Focus on Psychology

Uh, pardon the pun!

We have covered some topics in physiology, some in technology, and there are some tech issues coming soon, so what other sciences need some coverage? Please send comments if you have topics you want covered.

Today I was listening to the "Madden Minute" on the radio with NFL broadcaster and former coach John Madden. Strange person to give me thoughts for a rowing web site. He made a strong point though - as a coach you have to be yourself. You can look to other coaches for inspiration, you can model their tactics and their approach to the sport, but in terms of personality you can only be you. A quiet thinker cannot become a domineering, angry coach just because he admires someone else. So - applications to rowing - plenty I'm sure, but it leads me to thoughts about psychology - which is essentially what Madden was talking about. Athletes and Coaches give it a wide variety of importance in their training from zero - typical probably - to those who insist that at high levels very little except psychology separate crews.

A few interesting links for you to peruse: has an article on the Psychology of Rowing, based on what the author read in Modern Rowing by Paul C. Wilson (Stackpole Co.: Mechanicsburg, PA, 1969).

The article concludes with some advice 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 coach should tell the oarsperson at the beginning of the outing 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. The coach should 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.

This article includes links to several other rowing specific articles on psychology. Interesting reading.

Athletic Insight is an online journal that publishes sport psychology articles regularly. If you have a keen interest, this is a good resource on the web. The articles are academic, and definitely not rowing-specific. But they do cover a wide variety of topics.

Unlike many topics there don't seem to be a great deal of net resources on sports psychology. I have enjoyed some excellent books that deal with mental preparation and provide many tools for goal setting, competition and pre-competition plans and more. In a few upcoming posts I will refer to some of these tools and how you can incorporate them into your training and coaching.

Have you found good resources on the web, or elsewhere? Share them with all of the readers here in the comments section.

See Sports Psych Books at

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