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A Matter of Commitment

BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY ED MORAN

Coaches help athletes learn to ask more of themselves. Most obviously, this involves helping rowers acquire the capacity to pull harder; to make a greater physical effort.

Equally important, and often more satisfying, is coaching the daily habits and behaviors necessary for athletic success–that is, coaching commitment. This is especially valuable for athletes separated from organized team practices and supportive coaches and peers, such as during Covid lockdowns or vacation periods. To foster commitment, coaches must outline what their expectations are or, put another way, what the athletes’ stated goals require of them. Giving athletes a five-step ladder of commitment shows them where their behavior places them on the road to their goals, thus facilitating athletic growth, increased accountability, and greater commitment.

On the ladder’s bottom rung, athletes lack commitment. Their behavior–the choices they make– inhibits improvement and contributing to the team. “I didn’t mean to sprain my knee” is an excuse. “I won’t skateboard during racing season” is a commitment. Injuries, illnesses, academic troubles, insufficient recovery, and alcohol abuse are largely preventable with good decisions. Committed athletes make choices, not sacrifices, that enhance rather than jeopardize the probability of success.

On the second rung, athletes do too little and/or do the wrong thing. Skipping consecutive days of training means de-training. Lifting heavy weights that build up the chest and shoulders is an activity that, unlike cross-training, is useless for rowing. At this level of commitment, an athlete falls out of shape over vacation and has to begin the conditioning process all over again upon resuming organized practices. Committed athletes do not waste their limited precious time.

The middle tier is maintaining–not falling behind, but not improving. Here scholastic and club athletes are active, exercise regularly, and do not miss consecutive days, but they do less than normal. They are ready to resume full team training without needing to build back into it. Nothing is lost, but nothing is gained. It’s an average effort that yields average results.

A higher level of commitment consists of doing what’s expected. This includes rowing-specific training. This is where most athletes operate when with their team; they follow the program. It’s demanding and produces improvement but is difficult to sustain without a supportive surrounding environment. Doing this on one’s own for a sustained period is impressive and effective.

At the top of the commitment ladder, athletes exceed expectations. Expectations differ, depending upon the athlete’s goals. A middle-school rower could exceed expectations and operate at this highest level of commitment, while an Olympic candidate may fall short. Here, athletes diligently work on their weaknesses. They do the right things that are harder rather than just the easier, more comfortable ones. They exhibit drive, initiative, and smarts. It’s not necessarily doing more (quantity); it’s often doing things better (quality). This requires true ownership of the process and outcome. You’ll immediately recognize an athlete with this level of commitment. They stand out from, and above, the crowd and more often stand on the podium.

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