RowUK Programmes: a unique new relationship between Universities and schools.

“… acting as role models, demystifying the notion that rowing and a university education is part of someone else’s life.”

Many years ago I once found myself sitting in one of the country’s leading recording studios talking to the guy who had produced songs by Madonna, Dylan, and countless other big names. He said something that stuck in my head. “Do you know what makes a great album? Great songs. Do you know what makes a great song? A great song.”

An odd way to start a blog about rowing but bear with me. I’d heard lots of other less successful people tell me how important it was to record the drums and amplifiers in a certain way, or how that suspended 4th in the chorus was the key to everything. Okay, there is always a certain alchemy to getting songs right but usually, the vital ingredient is simplicity.

So it is with running a successful rowing programme or building a successful business: get the fundamentals right and you’re halfway there. Yes, it’s important knowing how to place the blade in the water correctly or keeping your risk register up to date, but if you don’t get the right people in, it counts for nothing. Without talent, you’re not even on the start line.

GB Rowing recognised this and so established the successful GB START programme which has yielded many Olympic medals. Through START, GB rowing coaches are based across the country searching for individuals, usually untrained, with all the raw physiological potential to make an Olympic podium. It’s not the whole solution but it means that the GB squad is not reliant upon public schools, community clubs and a small clutch of rowing universities developing athletes through a variety of different coaching methodologies. It works.

At RowUK, we thought this was a pretty good idea and we saw no reason why this couldn’t work elsewhere. So we have teamed up with the University of Leeds to see if we can apply this model at a local level.

In September, we will have given up to 20 University of Leeds Boat Club (UOLBC) members free Level 2 coaching qualifications and matched each one with a local state school, starting with those schools in the city in areas of significant disadvantage. The schools will source enough rowing machines to run a school indoor club of up to 25 members. The coaches will volunteer a minimum of one session a week and record all attendance and training data. They will be working with the school to build their own rowing team, all overseen by a RowUK coaching coordinator, and they will test their coaching and leadership skills once a term at an indoor rowing competition hosted by Leeds University.

Each coach will be aiming to ensure they can take termly bragging rights over the other Leeds University coaches in other schools. But they will doing much more than that. They will be developing their own skills, building relationships with schools, teachers and parents and learning how to hold a team together through a shared objective. They will be having dozens of informal conversations, with young people who probably would never have considered university as an option for them. They’ll be acting as role models, demystifying the notion that rowing and a university education is part of someone else’s life. They will be making the idea of Leeds University feel accessible, attractive and, most importantly, normal.

The net result? University students develop all the sorts of skills that will stand them in such good stead when they come to their first post-graduation interviews. They will develop friendships with local kids, share their passion for sport and teach the relationship between trying, failing and succeeding. They’ll be a familiar face when those school students come down to the Leeds Boathouse to make their first tentative steps onto the water. They coach them through that transition and be there for their first regatta. They’ll be attending the same regattas, demonstrating how to behave properly and pushing their juniors off the landing stage with words of encouragement when it’s time for their own race. They’ll share the disappointments and successes and talk them through the correct responses on Monday morning. In the end, if the 41 state schools in Leeds each only yield two excellent rowers a year, coached over five years by university students, you don’t need to be a genius to recognise the strength that will add to UOLBC freshers intake or to the lives it will have changed.

Get the pipeline right, get the talent in, make sure you’re ready to give them the very best support when they arrive. Recruitment is key. Rethink everything.

If you want to learn more about this initiative, or be involved in some way, write to us at

#programmes #university #schools

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