Category: Coxing

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 rowingandcoxing@gmail.com. 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.