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We want to start a junior rowing program.  Where do we start?

“We want to start a program for our high school.  Where do we start?”
-article by Mike Wallin

We get asked a lot of questions around the different inner workings of rowing programs.  Questions vary from program to program, but one that we received a number of times over the fall and winter was along the lines of “There is a rowing program, but we want to start a program for our high school.  Where do we start?”

A rowing club is a complex machine with many moving parts.  Starting one from scratch is very challenging but like most things in the sport of rowing, the challenge is what makes it worth doing.  When faced with any daunting task it can be easy to get overwhelmed and off course.  Make a straight forward plan and set realistic expectations.

Find access to a body of water and define what boats you hope to row.
This may sound obvious but it’s not always as easy as it sounds.  There isn’t much point to having a rowing team if you don’t have a decent body of water to row.  The body of water will not only allow you to start rowing but can also impact what type of team you are.  For example, if a small pond or lake is your access point, you will probably want to focus on smaller boats.  If you’re lucky enough to find a large body of water, you will have more flexibility in what types of rowing you can pursue with your athletes.  Anything less than about 2000 meters of water makes it difficult to grow your program.

It is important that you evaluate what kind of rowing you hope to offer.  This will have an impact on the body or water, as well as the equipment you will need [we will discuss this in a moment].
note:  It is also important to make sure that your body of water will allow coaching launches.
Pick a start date.
Again this may sound obvious but this date will help keep you on point.  Ideally you start in the summer with learn to row camps. These camps will give you a sense of how much interest there is in the community.  They will also give you short sample sizes of the functionality of your new water way.  You will make mistakes and there will be unforeseen bumps in the road.  It’s better to figure that out in a short camp than during the actual season. The winter and early spring are not ideal start dates especially if you live somewhere cold.  No one wants to learn how to do this sport while it is freezing!  The sun is your friend when working with new athletes.
Equipment and storage
You have your access point.  You have a launch date.  Now you need boats.
Assuming you don’t have a huge amount of capital, or a rich uncle, this can be a challenge.
YOU DO NOT NEED NEW BOATS.  You need boats that float and have functional parts.  There are loads of teams trying to get rid of their older equipment.  They are usually cheap and sometimes even free.  Row2k classifieds are great for this, as well as the Finish Line Rowing Marketplace.  See what’s available and ask around.  Sometimes people know about boats that aren’t being used.  If you can get 4 hulls (2 for each gender) you’ve done an amazing job.
You will need a place to put these boats.  I highly recommend shipping containers.  They are very affordable and you can store boats and other equipment inside of them safely.  Fencing off and area and keeping boats on t’s is also a functional option.
 
Staff
Pick a realistic target of athletes for your roster and make sure you have the staff to support it.  Getting a lot of people to turn up to practice or camp is great but if you’re not prepared with staff you will really set yourself back.  Word of mouth is going to be your most important piece of advertising when you are a new program so make sure you have some help and your providing a good product.  For this you don’t need an established coach (its great if you can find one but they are often hard to come by).  You are looking for someone with basic rowing knowledge.  Remember, you are just getting started.  Safety and Enthusiasm are the key qualities you are looking for, creating boat speed is not a priority at this point.  Assuming funds are limited, a qualified volunteer is ideal.
Focus on growth, not race results
You will not be the new rowing powerhouse in your first year so keep the appropriate perspective.  Once you have your staff in place, it’s time to attack that roster target size.  This doesn’t have to be achieved on day 1 but setting the target will help drive you to get to capacity.  Growing your roster will help with advertising and fundraising immensely.
As you eventually work your way through your first few years good staff and a roster target size will be paramount to the success of the club.
Opportunities to partner with local schools and parks to help get the word out about your rowing team is important find more potential athletes.  With growth as the priority, I would recommend participating in a local regatta.  This will create more enthusiasm across the club and help give you a sense of where you are at/ help you set goals for the next season.
Insurance
As soon as you begin to gather equipment and before you start taking athletes on the water you need to be insured.
USRowing can provide this.  Make sure you are protected.
We know that this is not every detail, and this is not the only way to develop a new club, but we believe that these are a few good points.  We would love to talk with you more if there are specific questions.
CJ Bown
cj@rowerschoice.com