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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

What is Your Athletic Character?

What is athletic character and how does it relate to being a masters rower?

Merriam-Webster includes the following under the definition of character:

"the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, or group."

Here's the definition that I would suggest:

An athletic ethic built out of character skills that form the basis for how you approach your rowing, your racing, your teammates, and your coaches.

I would argue that having athletic character is as important as the equipment you use, the level of fitness you develop, or the technical improvements you make to your stroke.

Do you have athletic character? Or an athletic ethic?

Having an athletic ethic means that you approach your daily practices, your workouts, your races, your interactions with teammates and coaches within a framework of specific character skills.

I asked a group of rowers to tell me what skills one needed to be successful in this sport (see the pic to the left).

None of the answers say "tall", "physically fit", "a good athlete".

All of the answers revolved around character skills that result in being a good teammate, a good competitor, a coachable rower, a rower that contributes to the technical and psychological health of the boat and the team as a whole.

Please note that I am not using the word "traits" to describe these skills and that's because traits are fixed. As a coach I believe that these are "skills" that can be developed and expanded over time.

You may not come into the sport being generous of spirit, courageous, patient, resilient, (insert character skill here), but you can absolutely learn and develop these skills in relation to rowing over the course of being a rower. Over time these skills create an athletic ethic that you follow and demonstrate on a daily basis.

Examples of character skills that can have a direct impact on your success in rowing.

This picture lists some of the character skills I'm referring to but there are of course many more.






Are these important elements that you can practice or get better at like your erg performance, or set in the boat, or what the move will be at 500 meters?


I would suggest that to some degree and in some instances they are even more important. Team cohesion, competitive opportunities, seat racing for an important regatta, making changes technically, will ALL be effected by your athletic character and your overall athletic ethic.

Will you become a better rower/competitor if you are coachable? If you are on time? If you do the extra work? No question, these will facilitate you becoming better!

As rowers of a certain age I believe we have an obligation to ourselves (if you value the time and energy you put into your rowing) to consider ALL of the aspects of being an athlete that will help to improve our performance and result in feeling and being successful, whatever your definition of success is.

Being a rower can be just about the rowing for you, just about what you are getting out of it, just about how you can win a medal, or it can be about a little bit more. My suggestion is, if what you want out of your rowing is a good workout, some good racing, and a social community, that's easy.

If what you want out of your rowing is to engage in the longevity of the sport, take away a bit more meaning, have an impact on your team, and leave a legacy for future rowers, than consider practicing and growing your character skills and your athletic ethic.

Ultimately it's the process of being an athlete that we negotiate through every day. It's your athletic character that will push that process and drive it forward. The process will drive your results.

Bottom line, character drives the process, process drives the results. So if you want to experience better results, focus on your character.

I'll credit Bret Ledbetter for that little tidbit.

Row hard, row well, compete, have fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

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