Coaches' Corner: Getting Your Groove Back

'The catch' (Photo: B. Kitch) 
We have all had it happen to us at some point, whether as an athlete or as a coach or maybe just life in general—you find yourself in a slump of some kind. Maybe you don't feel confident, or maybe you have confidence but are just out of your rhythm, and it is affecting your performance. When this happens to us, often we can't pinpoint why. We see it in professional sports all the time. It could be a baseball player who hasn't had a hit in his last 10 games, a pitcher who just can't hit the strike zone, a basketball player who can't make her free throws, a rower who is just struggling to get in shape or any one of a number of other examples. What do you do when you get stuck in a rut and just can seem to figure out why? How do you get your groove back?

On the flip side, we all know what it feels like when we are doing well. We have confidence, feel like it just comes naturally with ease and we maybe even feel a bit invincible. Just as it feels wonderful and effortless when we are on a roll, it can feel equally frustrating when we find ourselves in a funk. We feel like nothing we are doing is working and no matter how hard we try, we are fighting an uphill battle. This can lead to questioning and self-doubt, which often only makes things worse.

First of all, I believe it is important to remain confident in your abilities and remind yourself that you are, in fact, capable. As a result, the success you have had in the past can be reproduced, and it's important to feel that you are in control of that.

Secondly, examine some of the surrounding variables such as stress, sleep, nutrition, etc. in order to determine if there are things there that may be leading to the difficulty. Many times these issues are purely psychological, though they can certainly be caused by physiological factors. If the cause of the problem is physiological, then the solution may be more straightforward, though not necessarily easy.

Once you have taken the first two steps, I believe that when faced with a speed bump/predicament like this, it is best to take a step back and focus on the basics. Put yourself in a position to succeed by doing something that you know you can do and doing it very, very well. Many times when we are at our limits and struggling to overcome an obstacle, we just bear down and work harder, forcing the issue and hoping for a breakthrough, attempting to will ourselves to success. When this does not work, we are faced with two options: we can either continue pushing on, which can feel like we are beating our head against the wall (and can end up exacerbating the problem), or we can take a moment to reexamine our situation.

This works both as an athlete and as a coach. As an athlete, let's imagine you are struggling to hit certain numbers on the erg that you have hit with regularity in the past, or are struggling with some technical issue that is leading to poor performances on the water that do not accurately reflect your abilities and line up with your typical performances. As a coach imagine you are at a point in the season where things don't seem to be going well with the team or you are struggling to connect with the athletes in a successful way. These are all frustrating problems, which happen to the best of us from time to time, and which require a bit of introspection, analysis, and ultimately just plain old perseverance and consistency to overcome.

If you are struggling with your fitness, manifested in stagnated or even diminishing performances after a few hard workouts in a row that have not gone according to plan, it is often quite helpful to just focus on doing an easy session in a manner that you can not only complete, but dominate and feel strong doing it. Many times, people get concerned that they didn't go fast enough in a couple hard workouts, so they keep trying to repeat hard sessions hoping to prove to themselves that they can do it. Because of physical and mental fatigue this approach can lead to failure. Instead of forcing the issue every time, it can be beneficial to relax and focus on doing the easy things right. Once you see that you can execute the easy training in a dominant way (both technically and physiologically), you can start to introduce more challenging stimuli succeeding along the way. Hopefully this will restore your rhythm and give you the boost you need to get back on track.

In coaching, maybe you are working hard to help refine your crew's technical skill to take them to the next level, or maybe you are just struggling to connect with and motivate the athletes. The same rules apply. Don't make it too complicated. Focus on something you know you can do well—and, once you hit on your new starting point, make sure you dominate it. Though it might sound obvious or rudimentary in some ways, hitting the restart button can be very helpful in reminding yourself how to succeed and can jumpstart you mentally and physically.

After all, most of us do not struggle with what to do when life is easy and when we are succeeding, it is the times we are thrown curveballs and knocked off track that present the biggest challenge and define us. Our response to these difficult situations and mental ruts largely determines how high we can soar. It is important to remember that there are lots of things we can control about ourselves and our performances, no matter how testing or frustrating a situation may be.

-Justin and the RR Team

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