Rowing and the art of Self-motivation

Rowing and the art of Self-motivation

Being ‘scouted’ by a GB coach can be a double-edged sword. Emily Mc, a new addition to the DW team, tells us about the incredible challenges athletes can face when taking up a new sport.

When playing sport at school it all seems so easy – the practices and matches are all handily slotted in around your lessons. The coaches are in daily contact with teachers and all you have to do is show up to training. When it comes to rowing it’s a whole different story.

For starters unless you attend a school that is a) positioned near to a river and b) has the spare money to build a boathouse, purchase boats, blades and the other necessary equipment, and hire coaches on top of that, a rowing club is the only option. And due to the unfortunate necessity of requiring a river, boat clubs tend to come in very concentrated clumps.

So when I decided to take up rowing my two nearest options were Guildford Rowing Club, 15 minutes from my house or Molesey Boat Club, up to a 45-minute drive away. Guildford, although it seems like the obvious choice, has a waiting list of up to a year, and that was too long for me to wait.



Despite all of the problems I tried my best to get down as regularly as possible and did make swift progress. The sessions were tough. Forcing myself to get out of bed at 5am in midwinter was no mean feat, but I was enjoying it. Much of the training was land-based as the awful weather meant that it was simply to dangerous to get out on the river.  Without doubt I was lacking experience in a boat but both my fitness and strength improved greatly. My coach showed interest and expressed hope that I’d be able to start racing regularly come the start of regatta season.

This included a possibility of competing in the prestigious National Schools’ Regatta. But I didn’t get picked. Whilst on reflection it is clear to me that with my attendance record and lack of water experience I didn’t deserve to be selected, at the time it was a huge blow. I felt like I had sacrificed so much to row at the club and all I had in return was empty promises.



Without doubt my motivation has wavered multiple times this week – the early mornings, relentless training and style of coaching are different to any I have experienced in the school environment, have been challenging, and have tested me. Rowing is a sport, more than any other in my opinion, where being self-motivated is an absolute essential. If you don’t have a strong enough desire and drive then it’s not the sport for you. I’m glad I kept it and held out through the times when I wanted nothing other than to quit, and look forward to what will hopefully be a successful season ahead.


I learnt to row on the Eton Rowing course during summer 2012. I decided to go simply out of curiosity for the results my physical advantage would produce (being 5’11” gives you a bit of a head start when it comes to rowing). I took to it quickly and, after a few capsizes, I was fairly proficient in the boat. Though my technique was far from even slightly refined I was able to replicate the movement and get the boat moving at a fair pace.

At the end of the week the woman in charge of the GB start programme approached me, and her encouragement to continue really inspired me to take up rowing, and hence began the research into my local club.

After having registered at Molesey I suffered the first 6am wake up followed by a 40-minute drive and started training. The training schedule requests that juniors train 6 times a week at various times. Logistically this was impossible. I was playing both lacrosse and netball at school and the only sessions I was able to attend were Tuesday before school (which involved setting my alarm for 5am) and Sunday morning. Needless to say this was not enough and, after some bargaining with my lacrosse coach, I managed to squeeze in one more training session on Thursdays after school.

Although this was the minimum number of training sessions I could attend the problems weren’t over. Training started 20 minutes after I was released from school and the journey could take up to an hour when travelling at that time of day. On top of that a religious weekly attendance at all three of the sessions was near enough impossible due to the huge number of commitments I’d taken on.


For a month or so my attendance dipped dramatically but I put the disappointment behind me for the summer break. A few days before I was due to return in September I received an email from the coach explaining that all juniors were to be split into two tiers with tier one continuing to train as all juniors had last year, and tier two would train fewer times a week in shorter sessions. It was made clear that the rowers in tier one were those to whom the main attention would be paid and who would be representing the club in the bigger regattas.

The email also said that if you had not been contacted you were in tier two. Having not heard otherwise I assumed that I would be training in this group. I was devastated – I felt like I’d been judged as unworthy to keep training properly before I’d had the opportunity to prove myself. For the first time I seriously considered quitting the club. I was embarrassed that I wouldn’t be allowed to train with my friends, and frustrated because the restricted training times meant that I would only be able to get down there once a week.

My mum was the one who made me email and ask why I’d been placed in tier two. Not wanting the hear the answer I feared, I avoided sending the email for days and instead tried to objectively lay out the facts and in doing so persuaded myself that quitting was the best option. I felt like having been at the club for a year I hadn’t moved forward at all, and had completely lost all motivation.

Eventually the email was sent and to my surprise I received an email in reply simply saying that I was in neither tier one or tier two and that the coach wanted to speak to me. Now I’m training at least 3 times a week and weather permitting should gain a lot more experience on the river this season.