Today’s post is some audio of a talk that former Penn coxswain Lou Lombardi gave during the Sparks camp that Penn hosted back in August. He talked about his experience as a coxswain, his lowest point in the sport, what he took away from that experience (namely that he didn’t set himself up to succeed and the changes he made as a result), and what he learned as part of the coxed pair that placed 5th at this year’s world championships . He offers up a lot of great advice in here, especially for coxswains, so definitely give it a listen. It’s a little over 11 minutes long.
This week’s video is a good opportunity for coxswains to learn what to do when there’s two separate pieces happening within one race. You’ll notice that after Mass Ave. Harvard’s got a solid length’s lead on the other two crews. If you’re the Navy or Penn coxswain, what do you do? You obviously don’t want to keep telling your crew that you’re a length or more down on Harvard and continue the increasingly futile attempts at chasing them down, so at that point you have to, in a sense, concede that race and focus on the one you can still win, which in this case would be the one between Navy and Penn.
Basically what I’m saying is that you have to recognize when you’re racing for first and when you’re racing for second. First place was established about 500m into the race but 2nd is still up for grabs, so the focus should shift towards the crew you still have a chance at beating. There’s some psychology behind this that you’ve got to wrestle with but ultimately you’ve got to recognize the situation and understand that you lost this battle but you can still win this other one, and then in the midst of all of the racing you’ve got to get your crew to buy into that within the span of 3-5 strokes.
In that same vein, if you’re the Harvard coxswain, what do you do? You’re not racing anyone anymore, so how do you keep your crew from getting complacent? Just as you have to work hard to keep them engaged when you’re a boat length down, you also have to work hard to keep them engaged when you’re a length up.
In one situation, you’re behind and you’ve got to claw your way back to the top. The rowers can’t see anyone behind you so they know they’re behind and that creeping feeling of “shit, we’re losing” is taking over. The bodies aren’t quitting yet but the minds are. You as the coxswain have to shut that voice up, eight, sometimes nine, times over. In the other situation, you’re ahead and the rowers can clearly see they’re ahead. This gives them an opportunity to think “well, we’re ahead, we clearly have the lead … let’s back off a bit, save some energy, and coast through the finish line”.
At regattas where you’re part of a progression and you’ve got to go through heats and semis before reaching the finals and you’ve established a solid lead during your heat, yea, you can back off a little. That’s on your call though, not theirs. Make sure that is established ahead of time. You want to save your energy and your best rowing for the final so backing off a bit in the heat once you’ve secured a spot in the semis or finals is fine. When you’re in a finals-only race like this one between Harvard, Penn, and Navy though, you should be going all out from start to finish. At the very least, it’s good practice.
If mid-race you find yourselves in a one-crew race you’ve got to assess the situation and figure out what you can do to still make the piece worth something. Yea you might win but what else did you get out of it? If you race all the way across the line instead of coasting across it, that gives you the opportunity to push your bodies so that when you are racing all the way to the end your bodies don’t prematurely give out with 200m to go because you haven’t been tested all season.
People in the comments here were saying the announcer was way too harsh on this crew – they are novices after all. Um, no. No, no, no. Being a novice does not exclude you from being shit on for making straight up illogical decisions. Novice or not, you should know via common sense to NOT go onto the race course before a race has passed you. Why? Because these guys are barreling down the course and novices move at the rate of an elderly turtle.
If you can see three crews coming at you and/or you can hear people yelling “MOVE OFF THE COURSE”, get your ass in gear and move. I understand the “deer in the headlights” moment because I’ve been there but you’ve got to get over it and get out of the way. Not only are you in a position to impact someone else’s race but you could cause a serious collision that could result in very serious injuries.
So, in a situation like this what should you do?
For starters, don’t put yourself in a situation like this. Ever.
Know the traffic pattern before you launch. When in doubt draw it out on a piece of paper and take it in the boat with you. Also make sure you are actually supposed to cross the course at any given point. If you are there will likely be an official waiting in a launch to tell you when it’s safe to do so.
If a race is coming down the course, stop and wait for them to pass you before crossing to the other side. NEVER cross in front of a race. If the race is at the starting line and hasn’t gone off yet, do. not. go. unless a race official has specifically told you to cross. They’ll usually say something like “Belmont Hill, you’re clear to cross. Row it over all eight.” If something like this is necessary the officials will have told you about it in the coaches and coxswains meeting. If they didn’t bring it up, don’t do it.
Assuming you ignore everything I just said and you find yourself in the middle of the course with some heavyweight men’s 8s coming straight toward you, do. not. stop. rowing. Also do not row by pairs if you’re in a four or 4s if you’re in an eight. Row by all four or all eight and get out of the way. Row as far over as you can get to ensure that you are completely off the course. If for some reason you need to turn the boat, turn with everyone on whatever side you have rowing, not just one or two people. The goal is to move quickly.
Give clear, concise, and direct instructions. This is not the time to lose your head and be stammering, stuttering, and fumbling with your words.
Rowers: shut UP. You talking, yelling, etc. does not help and only makes things worse. I hesitate to say what to do if your coxswain isn’t giving you instructions because I don’t want to be responsible for widespread mutinies against coxswains but I can tell you that you should not be doing what the other three rowers are doing from 1:50-1:57 (i.e. just sitting there like it’s a totally normal day at practice and letting one person turn the entire damn boat).
When someone tells you to row, don’t all just start rowing whenever the hell you want. You don’t do that any other time so why would you do it now? If anything, in situations like this is when you need to be the most coordinated in order to get out of there quickly and safely. There most likely isn’t going to be time for the coxswain to say “sit ready, ready, row” so just go with your stroke. Follow them from the beginning. Stroke seats everywhere, do not start rowing from half slide or whatever random position you’re sitting in. Have this worked out with your crew ahead of time that you’ll all start at the catch or the finish, whichever one you choose if you need to abruptly start rowing, that way everyone starts together and you don’t look ridiculous like this crew does.
Remain calm. You can freak out and be pissed at each other when you get back on land.