Rowing differs from many sports because it allows athletes to learn the sport at a competitive level late in life. In most sports, in order to be successful in the most competitive arenas, training begins at a very young age. Children in the United States are introduced to the classic sports such as soccer, football, baseball, softball, and basketball through peewee leagues. Children are as young as five when they begin to play these sports competitively on teams. In terms of age of entry, rowing differs greatly from the classic sports.
In rowing, the youngest athletes are high school aged children. High school aged athletes are referred to as juniors. The governing body of rowing in the United States, USRowing, defines Juniors as anyone under the age of 19. Juniors row both for boat clubs and for their high schools, if the school has a team. The standard sprint race for rowing is a 2k course, but for juniors their sprint races are often abbreviated to a 1.5k course.
Although some athletes begin rowing in high school, many rowers do not join the sport until college. Rowing is a unique in the world of sports because it allows rowers to join at the collegiate level without prior training in the sport.
What allows rowers to be successful at the sport so quickly in the competitive arenas of both juniors and collegiate rowing is unique status of Novice. In both juniors and collegiate rowing the first year of participation in the sport athletes are allowed novice status. There are races at regattas sanctioned as novice races. These races allow for competition between inexperienced rowers, but still in a competitive field. The novice year is extremely important in allowing athletes to join the sport at the collegiate level. Fielding a novice team is the standard in college rowing. The novice teams are a sub grouping of the overall team. The novice team is comprised of athletes who are in the first year of collegiate rowing. This includes athletes who have never rowed before, and athletes who have only rowed in high school. The novice year allows athletes to learn about the sport and time for them to hone their skills and speed. The coaches of the novice team work with athletes to teach them the basics of the stroke, and within a year, the coaches have the athletes on the same level as the experienced varsity team. The novice team does not contribute to rankings of the overall team, or contribute to qualifications for championships.
It is important to note that athletes are not required for the first year to be categorized as a novice rower. If a coach feels a first year athlete can contribute to the varsity program the athlete can be moved up out of the novice team.
Adults in the rowing world are referred to as Masters. Athletes classified as masters are generally past the age at which they could enter as a member of the national team or compete at the most elite races. The type of athlete ranges greatly in the master’s category. Some athletes choose to be very competitive, while other athletes choose to use the sport as more of a social activity. Even at the masters level many people pick up the sport for the first time. It is never to late to learn the sport of rowing.