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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

Intention: What's yours?

What would you leave rowing with today if you were told that you could never row again? Consider this, and ask yourself these questions the next time you get into a boat and put your hands on the oar(s). What is my intention in this moment? What do I want to have accomplished when I step out of the boat?

A while back I wrote a blog post about what's your why. If you haven't read it you may want to go back and read that one before diving in here, but it's up to you.

The difference between the Why and the Intention is that the Why is your reason for rowing, while the Intention is your What.

What do you want to take away from your rowing in the next 5', or from this practice, or from this next month or year or ten years? Knowing your intention can completely change the way you experience some moments in the boat. So let's talk about this and understand more clearly what intention is in terms of you and your rowing, and how to set your tone.

Intention defined:

Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.

Intention is something you can practice.

Intention is a mindset that can be mentally focused, physically focused, or psycho-emotionally focused.

Why does it matter?

Intention matters because without intention you are simply going from practice to practice, race to race, as an unconscious competent. Without intention you are simply at the whim of whatever happens to catch your mind's attention that day. Without intention you relinquish yourself and your experience of the sport to all the other entities and influences around you.

With intention you become a conscious competent. With intention you are the captain of your ship in the mental sense. The decision to be intentional sets the tone for you and for your experience during the practice. Your intention setting gives you the awareness to coach yourself when you need that internal voice of yours to stay busy. Idle internal voices will create things to complain about inside your head. Having an intention gives your internal voice something to stay attuned to.

On a practice to practice basis there are always interactions or experiences that draw our attention away from the actual rowing. Examples of that could be someone else's complaining, or the line up you happen to be in, or which piece of equipment you're using, or what the water is like. These are all conditions of the rowing.

They are not The Rowing.

One can't control these distractions or conditions, but one can control one's reactions to them. Setting your intention for the practice helps you to rise above this noise and can, if practiced regularly, bring you the rower (or coxswain or coach), a feeling of centeredness and accomplishment no matter what the conditions or distractions.

Ultimately there really isn't anything aside from yourself that you can control, so you might as well set a tone from the beginning of what you intend from this particular moment. That way all the other "noise" as it were, or all the other stimuli and conditions around you that you have no control over will take a backseat to your intention.

Set a tone by setting your intention.


For this example I'm going to illustrate how to set your intention for one practice. One can also set their intention for a longer stretch of time or for multiple practices but for the purposes of this post a single practice example will suffice.


In order to practice intention one must first make a conscious decision to have the intention of the row be their internal and personal focus for the entire time. Take some time before entering the practice to ask yourself what you want to get out of the practice today and then commit to that intention. Do this the night before, or as you're driving to the practice site, but do it before arriving so that you show up in the right mindset, with the right intention, from the beginning.

Some examples of an intentional mindset focus for rowers are:

Being open minded about who you're rowing with. Everyone can learn from EVERYONE!

Holding a positive attitude throughout the practice. Not complaining, even in your own head.

Noticing where your eyes are focused as you're rowing. Physical focus.

Intentionally listening to your body with regards to the stroke sequence. Physical focus.

Intentionally letting go of any rationalizations (excuses) for why your rowing is the way it is.

Deciding that today you will actively coach yourself.

For coxswains:

Focusing on how you are holding your body in the boat. Physical focus.

Intentionally listening to your tone of voice. Physically and mentally focused.

Gauging your balance between correction, motivation, and feeling the boat.

Having an intentional attitudinal focus during hard conditions or long pieces.

Deciding that today you will actively coach yourself.

For coaches:

Arriving at practice mentally prepared for things to change.

Engaging with rowers with an open heart and open mind.

Being present at practice with the knowledge that you are learning too.

Intentionally being open to noticing the small changes that a rower might make, even while in that moment they may lose another aspect of their technique.

Deciding today that you will actively coach yourself.

Once you've decided on an intention for the row see if you can come up with a word or a few words that will trigger you to return to that intention when a distraction occurs. Predictably, you will be pulled away from your intention so having a word or a sentence that can draw you back to it is necessary.

An example of this would be using the word "listen" if your intention is to listen to your body during the stroke sequence. Another example would be to say to yourself, "No excuses today, just acceptance" to encourage yourself not to blame or use excuses for why your recovery is too fast (I'm being rushed) or why the boat is offset (if 5 seat would raise her hands...), etc.This is also helpful when you want to give yourself permission to make mistakes while you try to adjust some element of your technique.

As an aside, for those of you who like a challenge (and what rower doesn't), making acceptance your intention for a practice is not for the faint of heart.

Consider the hammer thrown.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that you not try to make technical changes, but along with making changes you can check your level of frustration or impatience with a positive intentional focus.


Now that you've decided on your intention for this moment, practice that intention during the row. Notice how you're doing with it. Notice how challenging or easy it is to hold that intention during your rowing. Are you using your word or phrase to help maintain your intention? Make a mental note about these observations.

Notice your experience without judgement of yourself. Be open to whatever the moment presents to you.

Being consciously intentional is a practice and a process. It takes discipline, patience, and commitment. It mirrors the practice and process of learning how to row better, to cox better, to coach better. Setting a tone, an intention, gets better with more practice.

Just like the rowing! must commit to doing it.


Once you have finished the row and are walking away from practice consider how it felt to be intentional. What was the experience like of setting your intention? How did it feel to set a tone for yourself and to be intentional with a specific focus? Spend a little bit of time thinking about what the experience was like.

Remember this is something that is just for you. Something that you are not asking the coach for. Something you're not asking the coxswain or your boatmates for. This is your personal way of experimenting with mindset during rowing. This is your personal way of taking yourself, your rowing, and your psychological approach to the sport to the next level.

If you are an athlete that keeps a training journal I strongly encourage you to record the experience of being intentional and reflect about what you noticed. Journaling is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to athlete development and training.

But that's a different post.


Rinse and repeat


Try this on for size once a week, or once every couple of weeks. This is not something you necessarily practice every time you're in a boat. But practicing it is necessary in order to gain the benefits from it. Just as we wouldn't expect novices on day two of learning how to row to be going all 8 on the feather, do not expect an incredible shift from only one or even two outings of conscious intention.

Yes, intention can also be long term. For example, what is my intention over the next three months of rowing? This can be an extremely helpful mindset practice for those of you that train indoors through the winter months. Within the context of a year long goal intention setting can keep one balanced and paced in order to feel less overwhelmed about the time frame of the goal, or the goal itself.

Setting your intention is absolutely something that you can transfer to your daily life, and I encourage you to try doing that. Knowing your intention and setting a tone when it comes to an anticipated difficult conversation or starting a professional project or conducting an important management meeting can change the outcome of those moments significantly.

I also encourage you to combine one of the other mental skills I've talked about with intention setting, thereby making both elements more impactful. A combination of positive self-talk and conscious intention can create a lot of movement within a stuck mind.

The take away for you?

Make the decision to row in conscious competence.

Pick an intention to focus on for your next row.

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

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