Moving forwards with the aim of going backwards fast : high performance rowing as a learning environment

Rossi, Tony, Rynne, Steven B., & Rabjohns, Marty (2016) Moving forwards with the aim of going backwards fast : high performance rowing as a learning environment. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 21(1), pp. 55-68.

[img] PDF (420kB)
Administrators only until August 2017 | Request a copy from author

View at publisher


Background and Purpose:

  • This paper focuses on the learning culture within the high performance levels of rowing. In doing so, we explore the case of an individual’s learning as he moves across athletic, coaching and administrative functions. This exploration draws on a cultural learning framework and complementary theorisings related to reflexivity.


  • This study makes use of an intellectually, morally and collaboratively challenging approach whereby one member of the research team was also the sole participant of this study. The participant’s careers as a high performance athlete, coach and administrator, coupled with his experience in conducting empirical research presented a rare opportunity to engage in collaborative research (involving degrees of insider and outsider status for each of the research team). We acknowledge that others have looked to combine roles of coach / athlete / administrator with that of researcher however few (if any) have attempted to combine them all in one project. Moreover, coupled with the approach to reflexivity adopted in this study and the authorship contributions we consider this scholarly direction uncommon. Data were comprised of recorded research conversations, a subsequently constructed learning narrative, reflections on the narrative, a stimulated reflective piece from the participant, and a final (re)construction of the participant’s story. Accordingly, data were integrated through an iterative process of thematic analysis.


  • The cultural (i.e., the ways things get done) and structural (e.g., the rules and regulations) properties of high performance rowing were found to shape both the opportunities to be present (e.g., secure a place in the crew) and to learn (e.g., learn the skills required to perform at an Olympic level). However, the individual’s personal properties were brought to bear on re-shaping the constraints such that many limitations could be overcome. In keeping with the theory of learning cultures, the culture of rowing was found to position individuals (a coxswain in this case) differentially. In a similar manner, a range of structural features was found to be important in shaping the cultural and personal elements in performance contexts. For example, the ‘field of play’ was found to be important as a structural feature (i.e., inability of coach to communicate with athletes) in shaping the cultural and personal elements of learning in competition (e.g., positioning the coxswain as an in-boat coach and trusted crewmate). Finally, the cultural and structural elements in rowing appeared to be activated by the participant’s personal elements, most notably his orientation towards quality performance.


  • The participant in this study was found to be driven by the project that he cares about most and at each turn he has bent his understanding of his sport back on itself to see if he can find opportunities to learn and subsequently explore ways to improve performance. The story here emphasises the importance of learner agency, and this is an aspect that has often been missing in recent theorising about learning. In this study, we find an agent using his ‘personal emergent powers to activate the resources in the culture and structure of his sport in an attempt to improve performance. We conclude from this account that this particular high performance rowing culture is one that provided support but nonetheless encouraged those involved, to ‘figure things out’ for themselves – be it as athletes, coaches and/or administrators.

Impact and interest:

0 citations in Scopus
Search Google Scholar™
2 citations in Web of Science®

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

ID Code: 81671
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Elite sport, Reflexivity, Learning culture, Olympic rowing, Insider-outsider research
DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2015.1043254
ISSN: 1742-5786
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200) > Physical Education and Development Curriculum and Pedagogy (130210)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Association for Physical Education
Copyright Statement: The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 2016.
Deposited On: 09 Feb 2015 02:09
Last Modified: 18 May 2016 04:39

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page