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Ocean Brothers, 
Rowing Psychology

With the row fast approaching, British Skin Foundation has chatted to sports psychologist Dr Amanda Wilding Pinckney to learn more about how she's helped the Ocean Brothers mentally prepare for their challenge.
 
Jude, Amanda & Greg
 
Ocean Brothers Greg Baily & Jude Massey are rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, unsupported to raise money for skin cancer research in memory of their dad, Peter. Over approximately eight weeks the daring duo will face weight loss, fatigue, boredom and sleep deprivation. That’s before you even consider the possibility of potential problems, daily chores (scraping barnacles from the hull) and bad weather!
 
Aged just 27 and 18, the brothers are taking on a herculean task which consists of rowing for two hours on and off the whole time. British Skin Foundation speaks with their sports psychologist, Dr Amanda Wilding Pinckney, to find out just how much they will be affected mentally on their voyage. 

Thanks for speaking with us Amanda, you’ve been working with Greg & Jude in the run up to their row, how do you help to prepare people for this sort of mental challenge?
 
Whilst it varies with each challenge and team there are similarities in the way I approach the mental preparation. Initially it’s about getting to know in this case the boys, their motivations, the nature of the relationship between each other, who else is involved and what they want to achieve from the challenge – completion, record attempt, self-promotion, charity etc. Its then about what mental skills between us we feel they’ll need to complete the task and of these what skills do they have and which need developing. This can be specific techniques to deal with particular situations, improving cohesion, increasing self-awareness, developing roles and responsibilities or strategy development. 
 
Thus, from here is where we see the process change between different people but overall, I break the challenge down and look at each aspect from start to finish; the realities that will occur at each stage, the possibilities of each stage and then what they can do about these. Hence the framework stays the same as it is a tried and tested method that is a combination of evidence-based interventions, feedback from clients and personal experience. The details or application of the details vary to suit the environment, individuals and desired outcome.  

Do you have to be a certain type of ‘character’ to take on a sporting trial like this?
 
People will often say yes to this type of question as they believe you have to be a certain personality type but in my experience it’s more about a mixture of circumstance, personality and motivation that have combined at a particular point in time. For example Jude and Greg are totally different personalities but they have a common reason to do it. Others will have different motivations but the opportunity arose at the right time. Having said that, ‘crazy’ is a word commonly thrown into the mix when you ask them why are you doing this!? 
 

Amanda has helped Greg & Jude to prepare mentally for their challenge 
 
How long into the challenge do you think it will be before Greg & Jude start struggle mentally? 
 
That’s a really hard question to answer and the honest truth is we just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean we leave it to chance. Together we prepare the best we can so that when they’re out there they can manage each situation physically and mentally to the best of their ability. To do this we firstly set up daily activities and check points to ensure they are on point with each element of the challenge. In addition to this we go through all the possible situations (good and bad) that may cause them to struggle and come up with coping strategies so they are prepared for when the ‘struggle’ starts. The more expected struggles such as fatigue, sleep deprivation we have action plans for such as practicing sleeping 2 on, 2 off so we can see how long it takes them to fall asleep and wake up so we can create routines to support these behaviours. Other techniques are built upon strategies they already have experience of such as mindfulness. It’s about helping them feel prepared for and ready for any situation that arises.   
 
Do you think there will be a point where they hit the proverbial ‘wall’? 
 
I’ll be surprised if there isn’t but the thing is they may not ‘hit’ it at the same time and so hopefully this will enable them to help each other through it either physically rowing for another, psychologically motivating one another, supporting each other and despite the boat being only about 20ft long giving each other space.
 
How would you advise them to keep in good spirits if they start to flag?
 
We have broken the row down into sections so there are little ‘wins’ and celebrations along the way. They have different rewards (including alcohol, their dads favourite) for reaching various milestones, this is a real challenge and so getting to the end is not the only focus there are other achievements along the way that are worth celebrating, this way there is also always something to motivate them. 
 
Other rowers have reported that they’ve hallucinated on long rowing challenges. How would you advise the boys cope if this happens? 
 
The boys have gotten to know each other on a whole new level during the preparation for this challenge and they are testing their sleep patterns. Both boys are keeping diaries and so we are looking at their normal patterns of behaviour. Due to this hopefully they’ll be able to note changes in each other and the diary may allow them to start to see changes in their own cognitions. At this point we have said about changing the row pattern in order to avoid the negative build-up of chemicals and decrease fatigue. They will also have brief intervention strategies to help reduce any anxiety associated with these.    
 
On this sort of endurance task, how easy is it to tell if you’re hallucinating? 
 
As they will always be together they’ll be able to ask each other, did you hear/see/smell that, but because they're related and will be experiencing the situation together it makes it a hard question to answer as they could experience the same thing then you get into a whole new realm of questions.
 

Planning for the post-row comedown is important too
   
Once the row is over, how do you think Greg & Jude will cope with the comedown? Is this something they need to carefully consider too? 
 
This is massively important and something we have spoken about. Specifically, when is the row over…when they get out of the boat? When they get the boat out of the water? When they’re back in the UK? Being on the same page regarding the physical finish point is essential to avoid frustration and resentment and this they should be able to manage due to the discussions we’ve already had. The other element which is harder to define is the psychological finish, how do they accept the outcome of the challenge and move on, how long it will take for this to happen is unknown. For this we have debriefs planned so we can unwrap their experiences and ensure they enjoy the comedown as it is still part of the row in the same way as this build up has been. 
 
Do you have any final words of wisdom for the Ocean Brothers before they take on their challenge? 
 
The brothers have learnt so much about themselves and their relationship already which has allowed them to psychologically prepare together for the challenge. They have accepted their own strengths and weaknesses and that of each other. They know that combined these make them stronger. 
The first challenge was to get to the start line, then the focus changes and it’s a different type of test, one they are up for, one they can rise to and one they are certainly ready for. Process, detail and focus, the rest is the fun part… 

Thanks so much for chatting to us Amanda! 
 
 
 
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