“2K Anxiety” – Is it more simple than we think?

Erg pain

“2k Anxiety” – Is it more Simple than we think?

This week I read two great blogs, one by Strength Coach, Will Ruth,  “Overcoming Erg Fear” referencing RowingRelated’s 2010 blog Winter Workouts: Why do Rowers Fear the Erg?”regarding the rowing ergometer and the “anxiety” that athletes go through. I was very glad to read these articles because there really hasn’t been enough written about how to overcome or address this anxiety. The recent November Issue of Rowing Magazine also published an article on, “How to Beat the 2k” by Katie O’Driscoll.

Trusting in the training plan, developing race strategy, and mapping out everything before the “event” is always a good idea. Using visualization, utilizing self-talk, and “embracing” the challenge are excellent strategies in approaching the “event”. Understanding how to pace oneself, setting realistic performance goals, and drawing upon previous training experiences will definitely lead to success. Challenging oneself, using team standards as motivation, and just racing keeps things simple and the eye on the prize.

Poor Clubber Lang

Yet, athletes continue to “psych themselves out”, which leave coaches looking for more ways to explain how to get through it all.

I would like to offer another perspective.

“Do not try and bend the spoon…”

To be clear, I am not re-inventing the wheel here. Every one of the concepts above are sound strategies and will help. The key is finding what works.

DISC – “What KIND of Athlete are YOU?”

DISCI was first introduced to the DISC Model while working for FitGolf Performance Center in Conshohocken, PA.  The physical therapist there, would offer DISC to golfers who were having trouble with the “mental side” of their game. Golf is a sport where every shot can matter, and an athlete’s game can soon unravel if they aren’t able to focus from shot to shot.

What fascinated me about DISC was that once an athlete knew what kind of athlete they were and how their behavior affected their results it became easier to eliminate the things that didn’t help.

Athletes go through physical and mental stress on a daily basis – in training sessions and during performance. Success is determined in how an athlete responds to that stress. We choose our behaviors, and sometimes we are not sure what behaviors work for us.

In rowing, novice athletes don’t know any better. Their enthusiasm for the sport is based on their instant success in learning something new. Rowing isn’t a complicated sport to learn, but it is a difficult sport to master. Once novice rowers realize how much work is required to be good, their perspective begins to change, and they may begin to behave differently. They may believe they need to act a certain way because they have upperclassmen or elite rowers to model for them. The expectations imposed on them by the varsity coach may be different than that of their novice coach. The team goals and demands of training are different. Either way, their perspective has changed, and their approach to the sport is much different than it was in the beginning. This new perspective carries over into training sessions, regattas, and the dreaded erg test.

The Behavior Styles

D – Dominance

“Move over Pops!”

Dominance refers to how an athlete approaches a “task” – a workout, a race, a team meeting. Athletes with a high level of “D” will attack tasks set out before them. These athletes are competitive and want to be challenged. Athletes with a low level of “D” are more reserved and may hesitate in tackling the same tasks. In taking erg tests, high D’s want coaches to give them a goal, so they can go achieve it. They will want to get it over with right away and on their terms. If the goal is to be the fastest, they will do what is necessary to achieve that. It is important to set the guidelines and then get out of their way.  Athletes with a low level of “D”  will not respond well to a “Rah-Rah” approach.

I – Influence

Image result for spartans snl gif

“The Spartans hate to brag but we’re a real hum-dinger…”

Influence refers to how an athlete prefers to interact with people. Athletes with a high level of “I” enjoy interacting and dealing with teammates. These athletes will thrive in the “team” erg test setting. If given an opportunity to cheer for their teammates, they will do so enthusiastically. It may even be better to allow them to cox their teammates before their own erg tests. They will bask in the success of their teammates especially if they had a hand in motivating them. Athletes with a low level of “I” would rather work one-on-one or a small group. Erg competitions may not the best place for them to perform. It may be better to allow them to test on their own. Give an athlete with a high level of “I” the opportunity to interact and motivate.  Give an athlete with a low level of “I” the space to operate. They are not bad teammates, it just requires a lot of energy to be one.

S – Steadiness

Image result for billy madison slow down gif

“Slow down…”

Steadiness refers to how an athlete responds to the pace of their workload. Athletes with high level of “S” value stability, therefore it is important for them to have a solid plan prior to their ergometer test. It will be even better if they have advanced notice. “Surprise” erg tests may not work well, because they won’t have time to plan. They will spend a lot of energy and focus trying to come up with a plan. High S’s may do well with rate capped tests or tests where coaches give them rates. They will focus all their energy on execution. Athletes with a low level of “S” will display less patience and prefer a more fast-paced environment. Coaches may need to provide structure for them and keep the training session interesting.

C – Conscientious

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Those are the rules of jinx...”

Conscientious refers to how an athlete responds to the rules as well as the accuracy and data of training. Athletes with a high level of “C” pay attention to details and will need a good reason for doing the erg test. High C’s hold themselves and everyone else to high standards. Give them a good reason for why they have to do the test, and provide value in why they need to perform. Similar to high S’s, high C’s need a race plan they will believe in. They will draw upon their previous experiences to ensure their success. Make sure to remind of their past successes and how performing will contribute to the overall success of the team. Athletes with a low level of “C”, will be less concerned with prior data and details and may tune coaches out if they tend to be long winded about such things.

Which behavior style applies to you or your athletes?

DISC for coaches?


Coaches also need to understand what makes themselves tick. We all wear different “hats”. The challenge we have as rowing coaches is that being aware of when we are wearing our athlete hat versus our coach hat.

As an athlete, I definitely had a high level of  “D”. I was very competitive and held myself and my teammates to high competitive standards. I believe my only job was to go as fast as possible, and I wanted to win everything.

As a coach, I have a very high level of “I”. It is very important for me to connect to my athletes and find out what motivates them. I ask them a lot of questions, and try to put myself in their shoes.

This might prove confusing to my athletes.

If I am trying to motivate an athlete into performing well, I may find myself going to that place that made me successful as an athlete. If the situation is stressful, such as a championship regatta, I may tell them to “Just do it!” and go out and execute. How they respond and whether they are successful is directly influenced by me.

Moral of the Story

“Are we asking our athletes to do too much?”

Tackling “2k anxiety” may be more simple than we think.

Every athlete has a different perspective on how they should approach a workout or race. It is up to coaches to recognize what every athlete values and try to support that. If coaches cannot recognize their athletes’ perspective, then it may be difficult to help them overcome performance anxiety. Coaches may even be the cause of it.

It is a lot to ask an athlete to just “improve” themselves. Coaches are not setting athletes up to succeed when they are expecting them to figure it out in a short amount of time. When coaches draw upon their  own experiences as rowers and racers  and share them, it may be an effective way to get their message across. However, if the athletes do not share the same perspective they may believe they are being forced to achieve success the coaches’ way.


Ask your athletes to do LESS, not more.

Every athlete is different.

Give them each the opportunity and time to understand themselves better, and allow them to identify the things that work for them. Help them eliminate the strategies that don’t work. This leaves more time to focus on developing their strengths. The DISC Model is great tool for athletes and coaches to use for this purpose.

Teach your athlete how to be successful.


Isn’t that what being a rowing coach is all about?

You can find out more about yourself and your strengths by getting your own AthleteDISC or CoachDISC Profile.

For more information on Athletic Profiling, Individual Team and FMS Screening, Strength and Conditioning, Training Programs, Seminars, and Rowing Analysis – contact me!


Strength Coach Will, Overcoming Erg Fear, November 2015

Rowing Related, Winter Workouts: Why do Rowers Fear the Erg, December 2010

Athlete Assessments, Disc in Sport, Accreditation Manual

10 thoughts on ““2K Anxiety” – Is it more simple than we think? Leave a comment

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