When coxswains think about Head of the Charles their first thought is about how they’re going to steer and navigate their way through the three-mile long course. A distant second is their race plan and maybe an even further distant third is how they’re actually going to call the race. The framework that a race plan provides can take a lot of weight off your shoulders but beyond knowing what to execute you’ve also got to know how you’re going to do it.
Related: Head of the Charles
When I think about how I’m going to execute my race plan at HOCR, I first break the race up into three sections and then think about what I want my baseline tone of voice to be throughout each of those sections. When I say “baseline” tone, what I mean is that it’s what I plan to fall back to in between the normal bursts I already have built into my race plan. With an understanding of what tone is in the context of coxing (how you use your voice to emphasize what you’re asking the crew to do), I approach each section with an idea of what I want the crew to be thinking/feeling and how I can use my voice to keep them on track. Here’s how I lay it out.
Section 1: BU through Riverside
BU Bridge is notorious for funneling any amount of westerly winds right through the arches and into the backs of the crews who have just come down off their high strokes and are starting to settle into their rhythm. My teammates are all seasoned pros so I know a little wind isn’t going to throw them off but I still want to emphasize staying relaxed in the shoulders and long through the back end in order to establish our rhythm early in the race. I want their relaxation and focus to mirror mine so my goal with tone throughout this section is to keep it calm and conversational but with just enough fire in my voice to keep them on their toes. On a scale of 1-10, I want to be around 6 – 6.5.
Section 2: Powerhouse through Newell
This mile-long stretch of the course is the make-or-break zone. If you can make it through here unscathed and with the crew’s focus still inside your boat, the next section is going to be a breeze (Eliot Bridge be damned). My goal for this section is simple: we’re not chasing other crews down, we’re just gonna push the pace and see who can hang with us. Keeping the rowers engaged and their focus internal is key here, especially given the number of distractions that present themselves through this stretch, which means the underlying tone of my calls is going to have a little more fire and “push” than the first section. On a scale of 1-10, I’m shooting for a 7 – 7.5.
Section 3: Top of the Eliot turn through the finish line
Through here our goal is to maintain our speed while fighting fatigue as we drive for the line. This is where I’m using my tone and calls to keep each individual connected to the crew and not let the frenzied atmosphere around us draw them outside of the boat. You have to fight the energy a little bit and not get spastic otherwise you’ll lose the crew’s attention at one of the most pivotal points in the race. The intensity is higher here, around an 8.5, but the ultimate backbone of this part of the race is composure. You can’t be effective at a higher intensity if you lack composure so you have to keep your tone crisp and clear as the fire builds behind your calls.
This race is an equal combination of fun and stress which makes it really easy to get overwhelmed once you’re in the thick of it. If you start sensing your tone going from composed to frantic, breathe. You have about three seconds, give or take, to collect yourself and get back in the right headspace. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time but you’d be surprised at how quickly you can turn it around if you just shake out your shoulders, take a deep breath, and tell yourself to “refocus”.
You’re the leader on race day and no race is more of a performance piece for coxswains than Head of the Charles. Do yourself a favor and take the time beforehand to lay out your plan so that you go into it knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and how you want to sound while doing it.