In Part 1, we talked about the basic skills of goal-setting, progressive muscle relaxation, cognitive reframing, and positive self-talk. This article will continue with some more basic mental skills that you can incorporate right away into your training. Remember, mental training is just like physical training in that you can’t just flip a switch and be in shape. It will take time and dedication to improve, and from reduced anxiety to increased performance to improved focus and happiness in sport, the benefits are worth the work.
4. Visualization & Imagery
- Create a positive picture of success in a controllable environment and mentally rehearse your actions to improve focus and familiarity when you do them physically.
Visualization, imagery, and mental rehearsal are terms used to describe creating a mental picture of a positive outcome. You can visualize your performance from the perspective of an outside observer or spectator or from a first-person view. Either is useful based on personal preference. Spend 5-10 minutes the night before training or competing imagining in vivid detail the workout or race, focusing on positive elements under your control.
Engage all senses to create a vivid mental picture. Hear the sound of the erg fan, feel the sweat trickle, smell the crisp morning air, feel the oar in your hands, see the buoys fly past you as you race.
Focus only on positive thoughts and remember to visualize success with any technical cues you’re working on as well as the physical effort of the race or training session.
Like many sport psych routines, visualization may feel silly at first. Fake it ‘til you make it. You weren’t a perfect rower the first time you sat in a boat, and your mental skills won’t be perfect the first time either. You will get better with dedication.
COXSWAINS: Visualization can be extremely useful for you to mentally rehearse your race plan, steering the course, and your calls, as well as the practice plan, technical focus of drills, and which pieces will be particularly tough for your rowers.
5. Pre-Practice & Performance Routines
- Use routines to get into a consistent and focused mental state for training or racing
Our brains love routines. You probably have several routines without knowing it, such as a set land warm-up, a sequence of water warm-up drills for practice, a race plan, even a specific pre-race song or moment with your teammates.
Sticking to routines help eliminate distractions and improve focus. Imagine the opposite of routines–total randomness. Waking up on race day not knowing where you are, how to get to the venue, where to find food or what food is even available, where your boat will be at the venue, if it will be rigged already, or what your launch/race time is. It’s safe to say that you wouldn’t be at your best focus, even if you did manage to get to the start line.
Going beyond incidental routines into intentional routines helps improve focus and performance even further.
Take a few minutes to write down 3-5 things that you are 100% in control of and like to do before practice. Stick to it for at least a week before making changes. For example, a short playlist for the commute to the boathouse, a certain pre-practice meal, or a certain order of doing things to get ready for practice. Do the same for race day, and then make it happen. If you write down “coffee, perfectly-ripe banana, and a protein shake 60 minutes before launching,” bring your own coffee, hot water, perfectly-ripe banana, and protein shake so you are 100% in control of your situation and not left sifting frantically through the banana bin before your event. Remove uncertainty and guesswork before training and competing to allow you to focus on the task at hand. Leave no doubt that you will succeed.
COXSWAINS: Use routines to make sure that you’re personally prepared for each race and training session. Make sure you’re well-fed, adequately clothed for weather, and have all of your tools or personal items as part of your pre-practice routine. If you receive the practice plan ahead of time, part of your routine can be going over it with your fellow coxswains. Your pre-race routine will likely also include checking speakers and headsets in boats, keeping your rowers on track, and making sure to launch, warm-up, and line up at the appropriate times.
6. Mental Reset Routines
- Create a physical cue to re-focus after an error or adverse event
“Great athletes must have short term memory for successes and failures.” Reset routines are physical and/or mental routines that focus on cues to mentally reset after a mistake, adverse event, or even a successful event. This helps minimize positive and negative emotional carryover from one event to the next, creating a more consistent state of mind. A baseball player’s pre-batting routine is a great example of a reset routine. It clears their mind from the previous pitch and allows them to focus on the next pitch. The same can be done in-between pieces on the erg, sets in the weightroom, or pieces on the water. I have had my JV lacrosse players physically brush off their shoulders after sloppy passes to “wipe away” the mistake and reset them for the next drill. For rowers, a good reset routine could be something like rotating your handle three times, repeating a mantra, checking your oarlock or footstretchers, slapping your legs, or another brief movement done deliberately to get you ready for the next drill, piece, or set.
COXSWAINS: Mental reset routines are just as useful for you to clear your mind and re-focus. You can also remind your rowers to do this in the boat by instructing them to take a few seconds to reset between pieces.
Part 3: Arousal management, injuries, and putting it all together