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Habitual Excellence

BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY ED MORAN

It’s a sporting cliche but true: The little things add up. The accumulation of marginal gains can produce the desired outcome, eventually. With racing season here, rowers willing to do the following habitually will improve more and can develop a competitive edge.

Begin by setting goals (short, medium, and long-term) and then measure progress regularly and objectively. The introspection necessary for goal-setting requires answering the question “Why am I doing this?”, thus fueling the effort. Result-oriented goals are useful and common, but process-oriented goals hold us most accountable. Something as simple as “I will train for at least one hour six days this week” can keep you on track and moving forward when motivation falters.  

Arrive early, prepared for practice. Simply laying out the necessary clothes and packing the night before morning practice gets training started right. Being prepared builds confidence. Bring a clear mind to each session. Rowing practice is not the time or place to solve a relationship issue or worry about school. It should be a respite from troubles and a safe space to focus on one thing and one thing only: making fast boats. This focus brings more enjoyment and more progress.

Treat recovering as seriously as training. Many athletes will do the work; just look around at practice. Far fewer will organize themselves so that they rest and recover to get more benefit from training. Regularly get sufficient sleep (the single most neglected beneficial behavior among junior and college rowers), eat better, hydrate, socialize smartly, and generally maintain good health. Holding yourself to a higher standard of behavior opens  the possibility of achieving a higher level of performance.

Practice a positive attitude. It’s a learned skill, highly contagious, and when shared, a force multiplier. Embrace the challenge. Sometimes competitive rowing is just not fun.  Accept this and make the best of it. Whether it’s an especially long session, bad weather, or a blister; it shall pass. Suck it up and get on with it. Weaker athletes than you have survived worse.

Race through the finish line, not just to it. Finish strongly. Always step up at the end and raise the level of performance. Whether it’s the last 500 meters, the last piece of practice, or the final practice of the week, commit to making it the best. Show what you’re capable of. “Last one, fast one” is universal among top performers.

These small consistent efforts require no talent and little added exertion but yield many positive outcomes. The physical benefits are most obvious, but the acquired belief in oneself and confidence in one’s preparation provide the greatest advantage. Knowing you’ve done things the right way is a foundation upon which self-belief grows and big results are achieved.

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