3 Critical Success Factors in Community Rowing

Intentions of community rowing are noble, but are we practicing what we preach? Here are 3 critical areas of attention that I’ve identified as a community rowing evangelist, member and coach.

Be the sport they say we are

First, let’s take a quick look at why parents are attracted to the sport. Consider these estimated injury statistics for 2009 from the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • American Football. Almost 215,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries.
  • Baseball and softball. Nearly 110,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for baseball-related injuries. Baseball also has the highest fatality rate among sports for children ages 5 to 14, with three to four children dying from baseball injuries each year.
  • Soccer. About 88,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for soccer-related injuries.

These are just examples, but they do give reason why both parents, and students look for alternatives. Rowing provides an alternative for competitive environments created without blunt trauma caused in contact sports.

For the community organization, though, who often provide rowing opportunities for children 10 – 17, it’s important to be acutely aware of the specific needs children have. Physical needs include, but are not limited to: awareness towards nutrition, hydration, physical exertion in both cold and hot weather environments, water temperature and muscle/ skeletal development.

Secondly, let’s talk about why adults are often introduced to the sport. Unfortunately, it’s because the doctor said so! In my experience, many adult students joining ‘masters programming’ (community rowing for ages over 25 years) have old sport injuries (see above) that are becoming an issue because of age. Also, hip, knee and ankle injuries due to ultra-competitive activities for adults, lead students to rowing because of the competitive, and low-impact and cardiovascular enriching environments the sport *is supposed* to create.

Rowing programming has a unique opportunity to create safe environments for both young and old. Let’s just ensure our programming reflects what our community expects!

Be the community organization you claim to be

Community rowing organizations are often non-governmental organizations, who rely heavily on public and municipality support for their programming. We often use terms such as ‘outreach,’ ‘community togetherness,’ and ‘diversity’ as triggers for grant monies and 501c3 tax status. But, to keep our organizations, and ourselves, accountable for the promises we make to the community, here are a few questions you should ask:

  1. What does diversity mean to you? How diverse is your target audiences?
  2. How far, and in what communities do my current Intro-to-Rowing and junior initiatives reach?
  3. Is my program pricing achievable by low, mid and high income families?
  4. Does my programming come equipped with the right people and equipment resources for the target audience?
  5. Most importantly, how to I measure my success for the promises I make to the community?

Understand your role in a person’s overall journey

During a recent conversation with members of a new community rowing organization, I was reminded of my role as a coach. I try to create fitness opportunities and achievable goals, so an athlete can reach their definition of overall success. Very quickly, though, I was reminded that my role as a coach in community rowing is much broader, and is truly bigger than me.
It is important that community rowing staff and volunteers keep some important points in mind, as they personally outreach to community through rowing. Questions that I ask myself every day, include:

  1. Can I deliver to the expectations of my audience?
    Within a community rowing environment, you do not know the history of the person with whom you are engaging. Will they be completely honest about their mental or physical health? In my experience, be prepared that they are not. Can I be a hero? Can I be the person that provides the stable, sustainable environment they crave?
    Here is my opportunity to ‘step-up’, and be the person I didn’t know I could be.
  2. Do I understand the importance of ‘personal capacity’?
    It’s my responsibility to mitigate goals based on the resource and people constraints I have. When I ask a team to define their definition of overall success, do I take in consideration the emotional and physical capacity of each person? Do I take the time to understand the personal constraints of my entire team, and do I create environments for their personal success?
  3. Your role in a person’s overall journey?
    There is nothing more rewarding than receiving a phone call from a former student who gives you credit for their achievements; knowing you only assisted in something they defined for themselves. As a community rowing coach, though, can I create the sustainable environments for success without necessarily understanding how far my students have come, or how far they want to go? Can what I establish be remembered? Can my local rowing club be the stable, sustainable environment that my community needs?