welcomed and valued as a continuing member of our community.

This is a link to the USRowing Find a Club Database. Click the link, find a club near you, and sign up. Do it today:

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