I was talking to one of my rowers today who said what’s scary about rowing is that when you get tired, it’s not like another sport where you can just run slower. You all have to just keep rowing together. What do you think is a good call to motivate them to power through? I don’t want to just be like “you can do it!”
When we were doing Head of the Charles pieces in the fall, my boat would always start to really feel the fatigue right after the Eliot turn, when there’s about 750 meters to the finish line. One thing I constantly said to them coming out of that turn was we’d made it 2.5 miles down the course and we’re gonna keep pushing through that last half-mile.
Another thing I’d say is “bodies over brains”. Rowers of all people should know this, but I think we often forget how much our bodies are capable of and the amount of discomfort they’re able to endure. A lot of the time when we react to pain, it’s our brains reacting, not our bodies; our brains make it out like it’s worse than it is. When I know they’re starting to feel it, I tell them “bodies over brains” or “don’t let the brain defeat the body”. It reminds them their bodies are stronger than they give them credit for and that they have the ability to push through the pain, all they have to turn is block out the voice in their head telling them to stop. A friend of mine used to say that to his boat a lot so I started incorporating it into my calls too.
One time I got really pissed at a boat I was coaching because they weren’t putting in the effort I wanted and I stopped practice for a few minutes and said something to the effect of “would you rather experience a little bit of pain now or would you rather experience a lot after the race is over?” Somebody asked what I meant and I said that whatever pain you’re feeling now is insignificant. It makes you better, it makes you stronger, it teaches you things. The pain you feel after a race you should have won or after an erg piece that you gave up on, that is the kind of pain that can defeat you because it weighs on you for a long time. You keep going over and over in your mind what you could have done differently or better or how maybe things wouldn’t have happened this way if you’d just given it your all during practice. People that accept that pain during practice or on the erg don’t normally ask themselves those questions after a race is over.
Another time a kid I knew in college was talking about how he hated pieces like 8x500s at 100% pressure because they’re absolutely brutal when you’re going for 1:30ish splits. I laughed and said “don’t lie, you know you like it” and he smirked and said “it’s true”. At the time rowers hate the pain but I guarantee you afterwards, secretly, they like it because they know they’re making progress. Remind them of that – they hate it now, but they’ll appreciate it later.
Then there was that other time (in high school) when my boat was whining about how they were tired and sore and didn’t want to do another piece and blah blah blah … I was getting so irritated listening to it that I just blurted out “suck it the fuck UP!” Everybody stopped talking and my coach, who was in the launch beside us, said “OK … are we ready to do some work now?” Up to that point in the season, that boat was undefeated and I was determined to finish the season undefeated. After practice we had a quick meeting with our coach and I apologized (although to be honest, I didn’t really mean it…) but he said no, don’t apologize, if you guys want to finish this season with a “0” in the loss column, you’ve got to embrace the pain and suck it up. For the rest of the season, no one complained about being sore or tired or wanting to “not do any more pieces”.