Tag: calls

HOCR: My race plan

Coxing Racing

HOCR: My race plan

Previously: Getting to the starting line || Steering through the bridges || Landmarks along the course || Steering around the turns || Race plans

This is the general race plan I’ll be using on Saturday for my race.

From starting line thru BU Bridge: High 20 + lengthen 10

Out of Magazine Beach to start Powerhouse: 10 to start the stretch, maybe another 10 if we’re close to another crew to try and make a move

River Street: 5 to jump on the top 1/4 of the slide

Western Ave: 5 to squeeze into the finish

Weeks Bridge: 5 out of the turn to lengthen back out, regain seconds in the flat

Anderson: 20 out of turn to lengthen back out, regain seconds in the flat

Before the start of the Eliot turn: Focus, get ready to go

Eliot: 20 under the bridge, driving for the Belmont-Winsor dock

Last turn: 10 if necessary (i.e. we’re close to another crew)

Start of the docks: 5 to build, sprint to the end

Stay up to date with future HOCR-related content by checking the “Head of the Charles” tag.

Image via // Navy Blazer Club

Coxing Drills Q&A

Question of the Day

Today during practice we just did 20 minute pieces of steady state rowing. My crew gets bored very quickly and their stroke rating goes down, so I decided to add in various 13 stroke cycles throughout the piece, but I regret doing it because it wasn’t steady state. I’m just confused as to how to get them engaged throughout without sounding like a cheerleader but at the same time keeping up the drive and stroke.

Steady states are kind of a catch 22 because while they have many purposes, rowers can get bored and complacent WAY too easily. Coxswains can also get bored – it’s something I’m definitely guilty of. Below is what I do to alleviate that and keep myself (and the crew) focused.

Best piece of advice is to break the piece into chunks. If you’re doing 20 minutes, break it into 5 four-minute chunks. Each of the first four chunks focuses on something different, such as leg drive/getting a good first jump, body swing, catch timing/clean releases, and lengthening out while maintaining a steady pressure. The final chunk focuses on combining all of those things to make the cleanest, most efficient strokes possible. During each chunk, spend 2 minutes talking and 2 minutes NOT talking. Before you start, explain the plan. “Guys, we’ve got 20 minutes ahead of us. We’re going to break it down into five four-minute chunks and focus on something different during each of those four minutes. I’ll spend a few minutes talking and a few minutes not talking. When I’m not talking, I want you to think about what we’ve been working on and try and apply the changes. Don’t use that time to zone out – stay in the zone and keep the focus in the boat, in your seat.”

(Note: all of this is a lot wordier – exponentially so – than I’d normally be in the boat. That’s just for the sake of explaining what I’m getting at here. It should be fairly obvious what you can cut back on and make more concise.)

1st minute

“Ok, so let’s spend this first chunk working on our timing at the catch and finish. Let’s clean it up and focus on getting our blades in at our longest points, not lunging for the catch, and keeping our hands, shoulders, and chins level. At the finish, let’s think about getting our layback, knowing where the proper layback spot is, and making sure we’re giving ourselves plenty of room to tap down at the release. This is going to rely a lot on our handle heights, so that should be a secondary focus of this first four minutes. I really want you guys to concentrate on just the catches and finishes. Let’s maximize that horizontal rotation out towards the rigger and minimize the unnecessary vertical movements coming into the catch.  Let’s go into this minute knowing what we need to work on, seeing how the boat feels, and let’s make some initial adjustments. We’ll go … on this one.”

2nd minute

Don’t talk. Take note of everything that’s going on. What were the immediate noticeable improvements? What happened to the set? What did you notice from the individual blades? What got better, what still needs work? Is someone getting their blade caught at the release? Why? Do you know how to tell them to fix it? Can you hear one sound going into the water or several? Ask your stroke if he/she feels any rush. How bad is it?

3rd minute

“Ok guys, our catches are at about 75%. They’re not perfect, but they’re not terrible either. We’re pulling over to port as we come to the finish – 4-seat, I noticed your blade is getting caught on nearly every release and that seems to be when the boat gets the most tippy. Lay back, make sure you’re not pulling into your lap. Think about where your hands are coming into on your body and try and hit that same spot every time. Let’s listen for the sound of the oars going in the water together on this next minute – one sound here. Let’s we squeeze into the finish, hold the blades in as long as possible, and keep the pressure on all the way through. Our stroke rate should be at about an 18, so let’s control our slides coming up to the catch and get a good press going back to the finish. Think about accelerating the blade through the water during the stroke – starting the catch at about 50% pressure, finishing around 75%. I want to feel the acceleration and I want to see the adjustments on timing. Let’s clean it up. Focus is really good guys. Let’s take another silent minute and really laser in on making these improvements. We’ll go … on this one.”

4th minute

Right away, what adjustments/improvements did you notice? Look at the individual blades you talked to during that last minute – are they better or worse? Why? What adjustments can you tell they made?

The last 15 seconds of the 4th minute and the first 15 seconds of the next chunk should be spent briefly talking about what you noticed on that last minute. Improvements you saw, what got better, individual achievements, etc. Be enthusiastic if there was a BIG change. “4, that looked SO much better – could you tell how much cleaner that was? Really nice adjustments, keep it up.” This shouldn’t be long and drawn out – you only have 30 seconds. Keep it to short, quick bullet points. Use this time for positive things, not negative. If you use that time for negative points, they’ll not only think they just wasted all that time, but they’ll also dread the next chunk because they’ll anticipate you being negative and ONLY harping on what is wrong or needs fixed. Be positive. You can throw in constructive criticism as necessary during your two minutes of talking time, but keep it to only one or two things. Focus on what they’re doing WELL. Play into their psyche – positivity breeds positive outcomes and better responses overall from your crew.

Begin the next chunk of time the same way. “Alright, we just spent four minutes working on clean catches and finishes. Let’s keep those adjustments in our minds, but transition our focus to our leg drive and getting a good press on the foot stretchers as soon as we lock on.” Repeat this process for each chunk.

When you get to the last four minutes, you can talk the whole time. Utilize the entire four minutes to praise the shit out of them and make note of all the adjustments. Say something like:

“OK guys, we’ve got 16 minutes down, 4 minutes left. We’ve made a lot of great improvements over those 16 minutes – now is where we apply all of them and really get this boat moving. Let’s sit up a little taller, get our chins a little higher, and hold our cores a little tighter. Keep the stroke rate where it is, but let’s bump up the pressure 10% – on this one – little more through the water. THERE WE GO, good! Now, let’s think about those catches and releases (one or two points that improved during the first chunk). I know you guys all felt the boat start to move a little better when we really focused on our swing – let’s keep that up. Think about our bodies, are we moving together out of bow, are we moving at the same speed, are we getting our bodies over or are we just hunching our shoulders? Relax the upper bodies, no tension. Keep the bodies calm and our minds aggressive. Get a good JUMP with the feet, press with the toes. Keep those toes connected to the stretchers the whole time. Don’t lose that connection. Push, send. Push, send. Can you guys feel the boat running? Let’s feel that impulse together now, pushing the legs down together – YES! – on every stroke. Let’s stay long, not shortening up our strokes – we still want to catch at our longest point and make sure we finish laying back, keeping the blade in the whole time. We’re at a 19 right now, let’s keep it here, no higher than this. Keep the bodies long, PRESS, accelerate through. Guys, I can really feel all the adjustments we made throughout the first 16 minutes. The boat’s feeling light, we’re getting a good run, catches are strong, releases are clean, feet are staying connected – this is where we win races, right here. THIS. This is why we do this. As our technique improves, we’re shaving seconds off our times. Nobody should be taking any strokes off – no passengers, everyone driving. Let’s keep the focus on for these last few minutes, make sure we’re all still breathing and watching our bodies. No slouching or sinking into our hips. Keep the core tight, sit up tall. Let’s laser focus in here … together … now.”

During the last few minutes, throw in some 10s or 20s intermittently to not only shave off the time you have left, but to also put EVERYTHING into play. Take a 10 for catches, 5 for clean releases, and then when you’ve got 30-40 seconds left, take a strong 20 to really lengthen out and finish strong.

If you know the day before that tomorrow is going to be a steady state piece, ask your coach what he wants to focus on. Ask him for a couple things and then write out a practice plan in your notebook of what you want to do, focus on, etc., that way you can remember everything you want to say/do during the piece. That kind of preparation not only helps keep practice efficient, it also shows your coach/teammates that you’re taking your job seriously which can/will earn you a lot of respect.

Coxing Drills Q&A Rowing Technique

Question of the Day

Hi there!! I’m a fellow coxswain for my university’s junior varsity team but I’m fairly new at being a cox. My rowers tend to be sloppy with their catches and releases, they also skip their oars on the water when they feather, and start losing energy during their 6th out of 8th 13 stroke cycle. Do you have any advice I can use? I really want to help them but they’re just so stubborn sometimes, argh! Thanks for any help!

When you notice the strokes starting to get sloppy, pay closer attention and see if you can figure out when it starts. Are they sloppy all the time on a consistent basis or is it only during the last 20 or 30 strokes of a long piece that they start to get sluggish? Ask your coach what he/she sees and make note of it. Ask the boat when they start to notice it. When do you notice it? This can help you with the calls you make to correct it. If they’re being sloppy right from the get-go then it’s usually a focus thing but if they’re getting sloppy towards the end of a piece, they’re usually tired and that’s why their technique is starting to falter.

You want to get the catches in at the longest part of the stroke – do they know where their longest point is? A good trick to helping them get that length is to have them sit in the boat (while you’re on the dock) fully compressed at the catch. Then take a regular drinking straw and tape it to the gunnel. It gives them a point to aim for on every stroke so that they know when they hit that straw, they’ve reached their catch, so all they need to do is lift the hands and drop the blades in. I’ve also had coaches put tape on the tracks so that when the rowers feel their seat hit that bump, they’ll know they’ve reached their full compression/max length.

Catch placement drills are great for working on the timing of catches. Basically, you call the catch, usually starting from the finish, and the rowers go to the catch, the goal being to all enter the water at the same time. They do NOT take a full stroke…they only go to the catch. Once they’ve gone to the catch you can say “Ok, back to the finish” and they’ll pull their blades out of the water and go back to the finish. This drill is stationary, so you should not be moving. When you do this drill, listen for that “plop” sound when the oars enter the water. That’s going to tell you more about what the timing is like than just watching the blades. Have the rowers listen for it too.

Here’s an example of how its done.

Another thing is to make sure they’re not starting the legs before their blades are in the water. If the blades aren’t in before the legs go down, not only are you missing a ton of water but you’re also going to have a really sloppy entry. Call the catches for five to ten strokes (going off your stroke’s oar) and then start transitioning the call to “lock, sssend” or “push, sssend” where the “lock” or “push” is that point when they all enter the water and the “sssend” is on the recovery after they’ve taken the stroke.

To clean up the releases, remind them to squeeze into the finish, meaning to keep pressure on the drive through the WHOLE stroke. Releases get sloppy when the pressure comes off coming into the finish. Calling for an acceleration into the finish (starting the catch at 50% pressure, finishing at full pressure or something along those lines) forces them to get good layback and work on clean extractions. Also remind them to tap the handle down. I don’t know why so many rowers forget to do this and then complain about not being able to get their oars out of the water. If you’re not tapping down, the boat’s going to go off set and you’re going to have a harder time getting it out because you’re trying to move the handle away at the same height you’re drawing it in. It doesn’t work like that.

Going off of that, the set will effect the cleanliness of the catches and finishes too. Remind them where their handle heights need to be and where they need to pull into (typically when laying back properly, the belly button is where they should be pulling into).

If their blades are dragging on the water this is almost entirely a handle heights issue because it means the oar handle is being carried too high. Tell them on the next stroke to get their HANDS down (make sure they know the difference between their hands and the blades – you have no idea how many people don’t recognize the difference) and lift the blades off the water.

On strokes where the boat is set and all the blades are off the water, point that out and say “Yea guys, that’s it … did you feel how smooth and clean that stroke was? THAT is what we’re going for.” If you show enthusiasm when they do something right it shows them that you’re paying attention, you’re invested, and you see the changes they’re making. They’re much more likely to respond to excitement like this vs. negative comments like “Come on guys, this looks terrible. Get the hands down and stop dragging the blades.” It’s easy to get frustrated but you have to quell that frustration in order to help the boat get better.Challenge them – “How many strokes can we go with the hands down and blades up? Let’s go for 5 strokes.” If you can get five strokes, great – next time go for seven. If you present them with a challenge, most likely they’ll accept it.

Remind them of the simple physics of rowing – every time their blade drags across the water, they’re slowing the boat down. The reason you feather the blades and keep them off the water is because it slices through the air and helps the boat maintain the speed you just created on the drive. If your blades are on the water, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary drag and the energy you just put into the drive to build the speed up is partially wasted if you’re just going to slow the boat down on the recovery.

Losing energy towards the end of long/hard workouts isn’t uncommon but they just have to stay focused and not just go through the motions when they get tired. The more steady state you do the more your endurance will improve but that’s only gonna take you so far. The focus and intent has to be there too. They can’t be stubborn – remind them of that. If they truly are committed to the sport, to individual improvement, and to helping the boat get faster, they’ll put their stubbornness aside and listen to you and your coach. Humility goes a long way in the sport of rowing. Talk to the rowers and find out from their perspective what is happening in the boat. Have your coach video you one day and then spend some time going over it with your crew. Point out different things to them so they can see what they’re doing. They might not realize that they’re doing something wrong until they actually see it.

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 1

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 1

My suggestions for listening to these is to have a pen and piece of paper with you so you can write down good calls you hear, try and figure out why the coxswain made those calls, and then find a way to implement them with your own crew. Don’t take any call and use it if you don’t know why the previous coxswain said it. Part of making good calls is knowing WHY those calls are good. How to they help your crew? Are they motivational or technical? What part of the stroke does the call apply to?

If you can answer all those questions, then take that call and try it out with your crew. Not every call is going to work with every crew so it’s up to you to discuss after practice with your coach and rowers whether or not they responded to that call or not. Don’t be offended if they say it didn’t do anything for them. Ask them why and then tweak it a little. Fine tune it and eventually you’ll find the combination of words that really gets in your rowers heads.

Pete Cipollone 1997 Head of the Charles men’s Champ 8+

Above is a 15 minute clip that starts about 30 seconds before the start of the race and ends just after they cross the finish line. If you want to listen to the whole 27 minute recording that includes getting to the starting area, staging, etc., as well as read along with a transcript of the race, you can check that out over on row2k.

This recording is basically the gold standard when it comes to … pretty much everything. Calls, tone, execution, engaging individual rowers throughout the piece, it’s all on point here.

Because there are so many turns on the Charles you can go from having a headwind on one part of the course to a crosswind on another, so it’s good to know what the wind is doing and where those trouble spots are so you can prepare the crew for it before you get hit with any gusts. Watching for the ripples on the water is a good indication of when the wind is coming but sometimes that’s tough to do with everything else that’s going on so knowing ahead of time where you might get encounter it will make it easy for you to incorporate the applicable technical calls (i.e. sit up into a head wind, hold the finishes in a tailwind, etc.) into your race plan. You can hear Pete do this at 15:53 where he says “here comes a headwind, sit up and drive…”.

Around 17:37 as they’re coming under River St. in the Powerhouse Stretch he calls for them to make their first commitment under the bridge. I’m a big fan of this move (I’ve appropriated it in some way into nearly every race plan I’ve had throughout my career), not just because I think it’s more effective than a power ten but because of the way he calls it. I usually save this call (if I can) for when we’re under a bridge because I think hearing a guttural, drawn out call like that echo around you just reiterates the importance of the commitment. It’s a great call but one to be used sparingly during a race if you want to maintain its effectiveness.

At 19:19 he says “we’re in the quiet, good time to walk away”, which is another call I’ll use from time to time during head races if we’re in a relatively straight stretch without a lot of people or other crews nearby. It’s a good opportunity to refocus everyone and take advantage of the clean water to make up a few seconds or continue building your lead.

As they’re weaving through the Weeks – Anderson stretch you’ll hear him prep the crew by saying which side the turn is to and who’s driving that turn, i.e. next turn to port, starboards drive it around. This is a good habit to get into so the crew knows what’s coming and can make the adjustment for the set as you go on the rudder around the turn.

Another thing he does throughout (but especially in the last 1000 meters) is telling the crew where they are on the course. In the last thousand meters he points out 1000 to go, 500, 350, 250, last 20, and last 5. You must be able to do this, regardless of whether this is your first time on the course or your seventeenth. Use a map, pay attention to the markers and landmarks when you’re out practicing, etc. so the crew isn’t going through the entire race wondering how much is down and how much is left.

Other calls I liked:

“One part drive, attack…”

“Take that handle with you and attack it…”

“Now is where you fucking hang tough…”

“Do not sit, do not quit…”

“I got the course…”

(After they’ve crossed the finish line) “Good piece, keep fuckin’ rowing…”

Upper Thames Rowing Club 2011 Head of the River

One of the standout things from this recording was how he worked his tone throughout the piece. Tonal changes can make a huge difference and you can kinda see that when he says “walk away NOW”, the crew responds and the intensity heightens.

“Speed the hands up, don’t panic on it, relax” is a great call because when you tell the rowers to speed something up or do something quicker, there’s always that tendency or possibility that they will lose some slide or body control, so throwing in “don’t panic, relax” is a great way to remind them to keep the bodies controlled.

Alongside him pointing out the distance to the next crew in front of him, another thing to take note of is how he navigates through the crews they’re passing. There’s no unnecessary shouting at other coxswains or panic in his voice – he stays pretty calm and communicates exactly what needs to be said in a way that lets the crew know that he’s still in control of their race and his course.

Towards the end he says “Do you wanna beat the first eight or not?”, which I liked but it’s a call that has to be used with caution because it can easily come out wrong and make you look like a huge dick. Tone is key here and said any other way it would just come out as you whining or being antagonistic but the way he says it is perfect. You can tell he’s saying it with the goal of igniting that last little bit of fire in them as they close in on the finish line.

Other calls I liked:

“Hang it through…”

“Bodies over, hold the knees…

“Legs sit back…

“Each man commit to the catch now…”

You can find and listen to more recordings by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page.