Ursula Grobler: Erg rowing & mental training (transcribed)

Originally posted in article Ursula Grobler: Erg Rowing & Mental Training, published January 12, 2015.

Erg World Record Holder Ursula Grobler on Erg Rowing & the Mental Game

Transcription of interview conducted by Lindsey Wilson, Positive Performance Training

Lindsey Wilson: All right, hello, this is Lindsey Wilson from Positive Performance and I am on the phone with Ursula Grobler, and she is in South Africa right now, so thanks for joining us, Ursula.

Ursula Grobler: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Lindsey: Absolutely. A little bit of background on Ursula. Most recently, you were fourth place at the World Championships. That was in Amsterdam, I believe.

Ursula: Yeah, that’s right, it was.

Lindsey: Yeah, and in 2010, you were the Erg world record holder, which we’re going to talk a little bit about that experience a little bit later. It’s something that you should be quite proud of and is quite an accomplishment. I know you’re well-known in the rowing world for that.


Lindsey: But, today, you know, we’re always trying to get the information out about the importance of mental training. I know it’s been a big part of your training and your success, and you know, when we first started working with you a couple of years ago, I guess the first thing I just want you to sort of paint a picture of what were the challenges, what were you looking for in mental training, because you were already well-established and successful at that point when we first started talking about doing some work and what were the things and the challenges that you were seeing that you, for lack of a better word, wanted to fix or work on?

Ursula: Well, Lindsey, and it’s something that I actually am still working on. But you can, you know, as you said, I’m fourth, and fourth isn’t first. And so it’s about reaching the potential that I believe I’m capable of and I believe I’m capable of a gold medal. So, I started working with you guys because I want to reach that potential; I want the gold and then, of course, working towards the Olympics and towards Rio, just want to make sure that on that day I am as prepared and as ready and I can really just feel I have done everything possible to get my mind and my body ready to perform at my absolute best. And there’s nothing holding me back, you know. As we’ve worked through your sessions and sometimes, as you said there, just don’t let yourself get in the way. So, something like, you know, just trying to work on that too, because sometimes also the way that I am, I want to do sometimes too much, and so I’ve also got to learn to trust and to just know this is enough, this is good. Because then, I don’t always believe that. So, that’s just, you know, some of the things that I’m working on and working towards and that’s why I started working with you guys.


Lindsey: Yeah. You know, I think some of the things you said really stuck out for me. I think especially in the rowing community, you know, I think every sport draws a certain type of person, but I would say rowing in particular, you know, that sort of “nothing’s ever good enough” and that draw and that mentality, I think, is really important. I mean, I’m sure you wouldn’t have gotten to the level that you’re at without it and yet talk about how you balance that because that’s the one thing that can hold you back, too, right?

Ursula: Yeah. You know, we have these 20k rows in the morning, which are pretty standard throughout the rowing world, but then you start thinking, “No, I need to do more. I need to do 21, I need to do 22, I need to do 24,” and it just keeps going, and also because we believe miles make champions. Which I’m not saying, you know, as you said, you got to do the hard work, but there’s also a balance between believing, no, no, I’m going to do these 20ks, the best that I can, and not do more because I didn’t do the others good. Because at the end of the day, you’ve also only got 2ks that you race. You don’t have 2ks and 100 meters, so you have to make that those 2ks the best that you can and that also takes quite something to learn to do that.


Lindsey: Mm-hm. Absolutely. And, what tools do you try to utilize to ride that line and keep that balance in your life and balance is a hard thing right, because when you’re an elite athlete, balance means different things than a normal person working 9 to 5, right? But, how do you? What are some tools that you utilize or even tell another rower to utilize to find that balance of quality maybe over quantity, I guess, is sort of what you’re getting at.

Ursula: Yeah, I, you know, let’s just first start with some of the basics, but that’s, that’s just obviously making sure your space around you is comfortable. You know, just, it is in a little, the devil is in the details and so is the god. So, sometimes, you know, just making sure first of all that your space around you is comfortable: eating right, having good balance in nutrition in your body just so that you can start working on your mind. And then so I really try and sometimes, when the mind is going all over the place, just going back to those tangible things, I’m like, okay, well, wait, am I eating right? Am I sleeping good? What else is going on that’s maybe upsetting me? And then going back again to like, the mental work of doing these exercises with you and even like, the worksheets that I do online with you. Again, it’s a tangible thing sometimes to pull your mind out of the anxiety or when things aren’t, you feel aren’t in balance. Doing something tangible like the workouts is really good. Because sometimes I can’t access the meditation work because my mind isn’t able to quiet down, you know? And sometimes when I’m working through the workouts, the mental work, and it’s just like, you know, what’s the rise and test of your breathing as your chest rises and falls. I can’t get to that space because my mind is just going a little crazy, and that’s when doing the workouts is good and things. So, those are some of the tools I use. I use a variety of things because sometimes, just the moments call for different things and then having a lot of resources is beneficial. Sometimes even just calling up the coach saying, “Hey, I’ve got mud in my mind,” as I call it. “Can we chat?” That’s a very good resource, and then so those are, you know, and then lastly, even your teammates around you, I draw a lot of strength sometimes from them just also just hearing the things that they’re struggling with. And just knowing, oh, I struggle with the same thing. And then immediately it doesn’t feel so abnormal.



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