Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Importance of Recognizing Hard Work, Across All Sports

Obvious, right?
As we get into the swing of winter training, we begin the the most grueling period of preparation as we aim to peak in late in the spring, or early summer. Lots of mileage must be logged in order to build the aerobic foundation that will allow us go as fast as possible during the racing season. In the midst of all this, it is acceptable, and even good, to appreciate the difficulty of the work that you are doing and to understand the commitment and drive it takes to succeed as an athlete.

But don't be Captain Obvious.

Everyone knows it's hard. We don't have to constantly talk about how hard it is. This includes talking to teammates as well as your inner monologue. The more negative we become regarding what is simply the required level of training to succeed in our sport, the more it is going to make that training difficult to accomplish.

I believe there can be a significant benefit to treating the 'daily training grind' as no big deal—just doing what is required to put the money in the bank–rather than constantly patting oneself on the back for working so miserably hard. By talking about the sport and its training in these terms, and by thinking about it as some incredibly difficult feat, I think it makes it harder than it needs to be and, subconsciously, makes it something that we can despise doing at times. Thoughts like these might lead us to question why we do it, or how much longer we can do it. Yes, it's difficult and challenging for both the mind and the body, but that's the deal. Mens sana in corpore sano. That is how training and racing works and that is the beauty of sport—we push ourselves to the limit to see what we are truly capable of. It's often been said that 'sports don't build character, they reveal it.' I'm inclined to say that they do both.

We know that building endurance, strength and fitness is a process that takes time, dedication and good old hard work. We push our bodies in this way so that they must find a way to adapt, and become more efficient. You have to force yourself into this state as an active, daily pursuit. Training is not a passive exercise.

The goal in training is not to beat ourselves up and see how badly we can make it hurt. Sometimes I think people forget, or misunderstand, that reality. I find this to commonly be the case with young rowers, who often approach racing and training with the above mindset—i.e., 'this is going to be really hard, and it is going to hurt a lot.' While this may be true, is that the right mental approach to a race? The pain and physical difficulty is a byproduct of the work that it takes to train your body to adapt to become efficient, powerful and fast. It is important to keep the focus on going fast, a byproduct of which will include a significant amount of discomfort in the form of fatigue, pain and soreness as a result of putting significant demands on your body's systems.

Don't be a victim. Every elite athlete in an endurance sport trains very hard. It is not unique to rowing, yet sometimes I think rowers like to think they work harder than every other sport. That is simply not true in my opinion. There are two problems with this belief. First, it will stop you from achieving your best. If you believe what you are doing is harder than it actually is or should be, I believe it will limit your ability to perform well and excel. Whereas, an approach or belief that the training is challenging but completely doable, will lead to more success. Second, it leads to a lack of appreciation for other elite athletes and other sports, which stunts athletic maturation.

I have often heard rowers take shots at athletes in other sports, saying things like, "He has no idea how hard rowing is. If he got on the erg he would last for about 250 meters before realizing he couldn't do it." Is that true? And if so, maybe it is because they haven't logged the hours dedicated to training and preparation that the rowers have. Here is an example of a non-rower (who clearly has very little idea what he is doing) performing quite well on a 2k ergometer piece. Somehow, he's managed to get himself in pretty good shape without doing the same training that rowers do on a daily basis. I think the driving force behind this negative mindset with respect to other sports is the lack of attention and respect rowing gets from non-rowers, who don't understand the sport and have no idea what it takes to be good. While others may not understand or appreciate rowing, we shouldn't attempt to disparage their sport, or take away from its value, in an attempt to legitimize our own.

Elite marathon runners and swimmers log incredible volume, as do elite cyclists, triathletes and cross-country skiers. There are many ways to work hard and train your body to do amazing things. Anyone telling you that rowing is more difficult than sports like swimming, or track, is off base. At the Olympic level, and even at the highest level collegiately, runners, swimmers and other athletes work just has hard as the top rowers, if not harder. Yes, I am aware that the guys at the University of Washington train incredibly hard to be the best in the nation. I am also aware that the top 5k and 10k runners in the NCAA log up to 110-120 miles of running per week (an average of over 15 miles a day) in addition to supplemental work including strength training, stretching, and core strength. The amount of hours spent in the pool and cross-training at the top swimming programs in the NCAA is equally if not more impressive. Sports like football log a tremendous amount of time on a daily and weekly basis on the practice field, in the weight room, in film sessions, and in team meetings to get to where they want to be (add to this the fact that, in addition to training, there is often significant recovery from injury that must be compressed into the schedule). It's all grueling. Rowing is not unique in this respect.

Yes, rowing is hard. Yes, it is impressive what rowers accomplish in terms of their mental and physical fitness and discipline. But rather than seeing it as some kind of 'quién es más macho?' contest, rowers should see themselves within the larger context of endurance athletes, who work tremendously hard, pushing themselves to their physical limits to accomplish some very impressive things. The next time you see an athlete training hard in another sport, appreciate the work that he or she puts in, just like you, and resist any urge to compare his/her work to yours. There is a lot to be gained from having a greater understanding appreciation of, and ultimately respect for, all top flight athletes, in all sports.

-Justin and the RR Team

1 comment:

  1. Love this post!

    "Don't be a victim. Every elite athlete in an endurance sport trains very hard. It is not unique to rowing, yet sometimes I think rowers like to think they work harder than every other sport."

    ReplyDelete