Is Your Head Getting in the Way of Your Performance?

Success in rowing is all about your mental ability to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt; about your ability to master your imagined limits.

What does it take for you to reach your potential as an athlete and rower? The challenges in rowing are the competition between you and the race course; you and the erg; you and the clock; you and the opposition. But even more between you and your mind. Success in rowing is all about your mental ability to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt, about your ability to master the limits that you think you have. The endurance sport athlete’s most formidable opponent can be found in the mirror. Look at yourself! You are both the problem and the solution!

Are you mentally tough as a rower? Is mental training an active part of your preparation or simply an after-thought? Do you know how to consistently harness the power of your mind to lift the level of your performance? Or are you your own worst enemy out there, the kind of athlete who beats him/herself up well before the set’s or race’s finish? Perhaps you have that knack of always going faster in practice than in races? Maybe there are certain opponents who you should be beating, but you always seem to lose to? Do you always seem to choke when it comes to those important erg tests?

Mastering the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt.

  1. You need to learn to keep your focus on what you are DOING and not on what you are THINKING.
  2. You do this by keeping your focus on FEEL, on the rhythm of your stroke, your timing, etc.
  3. Be aware whenever your focus drifts to your thoughts, and immediately bring it back to FEEL.
  4. Be prepared to continue to “reset” each and every time your focus drifts.
  5. Remember, thoughts about your time, your opponents, what others might think of you, take your focus away from feel.

Keep your focus AWAY from the pain and discomfort and ON your rhythm, stroke, timing, etc.


Do you have a meaningful goal that helps keep you focused and moving forward through the brutal and sometimes monotonous grind of daily training? Without a “big enough WHY” or a personally-compelling goal, your motivation will stall out. You have to be able to ask yourself on a daily basis, “how is what I’m doing right now going to help me get to my goal?” Far too many rowers make a “deal with the devil.” That is, they trade what they want the most for what they want right now.

Remember, you can’t become a winner without first paying your physical dues. However, once you’ve put all that time into your physical training, you need to then work on systematically developing the mental toughness of a champion. Don’t leave this all-important part of your sport to chance.

MENTAL TIPS: Developing mental toughness.

  1. Consistently “pushing the envelope.” You have to be willing to regularly bust your butt. That is, you must live the winner’s creed; get comfortable being uncomfortable!
  2. Developing the ability to handle competitive pressure. If you can’t learn to control your nerves, then you’ll never race to your potential. Staying cool in the clutch is a mental skill that you can easily master with practice.
  3. Ability to deal with adversity, setbacks and failure. Winners build their success on their failures. They learn from their mistakes and then leave them behind. When things go badly for you, don’t get mad, get curious. Ask yourself, “What did I do that didn’t work?” and “What do I need to do differently next time?”
  4. Mental preparation ahead of time. Use imagery or mental rehearsal to maximize your chances of success? Mental practicing what you want to feel and have happen can significantly help you stay calm in the clutch and build your confidence?
  • I love your 14 Steps program and so do my rowers! I play it regularly and I can see a huge difference in how they train, and more importantly, how they race! For me it's a treat to see the excitement in their eyes whenever they race instead of the fear! You've got a wonderful product there!

    Adam New York
  • I always seemed to fall apart whenever I tested on the erg. I would get too caught up with those around me and then I'd get nervous. When this happened I'd lose my energy and row like I was totally out of shape. Your 14 steps program taught me how to focus before my tests (and races too!)

    Janice Pennsylvania
  • My great practice times never translated into fast races.  Your program has really opened my eyes and helped me see that I needed to focus more on what I was doing and not thinking! And now I am competing the way I train! My confidence is way up and my nerves are finally under control!

    Kenny Louisiana

With a little work, these mental skills – as well as a few important others – can be systematically trained to the point where you develop the reputation as a mentally tough competitor.

As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with worked with high school, collegiate and Olympic caliber rowers from around the country, helping them develop mental toughness, and perform to their potential. He was recently a featured presenter at the USA Rowing convention. He is the author of the revolutionary book, This Is Your Brain On Sports. And be sure to check out his popular Mental Toughness Training Package



OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE FEARS AND BLOCKS Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities? FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!

THE MENTAL SIDE OF ATHLETIC INJURIES The mental pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this type of pain is directly addressed and “treated”, your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete.


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