To learn more about Malyka Ianni, the author of this month’s Open Sculling team contribution to the Potomac Star, please click here. You’ll find Malyka’s bio, along with bios for each member of the Open Sculling team.
[And, yes, the Open Scullers mentioned below are sweep rowing at the moment. Welcome back from the dark side.]
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….”
I will go out on a limb and assume that every rower has thought this at one point or another. Rowing has the unique ability to induce a euphoric sense of indestructibility one minute and create a deep internal hole of pain and frustration the next. That may be a bit melodramatic, but admit it. It’s true. We’ve all been there before.
The Open Sculling team trains more or less year around. We take a short break (maybe 2-3 weeks) in August/September and then jump right back into the training cycle. To say it’s a long season is an understatement. Just getting to June in one piece can be a minor (or major, depending on who you are) achievement! Recently, a teammate and I discussed the topic of psychological endurance. While improving physiologically and technically are always at the top of the training agenda, mental and emotional stamina are equally as important to one’s success in rowing. More often than not, mental toughness makes the difference between winning and losing.
So, how do you build mental toughness?
I have found that one of the tricks to managing the highs and lows in the sport of rowing is to see the silver lining…to keep your eye on the big picture and maintain perspective. It’s taken me many, many roller coaster rides to the top and the bottom to figure this out. Even with this insight and experience, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the big picture.
For a coach, fostering the development of an individual and team’s mental toughness should rank up there with developing technical proficiency and fitness. Since Wimbledon is in full swing at the moment, I’m going to use the sport of tennis as an example. In tennis, matches between opponents can last hours. At the 2010 Wimbledon, the world’s longest tennis match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took place. It lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes. Now stop and think about the variety of things you do in a typical day 12-hour day! It wasn’t just physical and technical training that helped these men get through the grueling match, but their mental stamina and ability to focus, as well.
On the Open Sculling team, we often use the phrase “go to the well,” which means to dig deep, find that other level, and use every physical and metal resource you have. Isner and Mahut relied heavily on this same sort of mental ability to push through physical fatigue. Each man went deep into the pain cave so to speak!
So, back to rowing. I was fortunate enough to have been coached by Michelle Guerette a few times while living in Boston. Ten minutes around Michelle, and it’s clear why she has been such a successful rower. Workouts with Michelle, whether pieces or just steady state, never went as prescribed on paper. Eighty minutes of steady state became 100 minutes or more once we were actually out on the water. A 2 x 2k would turn into 2 x 2k plus 2 x 5 minutes and then some. Just when you thought you were done, there was always something else. Initially, these changes to the workout drove me insane; however, eventually I realized they were instrumental in developing my mental toughness. Every time I thought I had nothing left to give, no other place to go, I somehow made it happen. I learned that the results of those extra pieces didn’t always matter, but that the extra effort needed to just complete the workout made a world of difference in my racing and ability to push through the pain.
I am writing about this topic to share with Potomac Star readers that mental toughness is part of my training that I wish I had taken more seriously when I first started training. Recognizing that your coach might have something more than just physical benefits in mind when putting together a workout or just recognizing the importance of training in this area on your own is critical to maximizing athletic performance. It took me longer than I wish it had, but realizing this myself as made me a better athlete.
But mental toughness can be as simple as finding the silver lining in a difficult situation, too, like losing a seat race or completely bombing an erg test, suffering an injury, or being excluded from a race because the boat is under weight, as happened to me and teammate Maria Bukolich in the 2- at the 2011 USRowing National Championships. Now, I am able to learn from these situations and see the positive, the silver lining, along with the negative aspects.
At PBC, I am, again, fortunate to train with Coach Reilly and a team that pushes me to push myself to new extremes and limits every day. Through each new hurdle, I see the silver lining. After the disappointment of the underweight boat, Maria and I are off to join teammate Stef Kozuszek at the US Training Center in Oklahoma City to compete for a seat in a women’s 4-. The team chosen will then go on to compete at Senior trials in August with the hopes of representing the US at World Championships in Bled, Slovenia. With months and months of hard training and preparation under our belts, we are facing this test as another new opportunity to get closer to achieving our elite rowing goals and make PBC proud.
[We’re already proud of you, Maria and the rest of the Open Sculling team, Malyka! Now, go do what we know you two can do: claim those seats on that US Training Center 4-! -PStar]