Hi! I’ve been coxing in high school for 3 years and coxed Head of the Charles last year with my school team. This year however, I was told that I am going to cox an international team that had done well last year. I do not really know anything about them and I will only have the day before the race to practice with them. I was wondering if you had any advice about what I should do to prepare. Thank you!
That’s pretty cool, albeit definitely nerve-wracking. Your best bet would be to reach out to them via email (somebody has to have the contact info for one of the rowers) to introduce yourself and get a sense of their experience levels, if they already have a race plan in mind (or at the very least, certain things they want to do at specific points along the course), what they’ve been doing during practice, etc. The four I’ve coxed the last three years is from the PNW so I stay up to date with what they’ve been doing through an email chain that generally starts sometime in the late spring. Once we meet up to practice that Friday morning before HOCR, I’ve usually already got a good idea about what they want to do so all I’ve gotta do is fill in the gaps based on whatever I see/feel during that 90 minute practice. It’s definitely an unconventional approach but as long as you communicate beforehand, even if it’s only over a couple emails, you’ll pretty much have all the info you need to have a decent race.
If for whatever reason you can’t connect over email or Skype or whatever, just plan on asking those same questions before you launch. I get why coxswains are nervous about going out with a crew they’ve never met before but your job is still the same (steer effectively, don’t hit anything, etc.) so all you’ve really gotta do is just execute whatever practice/race plan they give you. And if they don’t have a plan (which is unlikely but still possible), just say “This is what I did when I raced here last year and it worked really well for us, are you guys open to trying it today and then we can tweak it if necessary once we’re back on land?”. That’s basically my go-to whenever I’ve encountered that situation and the crews are usually happy to default to what I’ve done in the past with minimal adjustments to fit the current lineup.
It’s highly unlikely you’re gonna have to come up with any sort of plan solely on your own though, which I think is what trips a lot of coxswains up. Nor should you, since you know nothing about them. Either they’ll already have something they want to do that they’ve been doing for awhile or you can just default to something you’ve done previously. When you’re jumping in a boat like this nobody expects “perfection” the way our actual crews do so don’t think too hard about all this.
Since you mentioned that they’re an international crew, I’m assuming there’s not a language barrier of any kind but even still, the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you use the terminology they are most familiar with when it comes to basic stuff like port vs. starboard, calling for them to stop or hold water, etc. I know in some places it’s more common to say “easy” or “easy oars” instead of weigh enough, port/starboard are more frequently referred to as “stroke side” and “bow side” outside the US, etc. I talked to a coxswain last year who collided with another crew on the course because the people she was coxing didn’t immediately process that when she said “ports, ease off” she meant stroke side (or whatever one it is, I really don’t know…) and when she said “weigh enough, hold water” she meant hard stop.
Related: Head of the Charles