Category: Racing

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!

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.