Understanding the Challenge
Rowing attracts and inspires many students who have never previously shown an athletic inclination, and the natural comradery that accrues is a significant component of team membership. In these and other respects Berkeley High Crew is unique among varsity sports.
And yet it is a team sport—the ultimate team sport—not a recreational activity or social club. It is demanding, frequently exhausting, rigorous and deeply rewarding. Rowers and coxswains gain invaluable experience of teamwork, discipline, and perseverance in ways that benefit them for the rest of their lives. As a high school team we acknowledge the educational mission of the sport. And like any other varsity sport at Berkeley High, BHS Crew is dedicated to winning.
In a recent end-of-year survey, varsity and novice team members were asked to describe crew in one word. Overwhelmingly, the word they chose was “hard.” Crew is hard. Despite the satisfaction of mastering skills, the exhilaration of all rowers synchronized as one, or the sheer joy of gliding gracefully over the water, crew is a hard activity that demands effort, dedication, fortitude, and time from student athletes. It requires similar effort, dedication, and time from a parent to support a successful rower or coxswain.
Competition: Outside and In
BHS Crew competes in USRowing’s Southwest Regional division, which in recent years— with over 30 teams—has come to be viewed as the most competitive in the country. Even in a field dominated by well-funded private schools and tremendously powerful club teams, BHS Crew has maintained its competitive position, and our coaches never lose sight of that goal.
The team trains and races with the intention of doing our best in every race— and winning some of them. The coaches work to assemble boats that achieve this goal.
Our head coaches have fielded successful boats at the regional and national level, so parents and rowers have to trust that the coaches act with the best interest of the whole team in mind. However, producing successful boats in a highly competitive region generates competition within the team to fill those seats. Not all rowers will compete in the top boat (the “A” boat) in every race. Even a rower or coxswain who has followed all the best advice and trained rigorously will sometimes not make the “A” boat.
Erg Scores and Seat Racing
In selecting boat line-ups, coaches use a little science and a lot of art. The science side of line-up selection uses data from the ergometer (rowing machine or “erg”) and ‘seat racing’ results. The erg measures the relative strength of a rower and shows rower improvement over time. During the year, rowers take erg tests of standard lengths, which may or may not be announced in advance. Erg times are recorded and tracked by the coaches, who watch how much rowers are improving over the months of training. And yet a great erg score, however desirable, does not guarantee a spot in the “A” boat. The erg measures power and fitness, but doesn’t measure how fast a rower makes the boat go, or how well she or he will perform in it.
Seat racing involves two boats of four rowers, although sometimes it’s two boats of eight. After completing the first race, two rowers switch between the boats and race the same distance again. If the switch significantly changes the outcome of the race, then one rower is more effective than the other one at moving that boat. Rowers may seat race several times, or not at all, and may not even know until after the first leg of a training piece that they are seat racing. If a seat race result is closely contested or disputed by a rower, coaches may at their discretion repeat a seat race for accuracy. Occasionally, rowers may blame the loss of a seat race on a teammate who did not pull hard for them, and while it can happen, this is where the art of boat selection comes in.
The Art of boat selection is finding the right group of rowers (four or eight) and a coxswain who mesh to make the fastest boat. There is no exact measure or algorithm for creating this combination. Sometimes it’s about who gets along; sometimes it’s the right level of technique in a specific seat in the boat. Other times it’s a rower’s attitude toward a coach or level of commitment. While a great attitude or level of commitment does not necessarily guarantee a great seat, it may factor in the final decision.
Coaches also have to consider strategies for boats at particular regattas. Who is the competition? How good are they? What is our best shot at winning, and how is that affected by various boat personnel decisions? These considerations and the resulting lineups usually affect a handful of rowers on each team, and can lead to unhappy rowers, because the process does not seem fair. If your rower or coxswain comes home complaining that the coach was unfair, please help your child to understand what happened. Choosing boats is not about being fair, it’s about being fast. Sometimes a decision that seems unfair to one rower has been made to further the goals of the team as a whole.
Coaches are human and sometimes make decisions that fail. Boat decisions are fluid, and can change from one race to the next. It could be that only one rower moves up a boat, and it could be your rower who does. Remember that the move is always offset by another rower moving down a boat.
Coping with Competition
As a parent, how can you help your rower or coxswain have a better chance of making a faster boat? First, your rower needs to want to be on the team; parents’ desires for their children to participate are not sufficient motivation to ensure success. section 2 parents’ info 2.3
Your rower needs to get to practice— on time and ready to go. Absences, whether they are excused or not, lessen your child’s chance of landing a seat in the best boat. Rowers/coxswains should not practice when they are seriously ill, but they need to keep their schoolwork in order, and plan their appointments and activities around the team’s practice schedule if they want to move up.
Despite this, every so often a rower who misses a string of practices still gets placed in a better boat. Coaches don’t like doing this, but if it makes the boat go faster, they may consider it. And while it may seem unfair, it does occasionally happen.
Your rower needs to listen to the coach and follow his or her direction. It’s rare for rowers or parents to have more rowing and coaching experience than the coaches, so when a coach tells your child he or she needs to change something—whether it’s technique or attitude—your child needs to listen.
This is a team sport; the athletes in crew depend on each other more than athletes in any other sport do . Rowers who think they are better than others sometimes let their egos get in the way of helping their boatmates make the boat go faster.
If a rower or coxswain feels frustrated about his or her position on the team, it’s an opportunity for your child to take responsibility and ask the coach for advice. A parent can help in this process by encouraging a rower, but as the season progresses your child will be coping with complex, quickly-changing situations. Support your children, but step back and let them lead the discussions with the coaches about why they are in a particular boat and how to move up to a faster one.
If your child genuinely desires a seat in the fastest boats, he or she must work harder than the others, listen to the coach more than the others, and contribute at all times to moving the boat faster.
Understanding the Costs
Crew Tuition: Sticker Shock
Parents of crew novices registering a son or daughter for the first time are frequently startled by the team tuition cost of $1475 per year. We understand this; as fellow crew parents we experienced the same surprise when we first registered our own children.
The cost of participating in crew can seem high, but examining the factors behind the cost explains a great deal. When compared to other BHS sports and activities— as well as other rowing programs in the area—the cost is quite reasonable, if not an outright bargain. To start, rowing is different from most high school sports in that our venue—a large body of water—is geographically separate from the campus and not subsidized by the school. Football, soccer, and track all make use of the school playing field; basketball, volleyball and swimming take advantage of on-campus facilities, and the families in those sports never think twice about it.
Crew, on the other hand, requires a suitable, protected waterway to practice and compete on, with a convenient facility for storing boats and equipment. We are lucky to have a spot in the Jack London Aquatic Center boathouse on the Oakland/Alameda estuary, but as a school team (from Berkeley), we pay monthly rent to the Oakland Department of Parks and Recreation.
Then there’s the matter of equipment. Unlike other sports that need little more than a ball, some variety of stick, and an open field to practice, team rowing requires specialized boats, rigging, and oars, as well as racks to store the boats and equipment, a trailer to transport it all to away races, and a fleet of motor launches for the coaches to use in running practices. The purchase price and ongoing maintenance for all these elements is high; although BHS Crew rarely buys equipment new, a racing eight can easily cost $40,000, and oars alone can be $450 each. Every time the team competes in a regatta outside their home waters, a truck must be rented to haul the trailer to the host course.
Examples of equipment costs include: Item (new) Approximate cost
- Ergometer: $1000
- Oar: $450
- 4+ shell: $16,000–$22,000
- 8+shell: $26,000–$40,000
Crew is the largest single team at Berkeley High, but it is not subsidized by the Athletic Department, so the burden of maintaining an operating budget falls on team families. This is the primary reason the team tuition is set where it is and why we must ask families to pay for tuition, uniforms, and out-of-town travel expenses, and to paticipate in fundraising toward our operating budget.
A Comparative Bargain?
And yet, when compared to other rowing programs in the Bay Area, the cost of BHS Crew is at the low end. A popular rowing club in Oakland reportedly charges junior rowers anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 a season to participate, depending on the regattas entered. This is quite typical for club teams, despite their deep endowments, robust masters (adult) rowing programs, and well-established fundraising mechanisms.
In terms of tuition cost, Crew is not unique at BHS. Other teams and activities (including some that enjoy substantial equipment and facilities underwriting from the school) are similarly priced—admittedly, this is usually to cover the cost of coaching and travel. In addition, while technically a spring sport, the crew team trains and competes from late August to May (and occasionally beyond, when a boat goes to Nationals). Spread over the course of those nine months, $1475 tuition works out to $164 per month, or less than $8 per practice!
Still, not every family budget can accommodate the extra burden of annual tuition, and BHS Crew is dedicated to the goal of giving every student an opportunity to row with the team, regardless of financial need. To that end we offer financial aid as available and as need dictates. If costs present a hardship for your family, please contact a member of the coaching staff or a board member for advice.