Forgiveness: It's a Powerful Tool


Much is made of the notion of forgiveness. From a young age attending a traditional Anglican school I can still remember the sermons in Chapel that taught us; to forgive is to be forgiven. Now, all of these years later, I finally get it.

Today, I’m not much for churchgoing. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t buy into what one might label as Christian values. I like to think we all embrace and live by the understanding that we do unto others as we would have others do undo us. It just makes sense. Right?

However, as for the forgiveness thing—I’ve always thought it was about the other guy. Sort of like giving the person or thing that was bothering me a pardon. As if with my blessing, they were somehow good to go and no longer held under my “I’m pissed at you!” spell. Man, did I ever have that wrong.


As athletes and coaches, forgiveness can be an effective tool for moving on from defeat. When we hold onto loss as a form of self-loathing to inspire us to work harder, it becomes a detriment to our ability to engage in the process of what might improve our performance for the next time.

A number of weeks ago, I agreed to do something that I hadn’t done in almost twenty-five years. On a beautiful sunny Sunday morning I met up with some ex-Canadian national team rowers, carried an eight-man shell to the dock, got into it and went for a row. It was how I remembered it. Fluid. Fast. Fun—it was fun. A word I hadn’t associated with rowing in a long, long time.

In fact, rowing and I . . . we have a complicated relationship. As much as I went to Olympics as a rower, and made part of my career as a rowing coach, for almost three decades I’ve hated rowing.

I hated it for what it symbolized in my mind. For how it last left me feeling after losing in our Olympic final. I hated it for a whole bunch of reasons that I had held onto for all of these years.

When people would ask me if I still rowed, I’d look at them and say, “What the hell for?”

Five minutes into that row, I forgave my sport—I forgave rowing. Although, perhaps more importantly, I forgave myself for holding onto that bitterness for all of these years. It was very much a physical release. I could feel myself ease up and let go of the hatred that I held so deeply. It was a wonderful feeling. A smile came across my face. I felt stronger in my pulling. It felt as though I wanted to laugh out loud it felt so good.

In that short row, I remembered what I used to love about rowing. The synergy. The flow. Pulling with complete and utter abandonment. I used to love that. Sure, now in my fifties, I don’t send the same puddles down that I used to, but that didn’t matter. I could remember the feeling inside. That row was long overdue. If I had known that forgiving rowing would have put me at peace with some of the demons that I still lugged around, I would have got in that boat years ago.


Unfortunately, I believe many coaches and athletes hold onto grudges thinking that somehow they can fuel motivation for the ever-popular retribution card. Speaking from experience—that’s tremendously short sighted!

Sometimes forgiveness is dependent on some form of acknowledgement for the offence committed by the opposing party. In sport, however, you may not always have that luxury. It’s not like your competitors are bound to apologize for handing you defeat in a game or a race. In no way are they responsible for the emotional weight that you link to that experience.

In my case, I was happy to fess-up that Sunday morning and acknowledge how I played a role in why I continued to resist getting in a boat and going for a row.

In order for us to forgive, we need to have compassion in our hearts. For me, one of the perks of getting older is that compassion seems to be more readily accessible. In that moment, rowing with some of my teammates from those Games in Seoul, I felt compassion for my younger self who had lost at those Olympics. The emotional pain that I continued to subconsciously associate with that experience was more easily let go of in the presence of self-compassion.

In forgiving there is an emotional as well as in my case a physically letting go. Science can now track this release and have, not surprisingly, determined that forgiveness is actually good for us. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I can’t remember the events that lead to my resenting rowing; it just means that I don’t have to let them control my actions going forward.

And, therein lies the opportunity for us as coaches and athletes. We don’t have to forget about a defeat or loss, instead we can simply remember it void of the negative emotions we tend to associate with losing. When we step back and analyze our performance without the resentment, we are more able to access the opportunities that are afforded us. How can we train smarter? What strategies can we adopt to improve our performance next time? These are the powerful takeaways that await us when we give ourselves permission to forgive and be forgiven.

Photo credit: Mataya Dorland-Meagher.

Jason Dorland is a High-Perfomance Coach who believes the most undervalued and underutilized components of reaching our goals are the mental and emotional areas of our lives. With your commitment, Jason can help you make a positive difference in how you approach your life’s dreams and goals. Guaranteed! To find out how—contact Jason today!
Jason Dorland
Jason Dorland
Jason Dorland has dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence for himself and those he supports.