3-on-3: Start the New Year Right!

In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights that have helped them and others along the way. This month, we talked to Grace Latz (2016 Olympian in the women’s quad), Molly Bruggeman (2016 World Championship silver medalist in the women’s four), and Mike Gennaro (Yale assistant coach and six-time national team rower)about setting goals, dealing with adversity, and their favorite moment at the at the USRowing Annual Convention’s Breakfast with Champions.

New Year’s Eve is a traditional time for goal setting. Whether it’s the season or not, how do you set goals and how do you measure your success?

Mike: “The start of the new year is a great time to set goals. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the past as well as look ahead. It’s a fresh start and a chance to move forward to where you want to go. As a rower, setting personal goals can be tough, because you already know what you are supposed to do. There are numbers on the erg that are milestones, whichever team you are on, and you want to get to those milestones, even if it isn’t realistic. What I’ve learned from working with Coach Gladstone is that your goals should be realistic, because otherwise, it’s a world of disappointment. Make sure they are attainable. That doesn’t mean easy, but don’t overreach and fail time after time. I’m still in that process as a coach too. The goal is for the athletes to win and for the first time I don’t have an oar in my hand. It will eventually come down to others and their execution on race day. The wins and the losses are not mine, but my success is measured by how I prepared the athletes.”

Molly: “Luckily for me, I’m surrounded by women at the training center who continually push me to make new goals. There’s always something to work on in rowing and your teammates keep you honest about it. My goal setting is usually in the little things if we repeat a workout I try to improve on my score from the previous exercise. If I am coached on a particular part of the stroke, I will remember what was said to me and attempt to think about it for the next couple rows or week of practice and try to feel out the change.”

Grace: “I believe having a goal in mind is easy, but breaking it down into daily commitments with an eye on the larger picture is how you meet that goal. I write daily, weekly, and monthly checkpoints; starting backward from race day or a team naming date in my training log. Measuring success is what you make of it. It can be numbers on the erg or results on the water, but it can also be qualities that cannot be objectively measured, such as perseverance in failure or being a supportive teammate. Your success as a rower is not in how many races won or lost, and not a measure of your success as a person. Define it for yourself. “

When the going got tough over the course of your rowing career, how did you deal with adversity and what did it teach you?

Molly: “In my rowing career I’ve been no stranger to injury, cuts from selection, and disappointment in results, but of course if it were easy, everyone would do it. The thing that separates the good athletes from the great athletes is taking their ups with their downs and move on learning more about themselves in the process. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was getting cut from the Junior National Team after my senior year of high school. It made me more focused going into my freshman year at Notre Dame, and I spent the rest of the summer learning to scull back home.”

Mike: “It’s unrealistic to expect you will always be on top. Even the very best have faced adversity. My most important lesson is not to get too high on the highs and too low on the lows. Especially the latter is important. You should be disappointed, being upset shows you care, but as an athlete, I sometimes got too low on the lows, and it left me demoralized. You want to make sure that you learn something from that and end up prepared for the next time. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to understand why you lost. It’s quite similar on the highs. Even if you felt like that victory was surely going to happen, know how you did it so that you can replicate it the next race.”

Grace: “You cannot avoid adversity on any journey you pour your heart into. Name your goal, make a plan, but know you may have to ditch the plan to stick to your goal. I was cut from my first U23 camp, spent more years breaking into the training center than part of it, injuries held up my progress at times, and I failed to make an Olympic class boat the year before Rio. Those were not part of ‘Plan A.’ I learned to focus on what I can control, find real opportunities around what I can’t, and cut away the excess that wasn’t helping me. In the end what I learned from striving and ‘failing’ gave me far more information about myself than I would have if I had things handed to me. Plus, you’re not on your own. Cultivate your support system. The journey is much better shared than not.”

What was your favorite question at breakfast with junior rowers in Springfield and what advice did you share with them?

Grace: “My favorite question was ‘What did you think about at the start line of the Olympic Games?’ I’m not super nervous before the start because I choose to direct what could be nervous energy into excitement. The start is the only point in the race with possible outcomes, and some of those involve success. That’s exciting! Thinking those thoughts gives me time to breathe, be positive, and appreciate where I am, which was extra special in Rio. My best advice to juniors is to enjoy the people you meet along the way. You never know when you’ll meet a new best friend or someone who will give you a hand when you need it most. Years from now people will remember you as a human being, not an erg score or race result.”

Molly: “My favorite question from the breakfast with junior rowers was ‘What would you tell a junior athlete to do that you wish you would have done?’ and Grace and I shouted the same answer: more core work! Your body is growing as a junior athlete, and foundational strength is necessary. From my time being injured, I’ve realized it all could have been prevented if I had the core strength to prevent dysfunction.”

Mike: “At the breakfast, a girl asked me about training, what workouts she should do and where to row in the summer. She had a lot of questions that most novice and young rowers have. I didn’t necessarily have specific answers for her because every rower is different. I told her that regardless of how and where you do things, you should be confident in your decision, have confidence in your coaching and don’t doubt your preparation. Regardless of what you pick, trust that and create a world of positivity, so you can rely on that good feeling if you face adversity. You can look at athletes in any sport to realize there are several ways to do things and that doesn’t mean that one of those options is wrong.”

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