Coxing Novice

Coxswain skills: Running a smooth practice

There’s a lot of things you can do to make yourself invaluable to your team and one of the highest ones on the list (top five, easily) is being able to run a smooth practice. Since most of us are only a few days into the fall semester and haven’t been on the water too many times yet, now is when you should be communicating with the other coxswains and coaches about how practices are gonna run this year so that you can maximize the amount of time you have on the water. Varsity coxswains, you should be familiarizing the new coxswains on your team with whatever your “best practices” are for running/managing practice so that they’re up to speed and can start getting used to the way things work on your team (rather than trying to figure it out on their own because they’re afraid they’ll look stupid if they ask).

Below are some quick bullet points on what you should be doing on a daily basis to ensure practice runs efficiently. I’ve touched on or elaborated on several of these in a variety of previous posts so if you want to check those out you can visit the “practice management” tag.

Have a practice plan before you launch

If you don’t know what the plan is, ask your coach. Ideally if/when possible you should arrive a few minutes before the rest of the team so you can talk have a few uninterrupted minutes with your coach to go over what you’ll be doing that day and ask any questions you have. The practice plan should entail where you’re meeting once you launch (especially important if multiple crews are going out together), the primary focus/purpose of whatever drills you’ll be doing (this is a good opportunity to get clarification on how the drill is executed if you’re unsure or unfamiliar with it), what pieces you’ll be doing, and anything in particular from the last few days of practice that you should be watching for or carrying over (i.e. incorporating in the technical work you did yesterday into your calls during the steady state piece today).

If you’re going out with another crew, keep the boats together

Communication with the other coxswains is imperative so that you’re not getting too far ahead or behind or drifting away from each other. From a pure safety standpoint, your coach should be able to see you in his direct line of vision if he’s behind both crews in the launch – one of you shouldn’t be 300m to the left of the launch and the other 100m to the right. It’s impossible to actually watch the crews and coach when the boats are really spread out so make it a priority to work together and communicate so that you know where the other is pointed. If you’re doing drills or something and one crew gets really far ahead or behind, know what the protocol is for that – does your coach want you to keep going, if you’re really far ahead do they want you to drop the drill and replace it with a pause so the other crew can catch up, if you’re the one behind do they want you to row continuously at 3/4 pressure until you catch up and then continue on with the drill … etc. All that stuff needs to be ironed out and communicated amongst the coxswain corps before you launch. Ideally it should be a start-of-the-season “this is how we’re gonna handle XYZ situation” type of conversation but it never hurts to discuss it amongst yourselves again each time you go out together.

Shut up

You would be amazed how much you learn and accomplish when you stop. talking. The mic is a privilege, not a right. Listen to your coach, don’t be having side conversations when they’re trying to coach (adjusting your point and other safety issues are obviously the exception to the rule), and whatever calls you’re making, make sure they’re something that will have a positive effect on the rowers and the boat. That especially applies to novice coxswains. You do not have to and should not talk for the entire practice. There’s a lot that has to be learned and understood before your calls will be effective so don’t be afraid to just focus on your steering and soak in the knowledge bombs your coach is dropping throughout practice. You’ll pick up the nuances of coxing a lot faster that way.

Be in control

Safety is your first priority. Think out your actions before you do them and always be looking and thinking ahead of where you currently are. Follow directions but don’t pass go, do not collect $200 if you don’t understand what you’re being asked to do. You’ll save more time asking for clarification than you will by making assumptions. Make your calls clear and concise, communicate commands immediately, (i.e. when your coach says “OK let’s get started”, don’t spend 30 seconds monologuing to the crew about whatever you’re about to do before you actually say “sit ready”), and speak with authority. Own your fuck ups as soon as they happen and move on. You will make mistakes and that’s fine, just don’t make the same one twice and don’t be that person that says “it wasn’t my fault”. It might not have been but it’s your crew, your equipment, etc. and you’re the coxswain, thus whatever it is is your responsibility.

Ultimately a smooth practice is a collaborative effort between you, the other coxswains, and your coach(es), which means a) you’ve all got to be on the same page and b) you’ve gotta be able to adapt at a moment’s notice if/when something changes or derails the original plan. This is where being in control and maintaining your composure can really make you stand out in a positive way, not just to your coach but your crew as well. “How do I earn my boat’s respect” is a frequent question that I get asked and one piece of that 1000 piece puzzle is being able to do all the things above really well.

Image via // @bill.bcqt

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