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tulsa youth rowing

Four Reasons (Among Many) Why Your Child Should Row

By Neil Bergenroth – TYRA Head Coach (2002-2016)

Neil Bergenroth Rowing Coach
Coach Neil Bergenroth (TYRA Head Coach 2002-2016)

I have spent over thirty years participating in and coaching rowing. I wanted to take the opportunity to share just a few of the ways in which rowing is different from other sports.

My high school coach, Shep, was like a second father to me. At one point, I was talking with him about his experience with coaching.

As the conversation progressed, he shared with me the worst thing about coaching rowing. This conversation has stuck with me and I wanted to share it with you because it provides some insight on why rowing is a unique offering among some other sports.

Shep told us that when we put the boat on the water for a race, the worst thing for him from an emotional point of view was that when the boat was shoved off the dock and we rowed away, there was nothing more he could do to help us for the race. He would typically be riding a bike following us as we rowed to the start line, but no instruction was offered (or allowed!).

tulsa youth rowing
tulsa youth rowing

I have been thinking about this “worst” for a long time, and here is why I think that this is the best thing for young athletes in sports today.

First, because a coach cannot interact with a crew or athlete when they are on the water, the need for independence is paramount. It is up to the athletes and coxswain (if in a coxed boat) to figure out how to navigate the race. This means they are responsible for getting to the start line on time, ensuring that all of the equipment is ready, and executing the race without the hand-holding of a coach. Additionally, there are no timeouts and no do-overs in a rowing race.

Second, athletes are trusted with and responsible for equipment that could cost from $5000 to $50,000. I think that statement speaks for itself.

Ultimately all of this can only help to foster a child’s critical thinking, decision-making capacity and sense of empowerment. It also helps the athletes take ownership of their performance. They have to figure it out.

OKC Riversport Indoor Challenge Tulsa Youth Rowing Association Medal Winners
OKC Riversport Indoor Challenge Tulsa Youth Rowing Association Medal Winners

In addition to the independence and accountability, the third thing that sets rowing apart from many other sports is that medals are only awarded to the crews that finish in the top three. The rules dictate that if there are three or fewer boats in the race, the number of medals awarded is always one fewer than the number of boats competing. For example, in the case where there are only three boats competing in a race, only two medals are awarded. This is a different approach from many activities in our current culture where everyone gets a trophy.

Fourth and finally, rowing happens outside. The sport provides the means to connect with nature. There is no wifi on the river, so kids are able to unplug, which is something rare these days in the world of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

Rowing has taught me discipline and provided an environment where I could flourish. I wasn’t much of a ball-sport player, but the first time I got in a boat I knew I had found a home. It has provided college opportunities and allowed me to travel the world racing at various international locations. Ultimately, rowing provided the vehicle that allowed me to expand my horizons beyond my hometown.

I don’t know if my daughter is going to row when she is old enough. She sees me use the rowing machine at home and has watched me race on the water. In my experience, kids watch what you do, and I would be thrilled for rowing to help her develop her physical fitness, character, and independence.

In conclusion, if your child hasn’t found their sport yet, and you like the idea of putting them into an environment where their sense of independence, critical thinking, confidence and empowerment can grow, rowing provides a very good option. I would encourage you to let them try it for a week at a summer camp or a learn-to-row session. They just might catch the rowing bug!

TYRA is currently offering summer camps in the month of July.

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