College Coxing Racing

It’s OK to not be in first place…

…coming off the starting line.

I was watching the NCAA Championships yesterday morning and was pleasantly surprised to see Ohio State dominate the V4+ and 2V races. (You can watch the full replay of yesterday’s races here. The V4+ race is at the 89:51 mark and the 2V race is at 109:11.) When I’m coxing, something that I like to do with my crews is get out ahead immediately. I would much rather defend a lead than work towards it – psychologically I just think there’s less hurdles to overcome when you start in the lead. Plus, it was just one of those things that all the coaches I’ve ever had have taught me. Both of Ohio State’s boats though, despite winning by 3 seconds and 2 seconds respectively, started behind. The V4+ started in fourth place and the 2V started in 3rd. As I was watching the races I noticed something: it seemed like both coxswains were content to not be in front off the line, like not being in first was OK … or something.

This got me thinking – both boats started behind but then dominated the field the rest of the way down the course. Maybe not being in first off the line is OK. By the time the 2V had reached the 500m mark, they were sitting in 3rd place, 0.65 seconds behind first. Right around the 1000m mark (2:45ish into the race), the coxswain made a call that resulted in the boat walking about a deck length in five(ish) strokes. From there, they were gone. Same with the V4+. They started back, worked their way up (effortlessly), and then refused to relinquish the top spot. I’m still a huge proponent of getting your bow in front right away and keeping it there but I also enjoy a good challenge. Being in front means you have a target on your back which only makes it easier for me to hunt you down, one by one by one.

The point is this: patience is everything. Be content to not necessarily be in front but don’t settle for that. When you’re coxing you want to give your crew small, achievable goals throughout the race with the ultimate one being to cross the line first. After the start (the full start, no sooner than 3ooish meters in), find out where you are in relation to the other crews and go from there. If you’re sitting in third, forget about the first place crew. Set your sights on second place and start taking the strokes you need to walk through them. Once you’ve absorbed them, put your focus on the first place crew. Once you’ve gotten through them, put your focus on pushing everyone else back and reeling the line in. Part of the reason why coxswains get frantic at the start when they’re behind is because they put all their energy into walking on the crew that’s way out ahead in first instead of the crew that’s only three seats ahead in second. If you maintain an aggressive composure, your boat will too.

Don’t panic if you don’t start quick off the line. Instead, focus on rowing smarter than the rest of the field and giving your crew all the information you have so they can put together the right combination of solid strokes to get their bow out front. And, like the announcer said during the V4+ race, it’s all about strategy. Some crews just aren’t good off the line but they’ve got a killer middle 1000. This is another spot where knowing your crew’s tendencies will be of huge benefit to you. If I had to throw out a guess, I think this was part of Ohio State’s strategy; come off the line solid but conserve the bulk of their power for the middle, which was where both crews started to break the rest of the field.

Image via // @rbcmsweeps

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Comments (4)

  1. I definitely agree with this post!
    During the spring season, my boat raced another team who had a ridiculously strong start (they’d always be about 6 seats up on everyone else after the sequence). As a novice coxswain, being behind often made me lose my focus and I’d respond to the boat ahead rather than keep control of the situation and race our race. They went undefeated the entire season up until championships. During our final, they started out ahead but we focused on maintaining constant contact with them and making small moves to slowly inch our way up. They stayed about 2/3 seats up at the 250m to go mark until we finally broke them and won with open water. I just wish I learned to take control sooner!

    1. Wow! As a novice coxswain it’s definitely tougher in situations like this because you’re still learning and naturally, I think, you’re going to be a little freaked out if you’re not out front right away. The key though is to focus on moving YOUR boat and like you said, making those small moves to work your way through the other crews.