Why your race was not as good as your practice


Was your Henley disappointing?  Did your crew fail to row as well in the competition as you did during practices?

Exhausted Rowers. Exhausted Rowers. Picture credit C Dinares

You aren’t alone – there are many reasons why your particular crew may have failed to live up to your expectations.  Let’s run through some that you can use to improve for next year.

  1. Make your practice mentally harder
  2. Make your competition as relaxed as possible
  3. Use performance routines
  4. Practice racing more often

Now let’s review each one.

Mental toughness like any training comes from doing it, and doing it regularly.  So take a look back over an average week of your training.  How would you score your personal performance in training based on being mentally tough?  When did you exhibit real tough training “grit” and determination?  Was every hard stroke really hard?  Did you slack off during a training piece, even for one stroke?  If you are a coach, you can increase the mental challenge in training in three ways

  • Do training pieces side by side or chasing another crew – use handicaps to encourage a fast crew to get faster
  • Set targets for the crew on the water – use Coxmate GPS to set an average boat speed at a fixed rate.
  • Set targets for individuals off the water – when on the erg use testing to set training zones and re-test regularly to ensure athletes continue striving to achieve their target splits on the ergo.

Make your competition as relaxed as possible comes from two things – controlling the things you can control and not worrying about the things you cannot control.  So if you race when it’s raining – don’t stress, it’s the same for the other crews.  Their handles will be wet.  But control what you can by taking sponges in the boat so you can bail out excess rainwater before the start.

Performance routines are practiced and repeated and that familiarity enables the crew to calm down and focus on performing well.  BUT the routine is only as good as the practice.  If your warm-up is sloppy in training, don’t expect a good routine in racing.  Read Duncan Holland’s recipe for a good regatta warm up.   A routine can also be what you do before the race, the night before, your check list for packing your kit bag, the music you listen to, how you stretch, when you do your last loo-stop, what the coxswain says in the pre-race outing.  All these things can help prepare you for racing and for delivering a good performance.

Practice racing – get out there and do lots of racing in real regatta situations.  Put yourself and your crew under pressure by challenging yourselves – race up a class, swap sides and race a smaller regatta, go out in small boats pairs, singles.  It’s only by practicing racing that you get to enjoy the process and become more familiar with how your body reacts – after which you can train your body to improve its response under pressure.

By enjoying the PROCESS of going out to race, you are far more likely to create an environment in which you can perform well under pressure.

Do a Season Review

Lastly, get the crew and coach together with your club captain one last time.  And do a review of the whole season.  Treat this as

Leander club, rowing crew, losing race, Leander’s stroke is exhausted after losing a race. Photo credit: HearTheBoatSing blog

the very first planning session for next year (even if you personally don’t plan on racing, you will be helping the club).

Do a Rowing Season Review as a group.  We set out 7 steps to take – think of this as advanced goal setting for your training group in the club.  It’s very beneficial if you all answer honestly.

The inspiration for this post came from the Condor Performance Blog.


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