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    The Factors of Free Speed

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    Let’s talk about “free speed.” In Geno Auriemma’s post-game press conference after UConn’s Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State during this year’s tournament, he said, “Because we made it [winning the NCAA tournament] look so routine and easy, we gave the impression that it’s very easy to do. It’s a reminder that, no, it’s not. It’s very difficult to do.”

    Every coxswain you’re lining up against at a championship race knows how to win a championship—and so do you. Whether you or they have or haven’t doesn’t matter in that moment before the flag drops; it’s knowing how that does. Nothing about winning is easy, and the reason it looks like it is for some teams is that they’ve made executing at a high level and an unwavering dedication to preparation (both individually and collectively) a consistent, standard part of their culture. That’s the great thing about racing fast teams; everyone is pushing each other to commit every day, every stroke, so that when you line up at IRAs, Youth Nats, ACRAs, NCAAs, etc., there’s a sense of satisfaction at the end of the race in knowing that not a single stroke came easy for any of you. 

    Work ethic, humility, and gratitude … free speed. 

    Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 gold medal-winning Team USA men’s hockey team said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” 

    It’s your job to find and in some cases make those opportunities during a race. You should know your race plan front, back, and sideways coming into race day so that you have the maximum amount of mental energy available to recognize and take advantage of the moments that might end up being the difference maker. Execute the plan on race day but practice it throughout the week. Challenge your eyes and ears during pieces to pick up on what’s happening around you so that you can immediately capitalize on it with proactive calls to build speed, nudge your bow ahead, or, ideally, both.

    Awareness, adaptability, and strategic thinking … free speed. 

    And finally, Ted Lasso, everyone’s favorite fictional AFC Richmond coach, said in season one, “​​You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.” 

    Keep the crew in the stroke they’re in. The deeper into the season you get, the more challenging this can be as the stakes get higher. It’s easy to look out of the boat when you’re side by side or lose your composure when the boat gets jostled after a bad stroke. It’s harder to have ice in your veins for 2,000 meters, to stay patient and regroup, to refocus and recommit in a split second. But that’s what championship-caliber crews do, and it’s on you—their championship-caliber coxswain—to keep their memory short, their heads focused, and their hearts committed to your bow being in front.

    Resilience, determination, and fearlessness … free speed. 

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