Kaylee’s korner

mind over matter


Used with permission from Brad Robbins

Balancing sports and school can be hard physically and emotionally, but my friends and teammates are always there helping me along the way. Because of that support, I am constantly reminded of why I row.

Kaylee Robbins, Editor in Chief

Hello everyone and welcome back to Kaylee’s Korner,

In most sports and in most aspects of life, mindset is one of the most important factors for success. 

Recently, I was in a race and didn’t PR (personal record). I went up to my coach, admittedly in tears, and I asked him, point blank, what was wrong with me. I had been going to practice, doing extra, and eating right. By the books, I should have been easily hitting my PR, but something was wrong.

While speaking to my coach, he told me something he once learned at a coaching camp. He said that, for any athlete, if you aren’t doing well there are only two reasons: either something is wrong with your body or something is wrong with your mind (or a combination of both).

A day later I discovered I had a double ear infection, so at least one part of his theory was correct. But what about the other? Could my mental health really be a factor in how well I do as an athlete?

This idea reminded me of a summer ago when for three straight races in one weekend, I completely lost control of my blade, causing water to flood the oar, something I hadn’t done in months. This cost my team seconds on each of those races. And let me tell you, it wasn’t because I didn’t know how to handle my oar, or because I was just terrible at rowing. 

When I thought back on everything going on that weekend, I realized I was in the middle of a breakup (something that seems like typical teenage drama but can actually take a huge toll on someone’s mind). In a circumstance where my mind was usually clear, it was swarming with thoughts that had nothing to do with racing. 

The problem with being a student-athlete is just that: you are also a student. More importantly, you’re a teenage human. Not everything will be drama free and most of the time your mind will not be clear. Whenever I’m sad or have a lot going on, I realize that my rowing is vastly impacted (and usually not in a good way). 

At a time in my life when drama continually exists, I have to think of creative ways to channel those emotions. I have in no way mastered my mind, but I definitely have tips to try to transfer those emotions.

One thing I do to keep control of my thoughts is to write them down on paper. I keep a diary hidden in my car (the location is top secret even to all of you), and I try to write in it every morning. Some days, I have to write in it before I even get out of my car for practice because it’s just been one of those days. I know that if I go out on the water without writing, that will be the only thing I think about. 

Multiple studies have shown that writing your thoughts and emotions down can help you articulate those feelings. Sorting out your thoughts on paper creates a sense of clarity. It might not clear your mind completely, but it can definitely help you take your focus off of the drama for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a diary, the notes section on your phone can also be very helpful (especially since you can lock your notes away with a secret diary password).

Another tactic I use when I have a lot going on mentally is taking it out on the water. My coach jokes sometimes about thinking of the blade as the face of someone or something you are dealing with. I find it helpful to use this tactic and think to myself “imagine how (insert issue) won’t even matter when you win this race.” 

Physical activity also creates endorphins that can naturally make you feel better. If you can figure out how to train your mind to transfer the bad energy into good, you can even be at an advantage over your competition and can start to perform well despite intense pressure. 

If you are dealing with something major and your mental health issues have surpassed the point of self-help, you should seek someone out to help you. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a friend or a teammate to tell them about all your issues because, even though this can be helpful, it can also be detrimental to others and yourself as they are not mental health professionals. 

The last thought I want to leave you all with is to avoid denial. The most important thing to remember is not to completely ignore your issues. For student-athletes, mental clarity is a huge advantage, and if you ignore your problems and push them down you will, consciously or subconsciously, suffer athletically. 

Take these tips as you will, but if you have any issues or questions, as always, fill out my questionnaire for topics to be addressed in my next column.