Question of the Day

Hi I am a rower who recently developed some unknown sickness which long story short means I cannot do any workouts of value and am losing speed by the second. I’ve always been a top rower on my team and trained really hard to stay there. I’ve never been the one on the sidelines and it is really frustrating watching people beat my times and know that I can’t do anything to get better. Basically I’m just wondering if you have any advice on how to not get so upset when I’m watching myself lose all of this training time as I try to figure out what is wrong with me.

Being sick is the worst. Not only do you feel like shit physically, you feel like shit mentally too. I get that because I’ve been there too, just as probably everyone reading this has, but you cannot – CAN NOT – throw yourself pity party after pity party day after day. By all means, give yourself a day or so to wallow in the fact that yes, this is gonna set you back a bit and yes, your teammates are gonna make some progress without you but recognize that that’s the reality of the situation and you’re not a special snowflake by being the only person to ever experience this. I say that because a) that person who turns every practice into their own personal “woe is me” session is the worst kind of person to be around and b) that kind of attitude isn’t confined to just you – it transmits to everyone around you via your body language, facial expression, and overall demeanor. If you’re gonna be a Debbie Downer, don’t go to practice. Just don’t. It’s not good for your mental health, first of all, but it’s also just not good for your teammates because you’re inevitably going to make them feel guilty for something they have no control over and isn’t even their problem.

If you’re the contagious kind of sick then you shouldn’t be going to practice at all because, as I’ve said plenty of times before, that’s selfish and kinda makes you an asshole because you’re exposing your teammates and coaches to whatever you have and increasing the likelihood that they’re gonna get sick. I’m particularly salty about that this year because both times that I’ve gotten really sick have been because guys were at the boathouse when they should have stayed home. Don’t be that person that thinks they have to show up when you’re hacking up organs and spewing germs everywhere just to stay in people’s good graces.

If you’re the kind of sick that’s not contagious, which it sounds like you are, go to practice and be the best sidelined teammate you can be. Don’t turn into Cheerleader Barbie (please don’t) but at the very least have a positive attitude. I’m a fan of turning non-contagious-sick-people into honorary coxswains while they’re out just because it gives them something to do (thus eliminating the chances that they’ll be in pity party mode for two hours) and gives them a new perspective on things for a change (which is always fun). If you can help the coxswains set up the ergs, re-fill water bottles, etc. that’d be awesome. When the rowers are doing their pieces, talk with the coxswains about what they’re seeing and then figure out how you can use those observations to your advantage. This is kind of your opportunity to ask questions about technique issues that you have, observe the good (and not good) habits of your teammates, etc. – all things that can really benefit you once you’re able to start training again. Another thing you could/should do is cheer your teammates on when they’re doing hard pieces, particularly if they’re testing. We did our first 2k of the season last week and one of our guys who is unfortunately out for the spring with a back injury was there supporting the other guys, getting right in their ears like the coxswains were, and just making sure that he was giving them the same amount of support that the guys have given him.

Watching your teammates improve really shouldn’t be that much of a downer for you. If anything, it should be motivation to really put your heart into training when you’re able to so you can get back to where you want to be. When you’re training you’ve always got a target on your back because there’s always someone vying for your spot and up to this point you’ve probably been one of those people with a pretty big target on your back. Now you’re the one chasing the target though but keep in mind that that’s a good thing. Good solid, respectful competition amongst teammates can only make everyone better. It’s like how in order to have a really strong first eight you’ve gotta have an equally strong or nearly as strong second eight that pushes the first eight in every piece they do together. Keep in mind that that getting back to your former glory might not happen right away or even this season depending on how long you’re out but that’s no excuse to just give up entirely. Rob Gronkowski was out for like, two years with the issues he had with his arm and whatever else he had going on and this year he won Comeback Player of the Year. Be the Gronk of your team. Don’t look at the workouts you can do as lacking value just because they don’t involve 80′ of SS at 6k + 7″ or 30′ of 50 on/10 off circuits. Something is almost always better than nothing so find something you’re able to do and commit to it. Yoga is a good workout because is there really such a thing as too much flexibility when you’re a rower? Plus it’s relaxing (or so I’ve heard … I don’t really have the patience for it but the benefits for rowers really can’t be denied so it’s worth trying even if you’re impatient like me and prefer more high-intensity workouts). If you can do some core workouts, try to do 10-15 min (or whatever you can handle) of easy exercises that’ll at least help you maintain some some your core strength. My suggestion though, if you haven’t already, is to talk with a physical therapist or one of the trainers in the athletic department if you’re in college, simply because they can probably give you a better idea of what your body can tolerate (compared to what a general practitioner could) while you wait to hear what’s actually wrong with you. As long as you heed the advice of your doctors and don’t push yourself too far in the name of not losing any more speed then you’ll be fine.

Last thing I’d suggest is to look at this whole ordeal as an opportunity to really work on your mental toughness game. We’re all well aware of how important it is for an athlete to be mentally strong and situations like the one you’re in where you’re sidelined and having to watch everything happen without you can really test that (positively and negatively). There’s a reason why when elite athletes are injured part of their recovery training is regularly meeting with a sports psychologist. In most cases they’re part of their regular training plan too, even when they’re not injured. It’s a skill that has to be developed just like anything else so try to spend some time reading up on sport psychology (it really is a fascinating subject – easily one of my favorite classes at Syracuse), mindfulness training, etc. and start working some of those techniques into your everyday routine. I’m not sure about D2/D3 schools but most of the big D1 schools have sport psychologists on staff or at the very least have relationships with some at local hospitals that they could put you in touch with. It’s definitely something worth looking into though, especially if you think you might be out for an extended period of time.

Anyways, hopefully all that helps and gives you some food for thought. If anybody else has been in a similar situation or are dealing with something similar now, feel free to leave a comment down below with any advice, tips, or tricks you have on how to stay positive while not being able to train with your team.

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