Tag: calls

Coxswain recordings, pt. 40

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 40

Thames vs. Barge 2015 Henley Royal Regatta Thames Challenge Cup Semi-Final

This coxswain is #goals AF.  Listen and learn because she puts on a clinic here.

This is a great race from the 2015 regatta and a solid example of a style of coxing that most of us in the US aren’t accustomed to. The biggest difference is in how we call the starts. Our style is very regimented most of the time but this style is a little looser and focuses more on the technical side (“nice and loose off the back end”, “let’s start pushing that finish”, etc.) rather than calling out 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full, “complete, complete, lengthen, full” or whatever your traditional starting sequence is.

I’ve called starts like this and I do like it but it requires a lot of focus from the crew because they don’t have you in their ear calling the starting five, power 20, lengthen 5, etc. The coach I did it with always referred to it as a more “mature” way of racing because it forces everyone, coxswain included, to be that much more tuned in to the race plan and what’s happening on each stroke, even if/when it’s not directly being said out loud.

Also, note how at 1:40 she says “here comes the wind”? You can see the texture of the water is different in front of the boat in the subsequent few seconds after she makes that call (in comparison to the calmer water in front of them as they came off the line). If you’re new to coxing or are trying to get a grip on how to alert your crew of where the wind is, this gives you a good visual of what the water will look like as you encounter, in this instance, a headwind. Remember, if it’s blowing towards you, it’s a headwind, if it’s blowing with you it’s a tailwind, and if it’s hitting you at an angle it’s a crosswind.

Related: One of my coaches was a coxswain and I got switched out the last third of practice to be in the launch with her. OMG BEST TIME EVER. Every time I had a question she’d answer it so well! More coxes should become coaches! One thing she was talking about was watching the wind patterns – like the dark patches in the water to let the crew know. I understand the concept, but I’m not really understanding why. Like, I tell them that a wind/wake is coming to prepare them?

The 15 seconds between 2:25 and 2:40 show exactly how you should communicate with your crew during a race, particularly one where you’re down. Her tone is level, she’s calm, she makes calls that keep the crew focused, and she doesn’t give them any reason to worry when she says where they are relative to Barge. She makes the call for “our rhythm”, which is always a great go-to call, and follows it up with calls that emphasize what she wants, not just in their direct meaning but also in how she says and annunciates them. She ends it by saying “they’re just sitting there … let’s start trucking through … we knew we’d be down off the start”, which is a good way of saying we knew this was going to happen, it’s OK but now it’s time to buckle in and get moving. There’s no sense of concern or anything there, which can admittedly be tough to master as a younger coxswain but it’s a skill that can really elevate you from just being mediocre to being good.

That move between 2:50 and 4:10ish is flawless. THAT’S how you make up 2/3 of a length between you and another crew. You can bet too that when she said “half a meter off their stern and they have no idea what the hell happened here”, that’s exactly what they were thinking.

When she slaps the side of the boat as she calls “now” at 5:38, you can see and almost feel the energy in the boat pick up. I’ve seen lots of coxswains do this and have done it myself too but be careful if you do – slamming your wrist into the gunnel hurts like a bitch.

One of the (many) things she does well is giving them super specific position updates – i.e. “we’re a meter and a half off their cox”, “we’re a meter off their bow ball … we’re a foot off their bow ball … bow ballll!”, etc. Don’t underestimate how motivating this is to the crew, especially if you can count it down like she does as they’re coming up on bow to stern.

Crossing the line, “we’re gonna act like this means god damn nothing, they should never have come over here” … like, damn, could you make a more savage call at the end of a race? I aspire to have that much ice in my veins.

She makes a great point though, celebrating wins is fine and normal and whatever but you should have some decorum when doing it too. My coaches always told us to save it for the final. Heats and semis were the battles but the final was the war and you don’t want to look like a dick by shouting, slumping over, etc. just because you won something as inconsequential as a qualifier, no matter how good of a race it was.

Other calls I liked:

“Let’s cruise now, tap it along…”

“In two … next stroke … now…” I like how she calls this. It just sounds crisper than saying “in two, one … two…”.

“You’ve got momentum Thames, we’ve got to keep moving…”

“Gimme five strokes holding the back end through…” Super basic call but she said it so succinctly and didn’t waste any time getting it out – one breath to make a call that that helped them take a seat over those five strokes.

“Hang and send…”

“Keep squeezing me away…”

“Whole crew, sit up now…” Another basic call but I like how assertive she is in calling it and how she gives them direction on when to do it. Little, little details like this add up.

Australia Men’s 8+ training row

This is a long recording (22 minutes) and there’s not much specific that I want to point out, rather I think this is just another good example of how to execute a long row – occasional technical comments but largely letting the rowers feel out the piece and process the changes that need to be made while giving the coach(es) plenty of opportunities to jump in if they have feedback to offer.

This is something you can/should discuss with the crew and your coaches too. I’ve been in boats that hated this much silence between calls and I’ve been in others where this amount of coxing was just right. Similarly, some coaches are content to let you take control and do the majority of the talking/coaching, others want to use this time to provide as much feedback as possible. Both can be annoying for the coxswain because long rows like this require a bit of forethought so you’re not just winging it with your calls but at the same time, it’s really annoying when you get talked over or interrupted every time you go to say something.

Conversations like this will obviously do a lot for making practice more effective but my end game with having them was to just save myself as much hassle and frustration as possible. There’s nothing selfish about that so don’t think you’ll look bad if you bring this up, particularly if dealing with overly talkative coaches on the water is a problem you’ve encountered in the past.

Team USA 2012 M8+ 10 at base pace

This is a quick and simple video that shows the eight going through some strokes at base pace. I don’t think this is Zach Vlahos coxing them so if anyone does know who it is, let me know. (Update: Asked Zach, it’s Ned DelGuercio.)

One thing he does that everyone should do at the end of the piece is say “clean paddle”. Just because you took a few hard strokes doesn’t mean you can row like shit now just because you’re not at pressure. That goes for coming off of longer pieces too. A small dropoff in technique is fine but you should still be at like, 90% when it comes to how proficient your strokes look. Anything less is just lazy.

Also, check out that docking. Drops pairs out on the approach, tells them to watch their oars, when to lean, to watch out for the corner … seriously, if you guys do those four things as effortlessly as he did them, you’re docking will improve tenfold in one practice. None of that is hard either so don’t equate “effortlessly” with the fact that he’s a national team coxswain. If you have functioning eyes and common sense it’ll be just as easy for you as it was for him.

Other calls I liked:

“Stabilize here…” I use this one a lot as a full-stroke call (“stabilize” at the catch, “here” at the finish”) if/when the boat’s off set.

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

Coxswain recordings, pt. 39

College Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 39

University of Washington 3V Practice

First thing you should take note of in this video is how good both the coxing and rowing is … and this is their 3V. Don’t take the attitude of “oh well it’s Washington, of course their 3V is good”. If you want to cox at most Division 1 programs – men or women – you’ve gotta be about this good, give or take, just to get into a lower boat. The youngest or “leftover” coxswain isn’t necessarily the default coxswain for these crews anymore, especially when you’re on a big team.

On your current team there might be competition for a single boat whereas for most teams competing in the grand and petite finals at IRAs or NCAAs, there will be competition for all the boats because there are more coxswains than there are crews. Whatever your “A-game” is now, this audio should be a wake up call that that ceases to be good enough the moment you join a collegiate team. I’m not saying that to freak you out either or make you question your ability to cox in college, I’m just putting it out there because it’s an expectation you need to be aware of and prepared for.

Back to the audio. One of the things I really like is how spaced out her words are. She’s not slowing her speech down or drawing anything out (on the contrary, she’s talking at a pretty normal pace and tone for the majority of the piece) but there’s a crispness and to each of the words that makes understanding her effortless.

I also liked the transition between the high strokes and the stride – the “press long” and “long stretch” calls were a good addition there as they brought the rate down. I say “breathe” a lot too because it’s an easy default call but it’s also easy to get repetitive with so the more alternatives you can come up with (in the vein of “press long and “long stretch“), the more effective you’ll be at initiating or maintaining that stride.

WELLESLEY COLLEGE WV8+ HEAT 2016 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

I coached with Ale this summer and she sent me several of her recordings from her time at Wellesley College where she coxed the 1V to an NCAA title this year. The audio’s a little muffled (I think she said it was in her bag or uni) so it might be a little hard to understand her – just turn the volume up and listen close.

This recording is from their heat and one of the things that immediately stood out was how calm her tone is while still being intense and assertive as fuck throughout the entire race. You can hear that at 1:08 where she says “one seat Amelia, NOW“. Preceding that she does an excellent job of telling them where they’re at (“35, 250 in, sitting on Bates’ 8-man”) and what they’re going to do (“we’re going to stride”) and part of what makes that “NOW” call so effective is how effectively she changes her tone between the two sets of calls. She increases her volume not by yelling but by inflecting the level of intensity she wants to see in the rowers. There’s a huge difference and if you can nail that skill, your worth as a coxswain is gonna go up a lot.

Related: The language of the first 500

Further on in the piece at 4:07, they’re coming off a counter-move and she says “totally neutralized their move, in two let’s swing it back…” to re-establish their pace and rhythm. Calls like this after a move are smart because it’s easy to get a little frantic when you’re countering someone’s move or making one of your own and coming into the last 500m of the race you want to make sure you’re moving as effectively as possible so there’s no unnecessary energy being expended.

Other calls I liked:

“Hook it, move it…”

“We go with our winning rhythm, taking 6-seat of Bates in two…”

“We trust our rhythm, we trust our speed…”

“Sit up across the thousand…”

“One press together, catches in sharper…”

GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MV8+ 2015 PRINCETON CHASE

If you’ve never been to the Princeton Chase, the 30-60 seconds of “light … light … light … pause … continuous, light … etc.” is pretty standard because there are so many boats corralled together in a U-shape along the end of the lake.

One of the things Connor consistently does well is incorporating individual rowers into his calls. You’ll hear him at 2:06 say “calm around the back, right Hugo?”, at 6:06 “Ben, you’re fuckin’ killin’ it…”, at 9:53 “Joey, I like the change man, good shit…”, etc. and that kind of engagement helps get the most out of each of those guys. If you’re just reciting your race plan during a race and only paying attention to stuff outside your gunnels, you’re leaving a lot of free speed on the table.

Related: (Connor swears a lot – I think it’s a non-issue but it is something to be mindful of, especially if you’re a junior coxswain.) I’m trying out for New Trier Novice Rowing in a couple days (go NT! I was super excited to see New Trier in the 8+ Midwest Championships recording!) and wanted to know what the real rules are on swearing in a race. I heard that you can get DQ’d but it is super rare and most coxswains swear anyway. What are your thoughts? 

Once they’ve got everything established, at 3:06 he starts to bring a bit more personality and energy into the piece and makes a call for five to bend the oars and swing back. As I’ve talked about before, primarily in the post linked below, this is how you can/should call a burst in order to get the most out of it. You can hear the energy in his voice before and he engages them by saying “let’s fuckin’ go ham today boys”, which is just way more effective than saying “power 10!” or simply “5 to bend the oars”.

Related: Race skills: All about Power 10s

One thing that I consistently get questions about from coxswains is how to avoid being repetitive and sometimes it’s hard to do, as you can hear at 7:24 when he says “guys, I’m gonna sound like a broken record but we’ve gotta get the blades in”. I love that and don’t see any problem with making a call like that. There’s good repetitiveness and bad repetitiveness and this is a perfect example of how to execute a string of calls in a “good repetitive” way. A big part of why this works is there’s no sense of pleading or franticness in his voice. He says what he sees, just with a more direct sense of urgency, and follows it up with five to sharpen the bladework. He ends it by telling them the changes they made worked and now it’s time to maintain it and move.

Other calls I liked:

“We’re gonna stride it out one beat with a big boom, ready, on … this one GO … BOOM, yea … BOOM, yea…”

“One leg drive, one swing…”

“Tall at both ends…”

“Remember the fundamentals…”

“It’s all us … it’s all us .. it’s gotta be all us…

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

Coxing How To Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi! Recently I’ve taken a bigger role on my team as a coxswain and have made some definite improvements with my confidence. But, I’m still struggling with how to handle frustration. When a boat feels really good and my rowers are being super responsive I feel as though I make really good calls, but when my rowers aren’t being as responsive to me or they’re tired, I feel like I never know how to motivate them without sounding mean. The other day a rower told me to work on saying more positive calls instead of negative calls, but I’m having trouble thinking of what would be considered a negative call. What do you think I should do to improve on this?

Good timing with this question – it’s something I’ll be talking about with one of our coxswains this week when we go over their evals, hence why this is a really long response since this is all fresh on my mind.

tl;dr The best way to turn practice around and get them to respond to you is to communicate throughout practice and keep everything you’re doing goal-oriented and the best way to pinpoint “negative” calls is to look at what you’re telling them not to do and then rephrase by telling them what you want them to do.

You should definitely ask that rower for clarification about the positive vs. negative call thing so you understand what calls they’re perceiving as negative and what alternatives they think would/could be more effective. A good rule of thumb if you’re trying to figure out what a “negative” call is is to think about what you’re telling the rowers not to do rather than what you’re telling them to do. Here’s the example that one of the guys gave on the evals:

“When [that coxswain] makes technical calls, they tend to be something like ‘Dan, don’t row it in’. This is so much less effective than saying ‘Dan, back it in’ or ‘Dan, get some backsplash’, or even ‘Dan, you’re rowing it in, you need to get some backsplash here’.”

So, it’s not that what you’re saying is inherently or traditionally negative, it’s just that when you say “don’t do X” they’re more likely to start thinking more about whatever you just said not to do instead of immediately thinking “OK this is the change I need to make”, which is what they’d do if you instead phrased it in one of the ways listed in the example above.

One example that Marcus McElhenney used with the coxswains last winter to make this point was he’d say “don’t think about a pink elephant … don’t think about a pink elephant … don’t think about a pink elephant” … and then he’d ask “OK what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about a normal elephant or are you thinking about a pink elephant?” and of course everyone said they were thinking about, visualizing, etc. a pink elephant, even though that’s what he said not to do. It’s a “the more you try not to think about it, the more you end up thinking about it” kind of thing so to combat that, you have to make sure that the words you’re using to communicate with the crew are as efficient as possible, which in this case means eliminating the negative word (“don’t”) and replacing it with something more effective/”positive”.

The first part of your question is similar to something I talked about with our freshman coxswain today. If practice isn’t going well or the crew isn’t responding to your calls, turning that around has literally – literally – nothing to do with motivation. Like pretty much everything else related to coxing, that should be your lowest priority. If they’re not as responsive today as they were yesterday, you’ve first gotta look at yourself and figure out a different/better way to communicate with them.

When I’ve been in that position I always talk to my stroke (with the mic turned off) between pieces and ask if there’s something I could/should be saying that I’m not or something they’re feeling that I’m not picking up on that I should address, etc. From there I’ll quickly say to the boat “Something’s not working … what’s going on, how can I help?” and usually someone in the boat will have an opinion on what I can say to get them to refocus. I’ve rarely ever been in a boat where the rowers don’t know what needs to be done to get back on track, it’s just that they need someone (aka me) to facilitate it and if I’m approaching it from a different angle or just not addressing it at all, it helps to just ask and have them say “this is what we need from you”. It also saves a ton of time, which took a while to accept because there was definitely a period where I didn’t want to ask them that because I felt like I should just know or be able to pick up on it without someone laying it out for me … but it’s not always that simple or easy so you’ve gotta have that back and forth communication otherwise you’re just gonna waste time going through six different things that aren’t working instead jumping straight into the one or two things that will work.

The second thing you’ve gotta do after evaluating how you’re communicating is just get over feeling like you’re sounding mean or being a bitch or whatever just because you’re asking for more or in some cases, the bare minimum.  Like, there’s obviously a fine line between pushing them to meet their potential during practice so you can get shit done and pushing too far to the point where they’re giving everything they’ve got and you’re just coming off as unsatisfied and making them think their efforts aren’t good enough … you definitely have to be aware of that. At the same time though, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to keep you on the right path, namely your Speedcoach that’s showing you your splits (you know where you’re at vs. where you need to be and from there you know how much harder you can push them … usually one or two splits is good as a “stretch” goal for pieces if things are going well) and your own goal-oriented practice plan that you’re ideally forming in your head as soon as you find out what the workout is.

This is another thing that we ask the guys about on the evals – how do the coxswains do at keeping practice on task, goal-oriented, etc. and if practice is going poorly, how good are they at turning that around. We definitely have days where the guys are similar to your rowers – not responsive, tired for whatever reason, and just not in it – but the consistent theme when I ask them what the coxswains could do better is that they just need to keep the crew focused on a goal. Sometimes the overarching goal of practice is too broad (i.e. if it’s a skill-and-drill day and we’re working on blade placement at the catch) so the coxswains will need to break it down even further and lay out some smaller goals that feed into that larger goal for this next piece or for the next 3-2-1 chunk of steady state or whatever.

That shouldn’t be something you always need to come up with on the fly either. Sometimes it is just based on what you’re seeing but in talking with your coach(es) before practice you should be able to extrapolate a couple of sub-goals based on whatever they say you’re gonna do that day. To use the blade placement example again, if that’s the main focus then the sub-goals/focuses should be on moving the hands away together, watching the shoulders of the guy in front of you, anticipating their movements and swinging out of bow together, starting the wheels together, making sure the bodies are fully set by the time the handle crosses the toes (that’s our style, yours might be different), and unweighting the hands in the last inch or two of the slide as you come into a fully compressed catch position.

On the surface sure, it doesn’t exactly read like how a “goal” normally reads because each of those is just a step in the process but each of those things has to happen if you want your catch to be on point and your blade to move through the longest arc possible in the water so they should naturally be a focus every time you take a stroke. You are the one with the power to take those inherent focuses and turn them into something more goal-oriented in order to get everyone back on the same page.

If we’re doing 3-2-1 at 18-20-24spm then something we might do is say “alright, let’s refocus and for the next minute here at an 18 let’s anticipate that movement out of bow together and match up the hands as they come away…”. Remind them to breathe and stay loose and then give them a few strokes to get it on their own. Make some calls throughout that first minute about tapping down, finish posture, matching the hands to the speed of the boat, etc. – all things that directly relate to getting the hands out together, that way you keep them singularly focused on matching up the hands. Give them feedback on how it’s going and then move on in the next minute to swinging the shoulders over together. Incorporate in a few calls about the hands but try to stay focused on swing, staying loose with the upper body, pivoting from the hips, anticipating the movements of the guy in front of you, etc.

From there you’re just progressively building on each step of the recovery until finally you’re at a 24 and can put it all together. Once we’ve gone through that 3-2-1 segment then the coxswains will take a step back and just let them row on their own for awhile to give them a more extended period of time to process what they just worked on.

That’s where that fine balance comes in of knowing when to push and ask for more and knowing when to take a step back and let them work it out on their own. If things are going poorly you’ve gotta be the first one to step up and say “alright, this is what we’re gonna do, this is how we’re gonna do it, let’s go…” and then once you’ve spent a few minutes on that, back off and let them focus on just feeling the boat and committing those changes to memory. A tendency with coxswains (myself included for sure) is to want to tackle every problem immediately or to just go radio silent and address nothing but if you are focused and you understand the stroke and how each movement feeds into another, it’s really easy to break things down into smaller parts that you can then use to get practice back on track.

Something to keep in mind too is that everything I listed above isn’t going to work 100% of the time. There will be days where nothing you try works and that’s OK as long as you’ve actually made the effort to find a solution. If you just sit back and do nothing then you’ve failed in your responsibility as the coxswain but if you’re actively trying different things and are finding that none of them are clicking, you’ve gotta keep an Edison-esque mindset about it and accept that you didn’t fail, you just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Those 10,000 ways that didn’t work are just as important to know as the one way you find that does work so spend some time post-practice reviewing what you did, what you tried, what wasn’t working, etc. and then … move on. You’ve now got a ton of info on hand for what to do and what not to do so just let it go and commit to doing something different tomorrow.

Coxing Q&A Racing

Question of the Day

Hi. I was hoping to get some explanation on how to call a power train. My guys said they like power trains but I’m not sure how to call them. Thanks!

Follow-up question – are you sure they’re not saying “power 10”? I’ve never heard of a “power train” before. Anyone else familiar with them?

Related: All about power 10s

Anyways, assuming they’re asking you to call a power ten, check out the above link. It talks about what power tens are, what they aren’t, how to call them, etc. Also check out this question that asks about a different take on power tens.

Related: Hi! In a race, when you call a power 10, do you call it two strokes ahead (Power 10 in two, that’s one, two,) or do you just call it?

When in doubt, the best (and fastest) thing to do is ask your crew to give you an example of what they want to hear. Presumably if they’re asking you to call something then they already have an idea of what it sounds like or how they want it to sound so getting their input first will give you something to work off of (and then fine tune from there once you’ve got a better understanding of what they’re looking for).

Race skills: Calling a head race

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Calling a head race

Previously: Race warmups || Coxing from behind || Calls for when you’re behind || Managing the nuances of a head race

To follow up on last week’s post on managing a head race, I wanted to share an excerpt from one of my articles that’s in Issue #2 of Coxing Magazine. This one is on “calling a head race”, which you can read in full, as well as my other article on executing your race warmup, by subscribing to the magazine. Don’t forget too that you can use 2016LAUNCH to get 50% off your subscription if you sign up before the end of the year.

Related: Managing the nuances of a head race

(Note: What’s below is my writing as it appeared when it was sent to the publisher. It may be worded differently in the magazine.)

Develop a list of internal calls.

These calls are occasionally technical but largely motivational and ones that resonate for a specific reason with the boat or a rower. (A great example of this is the “baseball bat” story I posted in 2013 – it’s worth searching for if you haven’t read it.) I like to have 3-4 of these in my back pocket to be used at just the right moment. That could be when we’re sitting on another crew or when I sense the boat starting to get heavy and the fatigue setting in. You can’t plan necessarily when to use them but having them ready to go ensures you won’t waste precious seconds (and meters) searching for the right words.

Related: HOCR: Race plans and Race calls

From there, the rest of my calls are the usual “stock calls” that don’t take any extra effort to come up with. It’s what I’m saying every day during practice combined with what I see happening around us. Having my calls loosely outlined in my race plan (which has been crafted with the help of my rowers and coaches) means that instead of relying on the same handful of stock calls throughout the race, all I have to do is interject the relevant ones based on what I’m seeing and feeling in between the pre-planned stuff where my calls are a little more directly focused.

Practice calls

Coxing Technique

Practice calls

Previously: Race calls

Today’s post is a follow up to the “race calls” one that went up back in May. These are some of the comments that were included in response to a question on our coxswain evals that asked what calls they like, don’t like, want to hear, don’t want to hear, etc. during practice (either on the erg or on the water).

Image via // @roeibond
Coxswain Recordings, pt. 38

College Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 38

University of Michigan 2014 Head of the Charles men’s Collegiate 8+

Something I noticed in this recording was a distinct lack of decisive calls/moves. There was a lot of “get me XYZ”, “we need to XYZ”, “I need you to XYZ”, etc. but there was never a follow up that actually said what needed to happen in order to accomplish whatever the coxswain was saying needed to be done.

One thing this coxswain does in contrast to some of the other head race recordings I’ve posted is she stays very chill throughout most of the race. There’s obviously a benefit to this style of coxing but I think you end up walking a fine line between “composed” and “low-energy”, and for me it came off as more low-energy than not for most of the race. There were times where she’d put a bit more emphasis on her calls (she did better with this towards the end) and others where she’d try to rush through them – several times when she’d say “one … two, on this one” it felt like she was saying both numbers on the same stroke because she’d say them so quickly. You might as well just say “on this one” and skip counting the strokes. Point being, I wish there was a bit more energy and more targeted calls since a lot of it came off as just filler.

She did do a great job steering though and ultimately I think that’s the big takeaway from this piece. Her turns were good, she was right on the buoy lines, and did a good job of managing the water when she was coming around the first turn with Drexel at the beginning.

Radcliffe 2014 Head of the Charles Women’s Champ 8+

This is just a short 40-second long clip from the start of Radcliffe’s turn around Magazine Beach but I wanted to share it because I like this coxswain’s energy as they move through the crew on their port side. She starts off saying she wants to take them out early before calling a ten that begins with her saying “here we go, on this one NOW … we go NOW” in a really intense, clear, direct voice that sets up the rest of the move really well.

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

How to prioritize and organize your calls

Coxing How To Racing

How to prioritize and organize your calls

Previously: Steer an eight/four || Call a pick drill and reverse pick drill ||  Avoid getting sick || Make improvement as a novice || Protect your voice || Pass crews during a head race || Be useful during winter training || Train when you’re sick (as a rower) || Train when you’re sick (as a coxswain) || Sit in the boat || How to cox (and coach) novices

One of the key parts of ensuring you don’t get repetitive or run out of things to say during a practice or race is prioritizing your calls and organizing them (and yourself). When you’re racing it’s also a key part in ensuring your race plan is executed efficiently and cleanly. At one of the Sparks camps I was at last month I was coaching with Malcolm Doldron, who is the lightweight women’s head coach at BU (and a former coxswain), and he laid out a unique plan for organizing your calls that I hadn’t seen before, at least not in this configuration. If being more organized on the water is something you’ve been working on or you have it set as a goal for the upcoming year, try this out and see if it works for you.

Related: Mike Teti’s “Three S’s of Coxing”

The first part of this is prioritizing your calls, which should go something like this:

1. Safety + steering
2. Distance, rate, splits (if applicable), and time
3. Rhythm + technique
4. Motivation

The second part is organizing yourself and knowing where to focus and what to say. Malcolm suggested thinking of it like a clock. To orient yourself, you/the stern are at 6 o’clock, the bow of the boat is at 12 o’clock, and laterally at 3 and 9 o’clock you’ve got the crews you’re rowing with, along with the buoy or shore line.

Looking straight ahead towards where you’re pointed and at your crew should be your main focus. This also corresponds with whatever “safety and steering” calls you make, as well as the “rhythm and technique” ones. From there you’ve got the information that’s right in front of you at 6 o’clock (the data from your CoxBox and SpeedCoach) and then whatever’s on either side of you at 3 and 9. Thinking about it like this is similar to your race plans in that it gives you a framework to go off of vs. just getting in the boat and having all this stuff around you with no semblance of how to cherry-pick the important stuff and communicate it to the crew.

It took me a sec before I fully understood how he was laying it out but once I processed it I realized that this is pretty similar to how I organize myself when I’m coxing. I’ve never laid it out like this but I know that when I’m on the water I’m constantly shuffling between 12, 6, 3, 6, 9, 12, 6, 12, 9, 3, 6, 12, etc. Most of you who have been coxing for awhile will probably realize the same thing it but if you’re new to coxing or like I said earlier, working to better organize yourself and your calls, consider this an option for how to go about that.

Image via // @lucerneregatta
Coxswain Recordings, pt. 37

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 37

Marcus McElhenney USA Men’s 8+ vs. Oxford University Boat Club

The first thing you hear is Marcus getting the crew set before the start. I like that he says “stern pair, hands only” because the “hands only” part isn’t something a lot of coxswains do. When you’re trying  to get aligned, unless you’re several seats back (and even then…), the rowers don’t always need to be taking full-slide strokes. Sometimes hands only, arms only, etc. will get the job done. Awareness of the distance you need to move and the amount of manpower it’ll take to get from Point A to Point B is a crucial skill that you’ve gotta learn so that when you’ve gotta make small adjustments like this, you can do so quickly and efficiently with no hesitation.

At 0:41 you also hear him say “my hand is up, do not go…”. Rule #1 of racing – if you’re not ready, don’t go. This would be a good habit to get into with your crews as you’re getting your points at the start so that if you find yourselves in a situation where you’re actually not ready, the crew won’t flinch when you say “don’t go”.

An important part of coxing when you first start out is learning the role motivation should play in your race plan (it’s literally one of the lowest priorities) and how to incorporate it without sounding like a cheerleader. A call that Marcus makes at 2:35 that I love is “use your 5:50s now!”, which is a great call for power but it also serves as a solid motivational call. (I can see it being used a lot with men’s crews.) Many of his “motivational” calls are team related too – use your 5:50s, show Mike Teti what you can do, you’re the USA Men’s 8+, etc., which should give you a good starting point if you’re trying to come up with some calls of your own.

At 6:47 he says “if you can hold them now, we can take that turn.” I like this because it shows he’s thinking a few steps ahead of where he’s at now. He’s taking the information he’s getting from what’s around him, looking at the distance between where they are and the turn, and assessing the situation … and he’s doing all that in the middle of the race without letting it impact any of the other stuff he’s doing. This is also a good call to make to your crew, especially for a head race when you’re jostling for positions.

“I’ve had enough of this sittin’ around shit!” – pretty sure Marcus has said that to coxswains who weren’t hustling fast enough at camp. I’ve made similar calls when we’re just sitting on a crew and the change in words helps, obviously, but it’s the change in tone that makes the biggest impact. You can just sense that there’s a different sense of urgency when he says this compared to what he was saying before this call. In this call you can hear that he’s demanding more of the crew even though he’s not specifically saying “give me more”.

Last thing – at 8:40 he says “you know these guys can sprint, you know they can sprint!”. This is smart because it reminds the crew that even though they’ve taken the lead now, it’s in no way secure yet and they can’t underestimate Oxford just because their (USA) bow ball is in front. This is why it’s always a good idea to have an idea of what the strengths/weaknesses are in the crews you’re racing against. I don’t think you need to get all stalker-ish and scout the hell out of them but if you hear things like Columbia has a strong sprint or Washington takes a move at 750m and leaves everyone in their dust … you’ll know that if you somehow get up on them, you can’t take that position for granted because these other crews might still have something in their back pocket that they’re waiting to break out and use against you.

I also like how at the end he keeps them focused on rowing well at the end of the race. I hear a lot of coaches really harp on not being dramatic after a piece and immediately getting them rowing inside arm only, maintaining some semblance of timing, etc. is a good way to avoid that.

USA Women’s 8+ 2010 World Cup III Final

Similar to Marcus, whenever her hand goes up or comes down, she tells her crew. The start of the race is typical Kaitlin, just like all the other recordings I’ve posted – she’s super chill but still being very direct, very focused, and very in her boat.

At 0:45 – 0:47 when she says “we’re gonna take our first lengthen in two … one, send it … two, now…”, you can hear that nothing changes with her volume, the only thing that is different is the inflection in her voice and that naturally lends to a more aggressive punch behind “two, now“. If you’re trying to work on maintaining your composure and being calm while also still being intense … that’s a perfect example.

There are a thousand and twelve things to take away from all the recordings I’ve posted of hers but if there’s one thing you get out of them, it should be how good she is at using her tone of voice to communicate with the crew. Her words are on point but it’s her tone that makes them effective. Another example is at 5:15 when she says “In two we lengthen and go with legs, ready? One … two, TONE CHANGE NOW. Boom, that’s it … Boom, Katie! YES, walking!”Not only was there a tone change in her voice, there was an actual physical change in the tone of their race. This was their move and she did an incredible job of facilitating that by being relaxed and focused up to this point so that when she said “tone change!” not only did they hear it in her voice but they felt it too.

Other calls I liked:

“Trust the plan, trust your rhythm…”

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

Race skills: Calls for when you’re behind

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Calls for when you’re behind

Today I’m sharing one of my two articles that were included in the first issue of Coxing Magazine. The first article is on calling the start and the second is this one, which is on calls to make when you’re behind. To see more of what’s in the first issue, check out the website here.

When you’re behind in a race (let’s assume “behind” = one length or more of open back) there are three things you can/should do to get back into it and none of them involve invoking some sort of “magical” call. That call doesn’t exist. There are of course great motivational calls that you can have tucked away but you can’t rely on them to be the game changer when you’re down by open water. Skipping the process outlined below and resorting to spouting platitudes for the rest of the race is akin to putting band-aids on a bullet wound – they’re not going to stop the hemorrhaging.

Fix the rowing

If you’ve fallen off the pack then it’s safe to assume that the quality of the rowing has fallen off too. Your first task is to re-unify the crew by getting everyone to take the same stroke at the same time. Presumably you have a solid understanding of technique and the stroke your coach teaches so apply your knowledge of both to what you’re seeing and feeling in order to get the rowing back on track.

“900m in, one length of open back on Columbia. Let’s tighten up the timing and complete the strokes – we got this guys! The race starts right … NOW! Squeeeze through … squeeeze through – that’s it! Hold the back ends and breeeathe through the recovery … now. In our rhythm … let’s accelerate and swing together. Squeeeze swing … hands out together now … hands now … hands now … accelerate swing – there it is … accelerate swing…”

Match the speed of the crews in front of you

It’s hard to move on a crew who’s moving away from you at the same time so before you can start closing the gap you first have to stop them from advancing further. This is where you need to watch the rate and make sure you’re at the pace you want to be at. One tactic I’ve used in the past is raising our rate a beat to match the other crew(s) if it looks like they’re (effectively) rowing higher than us. The risk-reward here is very high so you have to make a quick assessment (mainly, can you raise the rate without spinning your wheels and then sustain that speed/pace for the next few hundred meters) and then commit to executing it.

“1100m in, time to shut ‘em down. We’re at 35 right now, we’re taking it up to a 36 … pick it up together … on this one! LEGS commit, LEGS 36 – right here, stay in this rhythm now and attack … legs loose … legs loose … get stubborn now, hold on to them … legs yea middle four! Trust our rhythm, trust our speed … holding our margin now, that’s it…”

Make your move

The second you sense that the margin is holding, you have to capitalize on it and go. You can’t waste time or meters because by this point you’re probably well into the 3rd 500, which means you’ve got time for maybe one last 20 before it’s time to sprint.

“Four seats of open back now guys, let’s close that gap and make contact over the next ten … ready in twoin one … commit NOW! One go! Two go! Three commit! Load together send … that’s it, WALKING! Two seats back now … it’s yours, take it! Hit it harder with the legs, together in two … one … two, GO NOW! Legs go! Legs go! Do not sit, do not quit … together go! Bow to stern now, bow pair, reel it in! Six bend ‘em! Seven break them! Eight break them! Nine last 500 … ten stay on it!”

If you find yourself falling off the pace of the other crews, evaluate the situation, make a smooth transition to your “Plan B”, and aim to keep the energy high. Making a successful comeback might not always be possible but at the very least you should aspire to cross the line with pride and the calls you make are your best resource to help facilitate that.