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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

You're a Rower. Are you an Athlete?

This is an Athlete.

What messages did you get as a kid or as a young woman about being an athlete? Were you active? Did you participate in a sport or in dance?

Did your parents encourage your athleticism, or discourage it, or were they indifferent?

I know one woman who started playing basketball as a kid and was told that once the season was over she would not be playing any more because it was too far to drive to the gym where the practices were held. To be clear her family was able to afford, in time and money, to drive to the site.

Today she wonders, if she had been a boy would her parents response to her athleticism been different?

Many sports were, and to some extent still are, gendered. For example a woman participating in Gymnastics was acceptable, while a woman participating in Hockey was not. This related of course to gender norms around female athletes and the homophobia that many female athletes experienced if they appeared to be in any way demonstrating the behavior of a strong athlete, i.e. being aggressive, being physical, or playing a male identified sport.

All this to say, we hang on to the subtle (or not so subtle) messages we picked up as kids. Messages to girls about being a girl and/or being an athlete could still be echoing in your head and thereby affecting your experience and performance.

Girls aren't strong, they're pretty.

Message: If you are an athlete you have to be feminine.

Girls shouldn't be athletically aggressive.

Message: Pick a sport that is non-combative (gymnastics, swimming, riding).

Girls are not real athletes.

Message: It's ok to play but you're not a "real" athlete.


Granted these are old messages (to some extent), but they were pervasive when we were coming up.

Those messages could have been verbalized or they could've been transmitted through a look from someone. Maybe it was a comment you overheard one of your parents say. Or maybe a coach mentioned something that didn't feel so good. Needless to say these experiences can be affecting how you see your athletic self now or how you relate to being an athlete.

If in fact some of the messages you got were negative you may be experiencing a disconnect between how you see yourself now, as an athlete, and what your experience was then. The little voice inside your head may still be repeating the same message from 30 years ago that does not serve you today.

Let's start with the question, "What does an athlete look like?"

Do you think that in order to consider yourself an athlete you have to be at a certain weight, have a certain body shape, or have muscles that are detectable to the human eye?

Gold Medalist in Shot Put Michelle Carter.

Consider this female shot putter for example. She's a gold medalist, but If you saw her walking down the street you would never think that she was an athlete, an Olympic athlete no less. These images that we are fed about what an athlete looks like physically are myths.

This IS what an athlete looks like.

Or maybe you think an athlete is a certain age. Maybe you're thinking that, because you are over 50 or over 60 or even over 70 you're not an athlete. You're comfortable with being called a rower, but not an athlete. Or maybe you think because you're not competing you're not an athlete. Once again, reframe that please.

Flo Meiler. 79 yo Track and Field World Masters Games medalist.

Let's start with this. Do you define yourself as a rower? Assuming that you do, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to own the label "rower"?

Ok, I'll take a stab at it.

It means you enjoy the sport, you exercise or workout predominantly on the water with others in rowing shells, you erg on a regular basis, and maybe you also compete. All though there are a lot of "rowers" out there that do not race so that's certainly not a deal breaker to calling yourself a rower.

But what else does it mean to you to be a rower? This goes back to character. It means you are resilient, committed to being part of a whole, disciplined in your dedication to the sport, sometimes selfless, hopefully humble, etc. Most likely these are all character bits (among others) that feel good to you. I'm going to guess that when people ask you about what you enjoy doing or what extra activities you engage in you proudly state "I'm a rower."

Of course you are. I'm also going to guess that owning that label is not challenging or does not feel incongruent to who you are.

Next question.

Do you define yourself as an athlete? When that question comes up that I mentioned above about what activities you participate in, how about saying "I'm a masters athlete. I row."

If you are a rower and you embody the above descriptors, if you train your body in some way, even if you do not compete, It's time to own the label ATHLETE.

I have known many masters women that do not own that label because they have some idea in their heads about what or who an athlete is. They quickly call themselves a rower, but hesitate apologetically about calling themselves an athlete.



Athletes are young and in shape. Athletes are only in college or professional sports.

Athletes train every day, and when they train, they train at a level of intensity that's beyond me.

Do these incorrect assumptions sound familiar? What are the other stereotypical beliefs about athletes do you hold?

You are an ATHLETE!

And why shouldn't you be.

Please don't take this opportunity to argue for your limitations.

You are an athlete. You are a strong athlete. You are a strong and capable athlete.

You are a strong and capable athlete that rows.

Start working that language into your psyche.

Say it, own it, live it

The statement, "I am an athlete" has a lot of power and can facilitate incredible changes in your self-concept, your internal dialogue about who you are, the way you relate to others around you, how you treat or take care of your body, and how you train.

Once you start seeing yourself as an athlete, your whole world can shift.

This goes back to the piece I wrote about irrational confidence. Why not call yourself an athlete? What's it going to hurt? In fact it's going to raise your game in a number of ways.

If you do not consider yourself an athlete then my suggestion is to start repeating to yourself the phrase "I am a strong athlete that rows."

First, let's start with how it will change your brain. I've talked about the subconscious before and there is a ton of information out there about how your subconscious reacts to repetitive, verbalized suggestions. It doesn't know that you are NOT an athlete once you start telling it you ARE.

Awesome right?!

Next, because it is changing your brain you will start to function, on subtle levels, as your brain believes an athlete would function. In other words you may start deciding to drink a bit more water, or you may get the urge to do a bit more stretching to increase flexibility. Or you may decide you want to start lifting weights and develop more of a land training strategy.

I know what you're thinking. "C'mon coach, that's not going to work. Just saying it doesn't make it true". Of course, if that's how you start out it certainly won't.

But if you commit to telling yourself you're an athlete, out loud, every day, for at least three weeks (yep, just three weeks), your brain has no choice. But you have to actually say it enough to start believing it yourself.

As you begin to own this identity of being an athlete, it will change how you carry yourself. It will change how you approach your participation in the sport. How you use your voice as a club member. How you relate to your teammates.

If you don't currently consider yourself a leader this could change that.

If you are a leader then it will change how you demonstrate that leadership.

YOU are an athlete.

YOU are a strong athlete that rows.

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

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