How important are the use of goals in rowing (or any sport, really)?

It’s probably quite unlikely that you have sat yourself on an ergometer (or a ski erg/bike/other machine) for a test with no score in mind.

Usually, at junior level, your coach may give you a rough score that you are likely to achieve.

However, with the wrong mind frame, they can sometimes seem impossible – out of reach even and can end up unachievable.

Goals are your starter point for improvement. Without them, you have a blind sense of direction.

It is very hard to complete a 2k test, probably one of the worst ergo tests that exists, without having a score to strive towards. Without having a time in mind, how can one pace the test right – to ensure they don’t go off too hard, or not go hard enough?

Having a goal can help you in the short or long-term. Within goal-setting, objectives can also help to be your ‘stepping stones’ towards your big project.

They can be likened to being the rungs of a ladder – each step gets you closer to the top. For example, you may come up with a score that you want to achieve in your next 2k, which takes place six weeks from now.

You might want to achieve 7:30, which is an average split of 1:52.5. You are currently four seconds away from this time, so you need to drop one split (at least) in the next few weeks to achieve this.

Your objective could involve doing some more UT1 training, so you are pushing your anaerobic base, whilst increasing your lactic acid capacity and power, which are factors that can help to improve your 2k score.

It could also involve altering your diet or measuring your macro nutrients to ensure you are getting the right proportion of carbohydrates, fats and protein in your diet to aid your body in recovering as well as it can after your training sessions.

Even adding in a half-hour long session of foam rolling and stretching every week on top of your current training can aid you in becoming more robust, so you can participate in harder sessions.

It may seem quite simple and easy to set a goal, but, it needs to be thought out, to make sure it is achievable, or not too easy to achieve. A typical template that many people like to use when goal-setting, is SMART. Many people know it, but don’t use it:


S stands for specific

“I want to be quicker in rowing”

Saying this is pretty unspecific.

Do you mean wanting to be faster on the ergo, when performing tests, or do you mean improving your boat speed on the water?

If it is on an ergo test, how much faster do you want to complete the test?

If you are looking at boat speed, there are many factors needed to increase it, such as finding a good rhythm in the boat, the timing of your catches, or the ratio of power used in the drive.

Establishing a specific objective is the first step in creating a solid goal.


M is for measurable.

Making a goal measurable, means it is a lot easier for you to know when or if you have achieved your goal.

For instance, you have decided that you want to be quicker in the boat. This could be decided that you want to come a certain position at a race.

National Schools Regatta is one of the largest junior races in the United Kingdom, and to make an A final, and especially score a medal, is a common goal for many clubs.

It could be your intention that you want to come in the top 6 at NSR, and through working on your rhythm in the boat, and improving boat speed, could help towards placing in the top end of the competition at NSR.


A = achievable

Say you just started rowing – to try and win a medal at National Schools Regatta in the same year would be quite unlikely.

Not impossible, but to set that as a goal, with different athletes having different sporting abilities, would be extremely difficult to achieve.

Goals should be challenging, but not so much that they are unable to be achieved; this could lead to an athlete being discouraged.

R means relevant

I know some, or many, know the R to stand for ‘realistic’, but I think that it is extremely similar to ‘achievable’.

The goal(s) that you make should be relevant to yourself – potentially also to your team mates, but most importantly to you.

Setting a goal that your team mate has set themselves will most likely result in failure, as they are a different athlete to your individual self.

Your specific goal is your motivator, and so needs to be important to you.


T – time-bound!

Considering all the other factors, set a time limit to work towards!

Do you want to achieve it in the next month or the next year?

A good way of getting an idea of when you want to achieve your goal, is to look at the dates of your most important races – or perhaps individual dates that have been set in your club, such as seat racing.

Having a time frame means that the likelihood of you accomplishing your goal is increased.

An example is “I want to do X by Schools Head in March”.

To finalise, we will quickly analyse a good and a bad goal, to show the difference between both.

“I want to be faster by May”

Firstly, one point is that this does have a sort of time frame. Perhaps adding a date in May would ensure a better time limit.

Again, does the athlete mean gaining a faster time on the ergo, or becoming quicker on the water? Adding to this would make it more specific.

Producing a measurable variable would also ensure that the goal is more likely to be achieved, such as getting a specific time on the ergo, or a certain place in a race.

It would be near-impossible to know if this is achievable with no measuring tool.

“I want to achieve 7:30 in my free rate 2k ergometer test that is in six-weeks’ time”.

 This is pretty much an idealistic SMART goal for a rower.

The goal is specific – you know what the rower wants to achieve.

It is measurable: there is a specific time that they want to attain.

Only you will know whether it is achievable, a rower may know this if they have previously completed a 2k with a time not too far from 7:30. It is relevant to them and has a time frame to work within.


Yasmin Ryman-King 


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