• Coach Knickerbocker

What's Your Why?



I’ve written about athletic character, irrational confidence, and competitive identity, but here's the thing, the thing that should be at the top of your personal rowing pyramid, your Why.

Yes, that’s with a capital W.


Your Why is all about the reasons you are motivated to row, to race, and to train.


Your Why helps you to come back when you’ve had a practice that could best be described as disappointing; an understatement really and a slightly more positive spin on...well that completely sucked.


Your Why should be considered whenever you are faced with a challenging row or race, or when you to some degree feel discouraged or burnt out.


The Why helps during cold rainy windy head races where you are waiting to row through the start and are beginning to lose the feeling in your hands, or during seat racing when coach trades you for the third time and you’re starting to question why you ever started this sport in the first place, or during indoor training when the erg pieces are never ending.


In these moments consider your Why.


So, what is your Why?


Is your Why that rowing gives you something you can’t get from any other type of activity? If so what is that thing that it gives you?


Is your Why that it challenges you to be better than you were yesterday while at the same time knowing you’re not as good as you could be tomorrow?


Is your Why the connection that you have with other rowers and the inspiration they offer without even knowing it?


I ask you to think about this and find what your Why is. It may be a few reasons or just one. It may change over time or it may be the same forever.

There’s no right answer, only your answer.


If you are a coach and reading this I am asking you the same question.

What is your Why?


Why do you coach and what do you get out of it?

There are moments when, as a coach it’s crucial to be able to access your Why.

For me it was the moments of sitting in a launch with a chilling rain slicing into my face, glasses covered in water, my gloves soaked thru, and my megaphone battery dead, all within the first 15’ of a 60’ practice.


My Why became important when I sweated over lineups in order to balance out for age ranges, ability levels, sides that people row, competitive desires, and those rowers that could only be at practice once the week before a regatta (even though those seem to be the rowers that are most concerned about which boat they are boated in for racing).


As a coach one of my Why’s is the privilege of knowing that I am a part of a woman’s personal growth and athletic achievement. There are not many moments in life when you get to share in someone’s pride of achieving something they never dreamed they'd be able to do only a short time ago. Being a catalyst for that gives my coaching meaning and depth. It’s more than simply fast erg times and hardware for me.


I think we spend much of our lives engaged in activities where we have no Why. Where it is just the thing we do because it needs to be done or is expected of us or is demanded of us. This is exactly the reason for knowing your Why and leveraging it for all it's worth.


Having a Why gives one purpose, inspiration, motivation, context, and meaning.


One of the best partnerships between a coach and an athlete is when the Why’s overlap like a Venn diagram. No one will have exactly the same Why’s, but if there can be some overlap for the Why’s then the connection between coach and rower is greater than the sum of its parts.


Spend a few minutes thinking about and writing down all the reasons that you do this thing, either from the coaching perspective or from the rower perspective. Whichever fits for you. Then consider which one of these really drives you forward and creates a sense of purpose for you amongst all of the chaos.


Once you have found that thing or maybe it’s a few things, come up with a mantra that you can say to yourself when the going gets rough. Something that will help you to remember your Why, bring you a feeling of acceptance in the moment and trust in knowing you have a greater purpose than what may be visible in your mind’s eye.


Here’s an example of a good rower mantra:

My rowing inspires me to push past my perceived limits and helps me to be stronger in the face of adversity.

Or for something super short and fun to say:

I love the rowing and the rowing loves me.


Here’s an example for the coaches out there.

My coaching brings me joy and challenges me in a positive way to be the best coach I can be for my athletes.

Or again, something short and sweet:

Coach loves the coaching cause the coaching is the coach’s coach.

(In other words, don’t forget coaches that you are always learning through your coaching.)


My suggestion for teams would be to have a dialogue about what people's Why's are. Ask some of the individuals on your squad if they are willing to share their Why's. If you are a coach be transparent with your rowers about what at least one of your Why's are.



Ask rower's individually what their Why's are so that you can better motivate them through that personal window.


Bend the blade and always remember your Why.


Row hard, row well, compete, haven fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

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