Month: February 2017

Coxing Racing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

This week’s video isn’t embeddable so you’ll have to click over to the Olympic channel to watch it. It’s a quick 5 minute interview with Pete Cipollone where he reflects on his two Olympic games and the USA’s “third time’s the charm” shot at getting a gold medal after falling short in 1996 and 2000.

Coxswains especially, there’s a lot for us to relate to in this video so I encourage you to check it out. If you take away one thing, make it be what he says about not changing the race plan – “don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything you don’t have to do”. If you’re up on the field and something is clearly going right, keep doing whatever you’re doing. Solid words of wisdom as we gear up for the spring season.

Notebook “hacks”: Post-practice affirmations


Notebook “hacks”: Post-practice affirmations

I’m only calling this a “hack” because I couldn’t think of a better title.

I think I’ve talked about this before but it’s come up a few times over email lately so I thought I’d write a quick post going into a bit more detail about a trick I used in high school to keep me from being too hard on myself if/when my confidence was taking a hit.

When my coach initially suggested this to us, I thought it was so cheesy. Rather than seeing it as a practical tool, it just seemed like a way to put yourself in a bubble and make it easier to block out any sort of criticism and ignore the mistakes you were making. If you have the wrong attitude it can absolutely be both of those things but if you use it the right way, it’s a great way to help you figure out processes that work and develop your confidence, objectivity, and self-awareness (all of which are, obviously, critical traits for a coxswain).

Related: Tracking progress in your notebook

My approach to this exercise admittedly started off pretty weak. I’d occasionally write down “steered a good line today” or “were the fastest ones to launch after getting hands on” but things like that never actually made me feel better after a bad practice. I told my coach this and he basically said “well yea, no shit” (very nicely though, as was always his style). Everything I’d written down was stuff that I was expected to be doing anyways … so why should I get credit or be patting myself on the back for that? This was one of those critical points in my coxing career because it was when my coach pressed me to start asking “why” and “how”.

Why were we the first ones to launch? Because I’d spent time before practice figuring out what the plan was (drills, workout, were we going upstream or downstream, etc.) so I wouldn’t have to do it at the same time as the other coxswains after the warmup or while we were on the dock. Because I’d used my time better during the warmup to get my tools together and talk with the other coxswains about what order we wanted to launch in. Because I got over thinking that the rowers would think I was being a bitch if I more assertively said “let’s get hands on” instead of just waiting for everyone to make their way over to the boat.

How did I steer a good line today? I trial-and-error’ed the most effective way to hold the cables to minimize unnecessary movements of the rudder and put into practice the one I felt worked best. I held myself to a higher standard because we went out with the 1V and 2V and I was the middle crew when going three across. I was assertive and confident (and didn’t have to fake it!) when communicating with the varsity coxswains about our points.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

The how’s and why’s were always the most labor-intensive because they made me think, which admittedly is sometimes the last thing you want to be doing after a long practice or a bad row. More times than not I’d keep it super simple (sometimes all you wanna say is “got a high five from the men’s V8 stroke after subbing in for them today” and leave it at that) but I know unequivocally that the few minutes I’d spend doing this after practice made me a stronger coxswain and helped me keep in perspective that even if I had a slip-up, I was still on the right track and doing a lot of things right.

To keep myself accountable and out of that bubble I mentioned earlier, I always acknowledged the less than stellar days when practice didn’t go well or I screwed up because, as I’ve talked about plenty of times before, there’s a lot to be gained from that, even if it’s just being self-aware enough to admit that you handled this situation completely wrong and now you know for the future that XYZ is a better approach.

Related: Keeping a notebook

This was always the messiest part of my notebook because it was just a season-long haphazard list of all the little things that I felt were tangible representations of the fact that I was getting better. When I started feeling like I’d hit a plateau or like my shortcomings were outweighing my strengths, I’d look through what I’d written and use that as a confidence boost to remind myself that I’m actually turning into a pretty good coxswain and one shitty practice isn’t the end of the world or as a kick in the ass to come up with the plan to do better. It also made assessing my progress at the end of the season with my coaches a little easier because I’d already subtly been keeping track of it over the past few months.

Like pretty much everything else on this blog, everything I’m telling you works … it just might not work for you. If you like the idea but not the method, by all means adapt it to whatever works for you. One of my friends had a very rigid approach to doing this (his was kind of bullet journal-y, if you’re familiar with them) whereas I recognized that if I wanted this to work for me, it needed to just be a simple, not over-analyzed list with the occasional expansion on topics when it was warranted. If you find yourself looking for ways to get better or feeling like you’re burning out or plateauing, don’t overlook little things like this as a way to help you through (or out of) those situations.

Image via // @dartmouthrowing

Erg Playlists

Music to erg to, pt. 141

Two posts worth checking out from the past two weeks – yesterday’s coxswain recordings and last week’s post on coxing people on the erg. Knowing how to cox people during erg tests is a pretty fundamental skill that we tend to overlook so even if your indoor season is winding down and/or your team is done testing, you should still consider writing in your notebook the stuff from the “things to know” section since all of that can be used on the water as well.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 41

College Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 41

Wellesley College WV8+ Final 2016 NCAA Championships

I posted the recording from Wellesley’s heat at NCAAs back in December (you can check it out here) and similar to that recording, the audio’s a little muffled here. This is actually a good thing to keep in mind too now that the spring season is getting closer – if you’re not using a GoPro, make sure you play around with different spots to put your recorder so you can find one that protects it from the water while still being able to capture a clear sound.

If you want to watch the NCAA’s footage of the race and listen to their commentary, you can check it out here – skip ahead to 3:23:00ish (the race starts about a minute after that). Wellesley is in Lane 2 with the black boat and blue and white oars. I’d also recommend muting the NCAA video and starting the recording when the race starts, that way you can listen to the race as you watch it.

From a coxing standpoint, this piece accomplishes three of the things that make up a good recording – there’s no screaming off the line, she gives consistent updates on their pace and position, and at the end of the race you have a pretty good idea of where most of the crews finished just based on the updates she was giving throughout the piece. All of that is rooted in communication so if you’re a sophomore or junior who is trying to put together audio to sent to the JNT or college coaches, I would highly recommend you make your communication skills a central focus during practice in the weeks leading up to your first race. Ale demonstrates really well how to do this effectively by keeping the information concise (aka saying only what needs to be said) and using her tone rather than volume to convey her message.

Related: What makes a good coxswain recording

One of the most well executed parts of the race was when they’re crossing 1000m between 3:16 and 3:42ish. Through the first 1000m there’s this focus of just chipping away at the field stroke by stroke in order to establish their lead and then as they come across 1000m it’s like OK, we’ve got now, if anyone else wants it, they’re gonna have to take it from us because we are not giving it up.

I think the best part of the NCAA commentary is near the end where Williams starts to take the rate up but Wellesley is still at like, a 33 or something, and the announcer says they have “plenty of stroke rate left to go up and not much water left to defend”. That’s probably the best position you could be in coming into the last 250m of a race.

Other calls I liked:

“Catches with her, shoulders with her…”

“Our confidence in two … one … two, our confidence. MOVE through that 1000 … MOVE through that 1000. Seize it now … seize it now, blue. We command this. Sit up, we’re across. Sit up, now this is our 500 because we’ve trained … LET’S GO!

George Washington University 1F vs. Georgetown University 1F

Right off the start, I like the “draw through” call on the first stroke. That’s an easy one to whiff, especially if your blade’s not all the way buried or you pull out of the catch instead of push, so having that call as a reminder is a good way to make sure everyone stays horizontal through the drive.

Out of the high strokes they make their shift down to base and at 1:47 you hear him say that he wants to shift down one more beat to a 35. His execution here (between 1:47 and 2:00ish) is really smooth, mainly because there’s no sense of urgency in his tone that the shift has to happen right freakin’ now like you sometimes hear in other recordings. He draws it out over a couple of strokes which allows him time to make very clear, direct calls about what he wants and most importantly (especially when it comes to rate shifts), when he wants it to happen. This is something you should regularly be practicing when you’re doing pyramid pieces or anything else involving rate shifts, that way you can establish a good flow in initiating it and the crew can get accustomed to the calls you’ll make when the rate needs to change.

Little goals are obviously a big part of any race plan and he does a good job here of (indirectly) tying those to the crew’s overall technique. You’ve gotta be careful about making too many technical calls during a race and becoming hyperfocused on that but I think he does a good job of balancing those calls with follow-up calls that say where they are now on Georgetown after taking a few strokes to get the blades in, swing through a headwind, keep the outside shoulder up, etc.

The only thing I’d suggest not doing from this recording really isn’t that egregious but there’s definitely better – or at least clearer – ways to call it. Rather than saying “200m ’til the 500m mark” just say “750 to go” or if you’re making a move at 500, “15 strokes ’til we make our move”.

Other calls I liked:

“At the 500, we’re gonna walk away. We’re gonna sting at the 5…”

“Stay loose, stay long … stay loose, stay long…”, said on the drive, recovery.

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

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! How would you recommend handling other coxswains that believe in “dictatorship”? I’m in my 3rd year of coxing and have always had the thought process that I am not a dictator or boss, or that the rowers work for me, but that I work for the rowers so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. As long as we are working hard and accomplishing our goals, I see no reason as to why we can’t have fun. My boat last year had this mindset and we always did extremely well and had good attitudes most of the time. However, this year the coxswains who have been with our team for a shorter time than myself (I am the oldest cox) believe that they can be dictators and that it’s alright for them to force the rowers to perform workouts the way that they want them done, rather than what works best for the rowers. How can I handle this? I’ve already talked to the other coxes but they don’t care. 

It would probably also be helpful to add that our coaches don’t really care about this situation either. I know that it bothers several of the rowers but I don’t know what I can do at this point.

If you’ve pointed out the problem, explained why that approach doesn’t work and how it ultimately hurts the team (and themselves), given suggestions on how to act/lead in a more effective manner, etc., all while getting zero support from the coaches … I don’t really know what else you can (be expected to) do. I’ve been in similar positions, both while coaching our coxswains right now and when I was on my own teams, and it’s frustrating as hell to be in a leadership position and know that there’s this expectation that you’ll take the initiative to address the problem but then see absolutely nothing come of it when you do. It’s like the personification of the “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” saying.

I can’t even get into the coaches not caring. Like … seriously? I said this to someone else a few weeks ago (linked below – a lot of the advice in there I’d give to you too) but if the coaches aren’t going to do the bare minimum in addressing shit like this then they really have no room to be annoyed when certain crews underperform as the season gets underway.

Related: Hi! I’m in my third year of coxing in college. I coxed the 2V my first two years but this fall I was moved up to the 1V. There are a few other coxswains on our team but honestly, most of them don’t know what they’re doing and won’t put in effort to improve. I’ve noticed that when I’m occasionally put back into the 2V (which is mainly made up of the same rowers as last year’s 2V) for practice, the rowers have lost a lot of technique. Stroke seat (who was my stroke in the 2V last year) has told me that the other coxswains don’t know how to correct technique and will either ignore it or tell them to do the wrong thing. She has also said that the coxswains don’t know how to call pieces and aren’t helping them get to the stroke rate or split they need to be at. I also found out that several of 2V rowers no longer trust coxswains because the other coxswains have constantly lied to them about stroke rate, split, distance, time, etc.

I don’t think it’s your responsibility to handle this. I think it’s your responsibility as the oldest coxswain on the team to address it, which it sounds like you have, but you can’t be the only person trying to get them to adjust their approach. The rowers need to speak up too and let them know that their way of communicating isn’t working. It’s really easy to bitch about stuff like this behind their backs but nothing’s going to change unless you address it head on and part of the responsibility for doing that lies with them.

A good way to go about that is to have the rowers direct their feedback towards one of the older rowers (even better if they’re a team captain) and then you and that rower can talk to the coxswains on your own after practice one day. In this situation you can let the rower lead the discussion so that they can explain why their attitudes are a problem and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. From there you can offer yourself up as a resource if they want help in figuring out better ways to communicate with the team but I also think you need to take a hard stance here and let them know that all they’re doing is undermining themselves by acting like this. If/when they get pissed because they suddenly realized no one on the team respects them, they’ll only have themselves to blame and that sucks but that’s the hole they dug themselves into.

I know that seems like a harsh thing to say too (it really isn’t though) but I honestly feel like if more people (coaches, captains, whoever…) made points like that to coxswains early on, situations like this would way occur less often. It obviously won’t prevent everyone from getting drunk with (perceived) power but if they realize it’ll take twice as long and five times as much effort to overcome this than if they’d just acted like a normal person to begin with, they might make a bit more of an effort to be self-aware with regards to their actions and interactions with the team.

College Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hey! I am a high school senior interested in rowing in college. I have committed to attending a school, but I did not go through the recruiting process. Before committing to the school, I was in contact with one of the assistant coaches, and met with and spoke with him. How do I go about getting in contact with the coach again about joining the team in the fall? Thanks!

Also, (unrelated) do you have any tips for rowing a single? I know the stroke, but keep having trouble with one of my oars getting caught under the water. (One day it was port, another it was starboard). Thanks again!

Just email them, re-introduce yourself, say you’ll be attending that school in the fall, and you’re still interested in joining the team. Assuming you’re already an experienced rower, they’ll probably just lump you in with the rest of the recruits once you get all the compliance paperwork done. (I talked about this a bit in the post linked below.)

Related: What it means to be a “walk-on”

Whenever that would happen with our walk-ons (getting the oars caught) (literally, without fail, every. single. time.) it would be because one (or both) of the oarlocks were backwards. So, out of habit, my first suggestion is to make sure you’re got everything set up correctly and facing the right way. Also make sure your hands are always left over right.

The main thing I’d keep in mind though is to make sure you’re drawing through level with both hands and keeping both elbows up at the finish. Really focus on squeezing the lats through the finish and maintaining pressure on the blades all the way through the drive so you give yourself the best chance to get a good, clean release. Also make sure that your posture is on point and you’re not shifting your weight all over the place. Relaxed upper body, engaged core, etc. This will help you maintain your balance and give you a more stable platform to work off of, which should make it easier to maintain an even blade depth with both oars.

My experience with sculling is (obviously) pretty limited so if anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to leave ’em in the comments.