Author: readyallrow

In the early months of training you're thinking 'What the hell is all this for?' because the race is so far off. There's so much tedium and discipline and brutal effort to hammer through. You have to resist the subconscious desire to put an end to all this self-inflicted hardship. But as the days pass and you feel yourself getting stronger, you begin to live for the next day. You punish yourself if with a will in training, because you know you're facing a race that will suspend your life. Somewhere in the race, you will find out what it is you've been working for. And your asking big questions of your body, and when the right answers are coming back, it's a feeling you know you will never forget.

Dan Topolski Oxford University
How to increase the effectiveness of your coxswain evaluations

Coxing Teammates & Coaches

How to increase the effectiveness of your coxswain evaluations

Evals have been a frequent topic of discussion this week between the heavyweight and lightweight coaches and I. One of the conversations I had was about the things I think make evals effective – beyond, you know, actually doing them and going over them with your coxswains instead of just shoving 30 pieces of paper their way and expecting them to decipher everything on their own.

Related: Coxswain evaluations + how I organize them

Consistency

You have to do them on a regular basis throughout the year – once a year whenever you or your coach remembers isn’t good enough. One of the biggest ways we created buy-in from the MIT guys was by doing them consistently at the same time every year ..  in the fall during the week between HOCR and the Princeton Chase, mid-week during the winter training trip in Cocoa Beach, and again mid-week during spring break. It got to the point where they’d start asking me if “we’re gonna do evals this week” because they knew they were coming up.

Having them on your calendar and doing them at key points throughout the season means that your performance from training camp, that big race, etc. will be fresh in everyone’s mind, which in turn leads to them being able to elaborate more on the feedback they’re giving you.

Support from the coaches

No, coaches, this doesn’t mean saying “yea evals are a good idea, go ahead and put something together and hand them out”. Another one of the big ways that helped create buy-in at MIT was how wholeheartedly supportive the coaches were and they showed that by introducing the evals to the team (specifically the freshman) each fall and explaining why we think they’re an important tool in coaching the coxswains that by providing the coxswains – their teammates – with feedback that will aid in their development throughout the year, they’re helping make the team faster.

Related: Coxswain evaluations 2.0

I made this point to the lightweight coaches earlier before we distributed evals for the Oakland trip – it’s one thing for me to say it but at this point, they don’t know me as well as they know the coaches they’re with every single day so hearing them say how much they value doing evals carries a bit more weight than it does if I say it. (Also I’m obviously biased about how important they are so there’s that too.)

A very important caveat

This one needs absolutely no elaboration – if you don’t fill out the evals, you leave excessively vague comments, or you don’t provide any comments/feedback at all, you forfeit your right to complain about or make requests/demands of the coxswains going forward.

Image via // @mattaiomara

Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Keith Jackson’s historic broadcast from the USSR to Seattle

Did you know that Keith Jackson – who spent 54 years as one of college football’s most famous announcers – considered this race between the University of Washington and the USSR to be the most exciting event he ever covered? Lots of history in this race but also pretty cool to see someone so well known in broadcasting be linked to it in such a unique way.

Coxing High School Q&A

Question of the Day

I’m 5’6″ and weigh from the low 120’s up to around 128 depending on the time of day, week, how much I’ve been eating and all of those lovely things. I am a Sophomore in high school and I haven’t grown much at all in the past 1 1/2 years. My mom stopped growing at my age too, so I suspect I am about done. However, I’m very self conscious about my weight. I have gotten several condescending comments from people who I don’t even know that consist of a long look at me and the response of “YOU’RE a coxswain? You’re tall!”. I don’t take offense to this because I go on to explain the importance of weight, and people understand.

However, about 3 weeks ago we had a weigh in before winter season workouts kicked off. My most stern/harsh coach who isn’t mean just… a little hardcore was there for my weigh in. I was wearing: leggings, long sleeve shirt, big sweatpants, sweatshirt and holding my phone when he told me to step on the scale. Of course I weighed in around 128 lbs. He looked at the scale, at me and then said “…did you know that?” He kind of laughed, wrote it down, and then looked at me again. I didn’t really know how to respond and I hate making excuses but I felt like I needed to explain how I hadn’t eaten very healthily that day. To be fair I hadn’t, but one day isn’t a huge deal every once and a while, also I didn’t know there was a weigh in. He didn’t seem impressed.

Ever since I feel like I really need to lose weight. I know I don’t NEED to for high school clubs, but I want too. It doesn’t help that there is a coxswain on our team who is not very good or motivational and is about 145 lbs. I hear complaints about her a lot and there is a coxswain who is a close friend who is around 104lbs who likes to brag about her weight. I’m excited to improve in my skills but not if I am not wanted as a 125lb cox where you do not get assigned a specific gender for your everyday coxing and racing. I may cox lightweight girls and heavyweight men on the same race day, so no weight is encouraged or specified for me. However, I’m not unrealistic with my goals (I don’t want to weigh 115 at 5’6″ with my body type). I was curious about college though? What would be their thoughts on a coxswain who was on the taller and heavier side? I’m 100% okay with coxing men! Thank you so much! 

OK well first of all, never weigh in in anything you wouldn’t race in. A uni or leggings and a tshirt should be the only things you ever wear when you step on the scale. Not to be a dick but that should be common sense.

I get what you’re saying about it being hard to pinpoint a good racing weight when you’re coxing every type of crew imaginable – that’s valid and a point worth bringing up to your coach. Nobody cares how tall you are (in college or high school) as long as you’re at or within a few pounds of racing weight so don’t worry about that. You’re like, the perfect size to cox men (where the racing weight is 125lbs in college) so maybe propose that to your coach and ask if you can start primarily going out with them. Pretty sure our varsity coxswain my first year at MIT and the men’s lightweight varsity coxswain my last two years there were 5’6″ – 5-8″ish so you wouldn’t stand out as “tall” at all if you coxed men. Plus, it’s one thing to cox a variety of crews to get the experience but even a half-decent coach has to see the failure in logic of putting a 120+ish pound coxswain in a lightweight women’s boat.

Don’t make this about the other coxswains either. There are shitty coxswains that weigh 108lbs and great coxswains that weigh 132lbs. Obviously coxswains that are over racing weight and aren’t that skilled are a frustrating bunch (for rowers and the other coxswains) but literally nothing good comes from pointing out their weight and skill level in the same sentence. I would however say something to your friend who likes to brag about her weight – congrats on being 104lbs but maybe chill with pointing it out every chance you get. A girl I used to cox with did this and it was so unnecessary, not to mention discouraging to one of the other coxswains who weighed like, 112lbs and felt like this girl was using her “109lbs” comments to rub it in her face that that’s why she was in the 3V instead of the 2V (even though it had nothing to do with that). If you’re cool with people knowing how much you weigh that’s fine but straight up bragging about it crosses a line (at least in my opinion) because you never know how someone will interpret it and the effects it could have on them. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to be conscious of that.

Coxing High School Novice Q&A

Question of the Day

I saw one of your other posts and I thought that maybe you could help me as well. I’m 4’11 and in 7th grade. I really want to start rowing so my parents are finally letting me in the spring. I have researched all the positions and a lot of other crew related things and everything is a jumble. Is there anything that you think I should know about my appearance (clothes) or practice? Most importantly am I too big to be a coxswain? I have tried looking up the requirements for a coxswain but there is only answers for high school coxing.

You are definitely not too big to be a coxswain – I’m 4’11” too and have never been too big for anything in my life. The only requirements (to start with) are being the right size to fit in the seat and be close to racing weight, which for junior coxswains is 110lbs. (Since you’re only in middle school I wouldn’t worry too much about that right now though.) Whatever you read about high school coxswains applies to you though too – you all fall under the same “junior” umbrella.

Related: The Five Mandates of Coxing

When you’ve got some time to kill, check out the “defining the role of the coxswain” tag too. There’s tons of stuff in there that should help you get up to speed on what’s expected of you in just about every imaginable facet. Don’t get too overwhelmed though, you’re only in 7th grade so it’s unlikely that everything in there will be applicable to you but it is all good info to keep in the back of your head. As far as what to know about practice, check out that post linked above on the five mandates of coxing since you’ll want to be doing each of those things every day once you’re on the water.

Related: What are some items and pieces of clothing that you think all coxes should have at indoor practices (normal ones and tanks) as well as in the boat once we are on the water again? I’m trying out for a new team (switching from rowing to coxing) and I want to be prepared and give a good impression of that to the coach.

When it comes to what you should wear, there’s a whole tag dedicated to that too (check it out here). I’d stick with stuff from this post, this post, this post, and this post most days depending on whether you’re on land or on the water and what the weather’s like. This is what I wore when I raced at HOCR this year but it also tends to be my go-to outfit most of the spring and fall as long as the temperatures aren’t abnormally warm or cold.

Erg Playlists

Music to erg to, pt. 162

15 years ago yesterday I went to my first rowing practice with my high school team. To quote Drake, “started from the bottom now we here”.

Yesterday I posted the speech given by the alum we honored at our annual banquet last month – if you haven’t read it yet, definitely check it out. Lots of pearls of wisdom in there. I also posted a couple new recordings last week as well. If you’re a high school coxswain, I recommend listening to the first one (and reading the post linked below it) if you anticipate racing any time trials this year.

I’m flying to Oakland tonight for winter training with the lightweights (shout out if you followed the JFK shitshow on Instagram yesterday) and we’re rowing out of the Strokes boathouse so I might see some of you over the next week – definitely say hi if you see me around! I also think I’m doing a very chill and super informal clinic/Q&A that’s tentatively scheduled for Wednesday evening so if any of you are interested in coming to that, hit me up and I’ll share the details.

“To row was to race and races were meant to be won”

College Racing Rowing

“To row was to race and races were meant to be won”

If you follow me on Instagram then you probably saw my story from early December of the black-tie banquet that I spent most of the fall helping plan and organize. One of the bigger parts of the evening was honoring our “crew of the year” – shout out to the women’s varsity four – and one of our alums as “alumni of the year”. The alum that was chosen gave a really stirring speech that I thought you’d be interested in reading so that’s what today’s post is. I think that regardless of who we row for or where we’re all at in our rowing careers, there’s something in here that we can relate to. I hope you find something that speaks to you that you can carry with you throughout 2018, both on and off the water.

“Good evening fellow Columbians and most welcome guests.

I am humbled to stand before you here tonight and wonder why you would choose to honor me, for I have not come close to matching the generosity of Tom Cornacchia or Dean Dakolias for Columbia Rowing. Nor can I claim to have represented our program on a national team like Nick LaCava or Libby Peters or my classmate Juan Felix. I was never in a Varsity Heavyweight Eight that won the Child’s or Blackwell Cups. I did not contribute to the glory of winning the IRA like that great Lightweight Crew in 2016.

I consider my own accomplishments as a Varsity Oarsman at Columbia to be rather ordinary. Nevertheless, as I contemplate my life since graduating from Columbia, it is clear to me that the experience of rowing at Columbia has been the foundation and the forge of whatever I may have achieved in my life since leaving this great University.

We are here tonight because we share an abiding affection for both rowing and our Alma Mater.

The sport of rowing is not really easy to explain to anyone who has not invested the time necessary to overcome those early awkward moments of uncertainty and instability that are apparent when sitting in an eight and while the mechanics of the stroke itself are not especially complex, mastering the execution of the stroke in synchronicity to create power and propulsion requires a level of skill and sensitivity that may not be obvious to someone watching a shell moving through the water at speed. There are layers of mystery and subtlety that shroud our sport from the comprehension of non-rowers.

This may be one of the reasons why rowing lends itself so well to romantic imagery in poetry, photography and painting. The world of rowing is populated by arcane words and unique rituals and routines. Day after day, we laid our “hands on” the shell, lowering it to our shoulders, “counting down” from the bow, “shoving off” from the dock, and waiting to hear “ready all row”. The comforting and terrifying voice of the coxswain exhorting us to give him or her a “power ten”, obediently raising the stroke rate by going “up two in two” and then “up two more”, while waiting to hear with desperate anticipation for the “last twenty” and the final relief of “paddle” and “weigh enough”.

But I did not come here tonight to reminisce about these gentle memories or to tease you with the imagery of those tiny ephemeral whirlpools and the concentric puddles our oars left behind our sterns or the magical sounds of bubbles dancing along the hull when our boats had achieved that perfect set of balance and precision and power and speed.

A painting by Tomas Eakins we all probably first saw in our Art Hum class cannot satisfy my urge to articulate to you tonight what I felt when rowed. I need a different medium to explain what rowing for Columbia meant to me, a medium that accurately illustrates the violent and extreme feelings that I confronted as an oarsman and which have irrevocably shaped my character ever since.

The vehicle I chose to offer you this evening that I believe expresses these feelings best is The Iliad of Homer, a text I believe should be familiar to all Columbians. Tonight I would like to give you an interpretation of this great epic through the eyes of a Columbia Oarsman, who was a “walk on” to the Freshman Crew Team in September of 1976.

Now I have to confess that I was rather chubby at that time in my life and my previous athletic experiences were limited to long walks with 14 clubs over my shoulder on municipal golf courses. I assure you that I was by no means considered “first boat material” by our coach, Ted Bonnano, when I showed up for that first day of practice in the tanks below this very stage where I stand tonight.

One of the first things I noticed was the ever present underlying competitiveness of rowing. Weight training, running stairs in Pupin Hall, the Hill at Baker Field, the Double Hill at Baker Field, the Loop in Central Park and worst of all, erg tests in that dark and rancid cave off the running track in Dodge were all different metrics to establish where I stood against all the other members of our crew and which boat I would be assigned to sit in. And once in those boats we learned to race. First against each other, day after day, in that diabolical device known as “seat racing”. Next we raced against the Varsity Heavies, or the JV Heavies or the Lightweight Eights and finally against Princeton, Penn, Navy, and MIT. To row was to race and races were meant to be won.

The next and most lasting impression I had in those early days of my rowing career was the level of pain we must endure in rowing, from the first twenty strokes at the start to the final sprint. The level of pain sustained throughout a 2000 meter race is indescribable and inescapable. The burning of lactic acid and the sting of adrenaline in the back of my throat were sensations I had not been familiar with in my previous life as a golfer when serious stress may have been sweaty palms from time to time when confronting a four foot putt for a birdie. At some point around Spring Break of my Freshman Year I remember asking myself a very important question:

“Why would anyone, particularly, chubby Phil Adkins, willingly and enthusiastically participate in a sporting endeavor that is essentially a contest of who could sustain the most pain for the longest possible time?”

Looking back now I realize that what motivated me. What I relished the most, for the first time in my life, were my adversaries. Their presence in my life was a great gift and they served to fuel my deepest desires to dominate and defeat them. For me the most effective antidote for pain was the feral feelings of fury and rage that consumed me whenever I pulled on an oar.

And Homer nailed it from the very first line of The Iliad: “Sing oh Muse of the Rage of Achilles”. For me, rage worked.

Revisit for a moment your own recollections of backing down your eight into the stake boat at the start of a race, the quick glance out of the corner of your eye at your opposite number across that narrow stretch of water as the boats line up, all the while your heart is pounding and your sinews stretch in anticipation of those explosive words: “Get ready … row”.

Compare your own intimate thoughts at that moment of brutal confrontation with the words of Achilles when he squared off against Hector as their final battle commenced and shouted: “I only wish my fury would compel me to cut away your flesh and eat it raw”. As you know, things did not go well for Hector that day.

The Iliad is filled with battles, not all of them with fatal consequences and Homer had a very deep bench of adversaries and protagonists. But the essential theme of the poem is not necessarily rage and revenge. The more significant lesson of the poem is transcendent and another fight in particular reveals to us a deeper, more human and compassionate relationship between combatants that resonates well with our fundamental human need to ultimately reconcile rage with respect for our opponents.

There is a duel between Ajax and Hector that captures these two extremes perfectly and takes us well beyond the sullen and beastly raging of Achilles. The mighty Ajax says to Hector when they meet on the plain between the walls of Troy and the beached ships of the Greeks:

“Come then let us give each other glorious presents, so that any of the Greeks or Trojans my say of us ‘These two fought each other with heart consuming hate, then joined with each other in close friendship before they were parted’”.

Any of us who have exchanged shirts with our opponents or raced in England where opposing crews cheer each other after they race with the thrice shouted salute of “hip hip hooray” may wish to consider the ancient battlefield origins of these unique conventions in our sport as examples of how we can overcome rage and hatred with respect and affection.

As for me, Pain, Rage, and Fury all aptly describe how I felt when I learned to row and to race and to win. But I love the way Homer so beautifully transforms “heart consuming hate” into “close friendship” and through his poem I perceive a much more satisfying understanding of how to compete.

The “close friendship” Homer proposes to us ultimately manifests itself in the idea of camaraderie. And the camaraderie of rowers is special. It is a wonderful thing to see the different boats assembled each year at The Head of the Charles representing Columbia. In recent years I have enjoyed the privilege of rowing around the world and racing out of many boathouses. I have met former foes from Princeton and Penn and reveled in the memories of old and recent races. I never cease to be amazed by the warm welcome I have received around the world within the community of rowing when I introduce myself with great pride when I say “I rowed for Columbia”. I have received the respect of strangers for the accomplishments of our teams over the years.

Tonight I am especially grateful for the generosity of the past generations of Columbians, like the Remners, the Davenports, the Sanfords, and all great Columbians from the IRA Championship Boat of 1928 who after leaving Columbia contributed year after year to our program. They set an example of selflessness and sacrifice none of us have yet to match and one we should never forget. The greatest privilege of my life was to have rowed for Columbia where I learned to defend my seat every day I sat in the boat. I graduated from Columbia University in the City of New York, acutely aware of the consequences of losing my seat to an opponent who was prepared to work harder to take it away from me. Defending “my seat in the boat” became a metaphor for my life.

Columbia has enriched me and you have honored me. I owe you both a great debt.”

Image via // @columbia_lightweight_rowing