Have you ever fallen short of your own expectations and found that you just couldn’t get over it? It happens to me all the time. I have learned over the years, that not only am I my own worst critic, but sometimes I am downright unforgiving of myself. I have been working on this and continue to work on it, because the best athletes are the ones who have this skill down pat. When things don’t go well in a competition, and you dwell on it, it ruins the rest of your practice or race and holds you back from truly excelling. I remember it on the balance beam as a high school gymnast. I had one meet where I fell not once, but FOUR times. And I was the gymnast on my team who had previously had the most “no fall” routines of everyone. But I let this one fall take me totally out of my game. And because I kept thinking about it, it took my attention away from the rest of my routine. Same thing in age group swimming—100 back, crappy first turn and the rest followed suit. Triathlon? I’ve had bad bike legs turn into even worse run legs. I battle this consistently and then I even have a hard time forgiving the fact that I can’t forgive. What an ugly and unproductive circle.
It wasn’t until recently when I got totally called out on this hang-up that I decided it was time to revisit this issue and remind myself to let the mistakes roll right off my back and move on. Because once you do that, I believe you have a whole new world of possibilities.
On a row one day in Oklahoma City, Coach “Muff” and his girlfriend Marina (who is also a rowing coach), were riding next to me on a motorized boat to watch my form and oversee my workout. Several times during my row I would not get the oars placed in the water correctly and on some occasions I would miss the water completely. When I did that, I’d usually utter a four letter word under my breath, shake my head and then, you guessed it, miss the water again on the next stroke.
It was then that Marina told me when I miss a stroke I need to be quick to forgive myself and move on. She said “it’s not the stroke that you miss that is a problem, it’s the four or five or six subsequent strokes that you miss because you were beating yourself up that are the problem.” And in that moment it really hit me. She didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know, but sometimes just having someone else point something out, verbalize it and stress it, that makes the difference.
I’m glad she said that because as I raced this season, I wanted to stay strong in my mental game. I knew that in my actual rowing I was still learning, but I have been an athlete all my life and I know that half the battle is being in control of your thoughts. Each time we go out on the water now, if I miss a stroke, I breathe through it, don’t utter a word, let it go, and row on. It sounds so simple, yet it changes everything. And, it’s amazing what a big difference it’s making. Rowing is a sport of patience, rhythm and timing. When it’s executed correctly it’s smooth, flowing and beautiful. But, like anything—even everyday life—it takes time, attention and effort. One stroke at a time…strong, steady and forgiving. With a strategy like that, eventually you get through even the deepest waters.