Mental Approach Heading into London

At this point in the season, the majority of the work is done. The months of training through the winter have built the foundation for our speed on the water, and now we’re just looking for those little edges that can make a difference at the Olympics.

Every athlete wants to line up on that start line believing that they have trained more, or more effectively, than the rest of the world and are the best prepared. They want to believe that when push comes to shove and the pressure is on, they’ll have some sort of advantage on the rest of the competition. That is why we train as hard as we do.

At this level, so much of your final preparation and performance is mental. It’s all based on the physical work that you’ve done and the results that you’ve achieved, but if there are doubts or if you don’t fully believe that you can win, the race is lost before you’ve even started. You can be the best athlete in the world, but if something is “off” in your head, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to produce the kind of Olympic performance you’re seeking.

As we move into our last seven weeks in the lead-up to London, I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes into building and solidifying this mental aspect of competition, and I think it comes down to three things: confidence in the training that you’ve been doing, confidence in the rest of your crew, and confidence in yourself.

Over the past 18 months, Dave Calder (my partner in the men’s pair) and I, along with the athletes in the Olympic four and double, have been training with Terry Paul and taking a slightly different approach to training. We’re still doing a lot of volume on the water, and the majority of that has been intensive, side-by-side training where we’re racing our own teammates every day.

We’ve focused more on weight training and have incorporated a lot of cross-training with cycling, running, and swimming to try to keep our bodies balanced while working to expand our aerobic capacity. 

The new approach is working. Our erg scores are significantly lower and most of us have cut down the amount of training time missed due to injury. And it has been fun. Mixing other things into the usual training has kept it fresh and truly enjoyable. Results on the water are what matter, and I think we’re positioned well to have a couple great performances in London.

One of the reasons that I love the pair is that it’s only myself and one other guy. I like being in control of my fate. My relationship with Dave goes back to 2004, and we ‘ve been through a lot together both on and off the water. We’re very different people and have definitely had our tense, frustrating times together. But that’s part of it, and Terry has been there to guide us through those times.

I can be stubborn and I sometimes push to have things done a certain way, but I realized a few months ago that it was time to switch from that mindset to one that was solely focused on getting ready to race. It wasn’t about being right or wrong anymore, it was about doing whatever was necessary to get the best out of ourselves in London. As a good friend’s father once said – it was time to “weld it up.” Put all of the pieces together and build that unshakeable belief in ourselves.

We push each other in different ways, and at the end of the day I know that Dave is, without question, the best guy to row the pair with. Our second-place result at the Lucerne World Cup a few weeks ago was confirmation that we’re on the right track, and it went a long way in strengthening our confidence in each other. We have a lot of work to do, but I can feel the momentum building.

I believe in myself and my ability to rise to the occasion. It’s still a process to get into that relaxed but intent mindset that’s needed to race well, but I’ve been through a lot of high-pressure situations and know what I need to do. I know that I bring an excessive amount of focus, tenacity, and attention to detail to every day of training, and that helps to make most races like any other day of training.

I’m excited to race knowing that it’s possible to win. Not knowing that we’re supposed to win or that we have to win – and having to deal with all of the pressure that comes with that – but simply that we can win.

Time to weld it up.

Tannis Peterson