The Rowing Mind – Performance Under Pressure (Part 3)


This is part three of Katherine Sparks’ blog series on “The Rowing Mind – Performance Under Pressure”. Katie is an ESRC-funded sport psychology doctoral student at the University of Birmingham. She is a lover of all things rowing-related, as well as a passionate writer working to bridge the gap between academia and practice (read part one and part two by clicking the link). In part three she summarizes the findings of her study entitled:

Mindfulness, secret to success?

Following on from my second study that revealed that excessive conscious processing can be detrimental for performance, I explored a way to taper these conscious processes, through examining the act of mindfulness.

State mindfulness is a temporary state of present moment awareness of thoughts, emotions and sensations that can be induced with practice (Kiken, Garland, Bluth, Palsson, & Gaylord, 2015).

State mindfulness is formed of three aspects:

  • Awareness of current thoughts,
  • Acceptance of one’s current thoughts and bodily sensations, and
  • Goal-relevant attention focus.

State mindfulness was found to attenuate the act of conscious processing in rowers during competition, the possible mechanism is described below.

The proposed mechanism:

During the learning of a skill, there’s an accumulation of technical instructions/rules in the working memory, component of the short-term memory (STM). These rules are consolidated into the procedural memory, part of the long-term memory (LTM).

Following repetitions of this, this movement becomes automatised and no longer relies on the working memory, therefore it is performed somewhat sub-consciously and is stable if performed under pressure.

Under pressure, as discussed in last week’s blog post, some athletes will reinvest

This tends to an anxiety induced action, whereby learnt technical instruction is reinvested back into the working memory, resulting in the disruption of the skills automaticity and skill is executed with excessive conscious control.

Mindfulness, according to my research, attenuates reinvestment, there are two possible processes for this, either it prevents judgmental thinking such as rumination. The athlete accepts their technical mistakes instead of excessively overthinking what caused it to occur which can lead them to control their movements overly consciously.

Additionally, it may be preventing reinvestment through the athletes being aware of each new moment rather than irrelevant information, i.e. worrisome thoughts, previous actions, pressure etc.

Furthermore, my study found that mindfulness attenuated, particularly, movement self-consciousness, therefore rowers were less worried about what others thought about their rowing movements (self-presentational concerns). This in turn may have reduced their anxiety levels, preventing reinvestment being activated.

Together these results further support the promising effects of mindfulness.

Mindfulness has also been linked to other benefits such as stress reduction, less anxiety, increased concentration, focus and flow state.

In my upcoming study, I plan to investigate whether mindfulness and certain conscious process can be primed (activated) in rowers and if this can affect their performance.

The outcome of this study should help in the development of a psychological intervention to aid all rower’s performance, not just those that are susceptible to underperform when in pressured situations.

If you would like to participate in my new online study then please follow the link: I’d greatly appreciate it and in return you will be added to a prize draw and sent the results (please follow the instructions at the end of the survey). All level rowers, over the age of 16 and has rowed in the last 16 months can partake (see poster).

TIP: So, what can you do right now to aid performance? Engage with mindfulness meditation, movement or yoga, however it takes commitment, similar to training your body, you need to do mindfulness practice consistently for it to have an effect. Please get contact if you have any questions or would like some more information (

Mindfulness can be a real asset in rowing success! (Credit: Flickr, valgall)

Katie would love your support for her scientific research! Your can partcipate in her latest study when you follow the link: Also take a look at the poster for the study.



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