With the head season swiftly behind us, National Schools' Regatta hastily closes in, with only 6 weeks to go til the pinnacle of the season for most junior rowing crews. As with most things, with each new year, there are new challenges to face and this year’s NSR is no different, with a host of changes coming to the competition. In this article, we will be exploring the major changes to the competition's framework which was brought about in late February and has caused certain controversy between junior rowers, coaches and spectators alike.
Starting us off, the J14 category. The youngest age group of the competition but by no means should it be underestimated in the quality and closeness of their racing, with only half a second separating the top 3 J14 A8x+ last year.
This age group has received probably the biggest changes compared to their elder counterparts. J14 “B” crews and below have been merged in racing with the respective “A” crews in both octuples and quadruple sculls, allowing for more competitive racing as we have seen an increasing number of entries each year.
Time trials have been given a bigger emphasis by the committee, with times being used to place crews in their respective finals. In both the octuple and quadruple scull there will be a minimum of an A, B, C and D final, in accordance with the results of the time trials. There are also will be no limit to how many crews a single club or school may enter in these categories, which should encourage participation from newer and younger athletes.
The year of transition, as crews move from solely sculling and are introduced to sweeping, the J15 categories have received relatively minor changes in their framework of racing.
There will only be two categories for J15 8+ which are J15 A8+ and J15 B8+, with maximum two crews allowed to enter in the latter event. For the J15 G8+ both the 1st 8+ and 2nd 8+ events will be run together as usual. J15 boys and girls who have competed in both the coxed four and quadruple sculls on the Friday of racing will be allowed to compete in the 8+ on the Saturday. The changes made to the J15 age group seem to make sense in that the difference between Champ 8+ and 1st 8+ schools is much less distinct at this level.
The 16s categories carefully create a picture of which clubs and schools could potentially dominate the top of junior rowing come their step up to the senior categories.
Like their J15 counterparts, the J16 8+ will consist of two categories which are J16 A8+ and J16 B8+, with again two crews being allowed to enter in the latter event. As usual, J16 G8+ 1st and 2nd 8s will run together as one event. Unlike the J15s, rowers from the J16 4+ on Saturday cannot enter J16 4-/x on the Sunday, with the same applying to J16 G4+ who are not allowed to enter J16 G4x.
The changes in this age group are a hard one, with the first set of public exams in full force, there is an argument that champ eight schools do have an advantage, as they usually have more of a reputation and lasting legacy of successfully running high level sport and academics side by side. However, we have seen from the likes of Norwich School at the Schools' Head of the River that the gap is still tight, no matter how large the squad.
The crème de la crème of junior rowing, the J18 category sees many current junior and future U23/ senior GB rowers & coxes participating in the fiercest of competitions on the junior rowing calendar, barring perhaps only Henley Royal Regatta. Having received by far the most complex of the rule changes, especially on the junior men’s front, this indeed has amounted in a lot of controversy in recent months, but nevertheless will be carried through.
By far the biggest talked about change comes from the Schools J8+, with there being two categories on offer for the “1 st 8+” of schools and clubs. There will be a Championship and Non Championship 8+ category, with the intention of future regattas having only one event for schools' and clubs' 1st 8+. Racing for both these categories will be run alongside each other, with a few extra regulations put into place.
Schools and clubs entering the Non Championship 8+ category can enter a championship event on Sunday, provided only 4 rowers are allowed to race in the Sunday's championship events. This quite rightly supports the logic that if you have the depth to field eight athletes of championship event standard on the Sunday, your eight should also be racing in the Championship category.
For Schools 2nd 8+ and 3rd 8+, the event will run as normal with again 2 crews eligible to enter in the latter event. As is now usual for Schools JG8+, both the 1st and 2nd 8+ categories will be run together.
In smaller boats, for athletes entering Schools J4+ on the Saturday, they cannot event Schools J4+/- on the Sunday with the same applying to the equivalent categories for junior girls. In Schools JG2x there will be a maximum of 2 crews per club. Finally, in both Schools J1x/G1x each club or schools can enter an unlimited number of crews per club.
The end of the Child Beale as we know it undoubtedly leaves a lot of food for thought and there are two likely consequences to the change. It will be harder for smaller clubs or schools with less funding to justify their existence in the senior eights category, because of the difficulty and cost levels associated with forming an eight with the focus being on a 'medal-only' event. The previous argument for the existence of the Child Beale was to support and give incentive for smaller programmes with fewer facilities to be involved. The regatta have made these changes to improve the quality of racing at all levels, forcing rowers to work harder for medals, which should make all crws faster overall. However, the regatta prides itself on their website as being a place where they "offer valuable racing experience to a wide range of junior crews" and yet over the past 5 years the number of event categories have significantly been reduced, notably in categories where the majority of entries are from smaller clubs and schools.
On the other end, could these changes increase competition in smaller boats? With unlimited entries for those smaller 4+ and 2- categories, the question is can this help keep people in sport. Perhaps in the future, we might see a shift from the eight to more quad entries as well, as junior sculling continues to grow and develop. But at the same time, it would be a shame to see smaller clubs being forced by the change to switch to sculling in order to remain competitive.
https://nationalschoolsregatta.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NSR- entries-circular-2018-Website- 1.pdf
https://nationalschoolsregatta.co.uk/national-schools- regatta/nsr-2018/ https://nationalschoolsregatta.co.uk