The real reason you need to practice

Today was the first day I’ve ever rowed in a double. A double is a boat with two people and an oar each. I’ve rowed in a single scull (two oars), an eight, a four, a quad (eight oars) and even a double scull (two people/two oars each).

But never a double. I’ve always looked at them suspiciously because they represent the ultimate in balance and trust. If the other person in the boat isn’t confident/skilled/mindful with a good technique, you’re both going in the drink.

Needless to say, my heart was in my mouth as we pushed off the dock in the cold and misty morning. My mind was just focussing on my oar height and trying not to stress out when my rowing partner was jiggling around with his foot bindings. Oh and I should mention that I was also steering the boat, controlled by my foot bindings to add another layer of multi-tasking complexity.

We rowed gingerly for a few hundred metres before having to assess the situation. This was going to be a challenging morning.

The only way you can see where you’re going at this time of the day in this current season is by the channel markers. The rest is guess work. Fortunately the fog gods were sleeping in today.

Today was a lot of firsts despite having rowed for twelve years. It’s a good sport for that very reason – despite practicing it regularly, there’s always room for improvement; you’ll never get it perfect. It teaches humility in its own way.

We rowed for about an hour and decided to come back in because we were getting frustrated with the session. We reviewed the row, our boat and our rigging to work out how to improve it for next time.

Normally I’d have stayed out there and forced the issue, beating myself up everytime I got it wrong. I’d have also criticised myself for giving up too soon; but things are different nowadays. I’ve come to appreciate that learning is best absorbed when it’s fun and it’s digestible. I’d prefer to practice incrementally three times in a week rather than try to squash it into one big pressure session.

Like my exercise, blogging, drawing, singing, guitar, songwriting, relationships and now rowing, I’m just worrying about being patient and practicing regularly. Some days are better than others but by showing up and trying again, I figure I’m that one step closer to mastery.

I realise it’s just a game of inches. I’m not trying to paint broad stokes and rush the job. I’m actually quite content taking my time to do the job well.

The broad strokes of course have their place and you can cover a lot of ground when you’re leaping and bounding. However, sometimes it’s not about the distance travelled but the treasures you find and the scenery you stop to appreciate along the way.

When sitting in a rowing eight and you’re at race pace, it’s easy to rush the details; rowing in broad strokes. It looks impressive because you’re acting busy but the boat speed, the effort required and the ultimate winning result is in the details. It’s in the fine technique, the balance, the co-ordination and the timing. And poor technique will only tire you out faster.

It turns out that due to the end of the competition racing season, our coach wanted us to take a break from workload and to just appreciate the meaning behind our technique today. To realise that the bigger picture is just a cluster of small details. He was seeking mindfulness.

Don’t stress out if you’re not making deep cuts into your goals today. It’s only a few days a year you’ll actually be racing; the rest of your time demands unglamorous discipline, focus and patient practice. Appreciate the riches of honing a craft.

Whatever you do, don’t write off the days you need for mindfulness; they’re the most valuable days of all. They’re the muscle memory behind your performance.

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