Reflections on the Season: 10 Things I’ve Learned This Year

 

This was my first full year training in a location that actually has seasons and, therefore, a true training cycle. I’m sure that sounds funny to most of you, but I began my paddling career in Miami. It’s a place where there are essentially two seasons: “really hot” and “even hotter”. There, we spent the whole year on the water and never thought twice about it. Now that I am living in a city with actual seasons which limit our on-water time, I see how beneficial it is to have an actual training cycle. And, as our on-water time just ended, I’ve been thinking about our 2017 season and what I’ve learned from it. As vulnerable as this might make me, I thought I’d bare my soul and share my list with you:

1) How time is spent off-season impacts what happens during your on-season

As I mentioned before, I began paddling in Miami and we simply paddled all year on the water. It was expected that we spent time in the gym, but because we were blessed with gorgeously warm water, we took advantage of it. So, I was completely unfamiliar with what occurs on the off-season. This past year I saw so much in terms of gains in strength and endurance because of the time our team spent training together in the gym.

Our winter training involved gym sessions working on balance, strength and explosive power, as well as technical training in the paddle pool. The balance work in the fall was particularly helpful because I paddle on the right predominantly and after a summer of hard practices on the right, I was beginning to be a bit lopsided. The paddle pool is also an incredible training tool because of the fact that the coach can see you from the side and can come right up next to you and help position your body as it should be during the stroke. And gym time with the team is a great way to stay on track with training goals. We all pushed ourselves and each other, knowing that we had common objectives. It was much more enjoyable to be suffering through circuit training with our teammates encouraging us every step of the way.

…when it comes to realistic expectations about yourself and your team, having the attitude of “I can!” will go much farther than the self-doubting “I can’t”

2) Rest is important

There were a few times this past summer where I felt exhausted. I quite literally was useless to my team. I hadn’t given myself enough rest and recovery time between training sessions and I was paying for it. For some reason I was trying to be a hero, dragging myself to practice early in the morning for the women’s team practice, then the gym, and in some cases another practice in the evening for the mixed team. I obviously didn’t want to miss any practices because it’s important for the team to train together. Yet I needed to listen to my body when it was telling me enough is enough. I’m not twenty anymore (much to my dismay sometimes!). I needed to acknowledge that I’m better able to contribute to the team when my body has had the time it needs to rest. I’m not talking about being lazy and skipping practices when I just don’t feel like getting out of bed. Instead, this is about giving myself time for rest and recovery, which is beneficial to avoiding injuries.

Dragon boat teams racing

Outer Harbour Senior and Premier Women’s teams competing at the GWN Challenge in Toronto. Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

3) Setbacks suck

I had a few setbacks this year, which were really frustrating. I even wrote a blog post about setbacks as I looked for the silver lining in each of them. Of course it isn’t easy to handle such disappointments, but life is unpredictable. In looking back over these obstacles I dealt with, I learned a lot from them and in the end I came out stronger because of them. But there is truly no denying that setbacks do indeed suck. It’s how you handle them and what you learn from them that can make the difference between personal growth or surrendering to your frustrations.

4) Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

I know this is a cliche, and we’ve all probably heard it a million times, but it really sunk in for me this year. I have struggled quite a bit with the barbell in general, and bench press to be more specific. Three years ago I sprained my wrist badly while using a barbell with a spotter who lost focus for the split second it took for me to get a severe injury. Ever since then, the barbell has been my nemesis. I’m not going to lie; I fear it. Throughout the winter, our team does winter training in the gym, quite often we use a barbell. We also do testing three times in the winter and one part of the test involves the bench press. You can imagine my excitement at doing that. Not at all.

During our gym training, our coach recognized that I would slide under that barbell for my bench press with fear written all over my face. Apparently I looked like I was about to face a firing squad. I had convinced myself I couldn’t do it. In fact, the lone thought in my head was, “I can’t do this!” And guess what? I was right.

Thankfully, our coach wouldn’t accept my paranoia or fear and told me that I had to stop looking at that bar as if it had teeth and was going to bite me. Instead, I needed to look at it as if I were ready to attack it. I had allowed the bar, an inanimate object, to control me. It was time to take back control.

It didn’t happen overnight. My first few attempts at looking at the bar with thoughts of aggression and domination instead of fear and loathing were sincere, but likely pathetic. I’m not the world’s best actress and I still had doubts creep into my head. The intention was there: “I CAN do it!” But the little voice inside me still wasn’t so little: “Well, maybe you can’t…that bar still looks scary…maybe you should just lighten the weight a bit…” Over time, my logical mind became more assertive over my fear: “Yes, you CAN do this. You’ve done it before. You’ve got the strength to do it. You CAN do it!”

The more I believed I could lift that weight, the easier it got to actually do it because I was proving to myself week by week that I could, indeed, lift that weight. Obviously my gains were incremental. I’m not talking about something ridiculous like thinking, “I can lift that bus!” and then giving it a go. But, when it comes to realistic expectations about yourself and your team, having the attitude of “I can!” will go much farther than the self-doubting “I can’t”. Which leads me to the next lesson…

Dragon boat team racing

Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

5) Mental toughness is often more important than physical strength

I wrote a blog post about mental toughness because it was something I was grappling with this season. I worked hard to get my body strong and ready for the season, but the one component I neglected sometimes seemed to be the mental component. I found myself having inner conversations during training, nearly talking myself out of working harder. It was almost as if I had hit the wall and couldn’t push myself past it. Thankfully I recognized that it was my mind that needed work, so I did some research on that aspect of my training and refocused my efforts, which helped immensely. You can read the post to find out how I’ve managed to work on my mental toughness.

6) Yoga is essential.

I never put much emphasis on stretching or yoga when I was younger. I never really thought I needed to stretch much and I found yoga to be somewhat of a bore (my apologies to my yoga instructor friends!). I wanted to move quickly. I liked explosive sports. Yoga just seemed slow to me.

This year, I finally found the benefits of yoga. With my aforementioned setbacks, I had to skip the gym for several weeks and instead go to yoga classes. I started feeling such relief from an hour of yoga twice a week, so I started stretching on my own each night and every morning. A teammate who is an athletic trainer gave me a series of stretches to help my injury. Between the stretches and the yoga, it was as if a light went on in my head. “THIS is why people stretch and do yoga! I get it!” And I finally acknowledged that stretching and yoga were not just for “other people”.

Sunrise yoga

Photo: Didi Fisher Weinreb

8) My foam roller is my sidekick.

And along the lines of stretching and yoga, my foam roller has become my new best friend. I actually started writing a blog post about foam rolling because I find it so beneficial (look for it to be published here in the near future).

I have worked with a trainer at my gym on certain aspects of foam rolling which target the muscles we use for paddling and I have found such relief. Rolling before a workout, as well as afterwards, has helped my strength, flexibility, and agility more than I ever would have imagined.

9) “In athletics, there is no such thing as a perfect season, even if you win all your contests. Relationships, playing time, injuries and other factors can impact your team. Great teams (athletes and coaches) are not deterred by bumps in the road.” – Proactive Coaching

Like any team, we had our highs and lows this year. We had bumps in the road that we might not have expected, and we also had amazing results that we had worked hard for. The quote above sums up how our team reacted to the bumps in the road. Instead of being discouraged and hanging our heads low, we sucked it up and figured out what we needed to do to carry on and become even stronger despite any low moments.

Dragon boat team racing

Hammerheads competing at GWN Challenge in Toronto

10) Team culture is as important as talent.

Both teams that I paddle with (women’s and mixed) have amazingly talented paddlers. But what brings our team together is the team culture. You could easily have a boat of 20 strong paddlers who are all superstars, yet if the team culture sucks, that team will struggle in so many ways.

I feel so fortunate that I’m on teams with paddlers who trust each other, encourage each other, and consistently raise the bar higher while helping each other up to a new level. We are competitive with each other while training on the water and in the gym, but we are still supporting our teammates’ development and successes.

A healthy team culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of effort on everyone’s part – paddlers as well as coaches. I’m grateful that both of my teams have worked hard to each have an extremely productive team culture.

The 2017 season has taught me many lessons. It’s been a successful year in terms of training, paddling, racing and personal growth, and for that I’m most grateful to my coach and all of my teammates. I’ve grown as a paddler and as a teammate and, after a few weeks off, I feel like I am up to the challenge for the 2018 season. What did you learn this past season?


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