The Olympic Games produced a surge of interest in sport far greater than the public response after other Olympic Games. This report attempts to record and assess the impact the surge of interest has had on rowing clubs within the Eastern Region with grateful thanks to all the clubs who took the trouble to send in a wealth of information.

16 out of some 25 active member clubs responded to the following questions (schools and colleges were not approached on this occasion). Not all supplied complete information and there are certain gaps. However, whilst not claiming to be completely accurate, nevertheless the information does provide a snap shot sufficient to give a general overview of the position and enable certain general conclusions to be drawn as are set out in this report.

The Questions asked:

1. No. of L2R applications.
2. Approx breakdown between adult/junior men/women.
3. Brief details on how you are managing the numbers:
            – No. of Taster sessions- group sizes and frequency;  
            – Any fall out details yet;    
            – No. of L2R courses – started/projected;  
            – Group numbers & length of courses. 
4. How many coaching members involved:                
            – Qualified/ unqualified (experienced) helpers.   
5. Do you need help to avoid turning people away.  

1. No. of L2R applications:

The clubs are handling some 1,500 applications of which 885 are on courses with the rest on waiting lists. If the waiting lists materialise, clubs are facing an average potential increase of some 93 members with large clubs (100+) in excess of 100, medium clubs (50+) also over 100 and small clubs (50-) over 30.

In percentage terms, the smaller clubs (-100 members) showed potential for biggest membership increases. Deben 198%, IoEly 113%, Lowestoft 152%, Beccles 150%.

The average of all the smaller clubs was 158% or two and half their current size.

MK is showing the biggest expansion pressure of 392% in its potential membership with some 200 adults on a waiting list for a club of 51 declared membership for 2011.

Of the larger clubs (100+), Bedford appears under most pressure with a potential increase of 132%, over double its size. Otherwise the average potential increase in club size was 56%, over half again.

Regionally, if the average number of potential new members from the 16 clubs under review were reflected in the 25 active members clubs in the region, the current BR registered membership of around 4,000 could rise to 6,325. The possibility of this happening in the near future is discussed in the General Observations below.

2. Approx breakdown between adult/junior men/women:

The following average comparables were drawn from five clubs who were able to give sufficient figures.

– More adult women than men have applied to take up the sport (53%/47%);
– The same percentage of interest has been shown by Junior girls compared to boys (53%/47%);
– More adult men than Junior boys have applied to become involved (66%/34%);
– A similar proportion of adult women than junior girls have shown the same interest (61%/39%);
– Overall, more women/girls than men/boys have applied to join the sport (56%/44%);
– The position doesn’t change as between large clubs (100+) and small clubs (100-);
– Whilst Cantabs and Sudbury bucked the trend with 75% adult men to 25% women and 56% to 44% respectively, their Junior figures went 2:1 the other way with Cantabs 64% girls to 36% boys and Sudbury 70% girls to 30% boys.

Generally, the inference from this is that if the numbers hold up, more adult women will come into the sport to compete and run clubs and appropriate equipment provision may have to be made.

3. Managing the numbers:

Not unexpectedly, the larger clubs have been able to call on additional helpers more than the smaller clubs. But some of the smaller clubs have been able to absorb the pressure by tight management control of boating times and equipment use. Oundle split the effort between 3 members handling Adults, Saturday Juniors and Sunday Juniors & surplus adults.

However, the most interesting management set up was in the way Lea handled their influx of 170 applications:-

“We ran 2hr sessions on each of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and two on Saturday for six weeks. People attended one session per week. They could swap to another session if they couldn’t attend the one they were booked on. There was a lead coach per session and four – six assistant coaches (one per boat and one lead coach to oversee the session); all were volunteers. Used mostly recreational fours. We put on another course. Three weekends – two two hour sessions each weekend. 70 on this course – all attending at the same time. Have used recreational fours and fine eights”.

Equally interestingly, Lea have set up the following post induction options:-

Learn2Race – separate men and women
No thanks – rowing isn’t for me.

Having these options meant that they retained more than they did before they had the structure in place.

Clubs in the main started with taster sessions followed by L2R courses. Cantabs go straight to L2R courses on the basis that all applicants want to learn to row otherwise there is no point in applying. However, with 100+ Juniors on courses or otherwise waiting, they have almost twice as many Juniors than Adults.

The size of structured courses varies dependent on numbers, the frequency of sessions and the ability of the club to adapt to the pressure of numbers.

The average course was between 12/16 with exceptions by Lea 70/100 and Cantabs 20/30 Juniors. .

A 6/8 week period for courses appears to be the normwith clubs offering up to 3 sessions a week to keep up the intensity andenthusiasm. On the other hand Lea is an example on how to shovel through the numbers with 70 over 3 week-ends at 2x2hr sessions each week-end but it requires intensive coaching support. While Oundle have Junior L2R courses over 4 weeks followed by a decision on whether to continue as club members and Sudbury who do 6x2hr sessions over 6 weeks.

The small clubs often don’t run specific L2R courses. Hollowell keep a more open and flexible approach, where new starters are incorporated into regular club sessions, often putting them out with more experienced scullers.

Maximum use is being made of the range of equipment available to clubs with multiple seater stable/recreational boats being used to increase the coach/learner ratio. Ergos are also well used initially.

Whilst no details are available, it is possible that certain elements of the structured L2R courses such as capsize drill, etc are being postponed to more advanced training when retention numbers become clearer. There are possible safety implications here.

4. How many coaching members involved:

Again, this varied according to the number of learners on the courses. At the top end, Lea were able to call on 30 volunteers, a lead coach per session and four – six assistant coaches (one per boat and one lead coach to oversee the session).

Elsewhere the spread between qualified and unqualified helpers in other clubs where given was:-  Beccles 6, Bedford 7(4+3), Broxboune 6, Cantabs 3 per group(1+2), I oE (BR coach), Norwich 10 for Adults + paid coaches for Juniors, Oundle (3+per session), P’boro 7/9 (4/5+3/4), Star 6/8.

5. Conclusions and General Observations:

The last question asked was: Do you need help to avoid turning people away.

In publicity terms, any decision to turn applicants away must be avoided because it will reflect adversely on the sport. Putting people on waiting lists is much better than simply shutting the door. It shows your interest to consider them and a waiting list often makes some people all the keener to become involved. Clubs are expecting to take until Easter and beyond to go through their waiting lists and for some it may become permanent.

Happily at the moment, all clubs are trying to cope. Beccles would like advice from BR. A Bedford BR employee has been permitted to help Bedford in her spare time. Broxbourne are planning to reduce the frequency of courses so that newcomers can be guided better through the whole of their first year. Cantabs see a problem in lack of coaches, coxes nd boats. Hollowell are crying out for more second hand sculling blades.

Deben want to strike a balance: “between bringing in newcomers and retaining existing pre-Olympic members.  We have moved one of our LTR coaches onto full time continuity training to ensure that we retain those we train, as well as not lose those that are already members”.

Coaching help:

The general need is for more coaching help. But this will only come from within the clubs.

There is insufficient BR development staff to allocate directly to club coaching and there isn’t sufficient spare income around to pay for a professional for each club.

The other problem is that whilst the format for structured L2R courses is well mapped and payment for attendance is now the norm, there is no format to attract members to devote additional time from their own rowing activities to teaching others to row and the burden falls on a dedicated minority which in normal times, may be adequate but is a system which could crack at the seams with the present influx.

Given the present voluntary unpaid system, the key to managing the problem is therefore, by spreading the coaching/supervisory load and the clubs most able to adapt their club management to meet their individual problems will be the clubs most likely to prosper from the Olympic legacy. However, it may be of use if there was an exchange of ideas on the ability of clubs to handle the influx and the methods they use to do so and it could form the basis of a further report in a few months once the current contents of this report have been analysed and digested.

What to do afterwards:
Sudbury – The next challenge is what to do with them when they finish the L2R course.

IoEly – Our biggest concern – a long standing one – is how to deal with improvers and integrate them into squads appropriate to their interests and abilities.

Norwich – Without adequate pathways for new members, we cannot meet their expectations.

Star – Our thinking, to be fully implemented is a screening/taster process with fast-tracking of exceptional individuals into a development squad and a scheduled course programme for the majority.

Two things stand out. New Adults should be persuaded to organise themselves as soon as they learn to row. Potential leaders should be identified at an early stage. Subject to fast-tracking exceptional individuals, course members should be allocated into crews with an identified leader in each.

The leader should then be encouraged to organise the crew for the outings in conjunction with the coach. The biggest logistical and time consuming problems for coaches is taking on the responsibility for organising outings. Getting crews to organise themselves will help them integrate quicker into the club. For someone else to do it tends to keep the newcomers isolated in their group. This could then leave the coach free to concentrate on coaching – and possibly more than one crew.

Secondly, course members should be made aware at the outset that that learning to row is just not an end in itself but a means to an identifiable end and that they will be offered post graduate options similar to that offered by Lea.

Linked with that, a range of regional events should be put in place to act as an activity outlet to give newcomers a taste of competition on a social level and help them decide whether to learn to race in open competition or remain in regional social competition or club recreational. Such events need not be structured as national open events but limited and controlled on a regional basis with organising clubs having a free hand on the type of events offered up but with the object of attracting newcomers from other clubs to visit in a socially competitive atmosphere to show how clubs interact within the larger scene.

Lastly retention:  

As said at the beginning, if the average number of potential new members from the 16 clubs under review were reflected in the 25 active member clubs in the region, the current BR registered membership of around 4,000 could rise to 6,325.
This is currently unlikely to happen for three reasons a) the antipathy towards registering new L2R members with BR membership – even with BR Silver card (half price) membership, b) the natural fall off of new members for any number of reasons and c) BRs current policy of allocating the regional BR development staff to other areas of potential membership growth.

Antipathy to BR membership is historical. Equally so, fall off of new members is an accepted norm. But these are no longer acceptable if clubs are to continue to look for BR financial and other support.

BR professional staff are under a directive to raise participation numbers as a condition of continued government funding support. Because of the failure of clubs to deliver the increased level of numbers in return for previous funding support, BR are having to concentrate their development efforts to increasing participation in areas other than in established club bases such as local authority watersport centres This is to the detriment of club development. The small clubs are being starved of support because time and effort can be more profitably spent on searching for sources of larger membership.

In conclusion:

Therefore, if this policy is to be changed clubs themselves must be prepared to review their historical approach to these issues. The notion that a club is not ready or capable of expansion is a problem of maximising membership management and facility use. Reference the data for Oundle, MK and Lea with their limited or outdated facilities.

The obvious way would be for clubs to insist that their new L2R members join British Rowing as Silver card members to start; some clubs include the membership fee in their L2R course and automatically enrol members in BR at this stage.

BR has expanded the benefits to members (insurance travelling to and from the club as well as on the water, discounts at museums and attractions, sports clothing discounts etc as well as the more well known Rowing and Regatta Magazine) and is promoting this on the BR website but clubs need to do their own promotion within the club and emphasise that grant funding for boats and facilities at local level and funding at international level are dependant on BR membership as a whole.

Clubs could also make more use of the BR on-line resources in RowHow such as the Coxing and Steering learning programme which leads to a theory certificate and a practical certificate.

At the same time however, it would help if BR in turn, were to suspend their current policy, recognising that the most immediate membership expansion return is right on their doorstep without the need to be looking for fresh fields and with the best use of the regional development team’s time being applied in coach management for clubs in need.

The Coach in Clubs programme has been successful in the clubs that have benefited from it. This programme has given the clubs the support of a BR coach for a limited time each week to run sessions but also to build and strengthen the coaching structure within the clubs. BR should be encouraged to continue and if possible expand this programme.

BR has just introduced a new Rowing Leaders course which runs for 16 hours and develops volunteers to work alongside qualified coaches. The cost is about £120 and a regional programme will soon start to be rolled out.

The problem of managing the administration of new members in clubs should not be underestimated. Many clubs have met some of the problems of organisation of applications, membership, taster sessions and organising outings by developing their IT systems to reduce the administraton involved. Is there is expertise to be shared within the region.

Administrators, coaches and volunteers put in enormous amounts for time and efforts. Clubs should be more pro-active in putting forward their members for  the annual regional and national awards so that they get some of the recognition they deserve.

And finally:

On a positive note, whilst an increase in membership to 6,000 plus may be beyond our immediate capabilities, an increase of 1,000 should be attainable given that the membership over the last twelve months has increased by some 500 to 4,300. So here’s to trying!

Lastly, a big thank you to all the clubs who took the time to submit reports upon which this report is based.


Eastern Region – November 2012