Five Reasons (Among Many) Why Your Child Should Row

Halee McMahan Nationals Tulsa Youth Rowing Association

Written by Neil Bergenroth, Tulsa Youth Rowing Association Head Coach (2002-2016), and Lifelong Educator.

Neil Bergenroth Rowing Coach

I have spent over thirty five 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.

Rowing has been a life-changing experience for me. The numerous challenges and lessons inherent in this process are many and varied.

The sport has provided opportunities for me to travel the world. One might argue that I wouldn’t have met my wife if it wasn’t for rowing.

My experience has provided me with the opportunities to build towards goals and has taught me tenacity, poise under pressure, and leadership skills.

Allow me to explain why I champion rowing as an avenue to develop young people and if you are parent reading this, why you should consider it as a great option to explore.



Role Models

My high school coach, Shep, was like my second father. When I think about the role he had in my personal development and I look back thirty years to when I was a senior in high school, I can see the influence that he had on my life and direction.

Reason 1: Your child will have the opportunity to interact with coaches and people that will provide direction and challenge them to be the best that they can be.  Your child will grow in confidence and be inspired to develop their potential.

At one point, I remember talking with Shep about his experience with coaching.

He told me the worst thing about his experience coaching rowing as the conversation progressed. 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 most challenging things 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 single sculling head of the oklahoma mixed eight

Think For Yourself

I have been thinking about this “worst thing” for a long time, and here is why I think 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 in a race situation, 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.

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.

Reason 2: Your child will develop independence and confidence because they will be placed in situations where they must develop their agency to progress.


tulsa rowing nationals qualifiers 2023


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

When we travel to races that are out of town, there is a process of loading the trailer that requires teamwork, organization and planning. We are not talking about loading a bag of soccer balls in the back of the minibus and off we go! This process requires planning and organization, important aspects of executive function which is essential for the growth of any young person.

Reason 3: Athletes develop ownership over their equipment and are trusted to care for other people (see my blog about 21st Century Skills For Coxswains) and take care of equipment. They must be organized and take responsibility for equipment and other people on their team.

You Don't Always Win

In addition to independence and accountability, the fourth reason 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 three or fewer boats are in the race, the number of medals awarded is always one fewer than the number of boats competing. For example, when only three boats compete in a race, only two medals are awarded. This approach differs from many activities in our current culture, where everyone gets a trophy.

Reason 4: Rowing enforces the concept that there is competition in life and being the best takes continued effort toward personal growth.


Connecting With Nature

Fifth and finally, rowing happens outside. The sport provides the means to connect with nature. There is no wifi on the river, so kids can unplug, which is rare nowadays in the world of Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram.

Reason 5: Rowing provides a means to unplug and the feeling of being outside, working with nature provides metaphysical benefits that are better than any short-term benefits from likes, shares and such.


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 an excellent 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 offering a free youth clinic at The University of Tulsa on August 12. For more information visit here.