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“So you sprint to the end. The winners come back here and the LOSERS will be PUNISHED! Because it’s all about WINNING and rowers want to WIN!” This rather alarming tirade was part of a circuits seminar for rowers that I went on this weekend. Alongside the useful instruction on core stability for rowing and new ideas for circuit training, some rowing psychology was thrown in for free. The central philosophy is that to be a successful rower you have to be ANGRY.

“You have to be able to look over at your opponents in the next lane”, sneered our instructor, curling his lip, “And think, ‘I’m better than you’. You have to be able to EYEBALL them, to FACE THEM DOWN!! If you can’t do that, you’ll NEVER be a WINNER!”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that my rowing career to date has been less than illustrious. My shelf is still standing empty, waiting for that first pot. In the eyes of the circuits instructor, I would no doubt be classed as a LOSER who ought to be PUNISHED.

Yet I don’t think my lack of success to date has been due to any lack of determination or grit. I’m known in the club for my terrier-like tenacity when it comes to pushing to the limits. I might have the poorest erg score but I have one of the stoutest hearts. I want to win and I hate losing. But that kind of macho posturing that means glaring at the opposition and jostling club members for a place in the boat leaves me cold.

Perhaps it’s my legal background. My fellow lawyers and I could walk into court, chatting away about mutual friends and what we had for lunch, but as soon as the judge processed in, the gloves were off. We’d be fierce opponents, fighting our case to the bitter end. Then we’d revert in the blink of the eye to friendly banter as soon as the case adjourned.

The same goes for rowing. I’m happy to chat to my opponents before the race starts – and often a bit of friendliness can pay back if you need an bit of leeway because someone’s doubled up – but as soon as we’re on the water, it’s war.

Maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe if I tried a bit of shouting and aggression I’d find myself in the winning crew. But at what cost? Rowing, for me, is still about being sporting. So you can keep your angry talk and your punishments. If you meet me at a regatta I promise to be friendly. If that makes me a loser, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

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