Handling trials: control what you can control

With Olympic Trials just around the corner Matt Rossiter, bronze medallist at last year’s Worlds, gives us his advice for dealing with the pressure that can come from the trials process.

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Whether you’re a junior, under-23 or senior, GB Rowing Team trials can often be one of the most important and stressful races of the season. This is my 4th season in the GB Squad and I can safely say trials don’t get any less important or any less stressful. That said, it’s possible to put a few things in place to help your trial run as smoothly as possible and to get the most out of yourself and your crew.

Work out a game plan

As trials begin to near, I think it’s really important to look ahead and plan through what you’ve got coming up. Try to have a sit down with your coach to talk through the upcoming training, goals, and expectations as well as any work or study commitments. All with the aim of sorting out a bulletproof game plan to help you do your absolute best at trials. During this and future meetings with your coach you can also go through the training program to identify which pieces are the ones to really go for and which sessions you can just enjoy rowing and not work too hard.

Finishing touches
When the day actually comes you don’t want to be doing anything new

As part of your final prep you’ll do some higher intensity stuff. This is a great chance to practice the rate and effort levels you’ll be doing on the day. Whilst doing these you’ll have a great chance to practice the other bits and bobs around the actual rowing bit. Practice eating and drinking the same things you’ll do on game day. Follow the same warm-up and cool-down strategies. I like to warm up on the bike for 20 mins before hitting the water and the same again after racing. When the day actually comes you don’t want to be doing anything new. So, try new things, sure, but that should be in training so on the day you’re only carrying out things you’ve done over and over again in training.

Even when you’re just paddling you can run through some practice race calls or thought processes if you’re a sculler. What will I say at this point? How will I feel if I’m up or down? How do we take the rate up in the last 500. If you’re a single sculler feel free to shout out your race plan but people might think you’re going loopy so just rehearse what you plan to do on the day in your head.

N.B. Make sure your race kit has been through the wash early on in the week. You really don’t need to be digging your race all in one out of your stinking washing pile the night before.

The night before

Plan out your schedule for race day, I like to make a note on my phone but you might want to write it down on paper or in your training diary. The night before I often feel pretty calm and a lot less so on race day. For this reason, I like to have a script that guides me through the timings for the day if I’m a bit all over the place.

I’d recommend packing your bag the night before, check and double-check you’ve got all the right kit. And for heaven’s sake make sure your stroke coach is on charge when you go to bed.

For dinner, don’t get too stressed out about having the perfect meal. Just eat something that’s easy, tasty, large and you’ve had before. A mate I used to row with, Willy Warr, once found out that Matt Pinsent ate a specific curry from a specific curry house in Henley the night before he broke the British 2k Erg Record. Willy would often go to that curry house before big races. As much as Willy believed this, magical, split-crushing curry would help his performance, there really isn’t any special rocket fuel that’s going to get you that dream performance. My advice would be to go safe and easy. My favourite is chicken and mash with broccoli.

On the day

When it comes to racing stick to what you’ve practised and let it rip. You’ll be nervous for sure but all you can do is all you can do. Throughout the day give yourself a tiny bit of extra time. I absolutely hate rushing so always leave a few extra minutes to sort yourself out.

For races, I always use a massive big bag. There’s nothing worse than having to empty out your entire tiny rucksack to get out your splash top that’s at the bottom.

Lightweight squad member Sam Mottram recommended that we just picked one thing to do better in the 2nd race. This was awesome advice.

Ollie Cook and I were racing in Lucerne and had our heat and rep on the same day. Lightweight squad member Sam Mottram recommended that we just picked one thing to do better in the 2nd race. This was awesome advice. So, if you have multiple races in a day I’d recommend just trying to do one thing better. You can come up with fantastic plans but in reality, if you just execute one thing better that’ll be a great success and I’ll shake your hand.

If you’ve had a bad race, for example not making the final you wanted, try your best to move on and worry about it later. Not doing as well as you hoped sucks, but feeling sorry won’t achieve anything. There’s always an extra position to fight for. Throwing down a really good time in a lower-ranked final will still show the senior command what you’re capable of.

Best of luck to everyone competing. Train hard, control what you can and let it rip.

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