Category: Coxing

HOCR: Getting to the starting line

Coxing Racing

HOCR: Getting to the starting line

This will be my first time racing at HOCR so lately I’ve been spending some time doing research on the course and trying to find out as much information as possible. Over the next week I’ll do a series of posts tackling all the different parts of the regatta, how to handle the course, what my race plan will be, etc.

Related: Hey, I row in NZ and I see everyone talking about the Head of the Charles and I was wondering what exactly is it? And why is it such a big deal?

At FALS (Finish Area Launching Site)

Listen to the dock master. If he/she tells you to jump, you say how high – whatever they say goes. In large races like this safety is paramount so don’t take it personally if they snap at you or seem angry. They’re just trying to keep things moving and the crews safe. Make sure you know your event and bow number, as they will more than likely ask you for that information when you get down to the dock so that they know who has arrived and who they’re still waiting on.

Heading towards Eliot Bridge

Stay inside the orange buoys.These buoys indicate the travel lane and are the only place you’re allowed to be when making your way to the starting line.

Pay attention at Eliot. This turn is TIGHT so you need to be rowing continuously through the bridge so as to not impede other crews. No drilling, no stopping. Just like the dock master, the marshals may yell at you to keep moving – just do what they say and don’t take their irritated tones personally. As you come through the arch, have your starboards take it down to zero pressure so your ports can drive it around. Trust me on this – zero pressure from the starboards. Once you’ve got a straight line you can even it back up.

If you sense that you might hit another crew or it’s just getting to close for comfort in one spot, add in a pause at hands away until you’re clear of any situations. This should only be done in certain cases – you should not be doing pause drills or anything else. This is only to keep your crew out of harm’s way. Use your judgment to determine if adding one in is necessary. Tell your crew WHY you’re adding the pause – “Guys, it’s getting a little hectic up here, let’s add in a pause at hands away to let it clear out before we pick it up again.”

Newell Boathouse

Coming out of the Eliot turn and heading towards Anderson is a good spot to throw in a power 20 if you have room to do so. Be mindful of other crews, especially ones launching from Newell. If there’s room to do a 10 or 20 and you’re a little close to other crews, yell over to their coxswain and alert them that you’re about to do a short burst. As long as you communicate they should give you space. Make sure you do the same for anyone who is also trying to get in some hard strokes while warming up.


This is another good spot to take a 10 if you’re able and there’s no one coming down the course. Remember the turn out of Weeks is an abrupt 90 degree turn to starboard so you’ll need to properly set yourself up for that coming out of Anderson. Be aware of the orange buoys and make sure you don’t drift over them.


Have your starboards power down and ports power up to get you around the turn. Don’t rush it – take your time and be mindful of other crews who have slightly spastic coxswains. Inevitably there will be some out there with you. Always have an eye on what other boats are doing so that you can avoid dangerous situations.

Powerhouse stretch

This is another good spot to get some hard strokes in if it’s clear. Keep an eye out for traffic.

Riverside/SADL (Singles and Doubles Launch)

Scullers are awful and nowhere is that more apparent than right here. I blame it on the fact that they don’t have a coxswain to tell them they’re idiots, thus they are oblivious to the fact that they’re rowing right in your way half the time.

“But they’re looking RIGHT at me, surely I don’t need to tell them to look out or move since they are STARING at my boat?”

Wrong. So wrong. Scullers will be launching from SADL and, with the assistance of a course marshal, will be crossing over the course and into the far travel lane. Sure, if they simply look to their right they will see you coming towards them, but that NEVER happens. Now is not the time to be doing any bursts or power strokes. You need to navigate this area as quickly, calmly, and safely as possible. Be aware that there will be that ONE sculler that doesn’t pay attention, cuts you off, and then yells at you for it like it’s your fault. Ignore them and don’t let it rattle you.

BU Bridge

As you come down to the BU bridge, make sure you don’t go through the arch closest to shore. There’s a bike path that juts out over the water and makes that arch too narrow to travel through. Stick to the middle and left-most downstream arches. Coming down towards the bridge there is PLENTY of room to sort out where to go so set yourself up for it early.

Warm-up Area (Charles River Basin)

As you come into the basin, stick close to the Boston side of the river. Eventually you will see giant yellow buoys that are right in line with MIT’s boathouse. Row past them until just before you get to the Mass Ave. bridge, at which point you can turn to port, row it across, and come back down the other side. If you have time to continue the warmup, proceed around the buoys again before making your way back down towards the queuing area.

When you’re up here, you will be in a fairly large pack of boats. Keep your eyes and ears open – listen for other coxswains or marshals and keep an eye on what’s going on. Be aware of other crews that might not know or be following the traffic patterns.

Queuing Zone

Know what time your race begins and what time you need to enter the staging area. You have to get in numerical order by your bow numbers, so find the people before and after you and squeeze in near them. Try and stick close to them while you’re waiting to get called up. You must be lined up 5 minutes prior to the start of your race. Make sure you are aware of the time and when you should be moving. Do. Not. Be. Late.

Your bow number will indicate where you should begin lining up. Odd numbered crews should line up on the left side between the red and yellow buoys. Even numbered crews should line up on the right side between the yellow and green buoys.

From here, it’s a simple, painless process. The starting marshals will bring the crews up in groups of 10. As you come into the chute, you’ll need to alternate who goes so that you stay in numerical order.

Starting Line

As you come up to the starting line, begin to build into full pressure. If you take five to build, a good spot to begin your build is right before the start of the docks, that way when you row through the starting line, you’ll be at full pressure and already a few strokes into your starting sequence. Remember, you want to be at your fastest coming across the line, not still building into it. You’ll hear the announcers in the BU boathouse say “You’re ON” when you cross the starting line.

As you approach the line, make sure you’re paying attention to the crews in front of you and to what the marshal is saying. If you get to close or too far away from the crew ahead of you, they’ll tell you to either power up or power down. This is done to keep the spacing between crews as steady as possible coming across the line.

If you don’t hear the race announce say you’re on the course, just look for the giant yellow buoys.

Next up: Steering through the bridges, covering what bridge arches to use and the various penalties you can be assessed.

Image via // Boston Magazine

Coxing Drills Q&A

Question of the Day

Today during practice we just did 20 minute pieces of steady state rowing. My crew gets bored very quickly and their stroke rating goes down, so I decided to add in various 13 stroke cycles throughout the piece, but I regret doing it because it wasn’t steady state. I’m just confused as to how to get them engaged throughout without sounding like a cheerleader but at the same time keeping up the drive and stroke.

Steady states are kind of a catch 22 because while they have many purposes, rowers can get bored and complacent WAY too easily. Coxswains can also get bored – it’s something I’m definitely guilty of. Below is what I do to alleviate that and keep myself (and the crew) focused.

Best piece of advice is to break the piece into chunks. If you’re doing 20 minutes, break it into 5 four-minute chunks. Each of the first four chunks focuses on something different, such as leg drive/getting a good first jump, body swing, catch timing/clean releases, and lengthening out while maintaining a steady pressure. The final chunk focuses on combining all of those things to make the cleanest, most efficient strokes possible. During each chunk, spend 2 minutes talking and 2 minutes NOT talking. Before you start, explain the plan. “Guys, we’ve got 20 minutes ahead of us. We’re going to break it down into five four-minute chunks and focus on something different during each of those four minutes. I’ll spend a few minutes talking and a few minutes not talking. When I’m not talking, I want you to think about what we’ve been working on and try and apply the changes. Don’t use that time to zone out – stay in the zone and keep the focus in the boat, in your seat.”

(Note: all of this is a lot wordier – exponentially so – than I’d normally be in the boat. That’s just for the sake of explaining what I’m getting at here. It should be fairly obvious what you can cut back on and make more concise.)

1st minute

“Ok, so let’s spend this first chunk working on our timing at the catch and finish. Let’s clean it up and focus on getting our blades in at our longest points, not lunging for the catch, and keeping our hands, shoulders, and chins level. At the finish, let’s think about getting our layback, knowing where the proper layback spot is, and making sure we’re giving ourselves plenty of room to tap down at the release. This is going to rely a lot on our handle heights, so that should be a secondary focus of this first four minutes. I really want you guys to concentrate on just the catches and finishes. Let’s maximize that horizontal rotation out towards the rigger and minimize the unnecessary vertical movements coming into the catch.  Let’s go into this minute knowing what we need to work on, seeing how the boat feels, and let’s make some initial adjustments. We’ll go … on this one.”

2nd minute

Don’t talk. Take note of everything that’s going on. What were the immediate noticeable improvements? What happened to the set? What did you notice from the individual blades? What got better, what still needs work? Is someone getting their blade caught at the release? Why? Do you know how to tell them to fix it? Can you hear one sound going into the water or several? Ask your stroke if he/she feels any rush. How bad is it?

3rd minute

“Ok guys, our catches are at about 75%. They’re not perfect, but they’re not terrible either. We’re pulling over to port as we come to the finish – 4-seat, I noticed your blade is getting caught on nearly every release and that seems to be when the boat gets the most tippy. Lay back, make sure you’re not pulling into your lap. Think about where your hands are coming into on your body and try and hit that same spot every time. Let’s listen for the sound of the oars going in the water together on this next minute – one sound here. Let’s we squeeze into the finish, hold the blades in as long as possible, and keep the pressure on all the way through. Our stroke rate should be at about an 18, so let’s control our slides coming up to the catch and get a good press going back to the finish. Think about accelerating the blade through the water during the stroke – starting the catch at about 50% pressure, finishing around 75%. I want to feel the acceleration and I want to see the adjustments on timing. Let’s clean it up. Focus is really good guys. Let’s take another silent minute and really laser in on making these improvements. We’ll go … on this one.”

4th minute

Right away, what adjustments/improvements did you notice? Look at the individual blades you talked to during that last minute – are they better or worse? Why? What adjustments can you tell they made?

The last 15 seconds of the 4th minute and the first 15 seconds of the next chunk should be spent briefly talking about what you noticed on that last minute. Improvements you saw, what got better, individual achievements, etc. Be enthusiastic if there was a BIG change. “4, that looked SO much better – could you tell how much cleaner that was? Really nice adjustments, keep it up.” This shouldn’t be long and drawn out – you only have 30 seconds. Keep it to short, quick bullet points. Use this time for positive things, not negative. If you use that time for negative points, they’ll not only think they just wasted all that time, but they’ll also dread the next chunk because they’ll anticipate you being negative and ONLY harping on what is wrong or needs fixed. Be positive. You can throw in constructive criticism as necessary during your two minutes of talking time, but keep it to only one or two things. Focus on what they’re doing WELL. Play into their psyche – positivity breeds positive outcomes and better responses overall from your crew.

Begin the next chunk of time the same way. “Alright, we just spent four minutes working on clean catches and finishes. Let’s keep those adjustments in our minds, but transition our focus to our leg drive and getting a good press on the foot stretchers as soon as we lock on.” Repeat this process for each chunk.

When you get to the last four minutes, you can talk the whole time. Utilize the entire four minutes to praise the shit out of them and make note of all the adjustments. Say something like:

“OK guys, we’ve got 16 minutes down, 4 minutes left. We’ve made a lot of great improvements over those 16 minutes – now is where we apply all of them and really get this boat moving. Let’s sit up a little taller, get our chins a little higher, and hold our cores a little tighter. Keep the stroke rate where it is, but let’s bump up the pressure 10% – on this one – little more through the water. THERE WE GO, good! Now, let’s think about those catches and releases (one or two points that improved during the first chunk). I know you guys all felt the boat start to move a little better when we really focused on our swing – let’s keep that up. Think about our bodies, are we moving together out of bow, are we moving at the same speed, are we getting our bodies over or are we just hunching our shoulders? Relax the upper bodies, no tension. Keep the bodies calm and our minds aggressive. Get a good JUMP with the feet, press with the toes. Keep those toes connected to the stretchers the whole time. Don’t lose that connection. Push, send. Push, send. Can you guys feel the boat running? Let’s feel that impulse together now, pushing the legs down together – YES! – on every stroke. Let’s stay long, not shortening up our strokes – we still want to catch at our longest point and make sure we finish laying back, keeping the blade in the whole time. We’re at a 19 right now, let’s keep it here, no higher than this. Keep the bodies long, PRESS, accelerate through. Guys, I can really feel all the adjustments we made throughout the first 16 minutes. The boat’s feeling light, we’re getting a good run, catches are strong, releases are clean, feet are staying connected – this is where we win races, right here. THIS. This is why we do this. As our technique improves, we’re shaving seconds off our times. Nobody should be taking any strokes off – no passengers, everyone driving. Let’s keep the focus on for these last few minutes, make sure we’re all still breathing and watching our bodies. No slouching or sinking into our hips. Keep the core tight, sit up tall. Let’s laser focus in here … together … now.”

During the last few minutes, throw in some 10s or 20s intermittently to not only shave off the time you have left, but to also put EVERYTHING into play. Take a 10 for catches, 5 for clean releases, and then when you’ve got 30-40 seconds left, take a strong 20 to really lengthen out and finish strong.

If you know the day before that tomorrow is going to be a steady state piece, ask your coach what he wants to focus on. Ask him for a couple things and then write out a practice plan in your notebook of what you want to do, focus on, etc., that way you can remember everything you want to say/do during the piece. That kind of preparation not only helps keep practice efficient, it also shows your coach/teammates that you’re taking your job seriously which can/will earn you a lot of respect.

Coxing Drills Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi there!! I’m a fellow coxswain for my university’s junior varsity team but I’m fairly new at being a cox. My rowers tend to be sloppy with their catches and releases, they also skip their oars on the water when they feather, and start losing energy during their 6th out of 8th 13 stroke cycle. Do you have any advice I can use? I really want to help them but they’re just so stubborn sometimes, argh! Thanks for any help!

When you notice the strokes starting to get sloppy, pay closer attention and see if you can figure out when it starts. Are they sloppy all the time on a consistent basis or is it only during the last 20 or 30 strokes of a long piece that they start to get sluggish? Ask your coach what he/she sees and make note of it. Ask the boat when they start to notice it. When do you notice it? This can help you with the calls you make to correct it. If they’re being sloppy right from the get-go then it’s usually a focus thing but if they’re getting sloppy towards the end of a piece, they’re usually tired and that’s why their technique is starting to falter.

You want to get the catches in at the longest part of the stroke – do they know where their longest point is? A good trick to helping them get that length is to have them sit in the boat (while you’re on the dock) fully compressed at the catch. Then take a regular drinking straw and tape it to the gunnel. It gives them a point to aim for on every stroke so that they know when they hit that straw, they’ve reached their catch, so all they need to do is lift the hands and drop the blades in. I’ve also had coaches put tape on the tracks so that when the rowers feel their seat hit that bump, they’ll know they’ve reached their full compression/max length.

Catch placement drills are great for working on the timing of catches. Basically, you call the catch, usually starting from the finish, and the rowers go to the catch, the goal being to all enter the water at the same time. They do NOT take a full stroke…they only go to the catch. Once they’ve gone to the catch you can say “Ok, back to the finish” and they’ll pull their blades out of the water and go back to the finish. This drill is stationary, so you should not be moving. When you do this drill, listen for that “plop” sound when the oars enter the water. That’s going to tell you more about what the timing is like than just watching the blades. Have the rowers listen for it too.

Here’s an example of how its done.

Another thing is to make sure they’re not starting the legs before their blades are in the water. If the blades aren’t in before the legs go down, not only are you missing a ton of water but you’re also going to have a really sloppy entry. Call the catches for five to ten strokes (going off your stroke’s oar) and then start transitioning the call to “lock, sssend” or “push, sssend” where the “lock” or “push” is that point when they all enter the water and the “sssend” is on the recovery after they’ve taken the stroke.

To clean up the releases, remind them to squeeze into the finish, meaning to keep pressure on the drive through the WHOLE stroke. Releases get sloppy when the pressure comes off coming into the finish. Calling for an acceleration into the finish (starting the catch at 50% pressure, finishing at full pressure or something along those lines) forces them to get good layback and work on clean extractions. Also remind them to tap the handle down. I don’t know why so many rowers forget to do this and then complain about not being able to get their oars out of the water. If you’re not tapping down, the boat’s going to go off set and you’re going to have a harder time getting it out because you’re trying to move the handle away at the same height you’re drawing it in. It doesn’t work like that.

Going off of that, the set will effect the cleanliness of the catches and finishes too. Remind them where their handle heights need to be and where they need to pull into (typically when laying back properly, the belly button is where they should be pulling into).

If their blades are dragging on the water this is almost entirely a handle heights issue because it means the oar handle is being carried too high. Tell them on the next stroke to get their HANDS down (make sure they know the difference between their hands and the blades – you have no idea how many people don’t recognize the difference) and lift the blades off the water.

On strokes where the boat is set and all the blades are off the water, point that out and say “Yea guys, that’s it … did you feel how smooth and clean that stroke was? THAT is what we’re going for.” If you show enthusiasm when they do something right it shows them that you’re paying attention, you’re invested, and you see the changes they’re making. They’re much more likely to respond to excitement like this vs. negative comments like “Come on guys, this looks terrible. Get the hands down and stop dragging the blades.” It’s easy to get frustrated but you have to quell that frustration in order to help the boat get better.Challenge them – “How many strokes can we go with the hands down and blades up? Let’s go for 5 strokes.” If you can get five strokes, great – next time go for seven. If you present them with a challenge, most likely they’ll accept it.

Remind them of the simple physics of rowing – every time their blade drags across the water, they’re slowing the boat down. The reason you feather the blades and keep them off the water is because it slices through the air and helps the boat maintain the speed you just created on the drive. If your blades are on the water, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary drag and the energy you just put into the drive to build the speed up is partially wasted if you’re just going to slow the boat down on the recovery.

Losing energy towards the end of long/hard workouts isn’t uncommon but they just have to stay focused and not just go through the motions when they get tired. The more steady state you do the more your endurance will improve but that’s only gonna take you so far. The focus and intent has to be there too. They can’t be stubborn – remind them of that. If they truly are committed to the sport, to individual improvement, and to helping the boat get faster, they’ll put their stubbornness aside and listen to you and your coach. Humility goes a long way in the sport of rowing. Talk to the rowers and find out from their perspective what is happening in the boat. Have your coach video you one day and then spend some time going over it with your crew. Point out different things to them so they can see what they’re doing. They might not realize that they’re doing something wrong until they actually see it.

College Coxing Q&A Rowing

Question of the Day

Hi! So I’m a senior in my first year of club rowing. I’m really athletic and strong from swimming and cross country but I’m 5’2 and like 115. Do you think I have a future in college rowing or should I be a coxswain? Thanks.

It depends on what schools you’re looking at. If you’re looking at Division 1 programs you’ll almost certainly be a coxswain. Unless you pull a phenomenal erg score for your size, they won’t look at you as a rower. I knew a rower in college who also swam and ran track but was 5’3” and about 115 so she had to really prove that she could hang with the rowers who were 5’10”, 5’11” and weighed 40-60lbs more than her. She was a good rower and had good erg scores for her size but rowed mostly in the lower boats just because she was so small.

If you go to a Division 3 school, then you could probably row. D3 is competitive, don’t get me wrong, but their requirements are less stringent than the hardcore D1 programs. Same goes for club teams.

If you’re interested in rowing/coxing in college, I would email the coaches of the schools you’re looking at. Tell them that you’re interested in being a part of the team but are unsure of whether you should row or be a coxswain. If you’re leaning towards wanting to row, make your case. Send erg scores (2k, 6k, etc.) along with something like your weight-adjusted times (your coach can help you with this) so they can see what your power to weight ratio is like. Ask them what they need – are they in desperate need of a coxswain or do they need rowers? If they have a lightweight program, inquire about that too. (Not all schools do though.)

Another option is to email men’s team coaches and see about coxing for them. Since guys are naturally bigger than girls, I’ve found that men’s coaches are pretty willing to snatch up female coxswains when they can simply because we’re smaller and lighter.

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

Do you recommend carrying a small pocket notebook or having a regular size notebook for notes? I currently have a pocket notebook during erg pieces to jot down splits and times. How do you organize all your thoughts and coxswain information?

Definitely! I always liked having two – a pocket sized notebook (that you don’t mind getting wet, wrinkled, or crushed at the bottom of your bag) that you can use to scribble down lineups, notes and reflections from practice, etc. and a separate (slightly larger) notebook to transfer all that stuff into.

The reason I suggest having a separate notebook is so that at the end of the day/week or after race day, you can spend some time transferring everything into a notebook that isn’t wrinkled and gross. (If you’re a fan of digital notes, keeping a running doc in your Google Drive, Evernote, OneNote, etc. would work great too.) This will give you the opportunity to not only re-read your notes from the day and reinforce in your mind what you did, but to also re-write everything so that it’s legible (not scribbled) and organized. When you’re rushing to get erg scores or taking a water break in the boat you don’t have time to think about how nice everything looks, which leads to scattered illegible notes. Taking 5-10 minutes on the bus back to campus, in between classes, during dinner, or whenever to transfer your notes to another notebook allows you to organize it as you please. You don’t have to do that (I have plenty of friends that didn’t care what their notebooks looked like as long as they could loosely make out what they’d written) but it was a strategy that also worked best for me.

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 1

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 1

My suggestions for listening to these is to have a pen and piece of paper with you so you can write down good calls you hear, try and figure out why the coxswain made those calls, and then find a way to implement them with your own crew. Don’t take any call and use it if you don’t know why the previous coxswain said it. Part of making good calls is knowing WHY those calls are good. How to they help your crew? Are they motivational or technical? What part of the stroke does the call apply to?

If you can answer all those questions, then take that call and try it out with your crew. Not every call is going to work with every crew so it’s up to you to discuss after practice with your coach and rowers whether or not they responded to that call or not. Don’t be offended if they say it didn’t do anything for them. Ask them why and then tweak it a little. Fine tune it and eventually you’ll find the combination of words that really gets in your rowers heads.

Pete Cipollone 1997 Head of the Charles men’s Champ 8+

Above is a 15 minute clip that starts about 30 seconds before the start of the race and ends just after they cross the finish line. If you want to listen to the whole 27 minute recording that includes getting to the starting area, staging, etc., as well as read along with a transcript of the race, you can check that out over on row2k.

This recording is basically the gold standard when it comes to … pretty much everything. Calls, tone, execution, engaging individual rowers throughout the piece, it’s all on point here.

Because there are so many turns on the Charles you can go from having a headwind on one part of the course to a crosswind on another, so it’s good to know what the wind is doing and where those trouble spots are so you can prepare the crew for it before you get hit with any gusts. Watching for the ripples on the water is a good indication of when the wind is coming but sometimes that’s tough to do with everything else that’s going on so knowing ahead of time where you might get encounter it will make it easy for you to incorporate the applicable technical calls (i.e. sit up into a head wind, hold the finishes in a tailwind, etc.) into your race plan. You can hear Pete do this at 15:53 where he says “here comes a headwind, sit up and drive…”.

Around 17:37 as they’re coming under River St. in the Powerhouse Stretch he calls for them to make their first commitment under the bridge. I’m a big fan of this move (I’ve appropriated it in some way into nearly every race plan I’ve had throughout my career), not just because I think it’s more effective than a power ten but because of the way he calls it. I usually save this call (if I can) for when we’re under a bridge because I think hearing a guttural, drawn out call like that echo around you just reiterates the importance of the commitment. It’s a great call but one to be used sparingly during a race if you want to maintain its effectiveness.

At 19:19 he says “we’re in the quiet, good time to walk away”, which is another call I’ll use from time to time during head races if we’re in a relatively straight stretch without a lot of people or other crews nearby. It’s a good opportunity to refocus everyone and take advantage of the clean water to make up a few seconds or continue building your lead.

As they’re weaving through the Weeks – Anderson stretch you’ll hear him prep the crew by saying which side the turn is to and who’s driving that turn, i.e. next turn to port, starboards drive it around. This is a good habit to get into so the crew knows what’s coming and can make the adjustment for the set as you go on the rudder around the turn.

Another thing he does throughout (but especially in the last 1000 meters) is telling the crew where they are on the course. In the last thousand meters he points out 1000 to go, 500, 350, 250, last 20, and last 5. You must be able to do this, regardless of whether this is your first time on the course or your seventeenth. Use a map, pay attention to the markers and landmarks when you’re out practicing, etc. so the crew isn’t going through the entire race wondering how much is down and how much is left.

Other calls I liked:

“One part drive, attack…”

“Take that handle with you and attack it…”

“Now is where you fucking hang tough…”

“Do not sit, do not quit…”

“I got the course…”

(After they’ve crossed the finish line) “Good piece, keep fuckin’ rowing…”

Upper Thames Rowing Club 2011 Head of the River

One of the standout things from this recording was how he worked his tone throughout the piece. Tonal changes can make a huge difference and you can kinda see that when he says “walk away NOW”, the crew responds and the intensity heightens.

“Speed the hands up, don’t panic on it, relax” is a great call because when you tell the rowers to speed something up or do something quicker, there’s always that tendency or possibility that they will lose some slide or body control, so throwing in “don’t panic, relax” is a great way to remind them to keep the bodies controlled.

Alongside him pointing out the distance to the next crew in front of him, another thing to take note of is how he navigates through the crews they’re passing. There’s no unnecessary shouting at other coxswains or panic in his voice – he stays pretty calm and communicates exactly what needs to be said in a way that lets the crew know that he’s still in control of their race and his course.

Towards the end he says “Do you wanna beat the first eight or not?”, which I liked but it’s a call that has to be used with caution because it can easily come out wrong and make you look like a huge dick. Tone is key here and said any other way it would just come out as you whining or being antagonistic but the way he says it is perfect. You can tell he’s saying it with the goal of igniting that last little bit of fire in them as they close in on the finish line.

Other calls I liked:

“Hang it through…”

“Bodies over, hold the knees…

“Legs sit back…

“Each man commit to the catch now…”

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

College Coxing Novice Q&A Rowing

Question of the Day

Hi! For the past month I have been in walk-on tryouts for the Syracuse Women’s Rowing team. I found out yesterday that she is keeping me as one of the walk-on coxswains, which I am so excited and happy about! I know that coxswains are supposed to be very confident and I am while I am on the water, but I truly don’t really know what I am doing. I have been watching hours of recordings to help but coxing a novice crew is difficult when nobody in the boat has every rowed before and I am not sure what kind of calls I should make, we have only just started getting on the water all together about 4-5 times. I’m not really sure what to say during drills beside the drill. Do I make calls as if they are racing? I am in love with rowing, it is a great sport, I just get frustrated when I feel like I’m not a good coxswain because I don’t feel anybody guiding me or training me like they do the rowers.

Congrats on making the team!! I agree with you that coxing a novice crew where no one has rowed before is extremely tough. I 100000% understand what you’re feeling.

When you feel yourself getting frustrated and can tell the crew isn’t responding to what your saying, take a few minutes and try some of the following things.

Ask them what’s going on

Is there something specific that they aren’t understanding and if so, what? If that’s not it, what is it? Talk to them and find things out from their perspective.

Tell them you’re frustrated

This seems counter intuitive, but explain that you’re frustrated because you can see they don’t understand or aren’t picking it up and you’re unsure of what to do to help them. If you project the idea that you GENUINELY want to help them, they’re much more likely to offer feedback and tell you what’s going on. If you just get frustrated and pissed because they’re not doing what you want them to do, they’re not going to make your job any easier because you’re giving the impression of being dictator-ish and that you don’t ACTUALLY care whether or not they do it right, so long as they do what you say.

Slow it down

Speed (and pressure) is of no consequence when you’re first learning the stroke. To me it’s a very simple motion because I’ve been doing this for so long but to most people who are new to rowing it’s very unnatural. You have to take it slowly and let them think about every. single. little. thing. Talk to whoever your coach is and ask if you can break it down a little more or slow it down so that they can focus on what you’re doing but at a slower pace. This might help them process what you’re saying a little easier.

Take a deep breath and don’t let ’em see you sweat

There have been plenty of times where I am just consistently saying “what the fuuuckkk” in my head but I try as hard as possible to not let that anger or frustration show in my face or body language. Maintain the idea that you are calm and collected. This will calm your crew down and calm their nerves. Be quiet for a few strokes and then say something like “OK guys, lets take the next few strokes, sit up a little taller, relax the shoulders, take a deep breath, and just row. We’re getting frustrated so let’s take some time to calm down and get back in the zone.”

Remind them of what they’re doing well

There are going to be times where you will have to dig REALLY deep to find something positive but you have to find SOMETHING. Once you’ve given them some positive feedback, provide some constructive criticism and talk a little about what needs improved on. “So, we’ve been working on our catch timing and those last five strokes looked ON. Everyone is thinking a little bit more about moving up the slide together and I can see it. Let’s keep doing that. On these next five strokes, let’s think a bit more about our handle heights. Catches looked better but our set suffered a little.”

What drills have you been doing? Do you write them down? My first suggestion would be to write EVERYTHING down in your notebook on the bus back to campus. Ignore the chatter and noise and reflect on your practice. Other suggestions for drill work:

Talk to your coach either at the beginning of the week or before practice. Ask them what drills they plan on working on that week or that practice. How is it executed and what is its purpose? What part of the stroke does it focus on? What should you be looking for and how should you correct what you see?

Drills are a bit of a grey area because on one hand, you need to talk in order to execute the drill but on the other, you need to be quiet in order to give the rowers the opportunity to figure out what they’re doing. Know when to talk and when to be quiet. This can be tricky to learn as a novice so talk to your coach. Ask what they want you to say and when you should just let them talk.

Don’t try and over talk your coach unless you’re calling a transition or something, but at the same time, don’t let them over talk you. If you find that you’re trying to tell the rowers what you’re seeing and your coach cuts you off and talks over you, that can not only piss you off but it can frustrate and confuse the rowers. Chances are they don’t realize they’re doing it. I had this problem recently and when I told my coach he apologized. Approach the subject gently and just say something like “I’ve noticed when we’re doing drills I’ll go to point something out to the rowers or make a transition within the drill and you’ll start coaching them on something different. How should I deal with that as a coxswain – should I hold off on the transition until you’re done coaching or just go through with it? How should I go about pointing out what I see while still having them think about what you just said?” Make them understand that you aren’t trying to overstep your boundaries but you recognize the fact that you have a different point of view in the boat than they do.

My suggestion for this would be to not only approach your coach about this, but when you’re on the water, for now, wait until you’ve stopped or taken a break and THEN point out what you see. With novices, it’s easy to overwhelm them with too much information. Once you’ve stopped, wait for your coach to come over and say “So, I noticed our catches were a little mistimed and we were leaning to port for most of the drill. Once you pointed out that they needed to think more about their body swing, it started to feel better though.” If you tell them what you saw and what you noticed, not only does that show them that you are REALLY paying attention, but it also lets the rowers hear what they did well and what needs worked on. You could also inadvertently point out something that your coach didn’t notice. Maybe she couldn’t tell that the boat was offset because she was so focused on the bodies. With this new information, she can give you things to look for and things for the rowers to think when you start rowing again. Listen to what she tells the rowers to work on and make sure you repeat it during the drill. Anything the coaches say is fair game to be used as a call.

Drills can get really boring for coxswains, especially if you’re doing something like pause drills where all you’re doing is saying “row … row … row …” for 5+ minutes. Keep your voice sharp and don’t let the rowers or your coach get the impression that you’re bored or just going through the motions. If you start to let your voice slip off, the rowers will let their technique slip. Keep your calls crisp and concise, your voice sharp, and your body aggressive. There’s a difference between tense and aggressive – know the difference. Don’t just sit in the boat like you’re lounging on your couch playing xbox.

You’re not a bad coxswain – you’re still learning! Don’t let a shitty practice crush your confidence. Recognize when you’ve made improvements and use that as motivation for tomorrow’s practice. Maybe you steered a straighter line going down the lake today than you did yesterday. Maybe your turns on the river are smoother than they were last week. Maybe you FINALLY understood what the point of that drill was and your calls were more confident because of that. Know when you’ve done a good job but also recognize when/where you can make adjustments too. Also, get a notebook and a recorder and use both regularly. Ask for feedback from the rowers too so you can figure out what’s working, what isn’t, what can you do better, etc.

It’s unlikely that anybody is going to coach you. It’s not fair but that’s the way it is. They’re going to put you in the boat and assume you’ll pick it up as you go. Don’t let this piss you off, even though it inevitably will. Find other resources. Talk to the varsity coxswains, listen to recordings from other coxswains, etc. 97% of what you learn, you will have to learn on your own. Accept and embrace that.

Be confident. They chose you for a reason. You gave them a reason to believe that you’re the best person for the job. They trust you with the safety of eight other women. Don’t let that scare you – let it motivate you. If you ever get to the point where stepping in the boat does nothing for you, take a step back and reevaluate. Don’t ever let it feel like a job.

College Coxing Q&A Recruiting

Question of the Day

Hey, I’m a senior in high school. I’m a coxswain and my coach said that I should email coaches to let them know that I’m interested in joining the team, do you have any advice as to what I should do/say in the emails?

You should email as many coaches as you can (aka “cast a wide net”) but make sure when you do you at least have a legitimate interest in the school. Don’t go somewhere that has a great rowing team but is subpar in the major you’re interested in. When you email the coach, include a “rowing resume” indicating your year in school, where you go, who you cox for, the major races you’ve been to/won, notable accomplishments in rowing (coxed the 2nd varsity 8+ as a freshman, had an undefeated season leading into state championships, etc.), and your height and weight. It’s also good to include any Honors/AP courses you’re taking, GPA, and SAT/Subject tests/ACT scores so that the coach can get an idea of the kind of student you are.

Other tips…

Go to the athletic sites of the schools you’re interested in and see if they have recruiting forms on there. If they do, which 99% of them will, fill them out  so you can be added to their database. This is likely going to be the first thing coaches ask or tell you to do so just pre-empt that step by doing it before you reach out to them.

Have recordings of yourself readily available to include in your email. Have practice recordings of you coxing all kinds of drills, steady state, as well as a few different recordings of your races. Make sure they’re trimmed down too – no recording should be more than 7-10 minutes in length (and even that is pushing it).

Just like you’ll ask your teachers at school to write you letters of recommendation, ask your coaches to do the same. Inform them of your intentions to cox in college and ask them if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation and/or be a reference for you. If you have a good relationship with your coach, this shouldn’t be a problem. The college coaches will likely ask for your coach’s contact info anyways (as will the recruiting questionnaires) so at the very least you should give them a heads up and let them know that X coach from Y school might get in touch with them.

Explore the university. Start thinking about majors, start looking into the different programs the university offers, etc., that way when the coach asks you what attracted you to the school (besides the rowing program) you can say “Oh, well I’m really interested in pursuing _____ as a major and I know that _____ has one of the top programs in the country. I saw that they recently ____…” and then elaborate on what you’ve found out through your research. Indicating an interest not just in the program, but the university as well will go a long ways towards helping you get a foot in the door. Do your research.

Ask about practice schedules, race schedules, etc. and how they are work around classes. If you go on an official/unofficial visit (also discussed here), talk to the rowers and ask them how practice fits into their class schedule. Get as much information about this as you can.

Be aware that the likelihood you’ll get a scholarship as a coxswain is slim, especially the first year. Although it is possible in the future, the coaches try to save all their initial slots for getting rowers. Don’t be discouraged by this. If you’re looking at any Ivy League schools, they don’t give out any athletic scholarships to anyone. It’s a conference rule, so just be aware of that. There are only a handful of men’s programs that have scholarships to offer thanks to alumni endowments so as a coxswain, if you’re hoping to get some sort of financial assistance, women’s rowing is the way to go. That’s not to say that it’s a definite thing because like I said, the available money tends to get prioritized towards rowers first, but just that there are more opportunities available to earn one compared to if you were coxing men.

Another thing to remember is that women’s rowing is an NCAA sport while men’s rowing is not. Because of Title IX universities are required to have an equal number of men’s and women’s sports (men’s basketball, women’s basketball, etc.) Women’s rowing is the “equivalent” of men’s football according to the NCAA in order to balance out the numbers (since they both tend to be large teams) which means as a girl, you can cox for men OR women, but men can only cox for men.

Last thing – keep your parents involved in the recruiting process. Even if they don’t know anything about crew, keep them updated, ask for their advice, etc. My dad helped me a lot when I was going through the process and was an invaluable asset to me because he thought of questions that I never would have thought of. Good luck!

Coxing Rowing

Welcome to “Ready all, row…”

The title of the blog comes from the command that coxswains make before the rowers begin rowing. It signifies that everyone knows what’s going on and they’re ready to row. For coxswains, it signifies an understanding of the instructions given by the coach. Through the posts on this blog, I hope to provide assistance and clarity so that when you make the call, you truly are ready to row.

Something that has always bothered me about this sport is the limited amount of coaching we receive as coxswains. To anyone that asks, I tell them that coxing is both easier and harder than people think it is. It’s at the beginning of one’s career as a coxswain that it’s the hardest. We’re expected to steer a $35,000, 63ft long boat with two strings attached to rudder the size of a credit card while simultaneously listening to the coach, explaining to the rowers what we’re doing, executing the drills and pieces perfectly, getting everyone from point A to point B without hitting anyone or anything. Coaches assume that because we’re tiny tyrants, we can handle any situation and be fine, so they tell us “steer straight and don’t hit anything” and think that that is all we need to know. As any coxswain will tell you, it’s not!

Once I started coaching and working with novice coxswains, I was constantly telling them that just like the rowers work every day to improve, they too must do the same. Read articles, watch videos, listen to recordings, etc. The only problem with that is how and where do you find it all? That was one of my main motivations for starting this blog. If you try and find information on coxing online, you’ll be disappointed. You might find a manual or two from a crew in the another country or some outdated articles from a website that hasn’t been updated in six years, but nothing that will REALLY help you learn the ins and outs of coxing. That’s what I hope to provide here.

If you have questions, please send me an email at Coxing is something I am extremely passionate about and sharing the knowledge I’ve gained as a coxswain is something I feel a strong obligation to do. If I can help just one coxswain have a better understanding of something or a rower have a better practice, I’ll consider this blog a success.