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Staying connected as a team

For much of 2020, the world as we knew it changed. With unprecedented global measures governing our every move, it’s clear that the Coronavirus pandemic has touched everyone in some way. But when you’re an Olympic team that relies on co-located training, how do you overcome physical separation to stay in sync?

In the second instalment of our British rowing blog series, we sat down with GB rower Rowan McKellar to talk teamwork, training and keeping connected as a team.

A shared goal

At the end of the day, everyone has the same goal.

On a rowing team, you can be the best in the boat – but nobody knows. You either win as a team, or you don’t. Of course, we are all individuals with different personalities, and those do come into play. The key is knowing how to approach each person, so you can maximise the abilities of each member of the team and identify training practices that align to people’s strengths. To help us pinpoint personality types, our team psychologist gives us a test where everyone answers questions designed to identify certain traits. This helps the coaches understand how to best engage the team, as well as giving the athletes a better idea of how to interact with each other. Overall, having a good understanding of what people respond to – and what they don’t – really helps us work together as a team.

Throughout the lockdown, British Rowing has been a pillar of support. We had two phone calls a week, as well as whole squad meetings, which helped keep everyone on the same page and aligned with what the rest of the team is doing. And a lot of rowers live in the same area, as they often have to move to be near the rest of the team. I’ll often bump into other British Rowing teammates at the supermarket or whilst on a walk, so we feel that sense of closeness all the time. Quite a lot of team members even live in the same house – including myself – so they’re very good friends, which can help with that overall alignment.

Of course, if there’s disagreement in the team, it’s easier if you don’t have such a personal relationship! Falling out with your friends can be hard. But as previously discussed, people have different personalities; athletes can be quite headstrong, and this can cause clashes. When this does rarely happen, we all recognise that it’s often just situational frustrations. And the coach will often jump in to act as a mediator, which can be helpful!

Keeping team spirit alive

With social distancing a long term consideration, it’s important for athletes to try and keep up with what the rest of the team is doing. In British Rowing, there is a plan to train at home until September, which means at least we have a clear plan and we know exactly what we’re doing for now. Of course, as an organisation, we need to look at risk versus reward; we can’t go back to normal too quickly, especially when we’re in such close proximity in the boat. So, if we go rowing, it’s completely recreational at the moment.

Whilst we are training apart, we’re staying in sync by keeping in touch via regular meetings. We have Zoom calls each week; sometimes we have coffee mornings. We also do yoga twice a week, which helps to give us all a bit of structure! The most important thing to note is that nobody is taking their foot off the gas when it comes to training. The Olympics might have been postponed, but the only thing that’s changed is that we have an extra year to prepare.

Above all, we’re a close-knit team – so we’re making sure we keep working together even though we’re apart. We’ve just got to deal with the situation and come out of the other side stronger!

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