Looking back over the last few months, I realize that my team has gone through its usual fall metamorphosis. Once a tight knit crew from the summer, eight women have now regained individualized approaches to their training programs and performances. It seems to be an annual cycle.
I don’t mean this blog to be a deep reflection on the sport psychology of rowing, team spirit and what happens in a crew through the winter. It’s rather a recognition that our sport of rowing goes from a team approach in the competitive season to an individual approach in the off-season. To be a successful big boat rower, you have to be both a supportive team player and a driven individual athlete.
Whether you like it or not, sport is about winning—it’s about being the best. In the summer months, a crew is unbreakable; rowers will undoubtedly have each other’s backs since they share a common goal—WINNING. Friendships and personalities may clash, but the common objective appeases the differences and makes the pursuit viable.
Once the summer season comes to an end, crew members return to their individual routines within the program and are tested in small boats. For instance, at the Canadian National Team Training Centre, fall training is mostly focused in small boats, where the past summer’s women’s 8+ gets split down into pairs, the sculling boats are downsized to singles, and lots of erg workouts are recorded. Up and coming U23 rowers and PanAm medalists are added to the mix and then every day’s racing gets significantly fiercer. Internal competition is by far one of the best ways to maintain training intensity throughout the winter! Equally, it also means that former summer teammates are now vying for that same goal—the WIN—and the opportunity to race with each other in the next season.
It’s a fine balance between getting overly competitive and recognizing that the internal competition in a team is what pushes you every day. On any given practice, when I look across the start line and I see my teammates, I’m still thinking “I want to win” and I bet they are also! I know that I need my teammates by my side to challenge me and raise my expectations in the pair and on the erg. Working out in isolation would not be ideal for me; I feed off my teammates’ energy and their motivation. When a teammate sets herself a goal of a lower split, I’ll challenge myself to match her. It’s a unique synergy, where you want to support one another and recognize each other’s accomplishments but you also want to kick each other’s butts! Without a doubt, a competitive AND supportive team dynamic is what will make a crew faster come next July.
Reconciling that competitive spirit, while hopefully racing with those same individuals next summer, has its challenges. But at the end of the day, I want to be part of a team that does well. I am sure that this internal competition will push our group to be better. After all, the big picture is the 8+!