Coxswain skills: Evaluating practices

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts || How to cox short, high intensity workouts || Race steering || Steering a buoyed course

Raise your hand if after practice your coach, a teammate, your parents, etc. ask “how’d it go?” and you shrug and say “good” for no reason in particular other than nothing disastrous or of note happened. I spent most of my first year or two of coxing doing this before one of the varsity coxswains asked if it was actually good or if I was just saying that because I didn’t know how to actually evaluate a practice. Obviously the latter was the case because I’d just assumed that as long as I didn’t hit anything and the boat had been reasonably set, that’s all there was to a “good” practice.

Related: The four defaults

There’s a ton of different things you could look at to determine how practices went but as a coxswain, here are three you should start with.

Did you make calls throughout practice that reinforced the coach’s technical focus for that day?

Did you make technical corrections that contributed to an increase in boat speed?

An easy way to determine the effectiveness of a technical call is if the boat’s speed picks up within 3-5 strokes and is maintained for 5+ strokes. If you’ve got a SpeedCoach you can determine if your speed is improving by watching for a consistent improvement in splits that is maintained for five or more strokes. If you don’t have a SpeedCoach you can look to see if the boat is running out further between strokes, which is easily determined by watching for an increase in the distance between your puddles.

Did you work towards and/or achieve your personal goals for that day?

Ideally you want to accomplish all of them to some extent but my goal on any given day is to hit two of the three, usually with the priority being reinforcing the technical focus. (If we’re not focusing on something specific that day then I’ll make calls for whatever we did the day before or last week or whenever.) That one is always non-negotiable because it’s like, kind of your job to do that regardless of whatever else is going on.

I don’t always have a personal goal when I go on the water (and if I do it’s usually just making sure I’m steering well) so I’ll try to spend a lot of time watching the blades and relying on boat feel to guide whatever technical calls I’m making, with the goal being to tie in stuff our coach has been saying (to an individual or the crew), maintain what feels good, and/or fix any issues that pop up. That all then obviously falls under the umbrella of hitting our splits when we’re doing steady state or pieces. If those three things are happening then hitting our splits should come easily.

Related: Coxswain skills – Boat feel

Being able to look back at your performance during practice is beneficial to you for a lot of reasons but one that coxswains tend to overlook is that if you’re regularly critiquing yourself and making improvements based off of that, there’s not gonna be a ton of surprises that pop up if/when your team does coxswain evals. It’s always in your best interest to get regular feedback from the rowers but that can’t be the only thing you do to get better. Having an objective eye towards your own coxing has got to be part of the process and that starts with asking yourself these three questions a few times each week.

Image via // @tristanshipsides

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