Winning the Mind Games

The first FISA Rowing World Cup of the season took place in Belgrade earlier this year. It was the first of three regattas that are the only international competitions of note prior to the Olympic Games at Dorney Lake. This first foray back into international competition since the World Championships means the focus for building to the ultimate goal of the season can intensify further still. However, simply increasing the focus is insufficient; the focus has to be increased on the right thing to return maximum impact for the investment made, and here’s where the mind games are really focused.

Within any high performance arena, there are thousands of variables that can be obsessed over and labeled as essential. However, if every individual is left to identify their own essential focus, then the collective efforts that are being made to take things from good to great are not maximised. As a result, even in the smallest of rowing crews, there is a concerted effort to outperform the opposition in learning and the detail here is everything.


Learning can be defined as only having taken place when you can see a permanent change in behaviour (it’s not just about gaining some knowledge!), so the GB Rowing Team are great at looking to ‘learn’ better than the opposition between races within a single regatta, therefore, looking to make permanent changes that make the race performances more predictable and of course more likely to cross the line first. Looking to learn between races will require one to three very focused performance reviews each regatta and the ability to identify the ‘high impact factors’ and then have everyone align behind them and deliver on them for the next race is a key skill to develop. This also has to be achieved whilst still keeping hold of the stuff that created a strong foundation for the performance in the first place. The skills of open communication, honesty and consensus building become really important under the pressure of the competition, when there might be three races in two days and when this is the case, there is clearly competitive advantage to be had by being better between the races as well as in the races!

The other learning battle to win is focused on learning more effectively between regattas. Therefore, with the three week gaps between the international regattas within the season and then the six week gap between World Cup Regatta three and the Olympic Games, there are critical opportunities to identify the longer term high impact factors and then work on them to make them part of the performance DNA for next time out. This longer learning cycle comes to life with the discipline of daily crew goal setting and more importantly goal reviewing (there’s no point setting a goal if you never review it folks!) The daily application of a number of learning cycles ensures that progress is being targeted and delivered. Rather than leaving learning and development to chance by simply knowing it’s important, the day-to-day behaviours demonstrate that everyone is passionate about making and maintaining performance improvements. If the day-to-day learning is carried out with passion, togetherness and accountability then by the time the next regatta comes around, everything has been done to maximise the belief that greater progress has been made and more permanently than the opposition.
So, are you winning the learning competition? Does your daily performance show you’re passionate about learning quicker, more effectively and more enduringly than your competition? How much is the cost of not learning actually adding up to?

In highly competitive environments, every ounce of competitive gain is always sought. Are you behaving like you’re serious about winning in your competitive environment, or are you too busy to learn?