Category: Technique

“Preparedness matters. Details matter.”

Coxing Rowing Technique

“Preparedness matters. Details matter.”

I was having a hard time this week trying to brainstorm ideas for today’s post (because at this point it feels like I’ve written all there is to write about head racing) but luckily one of the other Columbia coaches posted something in our team Facebook group that I thought was worth sharing.

Everyone needs to be prepared to use the drilling sequences to improve. That means knowing what they are, what you need to focus on, how you are going to focus on it, and what outcomes you want. Preparedness matters. Details matter.

I talk a lot about the importance of communicating with your coaches so you understand the drills/workouts you’re doing, their purpose, how it’s executed, what you should be taking away from it, the technical focus, etc. and then relaying that info to the rowers, either before they start the drill or while you’re warming up a just an overview of what practice will entail that day … and the quote above is why. Preparedness matters. Details matter.

This applies just as much to the rowers as it does the coxswains too – probably even more so, which means you also have to be communicating with your coaches and/or coxswains so that you have a full understanding of the drills you’re doing, particularly when it’s addressing a technical issue that’s been pointed out to you about your own rowing. It like that Lombardi quote says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” You can do drills or make technical calls every day during practice but if you’re only doing it because that’s what you’re supposed to do and not because you’re actually prepared to do it, with all the pieces of knowledge listed above at the forefront of your brain, you’re limiting what you take away from the work you’re doing.

Just something to keep in mind now that we’re fully into the fall season and gearing up for a busy few weeks of racing.

Image via // @mitmensrowing

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! I just finished my first season of coxing and am now on the varsity team. Due to a shortage of coxswains, I got put on a pretty good boat by default and the girls expect a lot. My novice coach didn’t really teach me how to spot and correct poor technique and my current coach has not been super helpful about it either. Do you have any advice on what to look for or any videos to recommend? The general problems in the boat are rush and set. Do you know any specific problems that could cause this that I could make corrections on? Thank you!

As far as what to look for, check out the post below. There’s a couple different issues addressed in there, including the set, that should give you a good starting point. A couple other posts that might be helpful are these three from the aptly-named “things that affect the set” series on handle heights, timing, and bladework.

Related: “So, what did you see?”

When it comes to rush, it starts with timing out of the back end – getting the hands and shoulders out together first so that when the slides start, people aren’t already behind and having to play catch up (which then checks the boat’s run). I’ve always found double pause drills to be a good drill to do because it gives you a couple checkpoints throughout the recovery to collect yourself as a crew and ensure you’re all moving into the next phase of stroke at the same pace. (I talked a lot more in detail about this in this post and the “top 20 terms” post linked below.) Definitely ask your coach if you can throw some pause drills into your warmup if you feel like the rush isn’t getting addressed elsewhere throughout practice.

Related: Top 20 terms: Rush(ing)

All of those links should put you on the right track to being able to spot and correct some of the basic issues you’re seeing but what’s going to help a lot more is keeping track of what you’re doing and seeing during practice, making note of any questions you have (either on what you saw, technical stuff you’re unsure of, etc.), and then spending a few minutes going over it with your coach a couple times a week. It’s unlikely that they’re gonna ask if you understand or have questions so you’ve gotta take the initiative and approach them yourselves in order to get the info/clarification you need.

In rowing, the transcendent moment is called "swing" and those of us who have rowed for lifetimes have maybe experienced swing three or four times. It doesn't happen very often but when it does it really is a different dimension. It's where all eight bodies in the boat are absolutely in sync and every stroke is as perfect as it can be and then all of a sudden the race is over and you don't remember anything about the race except that you ended up two boat lengths ahead. It's an extraordinary kind of experience, really quite an oxymoron, it's a physical out of body experience or a mental out of body experience. It's part of that transcendence.

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! Do you have any resources (or can point to any resources) for practicing how to spot problems that rowers are having/how to identify what corrections to call for while coxing? In my head, I’m imagining videos from the coxswain’s point of view (in an 8) and you have a clip during which you take some time to try to notice what needs to be fixed on your own, and then can look up the “answers” after to see what you missed or if you misinterpreted what was going on and got it wrong. So for example if there’s a clip that demonstrates late catches from bow pair and rowing it in from 5 and 6 seats, someone could watch the clip and write down what they see and then after can look at what a more experienced coxswain would say the problems are and compare them, i.e. see if you saw the catch and rowing it in issues yourself.

Does this kind of thing exist somewhere (and did my description make any sense at all)? It would just be nice to get a visual of what the different issues look like from the coxswain’s seat and be able to practice recognizing them, especially because I cox very good rowers and sometimes the issues are nuanced and I just don’t have the experience to notice them yet.

I definitely get what you’re saying. An exact resource like the one you described doesn’t exist as far as I know but there are plenty of ways to achieve the same effect.  I usually try to do something similar with the coxswains during the winter when we’re bored and there’s nothing else to do while the guys are doing steady state. We’ll pull up a race, listen/watch, slow a few clips down to watch it in slow-mo, and just talk through it. What we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, stuff like that and usually we’ll end up doing the same thing that you described.

This was actually a big part of what I did with the coxswains at the camps I coached at last year too (as well as with a few coxswains I’ve worked one-on-one with) – we’d watch a race, they’d take notes, and then afterwards point out what they saw, ask questions on it, etc. and I’d answer them while also pointing out anything they might have missed, interpreted incorrectly, or weren’t sure of a fix (or appropriate call) for.

Point being I guess is that what you described is a good idea but the benefit (in my opinion) from doing something like that comes in talking through it with other people, whether it’s another coxswain, your coach, etc. Every coach I’ve ever had or worked with has taken tons of video of their crews and they’ll usually spend a couple minutes going over it with the team or individual boats, again basically doing close to what you described. It’s up to you in that instance to take the opportunity to pay close attention to what you’re seeing and then compare that to whatever your coach points out.

I always did that whenever we’d go over video at MIT and every time there was something I’d miss that I’d not realize until one of the other coaches pointed it out. This helped me help the coxswains too because I took notes on whatever we’d go over during video review and then make a point to pay attention to that stuff when we were on the water. From there I could spot the nuances more clearly and give the coxswains further details or clarifications on calls that might help fix the problem, reiterate a particular point, etc.

This is also why I encourage coxswains to use GoPros. I get that they’re not the cheapest things but they’re such an invaluable tool in your development because it lets you re-watch your own rowers again and again rather than someone else’s crew who might not have the same problems that yours does (or the same problems in the same way). At the very least, have your coach get video of the crew and then spend a couple minutes going over it with them after practice once or twice a week. Two apps I’ve used to do this are Coach’s Eye and Hudl Technique but you could of course always just use your phone’s camera and play it back like that.

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

Coxing Rowing Technique

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

If you’ve been to Northeast Rowing Center and had Coach Lindberg (BU heavyweight men’s assistant) as your coach, then you’ll remember him asking his boats if they can list the three things that all fast crews have in common. Do you know what they are?

Blades go in before the drive begins

While the feet are still light (aka there’s no pressure being applied to the stretchers), the blade touches the water and gets heavy. This has to happen before the wheels change direction.

Hang your bodyweight off the handle all the way through the drive

From catch to finish, suspension is the key to prying and accelerating. You can read more about it in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

Spacing at the back end

Every coach coaches the finish a little differently but regardless of whether you keep the hands moving around the finish or do that weird pause-y thing, the hands and elbows have to be out and away before the body rocks over.

This stuff is so simple you’ll probably read it and think “…duh” but if your crew is trying to gain more speed or figure out what’s holding them back, don’t default to just thinking about pulling harder – go back to the basics and ensure you’re doing all three of these things first. You can make calls for this stuff for at any point during practice too – it all falls under the umbrella of “just one (or three) of those things” that you should always be looking for, correcting, and perfecting.

Image via // @jeffhou_

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.