Next week is our last week on the water and then after that – it’s winter training time, baby.
A common question I get around this time of year is how to become a better coxswain when you’re stuck on land for 3-5 months. (For starters, scroll through the “winter training” tag.) It definitely requires a bit of creativity and a lot of initiative, particularly when it comes to improving and refining your technical eye. I’ll be the first to admit that my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m watching people erg so it takes more effort than usual to get/stay engaged but – and yes, I know this is beating a dead horse – having a loose plan of the skills I wanted to improve always made it easier because I could zero in on specific things to watch/listen for rather than just staring off into the void.
Below are a couple ideas to help you form your own plan for tackling the indoor season.
Get on the ergs
I talked about this in more detail in the post linked below so definitely check that out but when you’re off the water (and even when you’re not), one of the best ways to develop an understanding of the stroke so that you’re able to effectively coach the rowers from inside the boat is to get on the ergs or in the tanks with them. Nobody cares about your splits and nobody cares if you’re not as good as the top people on your team but you do have to take it seriously. Don’t be that coxswain that gets on the erg and just screws around because “haha I’m a coxswain, I’m so weak, I have no idea what I’m doing…”. Nobody thinks it’s funny, it annoys literally everyone that’s trying to do something productive, and it does nothing to help you earn the respect of the people in your boat.
Related: Coxswains, get on the erg
Listen to your coach
Don’t just hear what they’re saying – actually listen to and process it. Winter is a great time for note taking for this exact reason because there’s just so much content available right at your fingertips. Everything the coaches say is fair game, from the pre-practice run down when they’re laying out the workout, the goals for each piece, what the focus and takeaways are, etc. to what they’re saying when they get up right behind someone and are pushing them to get their splits on track. The former helps you develop and understand the nuances of the training you’re doing and the latter helps you go from a coxswain who says “get those splits down!” to one who says “alright Sam, sit up and find your length at the front end, get that 1:43 back now on this one…”.
Listening to what’s being said is half the work. You can easily – easily – fill up a page in your notebook with calls and things you’ve heard over the course of a single practice but before you start saying the same things yourselves, you’ve gotta make the connection between what the coaches are saying/asking for and what the rowers are actually doing. Our phones make this so simple now too because you can isolate each part of the stroke into 1-2 second slow-mo clips and really analyze what you’re seeing and how the feedback they’re getting initiates or impacts the changes they make. (Couldn’t do that in the dark days before iPhones, circa the early to mid 2000s).
Learn how to call drills effectively
This was a mandatory part of winter training for the coxswains when I was in high school – we’d frequently do the same technical drills on the ergs that we’d do on the water and the coxswains were responsible for their execution. I remember being super intimidated when I initially had to do it but one of the varsity coxswains and said they all sucked and had no idea what to say the first few times they did it but this exercise is what helped them get comfortable coxing everyone on the team (not just their normal rowers) and allowed them to test run different calls, tones, ways of executing the drill, etc. with minimal backlash if something went wrong. I’ll say the same to you guys too – we all sucked at this stuff when we first started. None of us knew what to say and the stuff we did say made us cringe because we thought it sounded stupid AF. Persisting through and past the urge to crawl inside yourself is such a necessary part of this though – if you can do it on land, you can definitely do it on the water where and when it counts the most.
In addition to improving the call and tone side of drill execution, actually learning the purpose of the drill, what your coach is trying to accomplish by doing them, the important things to watch for, etc. were also a key component of this. Combine that with actually getting on the ergs and going through the drills yourself helps you improve your ability to explain what it should feel like to the rowers. “Hang your weight off the handle” might not always make sense to someone but “you wanna feel the lats engage as the blade enters the water and the leg drive begins” gives a bit more clarity to an otherwise arbitrary call. This is especially important if you’re coxing novices or other less-experienced rowers. In the more senior boats, attention to detail like that can be a difference-maker throughout the season when it starts to be less about how powerful you are and more about how well you move the boat.