In general, due to the great use of blood by the musculature, there is little left for thinking. What little thinking that is done should be confined to that which is most useful.
1. "... at the end of a race, power equals form." An oarswoman should train herself to think about technique when she is very tired. The coach should insist on good technique, during the power intervals, by being particularly careful to point out specific faults, she knows the athlete could correct, while rowing at low pressure.
2. An oarsman should train himself to think about the power he is applying on each section of the race-- the section of the race that he is in the act of rowing is the most important one in the race. Ideally, he should concentrate on applying in small increments a greater and greater amount of power on each stroke throughout the race so there is a sprint at the end. Exceptions to this general rule are situations that require more than a small increment in power:
a. Rounding a bend.
What a coach can say about the psychology of rowing is very different from what a sports psychology consultant can say about it. For example, I would not make recommendations about what an athlete should think about while he is rowing. I would, however, facilitate the athlete thinking about what the coach told him to think about. I might ask the athlete, "How are going to concentrate on your technique during the race? Are you going to make mental images of the correct technique? Are you going to repeat to yourself certain key phases about correct technique that you have heard your coach repeat? Are you going to remember how your muscles feel when you are rowing correct technique?" Each of these questions can, in the athlete who knows proper technique, evoke the desired responses.
If a coach has told an athlete to think about consistently increasing power in small increments during a race, I can facilitate that. I might take the athlete through a mental exercise in which he remembered times when he increased power. I would allow him to thoroughly and completely examine that experience so that he identifies exactly how he summoned the energy to do that. He can then begin to develop the capacity to do that automatically when appropriate.
Wilson offers a few concise tips for coaches:
1. The coach should avoid frightening the crew with hyperbole about how hard the workout is going to be-- such comments cause the crew to hold back their maximum effort. It is the oarsman who makes himself fit, not the coach. The motivation must come from within.
2. The oarsperson should know at the beginning of the workout the intended duration of the workout, the distance to be rowed and the distances of the intervals so that she can calculate how many meters of maximum effort will be required. In this way she can reach exhaustion at the end of the workout.
3. Offer, at the beginning of a workout, an optional interval to be done on the condition that the crew feels that it can manage it. This enables the crew to bring itself to exhaustion if the workout the coach planned hasn't.
4. The coach should avoid taking the crew to the point that it has to give up. "It is pointless for a crew to row with no spirit or strength." In these conditions, technique fails and bad habits are ingrained-- hanging at the catch, missing water, incorrect proportion of back and leg motion, and washing out etc. can all result from trying to save energy. Progress is made when the crew is tired, but can still apply nearly as much power as when fresh. The psychological effect of giving up is that morale, self-esteem and pride are destroyed. The oarsman distances himself from his performance, and becomes accustomed to giving up-- even anticipates it, so as to prematurely bring it on. Finally, the oarsman has learned to "crack" under pressure and psychological help may be needed to correct the problem.
You notice that Wilson never mentions talking to the athletes about winning or giving them inspirational speeches. I don't know why he neglects these areas, but I know why I do. Winning is not within the athletes' control. Why have them waste energy on in the pursuit of something that is not under their control? Only a superb performance is under their control. Inspirational speeches on a race day are too late and before a race day they deprive the athlete of some measure of his own inner motivation.
by Joan S. Ingalls 21 January, 2000