Category: College

“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

College Q&A Recruiting Rowing

Question of the Day

I’m currently a junior in high school. I’m 5’6 and 140 pounds. Recently I have started getting more serious about rowing & want to row in college. As a junior I know that this time is critical for college recruiting but I feel that I don’t have much to offer to colleges. I only row spring season so I don’t have as much experience on the water and none sculling. Last year as a sophomore I pulled an 8:35 2k and was in the lowest varsity boat. This year I’ve gotten my 2k down to a 7:54 and we still have a few months until the season. What would be a good 2k for the start of junior year and to be considered for colleges? I know that I can drop 4 seconds easily since my last 2k as I was just concerned with breaking 8 so it was more of a mental barrier. Is it feasible for me to drop to a 7:40 2k by February if I continue to work out? I’m afraid that I won’t be able to because I’ve already dropped so much time and I really don’t know my physical max yet because I have always PRed each time I have done a 2k but felt like I could have given more if I hadn’t got into my head. Also could I become a recruitable athlete even with my limited experience and pretty slow times? Could I try for lightweight programs even though I hover around a 139-141 right now?

I think the number of people that have sculling or small boats experience going into college is relatively small so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. It definitely helps your technique but I think the majority of rowers I know didn’t start sculling until the summer after their freshman year of college. Only a handful actually sculled in high school and that was only because their teams had the equipment available (whereas as most don’t). Same goes for only rowing in the spring – I know a ton of rowers that only did the spring season, either because it was all their school offered, they played a fall sport, or their school required them to do a different sport each semester. Coaches factor that stuff in too when looking at your times – somebody that only rows 4-5 months out of the year typically isn’t gonna be held to the same standard as those who are rowing year-round. Check out the post linked below for more on that.

Related: College recruiting: Technique and erg scores

I’m not as familiar with women’s times as I am with men’s but from what I’ve heard over the last couple of years, to stand out to top programs (i.e. grand final and top half of the petite finals at NCAAs) you should be in the 7:20 – 7:30ish range. If you’re a little slower (i.e. 7:30 – 7:40ish) but have really solid grades, that can make up for being a little off the pace they usually recruit at. If you’re sub-7:20, well, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting looks from the schools you’re interested in.

If you’re at 7:54 right now and have been regularly training on your own (steady state, lifting, cross-training, etc.) then PR’ing on your next test should definitely be a possibility. 7:40 seems like an aggressive drop unless it’s been a while since your last 2k, in which case … maybe? I’d probably set my goal at something more feasible though, like 7:50 and if you go sub-7:50 then great but if not, at least you still hit this goal. If getting into your head during pieces is something you struggle with then smaller goals like this will definitely benefit you more (mentally) than striving for something huge like a 14 second drop.

You could actually probably go lightweight or openweight but if your natural weight is 10ish pounds over the lightweight minimum I’d probably have a serious conversation with your doctor first before you tried losing weight. You’ll be lifting a lot (more than you probably are now) in college too so you’ve gotta anticipate putting muscle on from that so that’s another thing you’ve gotta consider if you’re thinking about going lightweight. Personally I’d probably go the route of just staying at 140ish+, partially because there’s not as many lightweight programs and you’ll likely have more opportunities as an openweight. Do that, get a solid amount of steady state meters in each week throughout the winter, train smart, lift, etc. and you’ll have no problem dropping down into the 7:40s.

College Video of the Week

Video of the Week: A history of the Navy in 100 objects

I still think it’s really cool that college teams used to represent the US at the Olympics. The most famous story is, of course, Washington at the 1936 Berlin games but did you know the college crews won trials in the eight and raced at the Olympics every quadrennial between 1920 and 1968? The only exception was 1964 when Vesper won and raced in Tokyo (where they won the last gold medal for the Americans until 2004).

Emailing college coaches – don’t do this

College Recruiting

Emailing college coaches – don’t do this

Since we haven’t had an assistant coach for the past 4.5 months I’ve been filling in to help with the heavyweight recruiting, which has meant fielding a lot of emails of varying quality from prospective rowers and coxswains. Most haven’t been too bad (although several have genuinely made me question the state of education in our country based on how awful the grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling was) but I got one last week that got me kind of excited to join the circle of coaches who have received emails like this. Initially I was like “really??” and definitely had the urge to roast the kid in my reply but I didn’t have the time or energy so instead I’m using them as a cautionary tale for the rest of you.

Related: College recruiting: Highlight videos and the worst recruiting emails

Personalize the email

You know our names because you looked up our emails. Instead of just saying “Dear Coach”, which is a dead giveaway that you’re just copy/pasting a form email, say “Dear Coach Durm” – it literally takes no extra amount of time to do that and it at least gives the impression that you’re putting a modicum of effort into this.

Also, I don’t know how many other women there are on the men’s side right now (I can’t possibly be the only one but I honestly don’t know) and frankly it doesn’t even matter but if you’re emailing a male and female coach in the same email (which is fine), don’t say “Dear Coach Alwin and Mrs. Durm”. Just … don’t. First of all, “Mrs. Durm”, l-o-freaking-l. Literally can’t even with that one. Second of all, we’re all coaches dude. There are way more qualified/#woke individuals than me that would have a field day unwrapping how sexist that comes off so if you want to avoid making a shitty, eye-roll inducing first impression on both the men and women who are recruiting you, just address everyone as “Coach [last name]”.

Related: College recruiting: What do coaches want to see in an email?

Don’t send form emails

If you are that lazy that you’re just copy/pasting the same email to a list of coaches, you better have a solid reply ready to go for when you send an email to a coach at School X that says “I’m interested in School Y“. Cool, good luck with that, bye. And when the coach at School X replies and says “just so you know, you sent this to the coaches at School X, not [other university that starts with the same first letter]”, don’t reply back and say “Sorry I was tired”. (There was another sentence or two after this but I’d honestly already stopped reading so I don’t remember what they said.) You already self-sorted yourself into the group of people who probably aren’t gonna get a reply but that just confirms it. If you’re not gonna take this process seriously I’m certainly not gonna push pause on the other 26 things I’m working on to email you back.

Related: College recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 1

“Please get back to me if you are interested.”

Wording makes a difference. A big difference. “Looking forward to hearing from you!”, “Hope we can connect soon – thanks for your time!”, etc. are great ways to close an email. “Please get back to me if you’re interested” is not. First of all, this isn’t football. We’re not chasing you and the odds are pretty good that you’re not one of the handful of kids that literally everyone wants so we’re definitely not gonna chase you. The ball is 10000% in your court here so unless you’ve filled out the recruiting questionnaire online (and indicated that in your email), laid out all your stats (and not your hypothetical stats, your actual stats), said you’d like to set up a time to talk to learn more about the school/team, and just straight up given me a reason to be interested in you, you’re not gonna get a reply.

Second of all, this is another glaring indication that your strategy/approach to the recruiting process is throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. Super vague emails with nothing specific about the university and a closing line asking us to contact you if we’re interested just screams “I copy and pasted this exact same email to 18 other coaches”. Unless you wanna join the ranks of kids who have become coaching office and/or rowing camp fodder, set aside an hour or two to craft some well-written emails to schools you’re actually interested in instead of firing off the first thing that comes to mind to every coach in the rowing-sphere.

Image via // @pittsfordcrew

College Video of the Week

Video fo the Week: The character of recruits

Now that the fall recruiting season is winding down I wanted to share this video that I came across a few months ago. If you’re not familiar with him, Geno Smith is the coach of UConn’s women’s basketball team (always one of the top programs in the country), as well as a former head coach of Team USA’s women’s basketball team. What he says in this video might be in the context of basketball but it’s applicable to any sport and something to keep in mind as you progress throughout your career and the recruiting process.

College Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

I’ve been coxing for a little bit over a year now in my college crew, and we are currently working on prepping our guys for head race season. There are three coxswains, including me, but two boats so right now I’m fighting for my seat. I feel like all three of us have about the same collegiate coxing experience and have about the same capability of steering correctly for that race, so all that really differs are our styles. One of the cox’s is super happy and upbeat and really cheers the guys on to race better while the other one is really technically savvy and gets really aggressive whereas I’m pretty much smack dab in the middle of their styles. I have a feeling that my coach prefers them over me but I don’t want to change and be something I’m not. What should I do?

I get what you’re saying but I also think it’s important to point out that when you’re in the boat, even though you’re “in charge”, you’re still working for eight other people (nine, if you count your coach). If there’s something that’s preferred by the majority, you have to be the one to adapt, not them. I’m not a super peppy, cheery type of coxswain but I’ve coxed boats where that’s the style they’ve responded best to, so even though it’s not my style or personality at all, I had to incorporate some of that into my coxing because it’s what made the boat faster. I’ve also had coaches who pushed me to be a more technical, drill sergeant-y coxswain that I was prepared to be given that’d I’d only been coxing for a year or so. I wasn’t thrilled about adapting my style of coxing to be more of either of those things but I also had no right or reason to say “no, I’m not doing this”. Even now, I’ve been coxing for 15 years and I still adapt to whatever the crew wants (even when they say they’ll default to my style) because saying “I don’t want to change and be something I’m not” just fundamentally feels like I’m going against the most basic role of coxing, which is to serve the crew.

Anyways, to answer your question, you should talk with your coach. Say that you want to make sure you’re staying competitive for one of the two spots that are available and you wanted to see what observations they’d made about your coxing through the first few weeks of practice. If you’ve been working on stuff, like refining your steering or increasing your technical feedback during drill work, say that and ask if there are any other areas where they feel you could stand to make improvements that would give you a better shot at being placed in one of those two boats.

I don’t typically think you should bring up other coxswains in conversations like this but I do think a good question to ask every once in awhile is what they’re doing well that you could incorporate if it’s not something you’re doing already. At MIT our varsity coxswain the last two years was always great about keeping things running during practice, not wasting time, responding immediately when we’d ask him to do something, etc. and that was huge in ensuring we were using our time effectively. Our 2V coxswain was OK at this but still left a lot to be desired so this was something I talked about with her a lot, especially in the context of things she could do to make a case for being boated higher. Bottom line, if you get the feeling your coach prefers the other coxswains over you, talk to them and see if that’s the case … but approach it by asking what they’re doing to make things run better, faster, and smoother, not in a whine-y “why do you like them better than me” kind of way. (I’ve been in the room when college coxswains have done that and it just makes me roll my eyes so hard.)

I can’t remember what the context of this story was but a coach I worked with a few years ago said that one of the best things a new varsity coxswain asked him was “what did [the last varsity coxswain, let’s call him Jake] do that made your job easier?”. (He was similar to you, pretty much in between two other coxswains and was trying to figure out how he could get an edge over the other two in order to become the permanent 1V coxswain.) Obviously all the standard stuff applied but the primary thing was Jake’s coachability and adaptability, meaning that he took feedback, reflected on it, and found ways to immediately tweak his coxing based on what he was seeing/hearing from others. He also was able to get into any boat, be it the 1V eight or the 4V four and make it go fast, even when the boats varied wildly in the style of coxing they responded to. If you can get into a boat that likes cheerleaders and get them to respond and then get in a boat the next day with a crew who likes an in-your-face hardass and do the same thing (and steer straight on top of all of that), you’re basically worth your weight in gold.

Basically what you need to do is, one, like I said, talk to your coach and two, whenever you’re in the launch, observe the styles, presence, etc. of the other two coxswains to see what they’re doing well and then try to incorporate some of that into your own coxing the next time you go out. The absolute dumbest reason for losing your seat in a boat is “I didn’t want to change what I was doing”. You’ve only been coxing for a year so while I get that you’ve probably established a style of coxing, it’s definitely not going to be the one you stick with for your entire career so use this opportunity to identify the areas where you can ebb and flow a bit with your approach in order to give you the best shot at making one of the boats.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 44

College Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 44

St. Joe’s Prep 2016 Head of the Charles Men’s Alumni 8+

Like most HOCR recordings, the biggest takeaway is gonna be getting a look at the course and observing how each coxswains takes the turns and bridges. There are some gems in here as far as calls goes but what you’ll really want to pay attention to is how he handles the clusters of crews between Weeks and Anderson. He pretty savagely cuts in front of a crew right before Anderson and I’m pretty sure the only reason he was able to do that without more than a minimal clash between his stroke and the bow man of the other boat is because he committed to it early and never hesitated. (As I was watching it I was thinking “where is he steering … oh damn, he’s doing that…”.) That’s kind of the name of the game with steering HOCR too – commit or get screwed.

Related: Everything you need to know for Head of the Charles

Circling back to the beginning, when they’re passing bow #46, they’re close enough to them that you could probably signal to your bow man to yell at them to yield as well if they’re not responding to you. Granted, you have to be projecting your voice loud enough for them to hear you in the first place but if your bow seat if right beside or off of the coxswain, having them yell “yield to starboard” can be helpful. This is something that you should discuss with them during practice and/or before you launch though, not something you should spring on them during the race. Just give them a heads up that if you’re close to another crew and they’re not yielding, you’ll say something like “Ben, yield!”, which is their cue to tell the coxswain to yield. And – ahem, junior men – not in a rude way either. Don’t yell “fucking move!” or anything like that. Repeat whatever your coxswain is saying, which shouldn’t be any more complicated than “46, yield to starboard”.

At 3:56 he says “picking up the buoy line again, get ready starboards…”, which I think is a good call just to alert the starboards that they might bump a buoy as he shifts back over. Obviously if you’re taking that tight of a course you want to make sure the buoys are either under the oar shafts or just off of the blades … you shouldn’t be hitting the buoys on every single stroke. That defeats the purpose of being on the buoy line.

When they’re in front of Riverside, you hear the stroke say “we need to yield”, after which the coxswain turns around, sees where the other crew is, and then makes and adjustment. This is good communication between the two and, for the stroke seats in the back who have missed this the other 30,480 times I’ve said it, your responsibility since your coxswain doesn’t have eyes in the back of their head. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t have their head on a swivel but you’re looking at what’s behind the boat, just give them a heads up if they need to yield. See the video below for more on this (different regatta, same principle).

Related: Disqualifying Sydney Rowing Club

At 6:55 he says something about taking advantage of the fact that the crew beside them (Columbia, ironically) was taking the wrong arches. The Columbia eight was going through the Cambridge arches, which you are allowed to use in the Powerhouse Stretch, and in some cases can actually give you a strategic advantage if there’s a lot of crews going through the middle arches. Your “plan A” should always be to take the middle arches but if you come around Magazine Beach and see that there’s just a cluster of crews down the center of the Powerhouse, by all means, go for the Cambridge arches if they’re clear and use that to your advantage. This is one of those “split second, in the moment” decisions so you’ve really gotta be paying attention here.

As far as meters go, if you line yourself up right coming down the Powerhouse and positioning yourself into Weeks, it should only add one meter to your course based on measurements done by the HOCR organizers. It should still be your “plan B” but it’s a good option to have in your back pocket and if it does tack on a couple extra meters, it’s nothing you can’t make up by having solid turns through Anderson, Eliot, and Belmont Hill.

Other calls I liked:

“Get on the gas, let’s go!”

“I’ve had it with these amateurs!” (Same, dude. Same.)

University of Michigan 2016 Head of the Charles Men’s Collegiate 8+

This was a recording that Michigan’s coxswain sent me after the race last year. They started 15th in a pack of 37 and were the highest finishing American crew, coming in second overall in the collegiate 8+ event behind a Dutch crew. Below is what I said included in my email reply.

” I think one of your strengths throughout this race was your ability to maintain your composure and focus while steering through what sounded like a decent amount of traffic. (Side note, he said: “It was definitely a hectic race starting so far back. We went into Anderson four across with Wesleyan, Holy Cross and BC, suffice to say that did not work.”) It’s easy for coxswains to get overwhelmed and just completely shut down when that happens but you did a good job of continuing to communicate with your crew without losing the rhythm or intensity in your calls. I also liked how you gave them targets and said who you were passing, who you were moving through, who the next crew ahead of you was, etc. On an easier course that’s a simple thing to do but the Charles can get so chaotic that it becomes a lot tougher and requires a lot more awareness to be able to do alongside everything else. You nailed your management of the race though and there’s no question that it played a huge part in how well you guys did.”

Coxswain recordings, pt. 42

College Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 42

George Washington University 2015 V8+ IRA C/D Semi-final

I’ve posted quite a few of GW’s recordings over the years, not just because they’re good but because I think they are easily some of the best examples out there of how to cleanly and assertively execute a race plan. Of all the audio I’ve posted, when you listen to Connor’s specifically, that should be one of the main takeaways as far as “what is this coxswain doing well that I can/should try to emulate”.

One call I liked in particular was “keep tappin’ it along”. This is such a universal call because it works for literally any situation – racing, steady state, drills, etc. The biggest thing it conveys is to maintain consistency. In the past I’ve used it as reassurance if it feels like the crew’s starting to second guess how well the boat’s moving – you know, like when it’s felt too good for too long and you’re like “is this a fluke or…?”. Most of the time this’ll happen after we’ve had a few questionable rows or pieces and we’ve finally started hitting our stride again and reestablishing our confidence. Similarly, nearly every coach I’ve ever had or worked with has said this during drills, especially when doing the pick drill or reverse pick drill when you’re working with a shorter slide and the propensity for having wonky a wonky set or slide control is a bit higher.

Green Lake Crew vs. Tideway Scullers 2015 Henley Royal Regatta Thames Challenge Cup Heat

This is a decent recording (tone and intensity throughout are pretty good) but the primary takeaway should be to put some daylight between your calls and not have your race sound like a seven minute long run-on sentence. You’re just not as effective if it sounds like you’re running out of breath every few seconds and rushing to get out what you want to say before you have to replenish your oxygen stash. Slow down, breathe, and speak clearly.

This is probably dependent on your crew but saying whatever split you’re at isn’t gonna cut it when you’re a length or more up on the other crew (aka you’ve clearly been doing something right) is probably not the most effective way to get them to hold off a charge or keep increasing their lead. Obviously you should always be on alert and not too comfortable with whatever lead you have but phrasing can make a big difference. “1:46, we’re a length up, let’s keep moving out and pushing that split back down to 1:45…” or “Three seats of open, sitting at 1:46, 1000m to go … let’s not get comfortable, we’re gonna take five to press together and hit that 1:45 with the legs, ready … now” says pretty much the exact same thing but in a more focused, unified (and positive) way. Granted, there are definitely situations where you need to get in their faces and be like “this is not good enough, we need to do better now” but having a couple seats of open water on the field typically isn’t one of them.

Also, I’ve beaten this horse to death multiple times but stahhhp with the “I need”, “you guys”, etc. Once in awhile is whatever, fine but not every single call. It’s not “I” and “you”, it’s “us”, “let’s”, “we”, etc. You’re part of the engine moving the boat so stop making calls that make it seem like you’re sitting behind some invisible barrier that separates you from the work.

Other calls I liked:

“Take us to Thursday…” When you’re in a multi-day race situation like Henley, Youth Nats, IRAs, etc., a call like this is a solid one to start a move off with. It’s one I’d probably save for the latter half of the race, especially if it’s close, but I like how she used it here.

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