Month: January 2015

College High School Q&A

Question of the Day

I quit rowing and I have no clue what to do with myself and I’m so sad but I can’t go back because I need to do school work … but adjusting to normal life is so fucking hard and I don’t even know how to manage my time anymore.

There have been a lot of questions posted on here that I’ve identified with but this is definitely one of the most relatable ones I’ve come across. I felt the same way when I quit in college but looking back now I can see that the way I “adjusted” to it was, well, wrong.

When I stopped coxing it was the first time in several years where I wasn’t doing some kind of extra-curricular activity that took up a ton of time outside of school for at least ten of the twelve months out of the year. Up to that point having legitimate free time was something I’d only really experienced for about four weeks in December and four weeks in June, so going from an Energizer bunny-like mentality to suddenly having all this time to do whatever I wanted was bad. There was this initial feeling of wanting to go party my ass off and just let loose because I no longer had coaches/teammates to answer to or practices to wake up for. (I remember thinking that this must be how child actors feel…) There was also this feeling of suddenly needing to be fiercely protective of my time. If it didn’t relate to going to class, a project, meeting, or some other school-related obligation, there was no way I was doing it because it would cut into the time I had to myself. I wouldn’t even do anything during that time either, which was so stupid. It was like I was trying to hoard the seconds I had to myself and soak in the lack of having to be somewhere doing something in case this period of downtime never happened again. Cue time wasted. The downside to all of this was that I didn’t experience anything in college. Nothing. All because I quit rowing to focus on school and ended up completely mismanaging my time while convincing myself that I wasn’t because I deserved a break, some time to myself, etc.

I could go on and on and on and on and on about this but to keep things brief, here’s my advice. Take the time you used to spend at crew and divide it in half. On the conservative side, let’s say you spent two hours a day, six days a week at practice. That’s 12 hours, split down the middle to six and six. The first six hours are yours to do whatever you want with. Schedule it into your day if you can – for one hour, Monday through Saturday, unplug, disconnect, whatever, and do something that you previously didn’t have time to do because you were at crew. If that’s as simple as reading a stack of magazines, playing with your dog, or going for a run so you can continue staying active, go for it. Or it could be picking up a new hobby, volunteering, etc. Whatever you want to do, that’s your hour to do it. The other six hours you put into school. It doesn’t necessarily have to be studying either, it could be joining a new club or group that you’ve always been interested in but couldn’t join because the two schedules conflicted or picking up an internship in a field you’re interested in. There are an infinite number of possibilities of things to do on-campus if you’e in college and this is your chance to get out there and try something new so … take advantage of it.

My point with all of this is to not do what I did. Be as protective of your new-found free time as you need to be but don’t be so protective of it that you sabotage the opportunity you now have to do something that you might not have otherwise been able to do. If managing your time in general is tough for you (which is common) then find a planner/scheduling system that you like and put it to work. Plan out your days/weeks/months as necessary and stick to it. That takes commitment but you’re a rower/coxswain so I doubt that that’s a skill you’re lacking in. The bottom line though is to not let yourself spiral out of control because you don’t know what to do with yourself or your time anymore. Find something fun to do to fill up that two hour window every day and move on. Don’t look at this as the end of your rowing career either. You can always jump right back in again if you want to when the circumstances best suit your lifestyle.

Erg Playlists

Music to erg to, pt. 75

25+ inches of snow and no school/practice later…

Check out this question that I posted on Monday on how to improve your coxing when you’re out with novices and there’s not much for you to do. At the end I included one of my own tricks/secret weapons that I used throughout high school (and a bit in college) to help keep me relaxed/sane and get me through the week.

College Q&A Recruiting

Question of the Day

I am currently a senior in high school and have been rowing for a while. If I am interested in walking on to a team in the fall, should I fill out the questionnaire on the website?

It couldn’t hurt. I would follow up by sending a quick email to the recruiting coordinator (usually the assistant coach) as well saying that you’re interested in walking on to the team but you filled out the recruiting questionnaire anyways just so they would have your info and stats on file. In most cases if you walk on to the team as an experienced rower/coxswain (after previously contacting with the coaches while you’re still in high school) you’ll likely get lumped in with the recruits anyways so having an idea of where you stack up against them can be really helpful.

Coxing Novice Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi, I was wondering about coxing brand new novices. I’m in boats right now where most, if not all, people are still learning how to row and working on figuring out technique so I haven’t been making very many calls other than if the balance is terrible or if people aren’t rowing together because my coach is talking individually to people to work on body form and things I can’t see. I feel bad about not saying very much, but I don’t want to interrupt the coach or focus on things not important right now. Other than steering straight and paying attention to explanations for correcting form, what should I be doing to improve my coxing?

This is a great question and one I know plenty of novices (and occasionally experienced coxswains) have at the start of each new season. It was also one of those “hard lessons” that took me awhile to learn, understand, and fully appreciate when I first started coxing. Truthfully, as long as you take advantage of what you’re already doing (steering, etc.), even though it might not seem like much, you’ll go a long ways in improving your coxing in a very short period of time.

Gonna go off on a tangent here for a sec. I don’t know if it’s a “just me” thing or if it’s because coxing can be really boring sometimes but I’d always think that I was listening to what my coaches were saying and then I’d get off the water not being able to remember a single thing that we’d done for the last 90 minutes. When I was a freshman in high school, I learned one thing from my math teacher and it’s stuck with me ever since. She was kind of an asshole and always made me feel like an idiot for not understanding what was going on but I reluctantly went to her for help because I was having a lot of trouble grasping what we were doing. She said, in response to me saying in an exasperated voice “yes, I’m listening (when you explain things)”, “Are you listening to me or are you just hearing the words I’m saying?”.

This really made me think and start to approach things a little differently, not just with my math class(es) but with crew too. When I’d come off the water not remembering anything we’d done, I’d think “had I actually been listening to my coach or was I just hearing him”? This was when I started teaching myself to be objective when it came to evaluating my own coxing. It’s really easy (like, really easy) to make excuses for yourself when you fall short of your goals and/or expectations because they’re not always as tangible or out in the open the way a rower’s are but you’re really only going to improve when you can objectively look at the situation and say “this is where I can do better”.

Once I realized that I was taking advantage (in the wrong way) of that very small window where you’re new and not being held accountable for anything yet, I started to challenge myself to be better at holding myself accountable. This meant listening to my coach’s explanations, mulling them over in my head to make sure I understood what he was saying, and then applying what he was saying to what I was seeing. Obviously after only a few weeks on the water I didn’t know very much about technique yet so after practice while the rowers were putting stuff away I’d try to run one or two things (be it a drill we did, something my coach said, something a rower asked me, etc.) past either our varsity coxswains or our coaches if they weren’t busy. I’m a huge proponent of the whole “you don’t understand something if you can’t explain it to someone else” so to make sure I understand how X related to Y or why A caused B to happen I’d explain it to someone else and have them help me fill in the holes or provide more context/details. Outside of doing what I talked about in the post linked below, this was one of the ways that I took my “coxing education” in my own hands (which I think we can all agree is pretty imperative).

Related: Since were still waiting for the river to be ice-free, I’ve been thinking about what I need to work on when we get back on the water. I’ve decided that coxing steady state pieces are harder for me to cox. I think it’s because I don’t want to talk to much but I’m also scared of not saying enough or being too repetitive. Do you have advice for coxing steady state workouts?

Circling back around to your question, the biggest thing I can recommend is to make sure you’re actually listening to your coach when he’s talking to the rowers and not just hearing the words he’s saying. Try to relate what you’re seeing to what he’s saying and the effect that implementing a change has on an individual’s bladework, how the boat moves/feels, etc. After practice pick the thing that you least understood from practice and have someone explain it to you. Also pick the thing you felt you understood the best and run it by a varsity coxswain or a coach to make sure you actually understand it. (If you only have time to ask one of those questions, go with the thing you understood the least.)

As you get more comfortable with the basics of technique, start trying to make the connections between the blades and the bodies; if X is happening with the blades what does that say about what the bodies are doing? Don’t let your inability to see the bodies act as an excuse to not think about or understand how they work in the context of rowing. If the coach tells 5-seat to do A with his body, what kind of effect will that have on his bladework? Or, alternatively, if the coach is saying 5-seat is doing A with his body which is causing B to happen, how does that actually work? What about A is causing B … and why/how? For example, sinking into your hips at the finish. First of all, what does that mean? Can you visualize what it looks like (rounded low back instead of a long and supported core)? Poor posture is causing the rower to pull down into his lap … why? Pulling down into his lap is causing him to wash out with his blade at the finish … why? The effect that washing out is having on the boat’s speed and balance is … what? Once you understand all of that (which will take some time – there’s nothing wrong with spending a couple practices thinking about all that) start thinking about what the corrections should be (with regards to posture, body position at the finish, where the hands should be, etc.) and how they will in turn effect the bladework, balance, and speed.

Another thing to do that will really help your coxing, albeit in a slightly different way, is to give yourself at least one practice a week to just do … nothing. If you’re spending four or five practices doing everything I suggested up above then by the end of the week you’re probably going to feel a little overwhelmed. Give yourself a day to not pay attention to anything other than your steering. For me that day was always Wednesday (for four straight years with very few exceptions) but you can pick whichever day you want. Think about how your coach schedules practices, what you tend to do each day during the week, and then pick one of those days to be your “just go out and steer” day.

Consistency was key for me because once you start really getting in the grind of things, combined with whatever you’ve got going on with school, work, and life, you really need a day to just unwind and relax and having it always be whichever day you choose gives you something to look forward to. Wednesday was my day because it was the middle of the week and if you’re already having a shitty week then Wednesday is kind of that make-or-break point. Ending the day with two hours of “no talking, just steering” was how I cleared my head of everything that had happened during the week up to that point and got myself in a positive (or at the very least, not negative) mindset to tackle Thursday and Friday. It sounds silly and you might not appreciate it right off the bat but trust me, there’s always at least one or two days during the season where you show up to practice and you’re like “thank god it’s Wednesday and I can just steer and not think for two hours”.

College Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

I emailed the coach of a college I’m interested in about two weeks ago and she hasn’t emailed me back yet. I’m going to look at the school in a week and I’d like to meet up with her. Would it be worth sending her another email or should I just drop it?

Yea, it couldn’t hurt. It’s possible that if her team went on a winter training trip that that’s where they are now if classes haven’t started back yet or where they were when you initially emailed her two weeks ago. I’d send a quick email saying that you’re just following up on your previous email from [whatever the date was] and that you wanted to see if she’ll be around campus on [date(s) you’ll be there]. If you still haven’t heard back from her by the time you get to the school then you could always stop into the athletic department and ask them if she’s on campus. They can usually call her office or the boathouse to see if someone’s available to talk with you.

Erg Playlists

Music to erg to, pt. 74

On Tuesday I posted a couple things that coxswains can do to kill time during winter training (or anytime you’re training on land) because, as we all know, there’s few things more frustrating than having nothing to do and feeling like you’re not contributing anything. Like I said in that post, none of the things I mentioned are going to take up that much time but it’s the little things that can ultimately make a big difference (especially when it comes to earning respect from your teammates).

Coxswain recordings, pt. 28

College Coxing Ergs High School Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 28

Erg room coxing clips montage

This is some audio from inside the erg room where the rowers were doing 500m pieces. As you can hear she gets pretty technical while coxing them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – all her calls were pretty good – but just make sure that what you’re saying fits the purpose of the workout. You obviously don’t want to be coxing their technique while they’re doing race pieces or vice versa. And as always, make sure you’re adhering to the golden rule of coxing rowers on the erg: don’t cox those who don’t want to be coxed.

What I liked about what she was doing is that she coxed them on land just like (I assume) she would in the boat. Just because you’re inside doesn’t mean you have to do anything different and that’s where I think a lot of coxswains feel like they fall short in the winter. This is a great opportunity for you to practice your calls, test some new ones (specifically as they relate to individual technique issues/tendencies), and play with your volume and tone. On top of that, maintaining that consistency from the water to the ergs is really great for helping the rowers become used to your style and calls.

Marist University 2014 Spring break Training trip, pt. 1

There are a lot of really positive things to point out in this video, the first of which is his overall voice and tone. For those that have asked for good examples of that “coxswain voice”, this would be a great one. Remember though, that “voice” doesn’t really have anything to do with your actual voice, your volume, or anything like that – it’s more about what you say and how you say it (assertively, confidently, etc.). One of the things I like in particular is that, similar to the GW recordings, there’s a clear difference between his “calm” voice and his “get the fuck after it” voice. I think that’s an important thing to establish early on and definitely something that should be cemented by at least your third year or so of coxing.

When I was emailing with this coxswain I asked what happened at 0:37 and this is what he told me: “The comment was directed at a fishing boat that was out of the picture. We had been getting waked out all week by fishing boats and this guy thought it was funny to try to wake us as we went past.” People like that are the worst and for some reason they do think it’s really funny to wake out rowers but it’s always best, especially for junior crews, to just not engage them (even if/when they do deserve to get flipped off).

I like the “Right on 28, take it with relaxation and composure…” call at 0:57.  This is one of the things we spent a lot of time in the fall working on so I’m definitely going to steal this call and use the next time I’m out. If you try to muscle the blade through the water and yank on it every stroke you’re not going to accomplish anything outside of slowing down the boat’s speed so it’s important for the coxswains to make little reminder calls like this, particularly during rate changes, to reinforce staying loose and getting the power through the drive with the legs.

At 1:12, this is something I tend to do when I’m doing pieces like this. Even though they might not technically be competitive pieces … let’s be honest, they kind of are. I like to take advantage of being able to see the other boat and make calls like this to my crews, either to give them a bit of a boost or to keep the momentum going that we’ve already built up.

At 1:16 he makes a call to the starboards to get the blades in because they’re getting pulled around by the ports – don’t be afraid to say this to your rowers. I’ve encountered way too many coxswains lately that don’t or won’t speak up in situations like this and it’s driving me crazy. If they want you to steer straight then they have to row in a manner that allows you to stay off the rudder as much as possible and that’s something you need to communicate to them if you find that you’re constantly having to make steering adjustments to compensate for some less-than-stellar rowing.

“…big back ends” at 2:09 is a good call for the finish to reinforce the draw through with the arms and having a smooth transition between the legs and upper body as you complete the stroke. It’d also be a good alternative to the “squeeze” call.

Related: Heeey so at the moment we’re doing a lot of work on the finish and the release but I am struggling to come up with calls that really work. I have a few basic ones but not many so I find myself repeating them over and over and over and over. Do you have any calls for technique at the finish and release that i could borrow or modify to suit my crew?? TY x

Between 3:01 – 3:05, this is just good, smart strategy. When you’re on the outside of an upcoming turn and you’re close to another crew, you want to neutralize whatever advantage they’ll get from having the inside line before you actually get to the turn. In a race this would have been a good spot to take a 20 to move. You can hear him get frustrated at 3:30 because the other coxswain’s not turning – sometimes you’ll find yourself in that situation and you’ve just gotta roll with it. It’s obviously gonna throw off your turn because you’re stuck on the outside but it’s your job to adapt and move on. There’s no need – especially in a practice situation like this – to vocalize your frustration to the rest of the boat. Ultimately this was a super minor inconvenience with no real consequences so injecting that little bit of negative energy into what has otherwise been a pretty good row is just unnecessary. 

A couple of you have asked what “hacking” means (you hear him say “don’t hack…” at 3:31) and in the simplest terms it’s basically the same as not going directly to the water and instead rowing it in, except in a slightly more aggressive manner than normal since you’re probably rowing at some kind of high rate and/or pressure. You’ll definitely know it when you see it if you get a chance to see a side-view of a crew. It can be tough to see from where we’re sitting but if you know someone is doing it or hear your coach say something, make some calls about staying light on the seats, being direct to the water, anticipating the catch, etc.

5:15, I love this. In our email I asked Chris what the rationale was for taking three strokes instead of say, five per pair and this is what he said: “The 3 strokes down the boat was something that the guys in my boat and I talked about my freshman year. Not really sure what started it or how it came up in the boat meeting but it has been something that has stuck around with me since then. The guys really like it and it’s just a quick way to get everyone focused and helps us hit that next gear. One thing that we had talked about off the water is that when that one specific pair is “on” for those 3 strokes, the other 6 guys have to back them up because they know it’s their turn soon and they know their teammates will do the same for them. That’s sort of the reason why it’s 3 instead of 5, keeps it quick and simple and doesn’t gas anyone too much. We do it in races sometimes if I think it’s necessary or want to switch things up (mostly when we are even with a crew and the guys start to focus on the other crew and not what is going on in our boat).”

Last thing to pay attention to is how he coxes them through the strokes after the piece ends at 7:10 – reminding them to stay sharp, maintain the ratio, not worry about putting any pressure on the strokes, etc. Rather than making a super vague call like “stay in time” or whatever, try to incorporate in more active calls like those ones to keep the crew engaged and continuing to row well even after the hard strokes are over.

Other calls I liked:

“Just fuckin’ tap it along…”

Marist University 2014 Spring break Training trip, pt. 2

At 0:54, when he says “hold it up” I asked if he made that call for the set, stroke rate, pressure, or something else and he said: “The “hold it up” call was, again, something we had been working on all week. Our 4 seat had just switched to port after rowing starboard his whole rowing career. He was having a lot of trouble holding his finish through and the boat would crash to port around the back end. It was just a little personal reminder to him to stay connected throughout and not lose hold of the back end.”

I like that “pick each other up” call at 1:57 just as a reminder to everyone that the rate’s only going to come up if the entire crew goes after it and, as he said, backs each other up. I’ve made similar calls in the past as a nod to my stroke to let them know that I got their back and that getting the rate up is a collective thing, not just one person’s responsibility. If you notice your stroke getting frustrated with the rate, calls like this are always good to toss in.

Did anyone else notice the tape under the stroke seat’s inside hand? I asked about that too and Chris said: “The tape is actually raised in the middle and he puts his pinky just on the outside of the bump. His grip tends to slide wide throughout the piece so he marks it to make sure his grip stays where he wants it. It is also a bit superstitious, as most of us are. He actually rows with all of the oars and whichever one he has the best piece with is then “his” oar for the spring season.” I thought that was a pretty good idea and a neat hack to try if you’re having similar issues with your grip.

You can find and listen to more recordings by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page.

Quotes

Words.

Normal people do not have blisters on their hands. They can sleep as long as they want on the weekends. They do not have to erg. They do not have to feel the pain we go through during a race … but they don’t have crew. They aren’t as fit as we are. They will never experience the feeling we have after finishing a race. They will never prove how far they can go. They will never race. They will never row.