The crew conundrum

With tears in our eyes and sweat dripping down the side of our faces, the extent of our effort was evident in all facets of our appearance. Exiting the boat, limbs shaking and nerves shattered, our defeat was obvious. My boat’s endeavor last year at the National Schools Rowing Regatta was not only a testament to the great deal of effort we had put into the race, but an affirmation of the unimaginable leaps and bounds we had made as rowers in just a few months.  We went from haphazard and erratic movements that only moderately resembled blades entering the water, to making our way to one of England’s most prestigious rowing competitions, mainly thanks to the constant support from our coaches. Still, it proved not enough. 

It was not our athletic ability that was lacking as we, and many other boats from our school, crossed the finish line.

Athletically we were akin to much of the competition, but from the  beginning of our season our team was at a major disadvantage in comparison to much of the rowing community throughout Britain. Unlike most sports at ASL, rowing does not have an ISST competition to compete in, nor do we take part in events with our neighboring international schools.

Thus, we compete with other British schools and elite rowing clubs throughout Britain; nearly all of which operate throughout the entire year.

As our program runs only for two seasons, winter and spring, it is nearly impossible to be on par with our competition. Working extensively and losing is one thing, but training for inevitable failure is another issue of contention, and sends the wrong message to the athletes of the rowing program. While losing without a doubt has its merits, what message is the Athletic Department sending its athletes if all the training they do is just setting them up to fail?

It would be unfair to claim that not qualifying for the semifinals at the National Schools Rowing Regatta last year undermined our athletic accomplishment. However, with some amendments to the crew program, we can turn our athletic accomplishments into tangible success.

It is no secret that the relationship between the crew program and Athletic Department has been conflicted in the past. Whether it’s because athletes didn’t feel adequately supported in terms of facilities or recognition in the past, we are now on the cusp of a period that could see great growth with the rowing program. With John Farmer as the new Interim Athletic Director, the time is opportune to make contentious sentiments between both the Athletic Department and crew team a thing of the past.

In fact, Farmer is already taking steps to improve relations with the crew program. This year he sat down with five crew families discussing what they wanted to see out of the crew program.

On this note, I would implore Farmer, and other members of the Athletic Department to make crew a three season sport. I understand it is currently on the table for discussion, and I cannot stress enough how much of an impact this change would have on the athletes who are a part of the program.  The recent cancellation of our preseason was certainly an impediment, however, the decision was ultimately intelligible.  In order to compete with other schools, pre-season is an absolute necessity. Moreover, the meticulous nature of rowing requires a full season in order to improve boat speed in the water.

I acknowledge that one of the commendable aspects of the Athletic Department is students’ autonomy to participate in a plethora of sports throughout three seasons. However, I think it is vital that the Athletic Department allow those with an innate devotion to a sport, the liberty to practice throughout the school year. This pertains to crew especially, because while clubs are common and convenient, for many other sports ASL has to offer, clubs for rowing are lacking.  As in general, British schools produce strong teams, diminishing the availability of clubs, making it difficult for a rowing athlete to enrich his or her rowing capabilities without the support of the school.

In addition to making crew a three-season sport, I would strongly encourage the Athletic Department to consider creating a Middle School rowing program. Nearly all members of the crew team first learn to row in freshman year, whereas if a program was implemented in the Middle School, the growth would be immense. Middle school is a very important time to develop, and it could serve as an excellent opportunity for young rowers to do exactly that.

For other sports, such as track and field, basketball and soccer, the Middle School provides  a valuable period where students can expand their skills in their chosen sport, making them ready to perform at a higher level in High School. If students could learn to row before freshman year, our season would be more efficient, as the first weeks would not have to be spent teaching the fundamental basics. Additionally, there would be less of a divide in skill amongst athletes, which would create a stronger team. High School Principal Jack Phillips has reiterated many times this year that it is part of his mission to promote excellence in the High School. Athletics are a part of the High School experience, and so those who want to pursue excellence in athletics should have the support and means to do so.

While the school is by no means a sports academy, I believe it is still the Athletic Department’s duty to develop elite athletes, so they to can pursue excellence. Providing ckrew with three seasons will allow those who want to, the opportunity to strive for athletic excellence. If ASL truly wants to be an outstanding institution, then I question why we are selling our Athletic Department short by not letting certain sports operate at their maximum potential.

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