Working with Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club

Key support staff at CUWBC - The Goldie Boathouse, Kimberley Rd, Cambridge, Helen Davis (Psychologist). Picture: Keith Heppell

A high performing team

Supporting Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC), as their sport psychologist, on the Tideway for the annual Cancer Research UK 2018 boat race was a real privilege. These young women really are amazing, truly amazing. They train 18 hours a week, getting up at the crack of dawn to take the train to Ely, in all weathers and all temperatures, 6 days a week. It is a high pressure, high performing sporting environment. Combine this with high level academic study; this is the life of a Cambridge female rower. The goal is to win the boat race for Cambridge.


A multi-disciplinary team

CUWBC value the role that a sport psychologist plays in their high performing team environment. The year round, multi-disciplinary team that supports the crews, consists of a supportive executive committee, high quality coaching, strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and sport psychology. Sport psychology is viewed as an important and valuable piece in the jigsaw that is high performance sport.


Tight margins: selection

My support as a sport psychologist began back in the ‘trialling’ period, which began in summer 2017. Yes, while most students have returned home for summer break, these girls are in Cambridge, training hard in the hope of selection. It’s tough. All the girls want to get into the ‘Blue’ boat (the 1st boat) or Blondie boat (2nd boat) and margins can be tight as who gets a place and who doesn’t. This year was no exception, with many girls very disappointed after months of hard graft and no place in the boats. They might be friends and training partners, yet they are also fierce rivals and competitors on the water, where their performances are constantly monitored and compared.


The role of sport psychology

Working closely with the team and coaches, my aim was to support the crews with creating a culture that was positive and high performing. The culture is an expression of the team’s values, attitudes and goals about rowing, competition and relationships. As with everything, the girls worked hard on it over a number of sessions; they recognised the value of this because it directly influences many areas that affect team functioning and performance. In parallel to team work on culture, well-being took a prominent role. These girls have a lot of contend with combining academic and sporting careers, so support consisted of 1-1 and team psychological support, giving the girls avenues to explore individual performance needs too.


Moving on..

CUWBC are always looking to improve, always looking to move forwards and always looking to make the boat go faster. This is what high performing teams do, this is what collectively the team is always working towards. As their 2018 mission statement says


“We are Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. There is always another gear”


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