How to Lose vs. How to Win

Previously: Steer an eight/four || Call a pick drill and reverse pick drill ||  Avoid getting sick || Make improvement as a novice || Protect your voice || Pass crews during a head race || Be useful during winter training || Train when you’re sick (as a rower) || Train when you’re sick (as a coxswain) || Sit in the boat

It’s obviously not that simple or black and white but that’s the easiest way to frame the points I’m trying to make.

There are two big tactical mistakes that you can make during a race that could cost you a win, a qualifying position, or a spot in the medals. (There’s probably/definitely more but our team had issues with both of these at various points this year so they’re fresh on my mind.) I say you because it’s your job to be aware of how you’re moving and how the race is evolving. If you’re paying attention and not just robotically going through the motions of reciting your race plan then you’ll be able to recognize these situations and say/do something to (hopefully) prevent them from having a negative impact on your crew.

Getting comfortable/sitting on a lead

The longer you sit on a short lead the more confidence you’re giving the other crew(s) to make a move on you. A coach I worked with a few years ago frequently said “hope is not a strategy” – you can’t sit on a six seat lead and hope that you can hang on until you cross the finish line. Leads are fragile and you don’t want to give the other crew(s) any opportunity to think you’ve peaked and “now’s our chance”.

Succumbing to another crew’s move

A crew has broken you if they can get in your head with a single move. In most cases this happens somewhere between 750m and 1250m; you’ll be even or close up to this point, their coxswain calls for a move, they walk four or five seats, and you completely fall apart or scramble to make a counter-move and then fall apart because you’re just spinning your wheels.

You also can’t guarantee a win (it’s foolish to ever think that, regardless of how you stack up against your opponents) but you can put yourself in a good position to succeed, which is what these points address.

Make your moves decisive

Rather than being the one who gets broken, be the one doing the breaking. Once you start moving, regardless of whether you’re walking on a crew or moving away, don’t stop. Racing is a game of inches (see also our race against Wisco) so every move you make has to have an unwavering amount of intent, focus, and discipline behind it. This starts with you – your calls and your tone can/will have a huge effect on how successful your moves are.

Execute the race plan

It’s there for a reason. Without it the race lacks structure which makes it impossible for you to manage and if you can’t manage it, you can’t win it. Know when to focus on your boat, when to focus on the field, what your cadence should be, what your moves are, where you’ll take them, what volume/tone is appropriate at different points throughout the race, etc. Your coach not giving you a race plan is not an excuse for you not to have one. Period.

Practice how you want to race

I’ve always viewed this as a standard that the coxswain is responsible for upholding, mainly because attention-to-detail is a core component of what makes a good coxswain and the devil is always in the details. You have to have the discipline to act like an athlete on and off the water and as the coxswain, you sometimes have to be the person that reminds them of that when you’re away from the boathouse and holds them to it during practice. You can’t practice with a lackadaisical attitude and then expect it to all come together on race day – it never works like that.

This post, as you might have noticed, isn’t about giving you bullet-pointed solutions or ideas – it’s about increasing your awareness so you know what to pay attention to when you do pieces during practice, watch race video, etc. From there you (along with your boat and/or coach) can come up with strategies to achieve/deal with each situation so that on race day you’re prepared to manage the race regardless of what happens.

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