Rowing Psychology: Daily Training Goals

One of the first subjects that comes up when looking at Sports Psychology is Goal Setting. Everyone has heard about it and it is a safe and familiar place to start. So what can we add to the discussion?

How about a focus on daily training goals. Anyone can dream about where they want to go. Anyone can dream about the big goal at the end of the season - but what comes first?

It is important to have a specific goal for each workout if you want to get the most out of them. For coaches it ensures efficient sessions that fit in with the overall plan for the season (you have one, don't you?). For athletes, it lets them know exactly what will be expected of them so that they can give 100% attention to the session.

Terry Orlick in his book Psyching for Sport: Mental Training for Athletes (1986, p.17) discusses this topic. As with the rest of Orlick's work, it is well worth taking a look at. Orlick suggests that you ask three questions before each session:

1. What am I going to do today (physical training/skill refinement goals)?

2. How am I going to approach what I'm going to do today (e.g. intensity, concentration, positiveness)?

3. What am I going to do today to improve my mental strength (psychological training goals)?

I wholeheartedly agree with Orlick's statement:

"I believe that setting specific training goals and bringing the highest quality of effort to training is a major factor that currently separates great athletes from good ones."

In fact, this may well apply more to rowers than many other athletes? Why - we spend more time training, especially at the junior level, than many other sports do. I believe that when given more time on the water the incentive to use it efficiently can be lost. Instead of three focused sessions in a week , the coach who gets six, nine or more may begin to simply throw their athletes on the water with less preparation, and more assumptions - "just like yesterday, let's go" - is a commonly heard pre-training chat from a coach. This is not to say that more sessions are bad. But I do feel that if not used carefully there can be a real case of diminishing returns.

How can you achieve the proper preparation with your athletes? Or as an athlete?

Firstly, the athletes need to know as much as possible about the plan - long and short term. Plans change, but it is better to have a plan and change it, than to have no plan at all.

Secondly, encourage the athletes to do some reflection - let them know today what will happen tomorrow (or whenever the next session is) - and have them think about how they intend to approach that session - training logs or journals aren't used frequently, but they can be a powerful tool for this.

Third, review it on the dock before the session. Don't just preach - discuss. "Suzy, how are you going to approach today's row - do you have a goal for your own improvement?" You probably don't have the luxury of doing this with everyone (in fact you'd bore your crew to death), but like a teacher leading a class discussion that one question and answer stimulates thought in everyone.

Finally, I would encourage the use of technology. Time seems short always so use tools that help. One coach I respect a great deal e-mails his crew every day before practice. They are in the habit of checking - why?, because it involves them in their training. I know another coach that uses a Blog to communicate with his crew and it allows the athletes to participate in the discussion.

Have you any other thoughts or ideas on the topic that you can share with our readers? Please add to the comments section.


Psyching for Sport by Terry Orlick at

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