How to win at Henley


Side by side racing with two crews is called “match racing” and it presents a very different

Queen's Univers... Queen’s University B.C against Southampton University B.C in the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in 2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

situation for the rowing coach when briefing his crews and writing a race plan. Winning at Henley is different from other regattas; the wise coach plans ahead and adapts the crew training and race plan.

Consider the rules of your contest first – not all are the same:

  • side by side – two crews
  • you can’t change lanes during the race
  • there may be variations in river stream between the two stations

Being the leaders in the race

When racing on 6 lanes these are big, fair race courses – each lane is the same.  And so you can row your own race in your lane because every lane is the same and you don’t have to worry too much about being behind the leading crews.

In a match racing situation being behind is more of a problem.

Learn How to Steer Henley with our ebook written by experienced Henley Coxswains Andy Probert and Julie Hogg

How to optimise your race plan for Henley

1. Be prepared to row a sub-optimal complete race.  By this I mean that the overall race may not be your fastest and it may have compromises within the overall plan.

EXPERT TIP: You should plan to be ahead early in the race.

2.  Write your race plan more about reacting to the opposition.  On a multi lane course – you can treat your race a bit like a time trial – you go down your lane as fast as you possibly can putting in pushes where you want.  For match racing it’s about beating an individual crew.  There are two ways to do this

  • counter their moves
  • move at psychologically key moments

The power of the Cox

The coxswain (or the caller for coxless boats) should and can play more of a role in delivering a successful race.  His/her job is to listen and counter the moves of the other crew.

EXPERT TIP: Take this scenario: your nose is in front and you hear the other crew calling a move – get your cox to react to that push using a counter-push in a match race to prevent them getting in front.

Psychology plays a large part

When match racing it is man against man.  When one crew gets in front the race is often over and becomes an easy victory.

EXPERT TIP: Here is why this happens; in a multi-lane race second place is often very good.  But in a match race if you are in second you’re going out of the competition.  Psychologically getting in front is creating a victory for yourself and a total failure for the other crew.

Your match race plan

Remember earlier when I talked about being prepared to have a “sub-optimal” complete race?  Here’s why
You don’t have to be able to go flat out until the end of the race, you have to be able to go flat out until the other crew gives up.

EXPERT TIP: Once they have given up, you will in all likelihood cruise to victory, unless they are very determined.  So your race plan should be “front loaded” with early speed to deliver an early lead to your crew designed to create the situation where they give up the race and you can take advantage of being in front.

Why you can win Henley if you are leading

  1. you can give them dirty water – by pushing the limits of the “lanes”
  2. you can respond one on one to their pushes and counter-act with your own
  3. it’s more controllable as a race.  If you’re in front you know it and can see what you have to do to win.  There’s nobody to sneak up the outside lane and win.
  4. the race plan allows for more changes during the race situation as it develops e.g. adapt your pushes 15 strokes rather than 10.  You can work on breaking down the other crew and their mental state.  e.g. if you ‘hold’ their killer push at the Barrier, they complete it and you are still in front it’s harder for them to push again.

What to practice with your crew

Your crew needs to have in its armoury of skills a range of responses to race situations.  Think of each one of these as a “trick”n that you can pull out of the bag during the race to give yourself an advantage.  Including:

  • a good, fast start
  • be pro-active in matching the other crew in the first half of the race
  • introducing pushes at shorter time intervals
  • mental preparation to do whatever it takes at any stage of the race
  • have a strategy if you are behind to stop tightening up and keeping good technique [the crew in front is often more relaxed and rows better]
  • once you relax, your focus is more naturally inside the boat than focused outside the boat on the other crew, hence the boat goes better with a relaxed crew
  • have a ‘kill them off’ push to gain a decisive advantage
  • be prepared to repeat this push 3 or 4 times in order to defeat the opposition
  • have the mentality and motivation to push yourself hard and hold the push and then push again and again.
  • maintain boat speed after a push and don’t slack off after pushes.

You can practice this with another crew as a pace boat – make each crew start from behind the other one – or row at a disadvantage in wash or in the stream.  Coach the coxswain or caller to learn where the decisive moments are in the race where the encounter is ‘won’ or ‘lost’ and learn what to do at those points.  Work out what the riskiest race strategies are and when it may be acceptable to use them in order to win the race.  Know what to do if your technique breaks down and how to get it back fast and recover.

Best of luck to everyone!

GET A FAST START – buy your crew some Magik Oarlocks and ‘lock’ into the water from the first stroke.  We have Magik Gates for 8, 4+/-, 4x 2x/-.


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