The sport of rowing requires dedication and sacrifice to see results
From time to time, some people ask me if I had ever been a sub-elite footballer. How I would love to answer ‘yes’. However, I was lucky enough to compete in rowing at the sub-elite level when I lived and studied in Australia. Yes, rowing! Not “rolling” as some people would say.
It is a water sport that requires pulling an oar for 2,000 metres, and each race would usually consist of six crew members racing side-by-side in different lanes. I mainly rowed in four’s and eight’s, and eventually the single scull.
Once I stopped competing, I jumped straightaway into coaching. I found that I was a far better coach than athlete, probably because I like planning, organising, motivating, studying the sport, and dealing with the people management side of it!
Most university students back then would do some studying, a lot of partying, and use most of their spare time to go to the beach or socialise with friends at a cafe. I was never really the party animal type then because I loved my sport, and competing to win medals was such good fun.
This lifestyle required training twice a day, six days a week, eating right, and going to bed at a decent hour, because we had to wake at 6am the next day for training. A small sacrifice, if you ask me, because my teammates and I loved training and competing.
Unfortunately, you could not row yourself out of poverty. So once my student days were over, I hung up the oar and the megaphone (a coaching instrument) to start my career in the corporate and media world.
If I learnt anything about competing, it was that to succeed, you have to play with TUFP – Technique Under Fatigue and Pressure. In training, there is not that much pressure to deliver because the opposition, crowd, and the pressures of game/match day are not there. You are also not as tired (fatigued). In training, you basically compete for your place on the team — selection really.
In football, it’s easy to practise free kicks and penalties by yourself. In basketball, there is no pressure when you are practising free throws because it’s not game day.
Competitive sport is about delivering on game day. If you do not deliver in every game, someone will take your spot. In the professional sporting arena, when you do not deliver, your contract gets cut. It does not really matter if you are a nice guy or not!
My first TUFP lesson was when I was coaching my Carey Grammar School boys’ crew. We practised a 500-metre sprint/piece. Our time was solid and we would have beaten anybody on that form. But during one particular race at a regatta, a few of my boys got nervous and we did not perform as well as we should have.
I spoke to those athletes in question after the race. They said to me, “Coach, the whole thing got to us. The opposition doing trash talk before the race, the heavy wind conditions of the course which we were not used to, and the pressure we placed on ourselves of rowing the perfect race.”
After that lesson, I made my training not harder, but more intense. My new training programme would involve training with our junior and senior crews, and inviting our competitors for short 1000- or 500-metre races during training. After all, we all trained on the same river. I also set the record straight that nobody’s seat was guaranteed and I stressed that if the B crew was doing well, then I had no problems omitting non-performing oarsmen for better performing athletes.
Oh my God! They got the message, and each training session was viewed like an Olympic selection trial. That season, we achieved our goal of winning our division at the head of the river.
At the elite level, every club has their own way of training and playing with TUFP. Some clubs, regardless of football code, would have a technical session when the athletes are fresh, then go for a 20km run, and then come back and do the technical session again. The coaches are trying to monitor if the athletes could still be technically astute when tired.
Some clubs would try and include loud music in their training sessions or invite the public to watch them train. If they struggled to perform in those conditions, then performing on game day would be a challenge.
Our Malaysian sporting teams have come a long way. But after watching many Suzuki Cups and calling many Asean Basketball League (ABL) games, our athletes still have a long way to go in terms of how to play with TUFP consistently. Especially under pressure.
These things take time and practice. But like they always say, “If you build it, it will come.” So let the building begin, sooner rather than later.
Ben Ibrahim is a TV anchor for Foxsports, a media professional and a rowing coach. He can be contacted on email@example.com or twitter@benibrahim