Q&A: Transition from Junior to University Rowing


Junior rowing is often the highlight of someone's rowing career. It's full of intense racing and close margins, and it's a huge time commitment for a person also studying hard to earn good grades. University rowing is similar, you're juggling academic studies with the sport, but it has it's own unique aspects and dynamics which can at times really set it apart from the junior scene. A lot of juniors heavily factor rowing into their university choices while others let it take a back seat to a time-consuming degree. We have asked some rowers from last year's scene about their transition to university rowing, and how they think it compares to their junior careers.

1. What's the biggest difference between junior and university rowing?

Lottie Orr - Henley Rowing Club to University of California, Berkley  

"Probably the quantity of training; the biggest step up from club to uni rowing is how much mileage I do in comparison to last year."


Max Thompson - Teddies to Oxford Brookes  

“Squad size for me particularly. At Teddies we ran 8 boys and that’s been the way it’s been for years – no spares. At Brookes there is always someone to replace you and not affect boat speed, so it makes it more competitive and fun.”


Joseph Salter - Abingdon School to University of London  

“All the organisation and training is left to you. There’s little handholding from the coaches as to when to train or rigging/derigging, you’re expected to be a bit more street-wise. Also, the early mornings and rowing in the dark are big changes for me and something I’ve had to adjust to in terms of sleep and coxing.”


Sam Bodkin - Windsor Boys School to University of Surrey  

"The environment is a lot different at university, you are more responsible for your fitness and the amount you train. Which differs compared to the more do this ergo then and rest here style."


Miles Beeson - Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association to Yale  

"The biggest difference is that competition is even tougher. Even if you did really well on the junior scene it means nothing once you get to university level. You find yourself competing for seats with older athletes who are stronger or more experienced, and that’s just within the squad. That’s one of the main drivers for the big leap in performance between junior and university rowing. You just have to work hard and try to bring yourself up to their level."

2. What's the biggest similarity between junior level and university rowing? 

Miles Beeson - Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association to Yale 

“I think it really depends on the program you’re in but for me, the sense of family that you develop from being part of a squad has been constant. What we go through in rowing tends to draw people together and it’s the same whether you’re in a small junior club or huge university program.”


Max Thompson - Teddies to Oxford Brookes 

“It’s the same old stuff, you go out and try to pull the rigger off the boat. Technical drills are the same. Nothing’s different in that regard.”


Maximillian Craik - Royal Shrewsbury School to Oxford Brookes 

"Biggest similarity is the bond within the squad, with everyone immediately encouraging the new athletes. Just like at school the goal is Henley and everyone’s pushing each other to get there."


George Christian - Bedford School to University of Birmingham 

"It sounds trivial, but the rowing. While the training plans differ and arrangements to get on the water change, you can always rely on the sessions being more or less being the same as they were. There's also a lot of jokes, stories and general knowledge of rowing which I didn't expect and reminded me of school rowing."


Georgie Robinson Ranger - Henley Rowing Club to University of London 

“The atmosphere! Everyone in the Henley JW squad was always driven and we were always pushing each other to go faster and do better both on and off the water and I’ve found the same atmosphere at UL – there’s always a lot of encouragement and support from everyone in the gym and a lot of noise coming out of people on the water!”


Lottie Orr - Henley Rowing Club to University of California, Berkley 

"Despite being in a completely different environment the same principles apply, you have to train at the same hard intensity and push yourself if you want to succeed."

3. Was there anything that surprised you about university rowing when you started?

Sam Bodkin - Windsor Boys School to University of Surrey

"What surprised me is the more flexibility of training during the day than school rowing. The coach would say that you must do the erg this day and you would put it around your lectures and organise it yourself. This differs to school rowing as with that it's a certain time that everyone has to do it otherwise you miss it."

Georgie Robinson Ranger - Henley Rowing Club to University of London

“30r20s…I definitely wasn’t ready for them! But other than that, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going into – there are squad members that I knew from junior rowing in the years above me and they were really useful sources of info about what I could expect.”

Maximillian Craik - Royal Shrewsbury School to Oxford Brookes

"Immediately everyone has a clean slate, previous achievements have seemingly little value as you’re all thrown together into the squad to start proving yourself from the get go."

Joseph Salter - Abingdon School to University of London

"When I joined UL I was surprised by the huge range of backgrounds the rowers had come from. At school everyone lived in the same area and went to similar primary schools, but at uni we have people from all over the world and all different backgrounds with the common goal of competing for a High-Performance Club and getting a worthwhile education at the same time."

George Christian - Bedford School to University of Birmingham

"The facilities really shocked me. While it's nothing to complain about, it's an hour commute to travel to Worcester to train, and a lot of the boats are in poor condition with little-to-no replacement parts. It's really different to school where we had a boatman and everything was ensured to be in perfect working order - it's slightly chaotic sometimes at university but it does make it lots of fun."

4. What do you enjoy the most about university rowing?

George Christian - Bedford School to University of Birmingham

"The social dynamic is so much better. There's far less arguing and tension in the crews because it's not as competitive, and it just makes sessions and the time spent training much more enjoyable. We can have our own fun and mess about when we want, but as it's not a cheap sport to do there's still that drive to get the most out of it on top of that fire to compete. It's just a bit more relaxed as everyone kind of just "gets it" and there are far fewer times when the squad mentality drops. It's also very much a social club, with many socials and nights out which really work well to make you know the other guys better."

Miles Beeson - Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association to Yale

“What I enjoy the most is being part of a big team that represents our university. We’re all set on crushing Harvard in the boat race and making it 3 national championships in a row. The best thing is that we’re having an ace time doing it, even on the long winter ergs there’s always a big atmosphere in the gym to help you through.”

Georgie Robinson Ranger - Henley Rowing Club to University of London

“One of my favourite parts of uni rowing are the people I get to train with, right from the first day everyone was so welcoming and friendly, so I found it really easy to settle into the squad which was great! Another favourite part is definitely being able to go out on the water during the week – I like being able to start my day off well with a good session first thing in the morning before heading off to uni.”

Joseph Salter - Abingdon School to University of London

“The atmosphere at UL is incredible. Both on and off the water the squad members are constantly encouraging and competing, and this creates a real drive to perform at a higher level than each member first thought possible. On the water, when one of the rowers makes a call, everyone really commits to making that change to back up the guys in front and behind them. Everyone is hugely invested in the project with the same goals of medals and tankards in mind.”

Sam Bodkin - Windsor Boys School to University of Surrey

"The most enjoyable part of university rowing is getting a fresh start to race in BUCS and building a winning crew from the ground up again, we [Windsor Boys] were very successful as a junior crew and I enjoy having the big progression again to aim high."

5. What do you miss the most about junior rowing?

Max Thompson - Teddies to Oxford Brookes

“I miss being around my old friends, of course. Also, the fact that looking for free speed is harder now compared to back then. Slower process now.”

Lottie Orr - Henley Rowing Club to University of California, Berkley

"Having more regular races as goals, at the moment the only big goal is NCAAs (National Collegiate Athletic Association) which is far away. I miss having Four's Head, School's Head, Women's Head, NSR, HWR and HRR as that's a lot to focus on, and I love racing."

Georgie Robinson Ranger - Henley Rowing Club to University of London

“I really miss my old squad at HRC, the girls I was lucky enough to row with and the excellent coaching team we had were who I spent most of my time with for 6 years making some of the best memories of my life! I still follow their results and cycle over to see them every time they’re in London for a catch up though! I also miss the Henley stretch, having rowed on the course for 8 years of my life I definitely have a very strong emotional connection as I learned quite a few (a lot!) life lessons while on the water there that I have carried through to uni rowing and life in general!”

 Joseph Salter - Abingdon School to University of London

"The great thing about rowing at school was not having to worry about commuting to the boathouse, a schedule that was fully in line with the school day, and not having to source our own tools and equipment.”

Sam Bodkin - Windsor Boys School to University of Surrey

"I miss the togetherness of school rowing as it makes it feel more as a team. At university we are more separated and so I do not feel as close to my teammates. Which lowers the mentality of being part of a close team."

George Christian - Bedford School to University of Birmingham

"I miss competing at a high level. At school in the 8 we did well and ended up (controversially) near the top of the rankings, and I enjoyed that. But it's a massive step down to a university club with little funding and no full-time coaches, and I do miss the speed and thrill of racing among and against the big names."

 

~GC


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