As someone who grew up playing team sports, the responsibility was split between several players. Sometimes you needed to step up and deliver individually, but it was nothing like I’ve started to experience when I started rowing.

I remember the first time I joined an 8 week rowing program. It started with a test and I got so anxious after the warm-up I had to postpone it for the next day. That is when I decided to look more into the mental side of rowing.

After years of workouts and constantly evaluating my mentality along with my physical performance, I have recognized several factors that contribute to whether your mind is helping or preventing you from performing well. 

Here are 11 things to consider when assessing your mentality when it comes to rowing:

Are You Close to Your Potential?

The real challenge in rowing and other endurance sports is the competition between you and the race course, you and the clock, but more than anything, between you and your mind. Success in rowing is all about your mental ability to handle the pain and fatigue, lack of oxygen, and your ability to push your boundaries. The endurance sport athlete’s biggest opponent can be found in the mirror. Self-awareness is crucial to excelling beyond your own limits.

Mental Toughness

Is the mental side of training incorporated into your workouts or it is just something you think should come easy? Do you know how to use mental toughness to elevate your performance? Are you one of those athletes who gets anxious before every test or workout? Can you differentiate between competition and training? Are you able to achieve the results you set yourself to or do you always fall short?


What motivates you as a rower? Do you have the inner drive to do what’s necessary to achieve success? Do you have a realistic goal that helps keep you moving forward through the exhausting and not so glamorous training daily? Do you have a big enough “why” to keep you moving to reach your goals during a long season or training program? Far too many rowers make a deal with the devil. That is, they trade what they want the most, for what they want right now.

Becoming a better rower and athlete requires consistent practice, pushing your limits and meanwhile not forgetting about the fact that rowing is a skill. Nothing comes easy and you need to learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable!

Train Smarter…and Harder

Your success on the erg requires you to continually move towards your physical and emotional limits. When you’re tired and your body seems to reach its threshold, you have to stay with the discomfort just a little bit more. When you don’t like the training conditions you have to learn to embrace them. Finding adverse conditions to train in is simply being smart! Sooner or later you’ll have to compete or train in those fatigued and painful moments. If it intimidates you to train with or compete against much better competition, seek those situations! That is how you gain access to the next level! Get comfortable being uncomfortable and you’ll become successful.

Becoming a Winner

Competitive pressure is something that you need to perform your best. Does pre-race nervousness make you forget all your hard work and make you feel like you quit on your coach? If you can’t learn to control your nerves, then you’ll never reach your potential. Being clutch is a mental skill that you can easily master with a little practice. Learn relaxation and concentration strategies to get rid of those pre-race jitters that may have gotten the better of you in the past. Being nervous is okay. Those who fear nothing love nothing and have nothing to lose. You want to be better and losing can’t be an option.

Mastering Pain and Fatigue

If you think hurting isn’t or shouldn’t be part of becoming a better athlete you are mistaken. It doesn’t come easy and you need to master a couple of things. First, is how to control your focus when you begin to hurt. Second, is how to neutralize negative thinking and self-doubts your mind is telling you when the pain comes. You need to eliminate negative self-talk and be confident in those hard hours of work that got you to the point you’re at. Focus on the strategy and plan you or your coach came up with and visualize it.

Focus Under Pressure

You must develop the ability to concentrate on what’s important and block out everything else. Longer workouts force you to keep focus. You may still psych out but monitoring your training and knowing when it gets hard for you is how you can improve upon this skill. Focusing on the right things at the right time is key.

Dealing with Adversity

Do setbacks and failures bring you down and give you the extra motivation to thrive even more? Winners build their success on their failures. They learn from their mistakes and then leave them behind. That is what we call rebound-ability.  To the successful person, failure is something that you do to get to success, to reach your goals.

Mental Preparation

Get ready ahead of time. Rehearse the plan and visualize your strategy to the smallest detail. If you are prepared, the pre-race jitters are usually less significant and focusing throughout a piece becomes effortless. If there are points in your races where you always fall apart, mental rehearsal can help you turn these weak spots into areas of strength. Read our article on the mental preparation required for rowing to learn more.

Physical Preparation

Becoming efficient and better at rowing without first paying your physical dues is impossible. But once you are able to give a good effort physically it’s important to include and talk about the mental side of training and competing. Don’t just hope without mental preparation to get close to your potential. As we’ve said before, hope will fail you 100% of the time. Prepare both aspects of training and you can excel as a mentally tough competitor.

Do Your Goals Drive You?

I failed many times during my training but just as much, I pushed through intervals at the end of a session that I thought I’m not capable doing. With many hours many, a lot of hard work, and millions of meters later I learned what preparation, visualization, and mental drills work for me. I learn something new every workout about myself. What drives me is my goal to be a better rower, trainer, and to get as close to fully realize my potential as much as possible.

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