Category: Novice

How to cox a boat in and out of the boathouse

Coxing How To Novice

How to cox a boat in and out of the boathouse

Walking the boat in and out of the house is something you’ll do every single day so it’s important that you understand the process, calls, and terminology that go along with it. Each team will have their own subtle variances but this should give you a general idea of what to say and do. If you’re a more experienced coxswain then how get your boat in and out will probably be a lot less regimented than what I’ve laid out below and that’s totally fine. This post is written with novice coxswains in mind though which is why the minutiae of the process is laid out a bit more systematically.

Remember that everything you say should be said assertively. You also need to speak loudly so that your crew can hear you – don’t assume that the echo or reverberation of your voice off the walls and boats will carry your voice. You can never be too loud, especially as a novice.

When giving instructions about where to go it’s important to know which way to tell the rowers to go too. “In the house” means to walk inside the boathouse/towards where the boats are stored and “out of the house” means to walk outside the boathouse/away from where the boats are stored. Vague directions such as “move that way” or “come towards me” aren’t helpful so avoid using ones like that and instead say things like “take two steps to your left” or “walk it towards bow”.

Coxing the boat out of the house

Before you begin, make sure there are four people on each end and each side of the boat. It is easiest to carry the boat if the rowers are bunched up at each end or spread out evenly throughout the length of the boat. Do not have the rowers all bunch up in the middle. This minimizes the support on the ends of the boat and makes it much heavier to carry.

Another thing to be aware of when the rowers line up is their height. You don’t want to have a tall person be on the direct opposite side of a short person because then it forces all the weight onto their shoulder. If you have a range of heights going from stroke to bow, you can have the rowers switch where they stand when they’re carrying the boat down so that it’s comfortable for everyone. (This also eliminates a lot of bitching and “get it on shoulders” from the taller rowers.)

If you’re in a boat that is fairly new to the sport or has varying levels of upper body strength, your best bet is to have two tall people on either end, that way each end will be able to push the boat up and over heads. If all the stronger people are on one end and the weaker are on the other, that spells disaster in the making. Long story short, know the individual strength of your rowers.

To get the boat out of the house, the italicized words are the calls you’ll make to tell your crew what to do.

“All eight, hands on.”

This is the call that lets people know you’re ready to go. When you get hands on everyone should be quiet so they can hear what you’re saying and then do it without wasting time. If people are talking or not paying attention, that’s when boats get damaged.

“Lift it up, slide it out.”

This is the command to get the boat off the racks. When you give the command to “lift it up”, make sure you’re watching the fin. Some people have very liberal ideas of what an inch is and will lift the boat too high, causing either the fin or the hull to hit the boat, riggers, or racks above them. This can do various sorts of damage to the boat (ranging from dents in the hull from the racks or riggers to knocking the fin loose) so make sure when you say an inch, your rowers know you only mean an inch.

Sliding it out is the second part of this command. Once the boat is lifted off the racks this is when the rowers side step it to the middle of the bay. I like to say “slide it out” instead of “walk it out” because it’s (apparently…) easy to confuse “walk it out” with walk it out of the house instead of just walking it to the middle of the bay. Keeping the calls separate just avoids confusion, boat damage, and/or injury.

“Shoulders, ready, UP.” or “split to shoulders, ready, split.”

This call is only necessary if you’re bringing the boat out of a rack that isn’t already at shoulder height. If  you’re bringing the boat up from rollers that are on the ground you’ll need to say “waists, ready, up” first before giving the command to go to shoulders. Don’t go from the boat being on the ground straight to shoulders. If you’re coming down to shoulders from over heads, you’ll want to give the call to “show sides”. This tells the rowers to indicate which side they’re splitting to by leaning their head in the direction they’re going to move. Ideally they should be splitting to the side opposite their rigger.

“Watch the riggers, walk it out.”

Once you’re at shoulders, tell the rowers to watch the rigger in front of them to make sure it’s not going to hit anything and then walk it out. When walking it out, you should always be standing at the BACK of the boat. You should be able to see the entire length of the boat in front of you, regardless of whether you’re standing at the stern or the bow. The “back” of the boat will be dependent on how you store it.

The reason you should be at the back is so you can see if your boat is going to hit anything, which includes but isn’t limited to riggers on other boats, bay doors, random people standing around, etc. By following the boat you can pull it to the side if you need to in order to avoid clipping a rigger or something. Don’t count on your rowers to pay attention to whether or not the riggers are going to hit something (even though you’ve told them to “watch the riggers”) – you have to assume responsibility for your boat.

You also don’t want to stand beside the middle of the boat because if you have to make a turn coming out of the boathouse, you won’t be able to see what’s going on with the back end. If the crew swings too early, that end can hit the boats on the racks, a wall, etc. Additionally, your field of vision for what’s in front of you just decreased by about 50% because now you can’t see what obstructions might be in your way on the other side.

Coxing the boat in the house

For the most part, walking the boat in the house is the exact opposite of walking it out.

“Watch the riggers, walk it in.”

When the rowers are walking in, make sure they’re walking in in a straight line, not at an angle or anything. This is directed more towards crews who can’t walk directly into the boathouse from the dock. The back of the boat is going to follow the front, so if the front walks in at an angle the bow is going to follow, meaning that if/when the front swings around to straighten out, the bow of the boat won’t know what’s happening and will continue to try and walk forward. This typically results in the front of the boat getting pushed forward into another boat or into a wall. More experienced crews can get away with walking it in like that as long as they’re cautious but it’s not something novice or younger crews should do.

The easiest way to bring the boat in is to walk up parallel to the boathouse, weigh enough, and then side step the boat over so that it’s in a straight line in front of the bay. The key is to make sure everyone side steps it over together so the boat stays straight. Once you’re in front of where you want to be, you can walk it in.

“Weigh enough.”

Once your boat is in front of the racks you can tell the crew to weigh enough. A good way to know when/where to weigh enough is to put tape on your boat to mark the spots where it sits on the rack, that way whenever you walk in the house you always know exactly where to tell them to weigh enough. If you go in the house too far or not far enough, see where the tape is in relation to the racks and say “walk it in one step” or “walk it out three steps”. Always give the rowers specific directions so there’s nothing left open for interpretation. Don’t ever say “walk this way” because … which way is “this way”?

“Waist, ready, down.” or “up and over heads, ready, up.”

Be mindful of your position in the bay so that when you go over heads you don’t knock the riggers on other boats on the racks or the fin on any small boats you might have hanging from the ceiling.

“Side step it over, lift it up, and slide it in.”

Same as before, make sure when they lift the boat to get it on the racks, they’re not lifting it too high. Be aware of where the fin and hull are in relation to the boat above them. It’s important that everyone walks it over and puts the boat in together so that the rowers on one end aren’t already walking away from the boat while the other end is still trying to get it on the racks. Before you set it down double check that none of the riggers are sitting on the racks either because it can bend them or cause damage to the hull. If you’ve got tape on the hull to indicate where it should be on the racks, make sure it’s still lined up before everyone disperses.

The most important things to remember when bringing the boat in and out are:

Speak loudly, slowly, clearly, and concisely

Make sure your crew can hear you and clearly understand your instructions. They should never have to yell “what?!” or “we can’t hear you!”.

Pay attention to everything around you

Watch out for people standing in your path, boats that might be in slings in the boat bay, riggers on other boats, etc. It’s your responsibility to communicate to them that there’s a boat coming out/in and they’re in the way.

Don’t get frustrated

Coxing a boat on or off the racks can be nerve wracking, especially as a novice. Stay calm and be in control of the situation. Don’t let the rowers start telling other rowers what to do. Make sure everyone is quiet and listening to your instructions.

This whole process really is incredibly simple once you get the hang of it. Sometimes it requires being in a few different places at once but as you and your rowers become more experienced, both you and they will learn how to make it a smoother process and your instructions won’t need to be as nitpicky.

Image via // @rowingrelated
An Irresistible Pull

College Novice Rowing Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

An Irresistible Pull

I found this a few months ago and thought it was a great story, as well as good motivation. There’s definitely a lot parallels to be drawn between it and most of our own rowing careers.

During freshman week, he saw his first racing shell.  The crew captain was recruiting and stepped forward to introduce him to it.  The magnificent lines of the shell seemed perfectly sculpted.  How could a boat be so beautiful and narrow, the freshmen thought.  The captain said it was 64 feet long and held eight men.  The freshman noticed the captain’s weathered face and his developed quadriceps.  When they shook hands, the freshman felt the captain’s calluses.  Come row, the captain said.

The freshman went to the boathouse and tried it.  His first float onto the river filled his with pleasure.  He assessed the world from his sliding seat.  The river was wide and gray.  His coach told him that soon he would learn every turn of it.  He liked the idea of being a river man but knew little of what it meant.

He began long rows, experiencing the yoke of the river.  When he pulled hard, his car dove too deep into the currents.  He concentrated on rhythm.  The coxswain banged the stroke count on the gunnels.  Slowly, he learned to pull with power.  Afternoon practices ended in early darkness.  Half the freshmen quit, in doubt.  The captain said everyone must pull harder.

At Christmas, he shook his father’s hand and his father commented on his blisters.  He tried to talk about rowing but his tongue grew swollen and dull.

In April, the skim ice buckled the shoreline.  His boat was launched in light snow.  The varsity shaved their heads and wore T-shirts.  At spring break, he stayed for double practice.  His legs were always tired.  In sleep, he dreamed uneasily about water, of the river scrolling by.

His family came to the first race.  They stood a mile and a quarter from the start.  Because of a bend in the river, they only saw the last 20 strokes.  In victory, they thought it looked easy.  Two men vomited.  The freshman’s sister said she would never come again.  He threw the coxswain into the river, and the shirt that he wagered he collected from the opposition.  It was washed in collegiate sweat.  It was the finest trophy he had ever seen, and he wore it for a week.

Sophomore year, only six of his boat returned.  He was still green, and the competition was greater.  He, too, thought of quitting. He still resisted the river and blamed her when it hurt.  He imagined that his face looked troubled.  He wondered how much more he could give.  He saw the upperclassmen pull hard, sometimes even with pleasure.  He didn’t know what he was learning, but he suspected the lesson was patience.

In the junior year he rowed on the varsity.  They wagered and won many shirts.  He accepted the equation of practice to victory.  He grew mature about pain and work.  He saw the river as a strict teacher, helping him grow stronger.  His technique was exemplary.  But he did not row to win.  He rowed for a motion called swing.  In swing, he found a clearing to rise above grueling circumstances.  He suspected it was transcendental, where life became more than it seemed.  He suspected that if he got to know this clearing, he could find it again, away from the river.

He started his last year aware of an ending.  He went to the gym during freshman week and stood by a new shell with his quadriceps bulging.  His lobster hands engulfed the hands of recruits.  He was tanned and ready.  He was cordial but did not try to tell them why he rowed.  Instead, he explained the boat and the river.

In his fourth fall, he was bored.  He became intrigued with the perfect stroke.  His roommate studied physics, so they spent a week diagramming torque.  They discussed an oar’s effect on ultimate boat speed.  They placed values on leg drive and arm strength, and he graphed the motion on paper.  He was tested for body fat and had almost none.  He was training harder than ever because he could not do less.  The river was ever-changing, but he trusted her mass.  He saw a picture of the Harvard crew in Sports Illustrated, and wondered about the Olympics.  Then he looked at the seven-man and wanted his shirt.

His boat was chosen to win the league.  They won races but the swing was elusive.  He sensed that there was a struggle in the bow seats, but nothing was said.  His coach studies the ancient Greeks.  The motto of the boathouse was When dying, die in virtue.  But first, they were taught to endure.  Then they could die.  Of the two, enduring seemed more difficult.

Before his last race, the river was brown and foaming.  In a practice start the bowman crabbed his oar, throwing the boat to port.  He heard the strike to the bowman’s ribs.

They drifted in the current, waiting.  They had bet shirts, winners take all.  The opponents rowed by to impress them.  He stared at the seven-man, measuring the size of his shirt, a tall basketball washout from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A race is six minutes.  Thus, a season is thirty-six minutes.  But he had practiced two hours a day, from September to June.  When icicles dripped from the oar locks, they went to Florida to row double sessions.  In addition, he ran stadium steps, lifted weights, and practiced in the tanks.  It seemed a dismal, inequitable equation.

Before the start, his stomach hurt.  He eased up the slide, legs sprung.  He heard the ripping of the water.  Waiting was harder than pulling, harder to contain.  His heart, which had strained to starting commands for four seasons, pounded for the gun.  When the pistol cracked he lashed out in relief.

At 500 meters the race was even and he longed for swing.  The starting sprint was over, but the coxswain had kept the cadence too high.  The boat struggled, not yet fluid.  He knew fatigue came in stages, but there was already too much in his legs.  Steadily, he shadowed the stroke before him.  His ears filled with static.  He wondered if the bowman was pulling.

At a thousand meters the coxswain wanted more.  At each catch the boat jumped, and he felt awake, lightened.  They responded-all eight-with legs and backs in symphonic motion.  The coxswain rapped the gunnels, sounding the beat with his hands.  He wanted more lead-another deck length-but the rowers only wanted rhythm, to hold the cadence, to extend their pleasure.

At the 1500-meter mark, there was a wake.  The boat twisted to port; and in a moment, they felt the swing depart.

With new pain, he searched the shoreline for clues.  How much farther?  How much longer?  How much more?  The stroke gasped to raise the beat by two; but slipping, it only went one.  His legs were gone, his back burned, his throat was numb.

With 20 strokes to go, he heard another coxswain yell that they were dying.  He thanked him, needing anger to penetrate his numbness.  He began counting but thought that 20 was too far.  He told himself to quit at ten-quit the race, quit rowing.  He was in deep suffering.  He once dreamed of falling off bridges in locked cars.  He was now back in the river, on the bottom; the inexorable swim to the surface was far.

On the eighth stroke, he heard his raspy coxswain, hoarse from a season’s yelling, calling his men to their oars.  The voice without panic.  It reminded him of his connection with the others.  He renegotiated with his legs, which hurt the most.  He asked his heart for tolerance, his back to bend.

He counted each stroke to the finish.  He felt his own last surge, making the oar shaft bend.

They drifted to regain their breathing.  Their coach yelled that they had won by a foot.  They wondered when, in their years on the river, they had learned to go that much faster.

At the dock, a small crowd was cheering.  After throwing in the coxswain, then the coach, the oarsmen quickly jumped in.  Himself, he floated in the brisk current, looking at his family on the bank.  The water was cold beneath the surface, but he barely felt it.  He was certain that this race was his last, then he thought better of it.

Image via // @benrodfordphoto

Coxing Novice Q&A Racing

Question of the Day

Hi, I’m a beginner coxswain for a men’s novice 8 and my first regatta is coming up in two days. I’m super super nervous and I was wondering if you could give me some really good calls I can make in the middle of the race … I usually end up not really know what to say and repeat the same things over and over! Thank you so much!

Try and find different ways to say what you’re already saying, that way you can repeat yourself without actually repeating yourself. It keeps the rowers alert and tuned into what you’re saying if you can keep a running list of different ways to say the same things.

Calls for the middle of the race … this is where you’re going to start transitioning from more technique based calls to more motivational calls. You’ll be able to come up with some great stuff if you can find out what THEY want to hear. Remember, you’re guiding them down the river so you’ve got to, in a sense, tell them what they want to hear (and in some cases, what they don’t want to hear) in order to get them to do what you want. Don’t be to stringent though with your calls and try to script it out though (that never works).

Related: HOCR: Race plans and My race plan from HOCR

During my eight’s race two weeks ago we were just sitting on a crew for probably 20 strokes before I said that I was sick of looking at this other crew and that on this next 20 we were going to walk away from them. They responded really well to that and we walked by them with no problem. Another call my crew really likes is “Do not sit, do not quit”, which I borrowed from Pete Cipollone. I used it as we were coming into the last 500m or so to remind them to not sit for a single stroke and to stay focused and in the boat. They said it was one of the best calls they’d heard because it really got them fired up for the end of the race.

A great way to develop your calls is to listen to the calls of other coxswains. Listen to them and pull out/modify anything you think would be beneficial for your crew. Remember the number one rule of borrowing coxswain calls though: don’t take, use, borrow, or modify a call if you do not know why it was being used in the first place. Remember your tone of voice too throughout the race. I know there are posts either on here or on the blog somewhere where I talk about tone, inflection, volume, etc. They’re all very important in communicating well with your crew and making sure they stay alert and focused.

Related: Coxswain recordings

I know I didn’t give you any SPECIFIC calls in here but hopefully I’ve given some tools to help you come up with your own stuff.

High School Novice Q&A Rowing

Question of the Day

So I know you mostly get questions from coxswains but do ya think you could riddle me this? I’m a high school rower (started last winter) so technically I’m still a novice but since the beginning of summer I’ve been rowing varsity. I absolutely love the sport but I sometimes feel a bit intimidated by the fact that I’m constantly racing girls older than me! I’m only 15 and most of the girls I race & row with are getting ready to head off to college! Any advice on how to face the competition?

That’s great that you’re rowing varsity if you’ve only been rowing for less than a year. If anything, the girls that you’re racing should be intimidated by you since you’re most likely 2-3 years younger than them. You’ve clearly done the work and proven to your coaches that you can handle the responsibility of being a varsity rower so own it.

Be a leader in your boat. Don’t assume that just because you’re younger than everyone else that that is the persona you need to take on. Speak up, offer your opinion (when the time is appropriate), get everyone started on stretches if your coaches/coxswains aren’t around, and be coachable. Always offer to take oars down, wash the boat, etc. ACT like the varsity teammate you are instead of trying to hide in the background because you’re intimidated by the other girls. Whether or not they let it on, the girls that are graduating are going to worry just a little bit about what the state of the team will be when they leave. If you start proving yourself as a strong leader and good teammate now, not only will you gain so much respect from them, the other rowers on the team, and your coaches, but you will offer them reassurance that the team will THRIVE in your hands. This will result in them embracing you as a teammate rather than just acknowledging your existence in the boat.

When you’re racing, don’t worry about those other crews. If you’ve done everything you need to do to prepare, you’re going to be looking at their backs going down the course, not the other way around. You never know, there might be novice rowers in those varsity boats too. Hold your head high, keep your chin up, and maintain that look of determination in your eyes. If you do that, they will be just as intimidated by you as you are of them right now. It’s all about attitude. What have you observed about the girls on your team and the teams you race? What does their body language convey, both on and off the water? What’s their rowing like? Emulate that!! When you’re on the water, FOCUS. Concentrate on working to perfect everything you do during practice each day. Be able to pick out two to three things that got better by the end of practice. Push yourself. Don’t settle for anything. Always strive for MORE. The only thing you should be intimidated by is the expectations you have set for yourself. If you’re not intimidated by your goals and expectations, you haven’t set the bar high enough.

Coxing Novice Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi, I’m a novice coxswain for a Girls Novice 8. We have competition in less than a week, and our boat is a mess. Catching and finishing in time is a major problem, as well as motivation. My priority really is motivation but we don’t have access to a Cox-Box until the day of competition, and are currently rowing on a boat with no steering; so all turns are pretty much manual. In less than two weeks we have Head of the Hooch and we can barely operate! Any feedback or advice would be helpful.

Why are you even on the water? Being in a boat with no steering not only sounds completely pointless but more importantly, incredibly unsafe. Add in the fact that you don’t have a cox box and then it becomes really unsafe.

Are you having problems motivating them because of the situation you’re in with the boat or are you having trouble because they’re just not that into rowing? If it’s because of the boat, there’s not much you can do other than remind them that (hopefully) this is only a temporary situation and that they’ve just got to make do with what they’ve got. Tell them that instead of focusing on how much the boat sucks, focus on themselves. Think about THEIR strokes, THEIR body position, THEIR timing, THEIR technique, etc. Channel the frustration into something productive. If you’re having problems motivating them because they’re not that into the sport, that’s tough. Rowing is one of those sports where the motivation has to inherent otherwise external motivation isn’t going to have an effect.

Remember, you are NOT their cheerleader. Motivating them is, in my opinion, about 2% of the role of coxswains. It’s miniscule. You’re there to give them feedback, to tell them what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, how to improve, what needs to change, who needs to change it, where you’re at in the race, what the other crews are doing, what they need to do to hold off the other crews or walk on the crews ahead of them, etc. Being motivating doesn’t mean that you’re sugarcoating things or stroking their egos either – it means being brutally honest, no matter how much they might not want to hear what you’re saying, in the hopes that what you say lights a fire under their ass and gives them the push they need to do what needs to be done.

Ergs Novice Q&A Rowing Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I’m freaking out about novice tryouts. I’ve never done a 5k before and I heard we have to do one!! What should I do to prepare?

In the fall, you will do LOTS of steady state workouts – they’re part of the training for head race season but also a good way to test your overall endurance. It’s hard to prepare yourself to do well on a 5k if you only start prepping a week or two ahead of time so keep that in mind.

My suggestion is that once your coaches have taught you how to row with proper technique, just get on the erg. Start off doing a 5k piece as a baseline to see what your time is with NO preparation ahead of time. Use that number to work off of. Throughout the next 4-5 days, do some pieces that work on your endurance. Also do some core workouts and make sure you put in a rest day or two. Don’t burn yourself out before the season gets started.

Long pieces like 5ks are a totally different animal than your standard 2k. They require intense mental preparation and the ability to pace oneself. It’s easy to fly and die with any erg test but especially with 5ks. Once you hit about 4000m, you’re gonna start hitting that wall and think “I cannot physically do this anymore”. The body of long races and pieces like this are where rowers are made though – they show how mentally tough you are. Can you push yourself past that wall or are you going to let it beat you? That last 1500, start to slowly bring up the rate. Get ready to sprint. Push that split down a little bit more with each stroke. When you get to 500m left, let loose. Everything you got left goes into that 500. Find your rhythm and sustain it. Don’t back off. A 1:55 split hurts just as much as a 1:57 – the only difference is that you’re done sooner.

Novice Q&A Racing Rowing

Question of the Day

I’m a novice rower and I’m racing in my 1st head race this weekend, any tips? I’m freaking out!

Don’t freak out … that’s tip #1.

Get some sleep

It is CRUCIAL that you get an adequate amount of sleep the night before your race. You can’t expect to be prepared to row your hardest if you only get 3-4 hours of sleep. Aim for at least eight.

Eat a good breakfast

If your race is in the morning, this can be tricky because you want to give your body enough fuel but you also don’t want to eat too much too soon before your race. If you eat a big meal too close to race time, all the blood that should be going to your muscles will instead be going to your stomach to help digest all that food. 2-3 hours before race time eat a small meal, such as a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of toast, a handful of strawberries, and some OJ. If you can’t eat that far ahead, try to eat something like a bagel and cream cheese an hour or two beforehand. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water too.


Save your energy. Don’t be walking around a lot before your race. An hour or so before you’re supposed to meet at your boat, find a quiet spot near your trailer/tent and just chill. Throw in some headphones and relax.

Check your seat

Are your shoes tied in? Are the nuts and bolts on your rigger tightened? What about the seat tracks? Are they clean? (If not, the seat won’t slide smoothly and you can jump the tracks). Your coach or coxswain will go through and do a once over before the boat launches, but if you’ve already looked at your seat and know something needs adjusted, it will get done that much faster.

Remember your technique

The more tired you get, the better your technique needs to be. The more tired you get, the more focused you need to become. That’s when injuries happen, when rowers start rowing with poor technique. When you feel like slouching, sit up a little taller. When you feel like hunching over, push your shoulders back. One of my favorite things to tell my 8+ is to not let your brain defeat your body. Your body is capable of SO much more than we think it is and you are hardly ever as tired as you think you are.

Let your coxswain do her thing

Head races are for coxswains. It’s basically like Mario Kart come to life. It’s going to be hectic, crowded, frantic, confusing, and at times a total clusterfuck. If she knows the cardinal rule of coxing (don’t let ‘em see you sweat), you won’t know when she’s freaking because the eight in front of her isn’t yielding or because she’s totally confused by the warm-up area and the horde of boats clogging the traffic lane. Don’t try and tell her what to do or how to do her job. When you’re done racing, make sure you tell her she did a good job too and you appreciate her getting you from point A to point B.

Good luck!

Novice Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

I have practice tomorrow and I really have trouble squaring up on time. I always tell myself to gradually start squaring up at half slide but I’m always behind everybody else. I also try to follow the person in front of me but I’m always a millisecond behind everybody else. I’m a girl and this is my first season of rowing! I’m so embarrassed so please help me!!

I’d ask your coach when he/she wants you to start squaring up and when you should be squared by. This will give you a time frame to work with and eliminates the whole “when should I start squaring/when should I be squared by” problem that a lot of novices encounter. It’s going to take a lot of concentration before you start squaring up naturally at the right spot without having to think about it (but once you do it becomes second nature). As soon as you get on the water, make that your priority for the day. When you’re sitting at the finish, remind yourself “finish, release, arms away, bodies over, start to square, fully square, catch” on every stroke. If you have to say it to yourself or in your head every time you take a stroke, do it.

If you’re starting at half slide, that is probably what’s throwing you off. When I teach novices to square, I generally have them start squaring when they get to bodies over so that by half slide they’re fully squared and ready for the catch. It’s possible that you’re behind because you’re starting at half slide, while everyone else is starting somewhere between arms & bodies and half slide. They’re starting a millisecond ahead of you, which is why you feel a millisecond behind. Ask for clarification from your coach as to where they want to see you start squaring up and then focus really hard on doing it every stroke.

College Novice Q&A Rowing Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! I go to a D1 school and our rowing program is supposed to be really good and any woman can walk on. If you can stay with it, you’re on the roster. I spent this past summer learning to row, and stroked my first regatta (novice masters women’s 8) early September with my local boathouse. I’m upset right now though. My skill and athleticism level is at the bottom of the recruits and the walk-ons. And I’m having trouble making friends with either group. How do I assimilate and what do I do?

Why do you think you’re having trouble? Is it because there’s an age difference between you and them or is it something else? My advice would be to just strike up a conversation and see how it goes. Talk about practice – how’d their boat do today, what drills did they do, how’d it go, etc. Ask about classes – are they taking anything interesting, what are their professors like, etc. Talk about why they decided to do crew. What’s motivating them to stick with it? Discuss your annoying roommates or the weird people that live in your dorm. This is a great ice breaker because you’ll end up having some kind of weird pissing contest to see who has the roommate or hall-mates with the most annoying habits, weirdest quirks, etc. It’s a good way to get everyone talking because even if you’ve only been on campus for a week, you’ll already have at least one story to share.

Is your skill level and athleticism REALLY below the recruits and walk-ons or do you just perceive it that way? What are you basing that off of? The recruits are going to be better than the walk-ons because they’ve been rowing for 3-4 years already – they were recruited for a reason. If you just learned to row this summer, you’ve only been rowing for … what … 4 months, max? It’s like comparing a major leaguer with a minor leaguer. The major league player has years of experience whereas the minor leaguer has a few years of high school, maybe college experience. The two are incomparable because their experiences are different. The minor leaguer is still learning, similar to you and the other walk-ons.

I know when I first started in college, the walk-ons were all terrible. I can’t believe that your skill level is lower than theirs if you spent all summer learning to row and have already stroked an 8+. Has your coach given you some kind of indication that you’re not up to par? If he/she has, I would talk to them and get some clarification. Tell them what’s bothering you and ask for advice. If they’re a good coach, you should feel comfortable talking to them and they should in turn be able to help you out with any questions you have.

As far as your athleticism, that’s something you can work on on your own without everyone else around. Go to the gym, hit the ergs, hit the bikes, lift weights, go swimming, etc. and work on your strength and endurance. It’s a fantastic way to get out your aggression and frustrations, trust me. If you don’t want to do something by yourself, see if your rec center offers group Pilates classes and then ask some of the other girls on the team if they’d like to go with you. Pilates is awesome for building a strong core, which is something you need in order to be a successful rower. Afterwards, go grab a coffee and just sit and chat. Two birds, one stone.

I’m sure you’re doing better than you think you are. Give yourself credit – most people wouldn’t do what you did over the summer. That shows commitment and an honest desire to be a part of the team. Talk to your coaches or some of the older varsity members and ask for some advice. They’ve ALL been in the position you’re in right now and might be able to share some of their experiences.

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.