Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

No, ergs don't yet float, but some of us do, and here's where you get to discuss that other form of rowing.
Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: March 21st, 2019, 7:41 am

Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

Post by ElliottOC » March 21st, 2019, 7:47 am

Hey everyone, this is an assignment for school and I was hoping some of you could look over it and give your opinions.

Topic Idea: I wish to write an article for a major rowing forums regarding optimum methods of dealing with the psychological strain involved in rowing. It will be directed at a mixture of novice and elite rowers.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, courage is acting in spite of it”

Anyone considering rowing or who is already a rower and is feeling mentally fragile will either have to adapt and become tough or face quitting. That is the harsh reality of a sport which is as much mentally strenuous as it is physical. The reason for the mental affect is a combination of the pride and status that comes from winning and the intense training involved which increases the addiction of winning and adds pressure. This article discusses methods of dealing with the psychological battle throughout training and racing from both my own perspective and that of elite rowers.

Long Term Preparation
Training programs vary their focus between the different clubs, colleges, universities and schools, however typically they include; aerobic base, rowing technique, strength and mental toughness. When all these factors are at the highest level, they give the maximum possible chance of winning on race day.

High level teams and athletes across all sports often put together a ‘Belief Bank’ to store their winning edge moments adopted throughout the training season. This might include sticking to the diet, winning a past race, getting nine hours sleep the night before, and the list goes on. The athlete will review the ‘Belief Bank’ on race day to recall and gain confidence in their ability to win. This is a fantastic method of being mentally positive before a race and is the first step in winning.

It’s important to understand that no training program is easy. There are regular ups and downs, but it’s how you persevere and take charge of the controllable factors to defeat the mental toll involved in training. These controllable factors which help gain confidence will typically include diet, hydration and sleep. Diet can be controlled through monitoring your food intakes. It’s important for rowers to get high amounts of carbohydrates and protein to support the aerobic training demand of rowing. These foods can include rice, pasta, a variety of meats and yogurts. Hydration is crucial to maximise performance which is key to being positive and psychologically strong. It can assist your training performance by 25%, while dehydration can cause reduced concentration, strength and stamina. Finally, sleep can reduce the chances of mental illness, help with muscle growth and recovery. The recommended amount for an athlete is 8-9 hours of sleep. These physical methods can help improve your mental state throughout tough training sessions and increase your motivation for racing.

Improving your mental stability throughout training is a crucial stepping stone to being psychologically strong on race day. Elliot Shackcloth-Bertinetti, who is a 1st Eight coach at a leading Australian School had said that “This to a similar extent can be said of the training on the way, discomfort leads to adaptation where you become comfortable being uncomfortable.” Showing the importance to train to become tough.

Race Day
Race day can be either the most rewarding or the most depressing day of the season. So much mental strain and commitment rides on it. To lose one race after doing 400+ hours of training is devastating.

It’s crucial to enter race day with a strong, self-assured state of mind. Any doubt the athlete has leading up to a race can result in a loss of confidence and ultimately be what loses the race. Confidence can be accomplished by leaving no stone unturned. In other words, having the knowledge that you have done everything possible to ensure you will win. Specifically, going to bed early the night before, eating a high energy diet and staying hydrated.

It’s important to remember that everyone in the race is just as nervous. Whether it’s because of the pain or the fear of losing, being nervous is an important sensation as it shows you care. As mentioned, the use of a ‘Belief Bank’ can help combat anxiety. Being able to reflect on positive moments throughout the season can be a strong motivation when you are in a dark, nervous state of mind waiting on the start line. Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Keeping an internal focus during a race can prevent losing motivation or a break away from the race plan during the race. A common mistake is focusing on other crews that look physically stronger or appear to have superior technique. Observing the competition and removing the athlete’s own internal focus can lead to doubting one’s own ability and the loss of confidence. It is pointless judging others at face value when there are so many factors at play in rowing. A quote from Mark Twain says, “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.”

Another mistake can be during the race when the competition is making a push on you, and the crew decides to go against the race plan in order to prevent being overtaken. This happened to our crew recently in an AAGPS Schoolboy Regatta. We were 400 metres into the race and a boat length in front. At this point of the race, our race plan was to lower the rate to 38.5 SPM, however out of fear of being overtaken our crew went off plan and remained at 41 SPM. This resulted in strokes being shorter and less powerful. Ironically, five other crews rowed through us by the 1500m mark.

There are numerous methods of overcoming the mental aspect of rowing. It’s important to understand that rowing is a killer sport regardless of your ability. However, being mentally strong will allow you to withstand the pain and stay composed for longer. It’s hard to put a percentage on how much of rowing is mentally based. Some say 80%, others say 40-60%. Regardless of the percentage, it’s important to educate rowers how to be mentally tough as this will ultimately make or break a race.

Bibliography (I've had to remove some URLs as the maximum amount is 10)

Book: The Psychology of Rowing – By P. E. Vernon. Retrieved on 4 March 2019.

What You Don't Know About: Rowing | By Meghan Musnicki. (2019). The Players' Tribune. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from ... pic-rowing

Mental Skills - Rowing Stronger. (2017). Rowing Stronger. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from

Food for Rowing - Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). (2019). Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). Retrieved 4 March 2019, from ... rt/rowing/

How lack of quality sleep is affecting your training - (2016). Retrieved 4 March 2019, from ... r-training

Hydration for Rowers. (2019). Rowing Strength. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from

Sports Psychology – Confidence and its links to belief. (2013). The UK's leading Sports Psychology Website. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from ... to-belief/

Attentional Strategies in Rowing: Performance, Perceived Exertion, and Gender Considerations. (2019). Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology. Retrieved from
Meltzer, T. (2012). Rowing: the sport of masochists. the Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

When Rowers Don't Compete As Well As They Train. (2014). Athlete Assessments. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

(2019). Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

Mental Toughness - Cara Stawicki. (2018). Cara Stawicki. Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

Coaches' Corner: Setting the Standard, and Building Mental Toughness. (2011). Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

Andover Crew . (2019). Retrieved 21 March 2019, from

Primary Source (Expert) – Elliot Shackloth-Bertinetti,

At the top level in schoolboys, most athletes in the final would be of a similar physiological standard, everybody has done the work. The determining factor between those up front and the rest of the field is a certain mindset, it's psychological. It is a decision to jump together and rationalise hurt as a step on the road to their best performance. This to a similar extent can be said of the training on the way, discomfort leads to adaptation where you become comfortable being uncomfortable. "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven" John Milton

6k Poster
Posts: 838
Joined: December 13th, 2006, 8:20 pm
Location: Bremerton, WA

Re: Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

Post by Cyclist2 » March 22nd, 2019, 12:33 pm

A well written summary of the process. Something that provides information without being a full blown analysis.

I don't know how old you are, but if in high school, well done. For a short article it is well researched with personal experience to give it credibility.

I like it.
Mark Underwood. Rower first, cyclist too.

Myopic Squirrel
1k Poster
Posts: 101
Joined: July 4th, 2013, 11:36 pm

Re: Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

Post by Myopic Squirrel » March 22nd, 2019, 4:57 pm

Hi Elliott,

As a former English teacher (HS), well done! IMO you've put together a very cogent piece on the rowing/racing experience. I especially like the quotes you've chosen. They reinforce your positive theme. Don't know if they even mark for grammar these days, but don't want you to lose any points on your well-written piece. In the first sentence of your Long Term Prep section, after include replace the semicolon (;) with a colon (:). In your 3rd sentence replace affect with effect. If you are in school here in the US, in the 7th sentence of the 3rd paragraph of your LT Prep section, replace maximise with maximize.

Your mention of sizing up the competition reminded me of one of my very first HS races. We were in Alexandria VA to compete against Washington & Lee HS, at that time one of the top HS crews on the East Coast. I have some pre-game anxiety so go into the men's room to remove some ballast. As I exit my stall, out from the stall next to mine steps a kid wearing a W & L shirt. He's at least 2" taller than me (I'm 6'1") and I ask him "how'd he do?" to which he replies "my race is next" (as is mine). So I ask him "what seat?" & he says "cox". I almost turned right around to go back into my stall. IF he was playing with me, it worked, because when I went down to the slip to get into our 8, I'm telling our guys "holy bleep! Wait til you see the size...". In retrospect I think he gave me a shot of adrenaline - we won by half a boat length (and he was in the 7 seat).
74 M 188 cm 86Kg "If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself." - Mickey Mantle

Half Marathon Poster
Posts: 2905
Joined: March 18th, 2006, 3:44 am
Location: Trentino Italy

Re: Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

Post by jamesg » March 23rd, 2019, 1:41 am

Well done, that's the sort of psychobabble that one likes the opposition to read while we're afloat and learning how a to move a boat.

See Princess Elizabeth Cup 2018.
08-1940, 183cm, 87kg. Last seen MHR 162, in 2k (2020-05-16) 8.47.5@24

User avatar
Marathon Poster
Posts: 5317
Joined: June 14th, 2014, 9:51 am

Re: Psychology of Rowing - Assignment for school

Post by jackarabit » March 25th, 2019, 1:31 am

Sidney boy? A fine start on the scrivener’s art, academic periodical division.
There are two types of people in this world: Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data


Post Reply