Patricia Carswell |

Life on the river: preparing to race?

Award-winning blogger and journalist, Patricia Carswell, shares her latest exclusive British Rowing blog – Life on the river. This time, she explores the prospect of racing again

There’s a lot in the media about social anxiety as we return to post-lockdown life, but a surprising silence on the subject of mixed feelings when it comes to resuming sport. There’s kind of an expectation that our return to rowing will be a process of unadulterated joy, and for the most part it is. I’m the first to admit I’ve been little short of overjoyed to be back on the river, and as for the chance to crew row again – well, it’s just brilliant.

But even I have had the odd wobble – mostly relating to the prospect of racing. In the last year I’ve got into a comfortable little bubble. Nobody knows my erg scores unless I choose to share them. Nobody is challenging me to put myself to the test. And part of me is quite happy to stay there, thank you very much.

When I think about racing, I can’t help the odd anxious thought from creeping in. Will I be fit enough? Can I actually face that level of physical and mental discomfort again? Might I be humiliated racing against people who’ve had more opportunities to train this year?

Asking around, I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable. On top of fears about COVID, other rowers are feeling angsty about everything from worrying they’ve forgotten everything they ever knew to feeling self-conscious about being seen in lycra after a year of lockdown eating.

Use your feelings as an opportunity to reassess your approach to rowing

I’m no psychologist, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to handle this, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

  1. If you’re feeling anxious, you’re not alone and there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
  2. Ask yourself whether your fears are based on real concerns. If they are – if, for example, your fitness has dropped – think, practically, about what you need to do to address the situation. Talk to someone in your squad or to your coach, if you have one, and see what can be done to help.
  3. Use your feelings as an opportunity to reassess your approach to rowing. Are your reservations exposing things that you don’t like about the sport? Are they showing you that there’s something you need to change about how or when you train, if and when you compete, or even if rowing is still for you? Don’t be afraid to face these questions head on.
  4. Don’t feel pushed into training or mixing with others if it makes you feel unhappy or uncomfortable. At my club, we’ve made it clear that there’s absolutely no pressure on anyone to return to rowing at any given point or to commit to anything. If we’ve learned one thing from the last year, it’s that everyone has radically different tolerances and attitudes towards the pandemic, and we need to respect each other’s position, wherever that lies.
  5. And if your anxious feelings are tipping over into something more than the odd passing jitter, do seek help. Talk to your friends. Speak to your captain or coach. Or get in touch with your GP or one of the mental health charities.

Let us know if you have any tips for a smooth transition back to rowing.

Finally, it’s not all about racing. Why not explore other ways of enjoying the sport in a less competitive way? Have a read of some ideas here for fun outings you could do at your club instead!