A couple of hours a week I spend some time coaching children from local secondary schools as part of the Warrington Youth Rowing programme. They are predominantly Year 9 so around fourteen years old and have attitude by the bucket load! Backed by British Rowing these children are being encouraged to take up a sport they probably wouldn’t normally have access to.
I guess a visit to the rowing club can be quite daunting for some of them and everyone reacts to new situations in different ways. They generally come across as being overly confident while trying to be nonchalant, cool and unamused. I’ve coached a couple of the schools and generally they all dampen their enthusiasm in front of us adults.
The programme has been running for over a year now and it’s not easy juggling timetables, staff and travel arrangements for eight different schools in the borough but this is what is happening.
In July a mini regatta was organised so the children could showcase their newfound skills to parents and staff alike. It was enormous fun and gave these children the opportunity to shine.
Last week an indoor rowing challenge took place at Priestly College organised by the Warrington Youth Rowing coaches and a variety of other people, including students from the college, head teachers and teaching staff and various volunteers.
Twenty four rowing machines had been collected and arranged so that there was a warm up area and a competition area. The machines in the competition area were wired up to the big screen so everyone could follow the race and shout encouragement where needed. The PA system was fully tested and they even had a professional sports photographer snapping away!
The children arrived looking nervous and not quite sure what to expect, huddled in their groups shivering with excitement ( or was it nerves?). Eventually the first competitors names were announced on the screen and after a warm up period they were asked to take their seats for their race. The start procedure was explained and then WHAM! off they went rowing as hard and as fast as they could – how many meters could they row in a specified time?
Going off too hard meant they ran out of steam – would slow and steady win the race? It’s not just about strength but about technique and also holding your nerve and not giving up.
They were fantastic – each and every one of them. Not only showing great skill and stamina but also empathy and encouragement for the fastest and the slowest! Many kids cracked their PBs!
After the individual round came the relay race. Now if you thought handing over a baton while running was tricky try the equivalent on a rowing machine!
So you row full pelt for about a minute, stop, drop the handle, take your feet out of the straps, move off the seat making sure the next person can sit down, strap feet in, pick up the handle and get that machine going again from scratch.
This really was the ultimate in team work with competitiveness, stamina, energy and enthusiasm by the bucket load. They all deserved medals – they were oarsome!!
Looking around the gym as they raced the last few meters it was heart warming to see the dedication from the children, staff and coaches as they screamed each other on when legs were sore, arms aching and lungs gasping- it would be easy to stop but they didn’t they powered on.
Teenagers get bad press today but this lot showed their true colours because someone believed in them. Warrington Youth Rowing is giving these children such a fantastic opportunity and they are certainly making the most of it.
I hope this programme continues to grow and you never know we could have some Olympians in the making, but even if they don’t take it to that level they will have skills for life – not merely the rowing technique but team spirit which will serve them well all through life.