Spoiler alert, this is basically what we do all fall to determine who we’re gonna offer a spot to. Now you know our secrets.
I am what can only be described as “catastrophically behind” when it comes to replying to emails but I’m going to try to catch up on them over Thanksgiving so if you’ve emailed me at any point since … late August … and haven’t gotten a reply yet, you should get one soon. Many, many apologies that those had to take a backseat to work and other stuff throughout the fall – I should have anticipated that but didn’t to the extent that they did.
On the flip side though, I’ve been having some really good conversations lately with coxswains over Skype and Google Hangouts so if you have anything you want to go over and would prefer to actually talk about it, check out the “work with me” tab and sign up for a one-on-one. Since the majority of us are in winter training now, this is the perfect time for this – especially if you can get permission from your coach to do this during practice, assuming you don’t have any other actual responsibilities to tend to. Getting on my calendar is a for sure way to guarantee that any questions you have will get answered ASAP (especially when we’re in-season) so if you’ve got stuff you want to go over or get feedback on from the fall season, hit me up!
Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going.George S. Patton
I love eyes-closed rowing. It brings a different sense of calm and focus to the boat that you can’t really achieve when your eyes are open and there’s 20 different things all begging you to steal a quick glance at them. There were two years in particular where my crews did a lot of rowing like this … my freshman/novice year of high school and my freshman year of college. I think this was because we were either learning to row from scratch or adapting to a style that was different than what we’d all been rowing for the previous four years. Like they said in the video, it taught us – all of us – how to really feel the boat and not react to every little wobble.
On days when the set would be really off or we just weren’t having a good row, we would try to turn it around and salvage the latter half of practice by pushing pause on the workout and doing some eyes-closed steady state rowing for 3-5 minutes. This helped us re-concentrate our focus and reestablish that trust within the boat, which in turn led to an improved second half of the row. (Not always but most of the time, even if the gains were marginal.) If we knew we had a hard practice in store, we’d do our entire warmup with eyes closed to emphasize, again, trusting the guy in front and behind you, and to force us to make sure our technique was on point and we weren’t just muscling the blades through the water. It’s definitely a drill worth incorporating whenever the opportunity presents itself.
ONE YEAR AGO
Talk by Penn ’15 coxswain Lou Lombari – this is an 11 minute clip from a talk he gave at a camp I was at two years ago
QOTD: Hi! I’ve been a novice at my local rowing club for about two months now. I’m a coxswain but I’m not sure if I’m cut out for it. I enjoy it but I have so much trouble making calls and being motivational and speaking throughout a whole piece. Is this just because I’m new to this? Or are most coxswains good from the very beginning? I guess I’m wondering if it’s possible to improve or if I’m just not cut out. If you have any tips that would be great. Thanks!
VOTW: “So long, Huskies!”
TWO YEARS AGO
QOTD: Hey, quick question: I’m a coxswain on a collegiate club team and lately we’ve been having some issues with sick people missing practices. Our (very old-school) coach’s opinion is unless you’re dying, you’re at practice, but some of my teammates want to stay home if they’re feeling a little sick because they think rowing while sick will make the illness a lot worse and take them out for longer. I’ve also heard that it’s safe to row if the sickness is below the neck but that you should stay home if there’s an issue with the head or throat, but I’m not sure if that’s medically accurate. So I was just wondering, at what point is someone “too sick to row” in your opinion?
QOTD: Hello! I was wondering if you have any tips for when you feel burned out with coxing. I just don’t feel like I’m really doing my best in the boat and I feel like I have rowers who do not appreciate me or all the stress that I’m putting in to be the best I can be. I’m not getting any feedback even though I repeatedly ask for it and just don’t feel like a respected part of the team and while I love this sport I don’t really know what to do.
THREE YEARS AGO
QOTD: Hey, thanks for answering everyone’s questions on your blog! It is a really nice thing to do for the younger generation of rowers. Anyway, I’m a varsity coxswain on a student-run college club team and I’m getting to be fairly concerned about my 7-seat, who is the Team President. He handles almost all the administrative work for both the men’s and women’s side and in addition, he has to liaison with the university’s Rec Sports department, organize all the outside workouts, make the regatta travel plans, et cetera, et cetera. He spends hours and hours on the team every day, and this is on top of a really tough biology major too.
Although he puts on a brave face in public I feel like he’s starting to crack under the pressure. He’s a really nice person but his patience is just becoming shorter, he seems exhausted, and apparently his classes aren’t going well – he’s already to the point where he’s sure he’s failed one and is going to have to retake it next semester. I’m just a freshman, new to the team, and he’s a senior so I don’t want to step out of line. At the same time, however, I don’t want to watch a teammate become overwhelmed as a result of rowing and not do anything. If I talk to the coaches or directly confront him about delegating some of the workload I feel like it might be embarrassing or come off like I’m questioning his leadership. I don’t want to start any drama this early in my college rowing career but I don’t really see any other options to help the situation. What should I do?
VOTW: 2004 Men’s 8+ starting sequence
QOTD: I’m living with one of my captains and we’re having issues. Even though she works hard and her erg scores are consistently top 8 she’s in the 3V and our coach won’t tell her why. She was reasonably upset and she had every right to be and I was there for her. This was around mid to late September. A little while later, she started seeming annoyed, I tried being nice, and I tried giving her space, either way she’s been very snippy. More recently we went away for a race and only our 1V and 2V went. When I got back I tried to be quiet about it and not bring the trip up. I talked about these issues a couple times with another girl I’ve been rowing with since high school who also lived with her last year. She gave me some advice and I was planning on following it.
That night though she had another breakdown because she was so frustrated and upset because she didn’t even go as an alternate. I felt really bad and knew if I was in her position I would feel the same way, why do I work so hard if I’m not getting anywhere, but it also feels like she wants me to say that she deserves to be in the 1V over all 8 of us. She also has been making me feel really shitty about myself, the other day for example we were given a workout to do on our own because our coach could tell we were tired and was giving us the chance to sleep in and do a steady state work out. I decided the night before I was going to go at 7 but when my alarm went off I realized exactly how tired I was and decided to go after class. When she got back from doing the workout I went to ask a question but she got really sassy saying “So much for going at 7”. I tried to explain but she shut the door on my face before I could say anything. I only have a little over a semester left with her but I feel like I’m walking on egg shells around her and don’t know how much more I can take.
QOTD: Hello! Sorry if this is a dumb question but I was wondering, what does it mean when coxswains say “cha”? Thank you!
FOUR YEARS AGO
QOTD: When we row with our feet out of the foot stretchers I have a lot of trouble getting up the slide never mind getting up on time, and it’s really embarrassing being the only one in the boat who obviously struggles with these drills. Is there any thing I can work on to improve this area?
QOTD: Hey! I just had a really bad practice and I need some advice. So I have the top eight right now but our coach changes it up all the time. There is a race coming up but I’m not going so naturally I’d be moved down to the boats that aren’t going. Today for practice he kept me on the A boat but I screwed up and steered into another boat and my steering was just bad overall today. He seemed really disappointed and the last time he seemed so disappointed, he moved the A cox down to B. I just really want to make up for today and I’m scared tomorrow I won’t be on A boat. What do I say/do? Also can you link me to the post about what to do after a bad practice? I just really want to make up for today and prove to my coach that even though I’m not going to the next (last) race, I’m still worthy of A boat. Thank you so much.
QOTD: Hi. I walked on half a year ago as a coxswain knowing absolutely nothing, and this blog was such a godsend for me. Thank you! I was the absolute worst when I started – steering all over the place and almost dead silent during practices because I was so nervous about what to say. I’ve come a long way since then. My steering is much more consistent and I feel pretty confident about the things I’m saying in the boat but I feel like I’ve plateaued in my progress because I don’t know how to bring personality into the boat. I can rattle off canned phrases and words, but I don’t know how to really MOTIVATE the boat and get the rowers riled up. I’ve been told that I’m “too nice” when I’ve asked for criticisms from the rowers. I am not an inherently sassy person – I am actually pretty calm and mellow and I’m not sure how to address an issue like temperament. Is this something I can fix or was I just not meant to be a coxswain in the first place? All of the successful coxswains I know are so outspoken and I feel like I have a more quiet intensity that I try to bring into the boat. Thanks!
FIVE YEARS AGO
Coxswain recordings, pt. 2 St. Ignatius vs. Shrewsbury (a classic) and Bucknell’s frosh 8+ vs. Holy Cross
QOTD: I was wondering what the difference is between checking it and holding water. I think checking it is just once side and everybody holds water? But I’m not sure. and then also what do you think is the easiest way to turn around? I usually have my stern or bow four row with ports backing. Is that pretty standard would you say? Thank you again so so so so so much.
QOTD: Advice for coxing a 5k on the erg? There are only so many times I can remind my boys to keep their back straight and drive with their legs.
Next week is our last week on the water and then after that – it’s winter training time, baby.
A common question I get around this time of year is how to become a better coxswain when you’re stuck on land for 3-5 months. (For starters, scroll through the “winter training” tag.) It definitely requires a bit of creativity and a lot of initiative, particularly when it comes to improving and refining your technical eye. I’ll be the first to admit that my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m watching people erg so it takes more effort than usual to get/stay engaged but – and yes, I know this is beating a dead horse – having a loose plan of the skills I wanted to improve always made it easier because I could zero in on specific things to watch/listen for rather than just staring off into the void.
Below are a couple ideas to help you form your own plan for tackling the indoor season.
Get on the ergs
I talked about this in more detail in the post linked below so definitely check that out but when you’re off the water (and even when you’re not), one of the best ways to develop an understanding of the stroke so that you’re able to effectively coach the rowers from inside the boat is to get on the ergs or in the tanks with them. Nobody cares about your splits and nobody cares if you’re not as good as the top people on your team but you do have to take it seriously. Don’t be that coxswain that gets on the erg and just screws around because “haha I’m a coxswain, I’m so weak, I have no idea what I’m doing…”. Nobody thinks it’s funny, it annoys literally everyone that’s trying to do something productive, and it does nothing to help you earn the respect of the people in your boat.
Related: Coxswains, get on the erg
Listen to your coach
Don’t just hear what they’re saying – actually listen to and process it. Winter is a great time for note taking for this exact reason because there’s just so much content available right at your fingertips. Everything the coaches say is fair game, from the pre-practice run down when they’re laying out the workout, the goals for each piece, what the focus and takeaways are, etc. to what they’re saying when they get up right behind someone and are pushing them to get their splits on track. The former helps you develop and understand the nuances of the training you’re doing and the latter helps you go from a coxswain who says “get those splits down!” to one who says “alright Sam, sit up and find your length at the front end, get that 1:43 back now on this one…”.
Listening to what’s being said is half the work. You can easily – easily – fill up a page in your notebook with calls and things you’ve heard over the course of a single practice but before you start saying the same things yourselves, you’ve gotta make the connection between what the coaches are saying/asking for and what the rowers are actually doing. Our phones make this so simple now too because you can isolate each part of the stroke into 1-2 second slow-mo clips and really analyze what you’re seeing and how the feedback they’re getting initiates or impacts the changes they make. (Couldn’t do that in the dark days before iPhones, circa the early to mid 2000s).
Learn how to call drills effectively
This was a mandatory part of winter training for the coxswains when I was in high school – we’d frequently do the same technical drills on the ergs that we’d do on the water and the coxswains were responsible for their execution. I remember being super intimidated when I initially had to do it but one of the varsity coxswains and said they all sucked and had no idea what to say the first few times they did it but this exercise is what helped them get comfortable coxing everyone on the team (not just their normal rowers) and allowed them to test run different calls, tones, ways of executing the drill, etc. with minimal backlash if something went wrong. I’ll say the same to you guys too – we all sucked at this stuff when we first started. None of us knew what to say and the stuff we did say made us cringe because we thought it sounded stupid AF. Persisting through and past the urge to crawl inside yourself is such a necessary part of this though – if you can do it on land, you can definitely do it on the water where and when it counts the most.
In addition to improving the call and tone side of drill execution, actually learning the purpose of the drill, what your coach is trying to accomplish by doing them, the important things to watch for, etc. were also a key component of this. Combine that with actually getting on the ergs and going through the drills yourself helps you improve your ability to explain what it should feel like to the rowers. “Hang your weight off the handle” might not always make sense to someone but “you wanna feel the lats engage as the blade enters the water and the leg drive begins” gives a bit more clarity to an otherwise arbitrary call. This is especially important if you’re coxing novices or other less-experienced rowers. In the more senior boats, attention to detail like that can be a difference-maker throughout the season when it starts to be less about how powerful you are and more about how well you move the boat.
Image via // @harvardheavies
Dallas coxswains (and heavyweight rowers): I’ll be at Dallas United, Dallas Jesuit, and possibly White Rock Rowing Club next Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’re interested in coxing/rowing at Columbia, definitely introduce yourself! (Or even if you’re not, it’d still be great to meet you!)
Yesterday I posted about what not to do when emailing college coaches, all based on an email I got last week. Pro tip, whenever you’re emailing coaches, re-read it and ask yourself “is this something that could potentially get talked about and/or passed around as a cautionary tale for future prospective recruits”. If you’ve been to any of the big camps the last few summers then you know this is something all the coaches love talking about so if you wanna avoid being one of those people, definitely check out that post.