Month: January 2013

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

I never want to be THAT coxswain whose rowers zone out and don’t listen. I feel like my rowers look out of the boat a lot and it affects the set and their technique. Do you have any posts/suggestions to make sure I’m on the right path?

I really believe that about 85% of the effort in staying focused in the boat HAS to come from the rowers – the coxswain has a job to do in that respect but they can only do so much. The best and most effective way to find out if you’re on the right track is to talk to your coach and your boat. Explain that you’ve noticed a lot of people looking out of the boat, etc. which causes all these different problems and you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do to help them keep their focus in the boat.

Get feedback on how you’re doing overall – can you be more aggressive at times or are you doing a good job wit that? How does your tone of voice resonate with the rowers – do you sound engaged, present, focused, etc. or are you pretty monotonous and flat with your calls? Do you sound like you’re in control and have a solid plan that you’re ready to execute or do you make your calls like you aren’t really sure of what you’re doing? The information you get from them will be way more valuable to you than anything else.

Related: My rowers told me after practice today that I should focus on the tone of my voice and not be so “intense” during our practices. I don’t really know how to fix that actually. Like I don’t think I am so “intense” but rather just firm and trying to be concise with the command I give out. They said that they really like how I cox during a race piece because my intensity level fits the circumstances. But they also said that if I cox in a similar tone to race pieces, they can’t take me seriously during the races. But my problem when I first started coxing was not being firm enough and getting complaints about how I should be more direct on my commands. Now when I am, my rowers say this. I don’t really know what is the happy medium. Like I listen to coxing recordings and I feel like I am doing fairly similar tones.

In my experience, rowers looking out of the boat and stuff tends to be more about them than it does you. Obviously you need to be doing your part to keep them engaged and focused but some people are just that ADD (literally and figuratively) and have a hard time staying “in the boat” when they’re just moving back and forth. It takes a lot of concentration to row which a lot of people, especially novices, don’t realize. If they’re looking out of the boat a lot, you’re right, it will definitely affect the set and technique. That’s something I constantly try and tell the kids I coach – even though it seems minimal, you turning your head shifts your body weight enough that it will offset the boat.

Coxing How To Q&A

Question of the Day

I still have trouble judging distances [m] any tips?

I used to have trouble with that too. Practice and racing have been what’s helped me the most in gauging how far I am from something. Nearly every race I did in high school was on a buoyed course and the last 250m were always red buoys so comparing where the start of the red buoys were and where the finish line buoys were helped me learn to gauge what 250m looked like on the river when we were practicing. A lot of it is just carefully calculated guesswork though.

I also try and study the river that I’m on to get an idea of how far apart the major landmarks are from each other and then I convert the distance in miles to meters. On the Charles there are a ton of things you can use for landmarks but on your home course it can vary. My coach in high school, who was also a coxswain, taught me that trick and while it’s time consuming, it helped a lot. As I got used to what 50m, 400m, 1000m, etc. felt like it almost became like muscle memory to me so it’s gotten a lot easier to judge distances the more experienced I’ve become.

Coxing Q&A Racing

Question of the Day

So nervous for spring races! I’m so worried that we’ll start and I won’t keep straight, crash into another boat and not only ruin our race, but another boat’s. I know practice makes perfect but how do I take down the anxiety attack?

I actually feel similarly before most races. It’s not so much that I doubt myself but the adrenaline building from the time I launch all the way up to the start gives me the jitters. When we get locked on to the stake boat I usually take a second where I close my eyes, take a couple deep breaths, mentally run through my game plan, and tell myself that I know what I’m doing, my crew knows what they’re doing, and all we have to do is execute. As soon as the start marshal says “GO” everything gets channeled into the race. The adrenaline that gave me jitters before fuels me during the race – I literally think I run on nothing but pure adrenaline for those six minutes.

Related: Hi! Since the spring races all start boats at the same time, do you have any tips on steering straight? I can tell when I’m veering off my lane, but for some reason, I can’t/don’t know how to fix it! I remember you saying it’s all about the small adjustments, then straightening out, but I can’t seem to get it. [Ex today: all 3 boats lined up, me on the outside, I end up too far out away from the other 2]. Tips? Thanks!

You have to trust the face that you know what you’re doing, your coach trusts you, your crew trusts you, and you trust them. Assuming you’ve been having good practices and your crew is well-prepared, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You know how to steer. If you didn’t, your coach wouldn’t keep you with that boat – he’d put someone who know what they were doing in there.

If it’s something you’re not 100% confident about, practice your steering every time you go out. Have your coach watch you and give you feedback. Most likely you’ll have buoys when you race so you’ll have a guide on either side as you go down the course. When you get to the starting line, take a second to breathe, remind yourself of the plan, and get ready to go. When the starting marshal says “GO”, let your instincts take over. When the race is over you’ll wonder why you were ever anxious in the first place.

How to Call a Pick Drill (and Reverse Pick Drill)

Coxing Drills How To Novice Rowing

How to Call a Pick Drill (and Reverse Pick Drill)

Previously: Steer an eight/four

The pick drill

A pick drill is a fairly basic warmup (probably the most basic) that involves transitioning through each part of the stroke. It helps to isolate the recovery and the drive, as well as help the rowers with body preparation. The goal is to build one upon the other until you eventually get to full slide, where you can feel all four parts of the stroke flow together.

To start, have the rowers sit at the finish, blades squared and buried. The first part of the drill is “arms only” so if you’re doing the drill by 6s, you’d say “Stern 6, sitting ready at the finish, blades buried … arms only, ready row” and then have them row with arms only for however many strokes you choose. The standard number is 10 but with short, choppy strokes like this, sometimes I’ll extend it to 15 or 20 when there’s time. If you were doing 10 strokes, on stroke 8 you would make the call for the first transition, which is to arms and bodies. The reason it would be on stroke 8 is so that when you’ve completed “in two”, you’ll have rowed ten strokes. 8+2…get it? Don’t be that coxswain that says “10 strokes each” and then ends up doing 12 or 15 or 32. Believe it or not, rowers can count too and if they start to catch on that they’re doing more strokes than you’re telling them to do, that can lead to some not-positive feedback on your coxswain evaluations.

When I make the transition to arms and bodies, I usually say “alright, let’s add the bodies in two … that’s one … and two, on this one“, where “one” and “two” are called at the catch and “on this one” is called at the finish of “two”.

After arms and bodies comes half slide. Same call as before – “half slide in two … one, two, on this one“. Some coaches will have you do 1/4 slide after arms and bodies but more often than not this is skipped in favor of going straight to half slide.

Following half slide is full slide, which is the last part of the drill. When we go to full slide I remind the rowers to lengthen out and not shorten the slides up since the previous three parts of the drill involve either no slide or shortened slides. “In two, let’s lengthen out to full slide. That’s one … and two, on this one, stay nice and looong, catch send…” By drawing out the word “long” it almost forces the rowers to utilize the full length of their slides before they get to the catch. “Catch” is short and annunciated so that they don’t liken the long slides to a sluggish catch. Similarly to 1/4 slide, sometimes coaches will throw in 3/4 slide before going to full. Again, it’s up to you.

With the pick drill, it’s important that the rowers actually do each part of the stroke that you’re telling them to do. It’s broken down for a reason. I’m very hypersensitive to this because it is such a pet peeve of mine but there are few things in rowing that piss me off more than when I or another coxswain calls for “arms only” and you see the rowers rowing with arms and bodies. Drives. Me. INSANE. “Arms only” means “arms only”!! In the boat this is difficult to see from our vantage point but on the ergs it is definitely something we have the power to put a stop to. Don’t let the rowers cheat and use their shoulders either – on the first stroke of the drill to get the boat up and out of the water, fine, acceptable, but after that … arms … ONLY!!!

The reverse pick drill

A variation of the pick drill that your coach might have you do is called the “reverse pick drill”. This is a great drill for isolating each part of the drive and teaching rowers to not do one thing before the other (i.e. don’t bend the arms before the legs are down, etc.). Although it can take some time to explain, this is a great drill to do with novices due to their penchant for trying to open their backs while still on the drive and so on.

This drill, like the regular pick drill, is best done by 4s or 6s but you can do it by all eight if you want – just make sure the rowers keep it balanced otherwise it’s gonna be tough to execute. Starting with whatever group of rowers you choose, have them row with JUST the legs. Just the legs, contrary to what some rowers think means rowing with just. your. legs. No arms, no back, just. the. legsThis means that your upper body should still be reaching forward and your arms are still extended. The ONLY thing that happens between the catch and the first part of this drill is that your legs go down. The call to start this would be “Stern 6, sitting ready at the catch, blades squared and buried … starting with just the legs, ready row.” When I do this drill, for legs only I tend to do 10-15 strokes total.

Following legs only is legs and back. After the leg drive, you’ll open the back but keep the arms extended straight out – the arms are the final part of the stroke, which we haven’t gotten to yet. When you see it, this part of the drill tends to look very rigid due to the fact that the arms are still straight. When calling for the addition of the backs, say “in two, let’s add the backs, that’s one … and two, on this one, legs swing…”. Occasionally I like to say “swing” just to remind the rowers to pivot from the hips and open the backs up. After doing however many strokes without the backs, sometimes they’ll not lay back as much as they normally would; saying “swing” just puts the bug in their ear so they’ll do it from here out.

The final part of the reverse pick drill is to add in the arms and row normally. Up to the point, the arms have been extended straight out, so the call will go something like “in two, let’s add in the arms, we’ll go in one … and two, now accelerate it through … accelerate through, that’s it…”. Legs and legs + backs reiterates hanging off the handle and not breaking the arms early so once you do add the arms in you wanna make sure they’re accelerating the weight through the drive and all the way into the finish.

Below is a video that gives a good demonstration of the reverse pick drill and what it should look like.

 Image via // @mahe_ld

Coxing How To Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

One of my coaches was a coxswain and I got switched out the last third of practice to be in the launch with her. OMG BEST TIME EVER. Every time I had a question she’d answer it so well! More coxes should become coaches! One thing she was talking about was watching the wind patterns – like the dark patches in the water to let the crew know. I understand the concept, but I’m not really understanding why. Like, I tell them that a wind/wake is coming to prepare them?

The type of wind that you’re encountering will determine what you tell the rowers and how they should adjust their technique.


Lay back just a little bit more than you normally would. If you look at a protractor and visualize that sitting straight up makes a 90 degree angle, your normal layback should be about 110 degrees (roughly – don’t overthink this). In a headwind, you want to layback just a little farther, to about 115-120 degrees. The reason why is because if you think about rowing into the wind, it’s going to slow you down regardless, but if your body is up high, it’s essentially acting like a brick wall and slowing the boat’s movement even more. When you layback a little more than usual, you’re allowing the wind to flow over you, which results in the boat not being slowed down as much.


The tailwind is going to push you along so you’ll be moving faster than you otherwise would, which can give the rowers the sense that their blades aren’t gripping the water like they should. Quick catches and maintaining connection will be important technical focuses here. The boat might be a little tougher to set up too so you can also make general reminders for that as well.


Crosswinds are the worst, in my opinion. Depending on how strong the wind is, it can actually push the boat into another lane or into the shore, regardless of how hard you steer. Crosswinds can also knock the boat offset so if I can see a gust coming on starboard I’ll say something like “gust on this next stroke, ports hands up…”, that way the “push” the boat will get from the wind will actually keep it even.

When I’m out I’ll watch the ripples on the water to see if a gust is coming or which direction the wind is blowing and then alert my crew and adjust my steering as necessary. If they’re going side-to-side or at an angle, it’s a cross wind, if they’re going in the same direction as us, it’s a tailwind, and if they’re coming towards me, it’s a headwind.

Q&A Rowing

Question of the Day

I was wondering if you have the same four people & same cox and raced them over 2000m in a quad and a four, assuming they had equal technique in both sweep and sculling, which would move fastest? I tried Googling it but found nothing! I was wondering as my crew is to race a quad in a four race (by invitation) for racing practice. The opposition is older and train more but are the least good in their squads while my boat is younger but top of our squad. I was just interested in what we should expect.

If everything else is the same the quad would move faster because you have four additional oars to generate power with, in addition to the more obvious fact that you’re not carrying an extra 110+ pounds down the course. I don’t want to go so far as to say that a quad’s power is equal to that of an eight’s since they both have eight oars, because in general more rowers = more power, but in this case the power of the sculled boat would most likely result in them being faster than the sweep one since they have extra oars to aid in their power production. I think it could be similar to an 8+ racing a 4+. If you take experience and training levels into account on top of all that, I’d say you still hold the advantage.

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

Is it better for a cox to be feared or loved?

To quote Machiavelli…

“Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved.

It is much safer to be feared than loved because … love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

I had to write a paper on this question for a philosophy class I took in college and even though my professor had no idea what I was talking about, I used coxing as an example, supported by Machiavelli’s quotes from “The Prince”.

I used slightly contradicting but still relevant examples from Julius Caesar as well. He was loved by members of the army but wanted to be feared by the general public and senate, whom he didn’t trust. My professor described this part in layman’s terms as “if they aren’t with you or if they won’t follow you, at least they’ll be afraid of you”.

To summarize, I agree with both Machiavelli and Caesar. It is safer to be feared because the thought of disappointment or punishment in return is stronger than the obligation of love, BUT it is also better, to an extent, to be loved by those closest to you (via a sense of loyalty or camaraderie) and feared by those who aren’t with you (say, an opposing team or boat). I hope that makes sense – love with a healthy sense of fear from your crew and 100% fear from your opponents.

You could also take the Michael Scott approach…

“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

As a coach, how do you approach the quiet ones? You know, those kids who always just kinda smile and nod? I can figure out almost all my rowers personalities but I don’t know how to make the one open up. She’s a hard worker and listens, I just feel like she tenses up around me. Perhaps I frighten her? Or is she maybe just a quiet kid?

I’ve coached and coxed a few people like that. One of my “things” as a coach is that I try to not act any differently around the kids than I do with anyone else. I feel like some coaches put on a front when they get to practice and act as though they have to make it known that they’re in charge, which tends to put a lot of people off, especially the shy ones. I don’t change how I act or my personality or anything like that – in my experience when coaches or professors have done that, it makes them way less approachable, so I just try to avoid doing that. I have a really dry, sarcastic sense of humor too so I tend to make a lot of jokes and stuff when we’re on the water that ultimately ends up loosening everyone up pretty quickly – even the quiet ones.

Over the summer when I was coaching new people every two weeks, I’d try and spend some time the first day getting to know everyone and assessing their personalities. I knew almost immediately who the tough ones to crack were going to be so when we’d do stuff on the erg or when we’d get out in the boat, I’d ask them questions or point out something they were doing well and get really enthusiastic about it if they answered or demonstrated whatever we were doing correctly. Not like, fake enthusiastic, but genuinely excited. Sometimes hearing or seeing that they’re doing something right was all they’d need to break out of their shell.

On the other hand though, maybe being quiet and shy is just an inherent part of their personality, which means it’s something you’ve just gotta roll with. If they’re quiet and reserved to the point where it concerns you, I’d pull them off to the side after practice and ask them if everything is OK. I had to do this once over the summer and it was honestly so heartbreaking because the kid (almost to the point of tears) said that they didn’t want to be there, they wanted to be at a math or physics or … something like that … camp at MIT, but their parents said they had to play a sport so they’d been shuffling them to all sorts of sports camps all summer. The kid was absolutely miserable and there really was nothing I could do to make them enjoy being there so I just had to be as polite and upbeat as possible and accept the fact that this wasn’t something they were interested in. The only thing that really helped in that situation was if we were just standing around waiting to go out I’d ask them about what they were actually interested in. That got them talking and semi-happy, at least for a few minutes.

Another thing you could do if you know who her friends on the team are or if you see her parents regularly before/after practice is talk to them and ask if she’s normally this quiet. Getting some insight from people who know her well can help you get to know her better and figure out the best way to interact with her. That helped me over the summer – normally it’d be the parents approaching the coaches instead of the other way around, but either way it helped us a lot in getting to know the kids. The biggest thing is that you treat her like you do everyone else – don’t pay less attention to her just because she’s less outgoing than her teammates. Eventually/hopefully if she sees you’re making an effort to get to know her, she’ll open up.