Why girls should row

There are many perceptions about the sport of rowing, most of them steeped in misconceptions and images of two of the world’s greatest universities racing each other on the River Thames each spring in The Boat Race. The word ‘elitist’ is bandied about on a regular basis – my counter argument is that it’s not elitist to be talented at something or to have worked hard to get somewhere. I have even heard ‘it’s elitist because you need a river’! That is just geography and, given that the UK is surrounded by water and criss-crossed with rivers, rowing should be a sport that all of us think of as accessible and enjoyable.

I also believe that girls should at least have a go at rowing. So why don’t they?

Again, there are misconceptions; that it will build up too much muscle and make them look ‘butch’ (what a wonderfully archaic phrase that is!) and that you need to be training all the time. This is far from the case. In fact, rowing gives you a strong, lean physique. Most of the power comes from your legs and it gives you a sense of grace more associated with dancing as all your movements need to be relaxed but controlled so you don’t upset the balance and ‘run’ of the boat.

Rowing is the ultimate in teamwork and coordination; a racing eight, where all its members are moving as one with the cox urging them on, is a sight to see and the feeling of winning together is amazing. There is little evidence of egos in rowing and it’s a wonderfully supportive and inclusive community, perfect for girls to enjoy as teenagers, especially if they are lacking confidence and not typically ‘sporty’.

Like many sports, rowing can be as uncompetitive or competitive as you choose it to be. Many clubs have ‘fun’ crews. The Tideway Scullers School in Chiswick, for example. has a ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ crew largely made up of the mums of the junior rowers. They go out during the day, once a week, and have a pub lunch afterwards.

Apparently you need to be tall to row. In fact, while it helps, there is a lightweight class where the more vertically challenged of us can thrive. I know many rowers who are of average height and do well and love the sport. The smallest and lightest of us can also cox, which is a fantastic role and one which I have carried out for a quarter of a century.

The cox is the brains, the psychologist, the driver, the coordinator and the voice of the engine. It’s taken me all over the world and I have met the most diverse range of people – of all cultures and walks of life – whom I would not have otherwise met. I’ve got to meet the ground level enthusiasts through to the Olympic medallists and worked with women who were at the forefront of demanding equal status for women in rowing. Women like the late Beryl Crockford who was a ball of energy and helped change the face of British women’s rowing, always encouraging people to have a go at the sport she loved.

Another misconception is that rowing is expensive. In fact, most rowing clubs are cheaper to join than a gym. The sport has the added benefit of being social, outdoors and with the possibility of competition from novice to performance level. Yes, the equipment is expensive but it lasts a long time and all rowing clubs operate with a rolling equipment replacement system, to which your inexpensive membership contributes.
Rowing is also a sport that universities like to see on applications, in particular those in America. With more and more teenagers turning to US as an option for university, rowing makes young women a far more bankable candidate both for the universities and for employers. Many of the Ivy League women’s coaches, for example, come to Henley Women’s Regatta and actively scout.

Finally, it’s the camaraderie and the life skills that are ever present in rowing which I believe are the main drivers for girls to try rowing – here are just a few of them:

sportsmanship, leadership, resilience, fortitude, problem solving, relationship building, listening skills, confidence, patience, communication skills, coordination, inclusivity, team work, self-awareness, subtlety, water safety, boatmanship.

What’s not to like?
Julie Hogg is Head of Development & Fundraising at St Mary’s School, Cambridge

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