CEO's Blog - Can Participation and Performance Exist Together?
If you asked me this two months ago I would have given you a clear answer, no. Since then though we’ve been through the business end of the season with weekend after weekend of regattas, culminating with FRBC racing at Henley Royal Regatta, and it’s really made me ponder if I’ve been thinking along the right lines.
Before running Fulham Reach Boat Club I’ve been involved at two different clubs at very different ends of the rowing spectrum. I spent four years as a Coaching and Development Officer at Barn Elms Boathouse and my fifth year there running the site. This was all about being a community facing club, giving people the chance to take part in regular sessions on the water and with no emphasis whatsoever on racing (although this has changed recently for the junior squad there). Before that I spent a year as Captain at London Rowing Club where, during my tenure, we had a very simple mission; Win a club event at Henley Royal Regatta (which happily we were able to achieve). This meant we were ruthless in our recruitment of athletes, their training and selection for crews. Learn to Row courses did not feature in the mix at all!
I’ve always been a big advocate of organisations really trying to understand what their reason for being is and then focussing on nothing else but this, mission creep is the road to ruin. The way this plays out at FRBC for example is that we don’t measure ourselves by the success we have at races, but by the change we can demonstrate we have affected in young people. Taking it even further, we have coaches in place here who don’t have performance targets based on results but on participant feedback.
What started to change was when we saw that both the young people and adults that had been through our Learn to Row program and carried on into regular rowing sessions were starting to become really quite competitive. This year we’d made several B Finals at the National Schools Regatta, a medal at the Scullery Regatta, our adult members had picked up wins at regattas throughout the season as well as the double racing at Henley Royal. In terms of our competitive results we are starting to look like most clubs which are focussed on competition yet our main drive has been about introducing people to the sport so how does this tally?
It was after hearing the commentators on the Henley Royal Regatta live stream talk about our FRBC crew racing where I realised that, for us, competitive results during the season are a by-product of a well-executed education to the sport at all levels. We thought that our main drive would be to focus as a Learn to Row centre but we have now realised that our main drive is as an educator of rowing at all levels. Whether you want to learn one end of the boat from the other or the finer details of Lactate Threshold Training, our job is to remain focussed on the education of participants at which ever level they are taking part. Obviously we celebrate success when it comes to racing but the real win is when the wider cohort involved in sessions all develop their current understanding of the sport just that little bit further.
Therefore I believe that performance and participation can exist under the same roof so long as everyone involved understands the boundaries. You can’t sacrifice the wider education of all involved for the short-term gain of one crew. You have to keep a focus on the education and development of participants at every level. You always have to keep a focus on the process, not the result.