Something I really like about these recordings is how sitcom-y they feel. You know how in any show things start off fine and then something happens but then at the end things are good again, if not better? That’s what these pieces are like – the first one was alright, the second piece not great, and the third is where they make some changes and it all comes together. We’ve all had practices like that but this is the first set of recordings I’ve come across where you can actually hear and feel how the pieces ebb and flow throughout the practice. If you struggle with how to call practice pieces (i.e. how to find that balance between race-coxing and still maintaining a technical focus), you should definitely make time to check these out and take notes.
University of Washington 3x1500m, Piece #1
At the beginning I like when the coach (Bob Ernst, I think … this would have been his last season with the men before switching to the women’s team) says “try not to make it a tug of war with the upper bodies”. When the water’s not great or there’s a headwind it’s easy to fall into the trap of pulling more than you’re pushing and it can be tough to come up with a way to communicate that (that’s not the same played out “make sure we’re driving with the legs” calls…) so I like the tug-of-war analogy there.
Throughout these pieces you’ll hear Katelin talk a lot about the rate and where to bring it up (the drive) and bring it down (the recovery). If you’re trying to take it up, “a beat through the drive” is the simplest, most straightforward way to communicate that and avoid creating a lot of rush on the recovery. The “through” part of it is kinda crucial too because you want the crew to be accelerating from catch to finish and “through” says that without you having to throw in a bunch of extra words and make the command longer than necessary.
It’s not until they’re sixty seconds into the piece that she first mentions the other crew … and only to say that the other coxswain is taking a move but they’re walking on him as he does it. The next time she mentions them (thirty seconds later) is when she says they’re gonna take a move when she’s next to their bow man … but the move isn’t for the other boat (i.e. to take another seat, get the bow ball, etc.), it’s for them (five for timing, five for the legs) and that is one of the key things about calling pieces in practice like this. Are you “racing” the other boat? Yea sure, but you’ve gotta get your own shit together first if you want to actually be able to race the other boats like you would other crews during an actual race.
She does a really good job of telling the crew where they are and what she wants while keeping the atmosphere calm and focused. They’re racing but she’s keeping them more in tune with what’s happening in their boat instead of constantly calling out the other crew and ignoring the technical issues that you hear her making calls for. THIS is one of those key things that, as a coxswain, the sooner you get it the better – she could have just called this like a normal race and made a third of the technical calls she’s making and the crew might have still finished ahead … but at the end of the day they wouldn’t be any faster. Because of the technical calls she’s making and the way she’s incorporating them into her race strategy, she made them faster that day by being relentless about holding the crew accountable for their strokes. (And now she’s coxing the national team so take from that what you want.)
At around 4:10 you can hear her stroke or 7-seat say “let’s open it up … open water” and then the next series of calls she makes is that ten to get some separation between the two crews. THREE MINUTES AFTER THE START OF THE PIECE and that’s when her boat starts to really race the other one. THREE MINUTES. THREEEE. MINUTESSSS. Her tone intensifies, her calls intensify, and the focus has clearly shifted to walking away. I also really like the call “do not get up and sit up” call she makes towards the end of the ten. They’re not being walked on (yet) but they’re also not walking away either … in that situation they’re the easier target.
6:41 is probably one of my favorite “speeches” I’ve heard a coxswain make in awhile. A lot of coxswains are … for some reason … afraid to say shit like this to their crews but sometimes you really do just need to get on them and say it’s really fucking unacceptable that we – WE – let this happen. This is also a perfect example of the difference between being a bitch and being authoritative and really reiterates the point I was trying to make in the post linked below from November. Next time someone tells you to “be more bitchy” when you’re coxing, this is what they want you to do.
Related: The Bitch in the Boat
University of Washington 3x1500m, Piece #2
The tone of this piece is a little different because they lost a length at the end of the last piece so they’re fired up and planning on going hard right off the line to match the other boat. Spoiler alert, this backfires. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that she says “we’re not waiting to make the move” (that’s a great call, especially for situations like this) but as the piece goes on you can hear how that mindset, while good in theory, probably contributed to a lot of the slide control issues they experience. I don’t think you need to spend three minutes waiting to get into race mode on every single piece but at the very least you do have to establish your in-boat presence first (whether that takes ten strokes or two minutes, whatever) before your focus shifts to walking on or away.
At 3:44, I like how she splits up this ten. A lot of coxswains, particularly younger, less experienced ones, will call for a ten and then trail off midway through because whatever they called for didn’t actually need to be ten strokes long whereas here, she calls for a ten but it’s actually two fives that are focused on timing at both the front and back ends of the stroke. This is a much more effective way of matching up the timing without saying “move together”, “watch stroke seat’s blade”, “ten for catch timing”, etc.
Related: All about Power 10s
At 5:11 you can hear her stroke seat yell out “get long, get longer!” and then the next set of calls she makes after she finishes the ten are for length on the slides. Normally if my stroke says something to me or yells something out to the boat when I’m calling a ten (it’s always during bursts) it knocks me out of my bubble for a second and I’ll stutter on the next call because it’s like “wait, what just happened?” … I hate that. I can’t tell if that rattled her focus or not (which is good, obviously) but even if it did, she did a great job of finishing up the ten and then immediately incorporating in calls to reiterate what her stroke said. This is another thing you should talk about with regards to communicating with your stroke. I’m OK with my stroke talking to me (as you hear her stroke doing throughout the pieces) or occasionally yelling things out to the boat but one of the few no-no’s I have is if I’m calling a burst, don’t say anything until we’re done because I just go into a zone when I call those 10s and 20s and them saying something just jolts me out of it. If you don’t like your stroke yelling out to the boat or talking to you when you’re calling 10s or whatever else, make sure you have a conversation with them about that off the water.
Her point at the end about it not being a big deal if they get up a couple seats applies to pretty much any situation with any boat ever. A few seats isn’t a death sentence so long as you regroup and focus your energy through the drive and not on trying to get to the catch faster just so you can get your blade wet again.
University of Washington 3x1500m, Piece #3
Her stroke makes a good point at the beginning about it being the same number of strokes and that they just need to get longer on each one. If you’ve ever done those “how far can you go in X number of strokes” pieces then you’ll get what he’s saying. The crew that controls the slides and accelerates the handles on each stroke is going to be the one that covers more ground and does so more effectively, not the crew that is rowing at the same stroke rate but has lost their ratio in the process.
Compared to the previous piece, you can hear the difference in her tone at the beginning here. It’s pretty similar to those pieces from the last set of recordings where the stakes are high but you know that she knows that the key to her crew’s bow ball being in front at the end is staying calm, focused, and loose right from the start.
At 2:11, that’s the kind of positive reinforcement you should put out there when your crew does something well, particularly the “nice fucking response, that’s the way to get it done” part. Obviously you don’t have to say it exactly like that but you can’t deny that just hearing “nice response” would probably make you sit a little taller and push a little harder on the subsequent strokes. (Also another example of swearing with a purpose.)
2:52, “let ’em know it’s over” … this is one that I would save for just the opportune moment – it’s one of those afterburners calls that just reignites the fire at the end of a piece. I distinctly remember using this call once during a similar workout where we’d been sitting on the other boat for probably 5-7 strokes after having walked up on them about half a length on our previous move to get almost even (we were maybe half a seat to a seat back).This was a crew I knew we could beat (I was in the 2V and we’d been evenly matched with our 1V on the ergs and the water for pretty much the whole season) and I could tell the other crew was getting comfortable with us being beside them, to the point where they thought we were starting to fall apart because our progress on them had stalled. I heard the other coxswain say something to the effect of “show them why YOU’RE the 1V” and my stroke said “fuck that, let’s go” so I called a ten and made the “let ’em know it’s over, go now” call. We ended up finishing two seats up and me, my stroke seat, seven seat, and three seat all got switched into the 1V.
You can find and listen to more recordings by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page.