Help! Our daughter hates ergs

Canada university rowing: Photo Credit Trent University

Following our article Why do Rowers Fear the Erg, we got several comments including this story.  The author would like answers so please comment.

I have a very different and specific case of Erg Hate that I am hoping I can get some input on finding a solution to. Please bear with me as this is very long and very tough.

The person who hates the erg with all passion is my 19 year daughter.

First the background:

My daughter rowed all 4 years in high school with considerable on-water success winning several high school national championship races and others. They also logged vast miles on the erg during the winter. Her erg results at competition and in testing were quite reasonable for her age group, particularly since she weighed only 115lb. She always placed in the top group but was never quite fast enough to make “elite” status. Of course, only a very few are that fast. That was fine with her as she had no aspirations to compete at the elite level or beyond university. Both her high school and the club she rows at used erg testing only to rank the athletes for seat racing. There were never any cuts and team and boat selection was never done based on erg results alone. My daughter was quite successful with seat racing and consistently made the top boats. Even though she wasn’t the strongest girl on the team, the coaches usually assigned her to stroke seat because of her tenacity, technical ability and her ability to pull an amazing finish out of nowhere.

Tragically, just before she was to head off to university for her first year and with the hopes of rowing on the varsity team, her 17 year old very close friend and crew mate died suddenly while completing a 2k erg test. As expected, this was devastating to not only my daughter but to our whole rowing community. One week before my daughter headed off to training camp, along with her 4+ crew, she spoke at and was a pall bearer at her friend’s funeral.

Canada university rowing: Photo Credit Trent University
Canada university rowing: Photo Credit Trent University

The first 2k test after tragedy

The first full day of training camp, the team hopefuls were required to complete a 2k erg test. The coaches had been made aware of the situation with my daughter and were most accommodating and understanding. Not wanting to appear wimpy in front of the others or having the others think that she was getting special treatment, my daughter opted to pull the 2k test despite having a great deal of fear. For the hour before the test, she hid in the bathroom vomiting with the anxiety. Despite this, she persevered and completed the full 2k. Understandably, her time wasn’t that great and was almost 20s off her PB. Her father and I were amazed that she completed it at all and to us, that was a tremendous win for her, regardless of her time. Thankfully, the coaches had a kind spirit and offered her a spot on the varsity team based on her exceptional on-water results. That fall she rowed varsity and enjoyed the warm team environment immensely. During the fall season (the main competitive season for Canadian universities), there was very little erging; they trained on the erg only on a few occasions of inclement weather.

The new rowing coach comes in

Once the fall season was complete, a brand new head coach took the helm and changed the rules for the team. Even if the rowers had made varsity for the fall season, they had to make a minimum erg standard in either a 2k or 6k to remain on the varsity team for winter training (keeping in mind that in Canada, the main university rowing season is the fall. There is no spring on-water season – once April exams are complete, the students head home for the remainder of the spring and summer and row with their home club). Again, the anxiety for my daughter resurfaced. With a lot of calls home with many many tears, she opted this time to abstain from doing the 2k even though in the past she had made the particular standard that was set. She was however, going to give the 6k a shot. She was almost successful with the 6k, coming up only 13s short of making the standard (which happened to be a new personal best for her despite what she was going through) and performing better than many of her more senior lightweight teammates. Interestingly, most of the other lightweight girls did not make the standards either and were subsequently cut. I believe that only 2-3 lightweight girls made the standard.

Like the other girls who didn’t make the standard, even though most of them were in their senior year and had rowed for the university for 3+ years, my daughter was cut from the winter varsity team. She was sad for herself but also very sad for all the other girls that had participated in the varsity program for the last 3 years and had enjoyed securing 2nd place wins in the province for the previous several seasons and now found themselves cut from the team. (First place consistently went to the university located where the women’s national team trains and many women who have high hopes of making the national team someday select this university to attend. They have an intense program and they work hard.)

Persevere with training

Despite the setback, my daughter wasn’t ready to give up on the sport and she committed herself to training by herself during the winter. With no direction from the new head coach, she made up a workout program for herself that involved a lot of cross training – running and cycling as well as weights. As time permitted, the now retired former head coach lent a hand to her. Erging was kept to a minimum of mostly 2 and but as often as 3 days per week. That was all she could bear of the erg. Because she wasn’t allowed to use the varsity ergs, she instead used the few poorly maintained ergs in the general athletic centre. Most of them didn’t have a drag factor that worked and the chain felt like it was being pulled through gravel. Despite the loneliness, she persevered over the winter, maintaining as much fitness as she could while juggling her demanding science courses and adjusting to university life away from home. She enjoyed her first year, loves the university itself despite the new direction the rowing team has taken and made loads of friends. I think she did a stellar job.

When she returned home in April after the school year ended, she hit the water right away. I had been lucky enough to purchase a lightweight single (for myself) that she trained in everyday. She continued to row and compete for our club all summer with mediocre results in her first year as a U23 lightweight. I think that she was a little disappointed, not realizing the depth of competition at that level, but she was the only U23 woman at our club and she sure doesn’t have a passion for racing singles! Rather she prefers fours and quads because of the wonderful camaraderie that they offer her. She is definitely a big team girl! Our club did move some younger girls up so she had an opportunity to row the bigger boats as well for which she is thankful for. Actually, she ended up stroking a U23 Womens 4x to a gold medal at our provincial championship regatta with these Junior girls.

Anyway, to bring this story to an end and get to my point, the new head coach continued his requirement for all rowers to achieve an erg standard to be granted a spot on the varsity team for the fall season. She attempted both the 2k and 6k and was short in both so didn’t make the team. The standard set is an aggressive “elite” standard and much more stringent than the previous winter standard and the women’s team was trimmed from previous years by more than 75%, the men by more than 50%. The new coach’s preference is to have a very trim elite level team that focuses only on small boats. Not my daughter’s cup of tea. No other university in Canada has this approach from what I can tell.

Like the other girls who didn’t make standard, my daughter rowed for the local club for the fall season where they competed in head races rather than the university circuit. She enjoyed it even though it didn’t have the same “glitter” as representing her university. Now that the winter is here again, she didn’t even bother trying to make the more relaxed erg standard set for the winter as she knows that the current team environment isn’t what she is after. The new university team no longer has the warm team environment that she enjoyed. She instead has joined some of the other rowing cast offs and is training with the university triathlon club for the wonderful team environment they have even though she has no intent of competing in that sport. And she continues to do weights on her own which she loves.

The ergo remains a problem

Sadly though, my daughter has developed an absolute hatred for the erg machine. While she no longer fears it as she did right after her friend died, the erg simply represents to her so much loss. Loss of her friend and crew mate and the lost opportunity for the warmth of a large team environment because of the new direction that the university team has made of making elite erg standards so necessary.

As we know, the erg can be a wonderful training tool and with her continued desire to row at the club level, she may miss the opportunity for more sport specific training. I also fear that if she never overcomes her feelings for it, it will haunt her in the future. I don’t want her to reach some point in her life where she has regrets.

Do any of you have any ideas of how she can alter her mindset and overcome the hatred, or at least bring it down a few notches?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Her father and I haven’t pushed anything regarding the erg and are just happy that she has found another sport that she enjoys to keep her active for the winter. For us, it’s about her participating in a sport that gives her joy and hopefully, a long life of healthy living.

Thank you! Sorry for the length of this post.

9 thoughts on “Help! Our daughter hates ergs

  1. Steve Taylor says:

    Treat the ergo like golf – play against yourself and try your best to get constant improvement or at least maintain your performance. As you get older, you’ll be competing with work, family and aging to just maintain your performance, but you should reap the benefits. If you have your own ergo and can put a TV up in front of it that can help make the time go faster (although I always find I can never remember exactly what I’ve “watched” after I’ve finished).

    If you can ergo with your family or friends all the better – nothing better than a rate-capped 10k done in time – I’d recommend mother and daughter sessions. In the UK, a masters C mother or father should be about the same speed as a J15/16 girl or boy. What better feeling for a child to be able to beat their parent and to know that once they have beaten you, they should never be slower than you, and what a challenge to us parents!

    If the machine you use has an online database of results (like the Concept log and rankings https://log.concept2.com/rankings), set a goal to be in the top 10% or top 25% of your category (by age, weight or however you wish to narrow it down) and this will let you know where you are relative to others, but without any pressure. You can also use this to specialize in different distances from 100m to a full marathon and you will almost certainly find you can excel at some distances and may even be able to be top 5 in your category. If a parent and child does this in their respective categories, they can compare the percentiles – are you both top 10% or is one top 10% and the other top 25%?

    If you keep the ergo up, improving or at least maintaining your performance, you will be able to make almost any club crew go faster and they will appreciate you more and more as everyone ages. If families and friends train together, the benefits for both could be massive…

    One “fun” thing to do (which I did with my wife and son this summer) is an annual ergo day or two. On the first day, do every distance from 100m to 6k (100m, 1 minute, 500m, 1k, 4 minutes, 2k, 5k, 6k). The father (person you want to suffer the most) or fastest person starts (they get less rest) and you rotate. If there are three of you, this will take a morning. You can then do some or all of the 30 minutes, 10k, 1 hour, half marathon and marathon on subsequent days. Having done as many as you can, check your rankings and make sure that the splits improve as the distance get shorter. Target the ones that need improvement and do those again: you should find that your 10k splits are faster than the 5k and 6k so they becomes easy improvements. At the end of this, you have a great base of results that you can improve on in the rest of the year. (Note this is especially “fun” for the child watching their parents…)

  2. Pedro says:

    One of the therapies that could help her process her aversion to the erg could be EMDR (see https://emdria.site-ym.com/?page=emdr_therapy )
    Is a way to help process traumatic events in a way that she could deal with her fears and move on. This usually only involves few sessions and is reasonably simple to do for the person with the right guidance.
    Hope this helps. I am a Child Psychiatrist in the UK

  3. John Mandziuk says:

    I am sorry to hear this story but without laying judgment on the coach involved it seems to be a growing problem. There is what I would consider a mistaken idea that if you focus on a smaller group of elite athletes rather than the development of the sport the sport nationally and in your University will rise. T problem with that is that though it seems to work well in the short run, participation in the sport dwindles and long-run results in the sport cannot help but eventually follow. Besides, we all know athletes that are erg monsters that cannot replicate on water and also those that do not quite have the erg score but the boat just runs better with them in it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Craig Kirker says:

    There are several therapies that are very effective at resolving such “association” issues. The common thread is that they deal at the subconcious level and actually address the emotional attachment. One does not fit all, however so it may require some exploration/reading/.research to see which appeals to her at a gut level. NLP, Neurolinguistic programming has been around for quite some time and is very effective at similar situations (personal experience included), Journey work as developed by Brandon Bays (book of same name) is similar but different in the approach, there are a few others esoterically named by there founders and tend to be a bit more practitioner dependent as to outcomes; Hypnotherapy as particularly practised by Jennifer ALexander in Calgary (jenniferevealexander@gmail.com), EMDR similar again but based on eye movements and kinesiologic testing but definitely worth a look. IN Calgary there are few practitioners worth looking into Including Holly James (EMDR), IRis Ferguson at Innovations Health 403-474-6979.
    SUch associations can DEFINITELY be altered for the better and many have been successfully resolved. Kudo’s to you for getting after this early and not leaving it until it manifests as huge problems later in life. Best of luck.

  5. Pete says:

    Sad story.
    To my mind, the motivation is all about not seeing the erg as the vehicle of loss but change that to the vehicle of new beginnings. Row the erg to honour the memory of a lost friend doing what needed to be done to earn the privilege to go rowing.

  6. graham cawood says:

    Greetings. I can’t say I like erging. My daily sweaty 30 minutes seem to take several hours. However it makes ME feel good. I don’t care that noone else notices what I do, or that I’ve never won a race. When I see me in the mirror as I go to wash off the sweat, I smile at the way I look, warts and all, I smile. When I go around town and see all those who are not looking after themselves, I smile. When I see good looking people who like me are looking after themselves, I smile.
    Each day I AM A WINNER- even with a new hip, bypass surgery, and 70 years.

    Why the erg? It can be done any time, and gives an exact measure of performance. In fact it was my daily erg scores that led to my life saving bypass surgery.

    Your Daughter is amazing! SMILE!!

  7. Will Ruth says:

    Hi Rebecca and Rowperfect Reader,

    The death of a friend and teammate is an extremely tough thing for any person to deal with, especially at your daughter’s young age, and then especially with having to confront the cause of death so soon after. That is all very traumatic, and rightly so. First, has she sought specific individual counseling? Being able to talk about all of this with a qualified and licensed counselor would likely be extremely helpful for her. In the USA, we have the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) as the main national group of sport psychology counselors. This would be my highest recommendation, as they are trained in both psychological counseling and also working with athletes, and commonly have an athletic background themselves. I am not sure what similar options exist in other countries, but I would imagine that there are similar groups and services available.

    http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/certification/find-a-consultant/

    Speaking much more broadly about erg fear, hate, or anxiety, I wrote a piece on my website called “Overcoming Erg Fear,” sort of as a companion piece to the Rowing Related editorial. It is my advice as a student of sport psychology, a former rower who struggled with erg fear, and a current coach, that one prong of the plan to defeat erg fear be sport psychology skills at the individual level. Rowing is a hard, hard sport, make no mistake about it, and the pressure to train harder and harder under more intense conditions and to perform at higher levels can be a lot to handle. My article addresses five skills that an individual rower can start right away to begin working on their erg fear.

    https://rowingstronger.com/2015/11/30/overcoming-erg-fear/

    Again, let me please be very clear that I do not think that any online advice or resource will be as helpful for your daughter as the opportunity to talk with a counselor or sport psychology counselor.

    The final issue to tackle is that of coaching education, and helping coaches use the erg in more sensible and responsible ways. This is hard to address, as it’s very case-by-case and not every coach is open-minded about it. Many coaches and programs take the “meat on the wall” approach in which “the strong survive,” and athletes quitting over erg fear is a goal for them, not a drawback. I think this is a huge mistake and am doing what I can with my platform to help other coaches understand why and how they can coach better. You can also listen to our episode of the “Strength Coach Roundtable” podcast here on RPUK’s Rowing Chat that details sport psychology for rowers. We feature another coaching change-maker, Sara Hendershot-Lombardi, to talk about her experiences and skills as well. One of the reasons that this is so hard to tackle is that the individual rower is not often left with much recourse against a coach who may not be using the erg responsibly. I don’t know how to solve this problem, unfortunately, except to make a case FOR responsible erg training and try to align and recruit as many other coaches to that vision as possible.

    Please feel free to comment here or contact me directly if I can be of any further help. I’ve received a lot of emails from other rowers and parents struggling with this too, and my “Overcoming Erg Fear” article is one of my most popular on my website. It certainly seems to be a pressing issue for many in the rowing world.

    Will Ruth
    strengthcoachwill@gmail.com
    RowingStronger.com

  8. Peter Mills says:

    Is this what they call a “millennial” issue?
    Every rowing program in the entire world has selection in part based on performance on the erg. There just requires some deep soul searching and if performance rowing squad is an issue the join a masters programme for the sheer joy of rowing.

  9. Eugenia Marcus, MD says:

    I am a pediatrician in Massachusetts. I row and erg with a club called CRI (Community Rowing Inc.). My professional opinion is that your daughter should get help from a sports psychologist. This is a mental health issue and should be addressed rather than swept away. An important piece of information will be what led to her friend’s death. There are conditions that can lead to a young person dying during an athletic event and there are ways to make sure that your daughter doesn’t have the same condition and would not be at risk. You can write to me and I will discuss this with you privately if you want to. Also, there are psychologists that specialize in your daughter’s problem and you should locate one.

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