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Keep Rowing!

The Boat Races on 2 April are examples of perseverance

by Janice Ross (revised, originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To consider that some days and some tasks require more perseverance than others.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available some images of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races and the means to display them during the assembly. Examples are available at: and

  • You may wish to show some video footage of part of the 2018 Boat Race, in which case you will also need the means to do so. ‘The 164th Men's Boat race is available at: will nedd to select sections to show.

  • This year, the Boat Races will take place on Sunday 7 April 2019. Further information about the Boat Races is available at:


  1. Tell the children that you are going to start the assembly with a song. Ask the younger classes to sing ‘Row, row, row your boat’ (they might like to come out and do the actions, too).

    Row, row, row your boat,
    Gently down the stream,
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
    Life is but a dream.

  2. Ask how many of the children have been in a rowing boat. What did they see and hear? How did they feel?

    Show the images of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races.

  3. Ask the children how the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races would be different from their own experiences of being in rowing boats.

  4. Tell the children a little about the Boat Races. They began in 1829 when a Cambridge University student wrote to his friend, who was studying at Oxford, to challenge him to a rowing race. This tradition has carried on to the present day, with the loser from the previous year’s races challenging the opposition to a rematch.

    The Boat Races take place on the River Thames in London. Up to 250,000 spectators will crowd the banks of the river to watch the race, and millions will watch on TV. Cambridge are currently in the lead for both the men’s and the women’s races, with 82 wins to Oxford’s 79 in the men’s race and 41 to 30 in the women’s race.

    Crews must be students at the universities. The Cambridge crew are known as the Light Blues, and the Oxford crew are known as the Dark Blues. Potential rowers start training in September, with the squads being chosen around December time. Each member of the squad undertakes a gruelling programme of daily training from September to April, both in the gym and out on the river. They have to keep up with their studies, too! Part of the training is with an army commando unit.

  5. Ask the younger children to have a go at singing the following version of ‘Row, row, row your boat’:

    Row, row, row your boat,
    Quickly down the stream,
    Strain at the oars with all your might
    And we’ll beat that other team!

  6. Encourage the children to watch the Boat Races on 2 April to find out who will win this year!

  7. Explain that life is a bit like the two different types of boat trip in the versions of the song. Sometimes, life goes along quite smoothly and calmly. Sometimes, work is not too much of a challenge, there is not much pressure at school and we get on fine with our family and friends. That’s like the lazy, hazy, gentle boat trip in the first song!

    However, there can be days, or times in a day, when life requires tremendous effort. Maybe our family seem to be in a bad mood, maybe schoolwork seems to be particularly hard and maybe we just feel that we have got out of bed on the wrong side!

    Sometimes, working in a team can be a big struggle. We may want to work really hard and someone else in our team doesn’t, or everyone else may seem really enthusiastic about a task and we just can’t be bothered any longer.

  8. Think again about the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races. Imagine if one rower in the race just decided to stop rowing. His legs are sore, his arm muscles are aching badly, he is too cold and he just wants to get back to the clubhouse, have a shower and go back to bed! All he wants to do is say, ‘I quit for today!’

  9. It would be hard for the team to understand if a rower decided to quit. The team would feel let down and disappointed. However, imagine if a soldier decided to quit while he or she was fighting alongside colleagues. That decision to quit could put people in danger.

  10. So where do rowers, soldiers and ordinary people get the strength and resolve to keep going when things get tough? Many find that they can keep going for longer than they ever imagined possible. They can push that bit more, they can try that bit harder, they can keep going that bit longer. It’s up to them to decide to do so!

    Some look to God for help. There is a well-known hymn that soldiers fighting battles overseas have drawn strength from in the past. The first verse goes like this:

    O God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Our shelter from the stormy blast,
    And our eternal home.

    Christians believe that God can be our help, our hope and our shelter when the going gets tough.

Time for reflection

Let’s think about today. We do not know exactly what might be required of us during the day. We don’t know if today will be hard or easy. We may be called upon to produce a great amount of effort for a task.

Think about the source of strength lying within each of us. Think also about God’s mighty strength waiting to help us.

Dear God,
Thank you for this new day.
Today may be an easy day, with lots of joy and fun and peace,
Or today might have big challenges for us.
Thank you that we have strength within us to overcome many obstacles.
Our bodies are strong, we have lots of people willing to help us and we are loved by our families and friends.
Thank you that you want to share this day with us, too, giving us help and hope and a place of shelter.


‘He who would valiant be’ (Come and Praise, 44)

Publication date: April 2017   (Vol.19 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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