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    Teaching Toughness

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    Races are often determined by an athlete’s willingness to push through the pain barrier. With only 40 strokes to go a crew could be behind by less than half a length but within striking distance of the leader.

    Rather than unleashing a do-or-die sprint, though, they simply didn’t respond and effectively handed the race to the other crew. But we have all witnessed many times when a crew got it right. A high school boat I coached once made it to the semifinals at Henley against the undefeated British junior national champions.

    The crews battled down the course with the lead changing hands several times. Our six seat later told me that with half a mile to go he thought he couldn’t row another stroke. But they still managed to wind it up for the finish and pass the British to win by a deck length.

    Interval training can help develop an athlete’s ability to push through the pain of exertion. Short bursts at high rates, followed by a rest period, and then another wave of hard strokes will increase an athlete’s tolerance to lactic acid.

    Interval training typically calls for rowers to hold a certain pace for each piece. Simply calling for incrementally faster interval times in the following session will help increase their ability to row through the pain.

    Another way to teach your rowers to row beyond themselves is to line the crew up according to erg score before an erg workout. After the piece, reset the lineup to reflect any changes in the rankings.

    You can talk with your athletes about what distractions or thoughts they can turn to in order to take their minds off of the task at hand, such as the cheering of the crowd, technical cues, or the boat just off their bow.

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