Goal Setting: I’m Not Sitting In The Seat That I Want

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Goal setting is important. What if you’re sitting in the 3V and you want to be sitting in the JV? What if you’re sitting in the JV and you want to be sitting in the 1V?  

Wanting to be in a better boat is a common situation that happens to many athletes in their high school and collegiate careers. You’re not where you want to be, so the question is, how do you get to where you want to be for your goal setting?

The theme of this article is to understand what you can control and what you cannot. The specifics of your selection for a particular crew might be simple, or it might be a more complex series of factors. These factors might be ergometer performance, technique, leadership, attitude, coachability, etc.

Empowering Your Teammates

The first thing I would suggest is that you work hard to develop relationships with those athletes in the boat you are currently sitting in. When that boat starts to function better and gain more speed, it puts you in a better position to be considered for a promotion. A critical attitude that you must have to be a successful member of a crew is to help the others in your crew row up to your level. This factor includes your communication style. You must create an environment to add value to others and therefore work hard with and trust you.

What you are doing outside of the boat is as important as performance on the water in some respects. The energy that you’re bringing to the boathouse on tasks such as getting the oars ready for practice, taking care of the boat, looking out for other people, cheering other people along, being there for people when they’re down and the list goes on and on.

A good coach will be watching for how you act and help the program move in general. This behavior may ultimately play a part in selection decisions. Additionally, if you endear yourself to others when the switch comes in a seat racing set (as much as we hope that seat race is objective and not biased), you are going to be on the right side of that as well. 

I Am Not Getting Any Coaching

Lack of feedback is potentially an issue with many that feel they are not making progress. It also breeds discontent. When athletes perceive they are stuck and feel that the coach is not investing time to improve, it can be frustrating. The first step is to initiate a conversation with your coach to get the feedback you need to put a strategy in place to improve so that can improve your goal setting. 

Developing a positive relationship with your coach is critical. Therefore, it is crucial to ask for some honest feedback about what they see and why they have selected you for a particular seat. There may be many reasons for this, and you must listen to this feedback and take notes as appropriate. 

Generally speaking, folks like to give feedback rather than receive it. 

However, there is more power in pull than push. You may not like all of the feedback you receive, but the real skill here is to absorb the feedback and not initially react to it if it’s not what you want to hear. The gift to receiving feedback is to realize that it’s just feedback and look at it objectively. Even if it feels overly negative, if you can mine the mud and rocks for the gems hidden within, you will have understood the essence of receiving feedback well.

Another positive aspect of talking to your coach is to establish an effective line of communication. You don’t have to be best friends with your coach; however, if this relationship is in good standing, it has implications for college recruitment when it comes time for them to provide a reference for you.

Where Do You Want To Be?

Don’t think that people can read your mind. Being assertive isn’t about controlling other people or bending people to your will. Being assertive doesn’t mean being passive or aggressive or passive-aggressive. It simply means stating what you want and leaving it at that. 

It would be best if you communicated what your goals are during your time on your team. When others understand where you are headed, it does not leave them guessing what you want out of your experience. This does not mean that the universe always provides. However, there is a greater level of internal empowerment when you ask for what you want when considering goal setting, rather than lamenting or getting frustrated about what is missing. 

Here are some starting questions that you might ask your coach to help the conversation move forward.

What do I have to do to improve technically?

How can I be a better teammate?

What are you looking for from me in terms of leadership?

What performance benchmarks do I need to attain?

Take Responsibility For Your Own Learning and Coaching

Another strategy you can employ is to continue developing your locus of control. Even if you have been rowing for 30 years, there is always something new and exciting to learn from others. We live at a time where there are plenty of resources such as podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs that feature some of the greatest coaches and athletes talking about their progress and journey. Podcasts are an excellent way to improve your professional development because it is passive and you are able to do something else, such as driving, exercising or walking the dog and improving your knowledge. It would be best if you had an attitude of being a life-long learner.

Much of what is discussed here is a good framework for goal setting and any situation in life that you find yourself in. The only caveat is to make sure you consume content from those with a proven track record and can speak knowledgeably about rowing. 

It is also essential to recognize the coach-to-athlete ratio on your team. If your coach is responsible for 30 athletes, then the amount of time they have to coach individuals is a small fraction of a two-hour practice time. You must become the best coach for you and continually be striving to improve your rowing without needing constant direction from an external source. 

Finally, there are plenty of online coaches that you can contract with to help improve your performance in addition to your team coach. Search out people who can support your goals for the 2k or 6k test or technical/mindset growth.  I would be happy to have a conversation about how I could support you.

Stand Firm On Your Principles

There may be situations where you have to make empowered refusals (peer pressure) to stay on track. It is essential to understand that there is a difference between the words “can’t” and “don’t.” 

For example:

“I can’t go out tonight because I have an important race or practice tomorrow.”


“I don’t go out the night before an important race or practice.”


“I can’t eat junk food.”


“I don’t eat junk food.”

The words “can’t” and “don’t” could be seen to mean the same thing and be used interchangeably. However, the difference in how you use these words can take on different meanings and thus make the difference when you are working toward a goal. They are different styles of refusal. 

When you use the word “don’t,” it implies a firmly entrenched principle. It asserts a personal value and also sends a signal to others that is much less negotiable. 

When using “can’t,” it communicates a more temporary external restriction, and the effect is to move the locus of control outside of yourself. It also opens up the possibility that other people can follow up with more prompts (peer pressure) to entice you to break that principle. There is extensive research on this principle, and I encourage you to consider reading it as you pursue longer-term goals in life. 

The above point in terms of “can’t” versus “don’t” provides you with another tool to help you navigate external pressures that might derail your opportunities for promotion in your club or team.


As stated at the beginning of this article, there are some things you can control and others you cannot. If you are not happy with where you are on your team, you need to take ownership of your attitude and mindset. Seek feedback from others, get feedback, and sit in the driving seat to get to where you want to be. The change might not happen overnight, but if you can apply some of the principles in this article, you will move forward. At the very least, you will learn a practical approach to achieving your goals, be that to row in the varsity or get that next job promotion. 

If I can help you on your rowing or life journey, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Until next time! Happy Rowing!

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