Scholastic rowing can span anywhere from one to three seasons during a given school year: Fall, Winter and Spring. Each season has its own unique area of focus and racing format. There is not a cookie-cutter approach to choosing what works best for a school; successful programs operate under a variety of scheduling formats.
The spring season is the “traditional” season in high-school rowing, with dual races and smaller regattas in March and April giving way to local, regional and national championships in May and early June. If a school establishes a one-season per academic year rowing program, Spring is the season it would offer the sport. Most of the long-established New England prep schools only offer rowing in the spring.
There are several reasons to only offer rowing in the spring:
- Schools with smaller enrollments may want student-athletes to play other sports in the fall and winter.
- It may be easier to find coaches who can commit for three months (rather than six or nine).
- If a school is just launching its rowing program, it may make sense to start with just a spring season and look to add a fall and winter component as the program expands.
For most programs (except for those in the far South or West), the winter season is the indoor conditioning component for the school-year. Athletes typically train on rowing ergometers and perform various strength training exercises to improve fitness for the upcoming spring season. It is often said that “spring races are won in December, January and February,” as training during the winter provides valuable conditioning to prepare for spring races. Despite frozen rivers and lakes, athletes still have the opportunity to race, as organizations all over the country host indoor erg races in January and February that typically attract a large contingent of high school rowers. Many programs that do not have a fall season will start up with winter training in mid-November. Most public high schools in Virginia fall into this category.
The fall season provides an excellent opportunity for teams to vastly improve their rowing technique, as coaches can focus on developing their athletes for the long term without having to worry about the sprint races that occur each weekend during the busy spring season. With more of an emphasis on teaching rather than preparing to race, athletes will emerge from a well-structured fall season with much better rowing fundamentals. Longer distance “head” races (3 miles) take place in the fall to give teams a chance to whet their competitive appetite before heading indoors for the winter.