Confidence in rowing is a funny thing, there is always that one session when you’re dying 300m into your planned workout and wondering what has gone so drastically wrong!?. As a coach we see this a lot from either the athletes face that screams “Please, don’t ask me to do those splits again!”
Now picture a session where you’re rowing and you are hitting all of your targets feeling like you could handle all day. How often do you see that look of dread in this session? Hardly ever. In both instances, though, the task and skill are the exact same – Row at an intensity that matches the desired outcome for the session. So why does this become more challenging in races or time trials?
This is the difference between an anxious athlete and a confident athlete. Anxiety happens when our thoughts drift from positive and realistic to negative and imaginary. Simply, we start to convince ourselves that we do not have the skills to complete the task at hand.
Go back to the thoughts of the anxious athlete in that tough session, “I can’t hit those splits.” Their confidence is so low, they are convinced their skill suddenly has been taken from them, even though it is the same skill they have demonstrated hundreds of times in practice! And as coaches and athletes know, this anxious mindset is not restricted to hitting splits; it also occurs, in general for athletes struggling overall to perform well; what is commonly known as a “slump.”
Is it possible, then, for an athlete to feel confident in these instances as well? Of course it is.
When an athlete’s perceived skill level matches the perceived challenge at hand, then the athlete is confident. For instance, in the first example, confident athletes would see a row 30mins at 20spm as a simple task, it’s a low rate row that doesn’t challenge the rowers ability to maintain form and technique like it would at a higher rate. The skills they require for this session are more mental than physical so perception of task achievement is high.
How does an athlete get to this confident state? By changing his or her mindset.
Encourage Positive Self Talk: Most anxiety stems from the things we say to ourselves. In order to feel confident, an athlete needs to reject negative thoughts when they occur (I’m going to miss my next target), and turn the negative thoughts into realistic and positive thoughts (I know how to row that split and I’m going to make it).
Write Down Positive Thoughts: Athletes can work on confidence simply by physically writing out things they tend to say to themselves during sessions that are negative, crossing those out and writing the positive version of those thoughts instead. For instance, “I can’t row at 32spm ” becomes “I will row at 32spm.” Then, in practices and races, this thought-changing process becomes habit, with the mind “crossing out” the negative thought.
Give Specific, Positive Feedback: Coaches can help the confidence process by giving athletes specific, positive feedback. Point out the things that all athletes are doing well by telling them specifically what you saw them do well. A general phrase such as “nice stroke ” can be improved by saying, “That was a really nice drive phase you used great sequencing”. These more positive phrases help athletes achieve greater confidence with the skills they possess.
We all know how hard it is to keep that confidence when you are committed to a goal and it feels like things are falling apart. Keep that confidence and build that resilience, you have not just yourself but the whole world to show what you are made of. Be Dark Horse.
Yours in coaching, fitness and building that confidence.