Spoiler alert, this is basically what we do all fall to determine who we’re gonna offer a spot to. Now you know our secrets.
Since we haven’t had an assistant coach for the past 4.5 months I’ve been filling in to help with the heavyweight recruiting, which has meant fielding a lot of emails of varying quality from prospective rowers and coxswains. Most haven’t been too bad (although several have genuinely made me question the state of education in our country based on how awful the grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling was) but I got one last week that got me kind of excited to join the circle of coaches who have received emails like this. Initially I was like “really??” and definitely had the urge to roast the kid in my reply but I didn’t have the time or energy so instead I’m using them as a cautionary tale for the rest of you.
Personalize the email
You know our names because you looked up our emails. Instead of just saying “Dear Coach”, which is a dead giveaway that you’re just copy/pasting a form email, say “Dear Coach Durm” – it literally takes no extra amount of time to do that and it at least gives the impression that you’re putting a modicum of effort into this.
Also, I don’t know how many other women there are on the men’s side right now (I can’t possibly be the only one but I honestly don’t know) and frankly it doesn’t even matter but if you’re emailing a male and female coach in the same email (which is fine), don’t say “Dear Coach Alwin and Mrs. Durm”. Just … don’t. First of all, “Mrs. Durm”, l-o-freaking-l. Literally can’t even with that one. Second of all, we’re all coaches dude. There are way more qualified/#woke individuals than me that would have a field day unwrapping how sexist that comes off so if you want to avoid making a shitty, eye-roll inducing first impression on both the men and women who are recruiting you, just address everyone as “Coach [last name]”.
Don’t send form emails
If you are that lazy that you’re just copy/pasting the same email to a list of coaches, you better have a solid reply ready to go for when you send an email to a coach at School X that says “I’m interested in School Y“. Cool, good luck with that, bye. And when the coach at School X replies and says “just so you know, you sent this to the coaches at School X, not [other university that starts with the same first letter]”, don’t reply back and say “Sorry I was tired”. (There was another sentence or two after this but I’d honestly already stopped reading so I don’t remember what they said.) You already self-sorted yourself into the group of people who probably aren’t gonna get a reply but that just confirms it. If you’re not gonna take this process seriously I’m certainly not gonna push pause on the other 26 things I’m working on to email you back.
“Please get back to me if you are interested.”
Wording makes a difference. A big difference. “Looking forward to hearing from you!”, “Hope we can connect soon – thanks for your time!”, etc. are great ways to close an email. “Please get back to me if you’re interested” is not. First of all, this isn’t football. We’re not chasing you and the odds are pretty good that you’re not one of the handful of kids that literally everyone wants so we’re definitely not gonna chase you. The ball is 10000% in your court here so unless you’ve filled out the recruiting questionnaire online (and indicated that in your email), laid out all your stats (and not your hypothetical stats, your actual stats), said you’d like to set up a time to talk to learn more about the school/team, and just straight up given me a reason to be interested in you, you’re not gonna get a reply.
Second of all, this is another glaring indication that your strategy/approach to the recruiting process is throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. Super vague emails with nothing specific about the university and a closing line asking us to contact you if we’re interested just screams “I copy and pasted this exact same email to 18 other coaches”. Unless you wanna join the ranks of kids who have become coaching office and/or rowing camp fodder, set aside an hour or two to craft some well-written emails to schools you’re actually interested in instead of firing off the first thing that comes to mind to every coach in the rowing-sphere.
Image via // @pittsfordcrew
Now that the fall recruiting season is winding down I wanted to share this video that I came across a few months ago. If you’re not familiar with him, Geno Smith is the coach of UConn’s women’s basketball team (always one of the top programs in the country), as well as a former head coach of Team USA’s women’s basketball team. What he says in this video might be in the context of basketball but it’s applicable to any sport and something to keep in mind as you progress throughout your career and the recruiting process.
I’ve been coxing for a little bit over a year now in my college crew, and we are currently working on prepping our guys for head race season. There are three coxswains, including me, but two boats so right now I’m fighting for my seat. I feel like all three of us have about the same collegiate coxing experience and have about the same capability of steering correctly for that race, so all that really differs are our styles. One of the cox’s is super happy and upbeat and really cheers the guys on to race better while the other one is really technically savvy and gets really aggressive whereas I’m pretty much smack dab in the middle of their styles. I have a feeling that my coach prefers them over me but I don’t want to change and be something I’m not. What should I do?
I get what you’re saying but I also think it’s important to point out that when you’re in the boat, even though you’re “in charge”, you’re still working for eight other people (nine, if you count your coach). If there’s something that’s preferred by the majority, you have to be the one to adapt, not them. I’m not a super peppy, cheery type of coxswain but I’ve coxed boats where that’s the style they’ve responded best to, so even though it’s not my style or personality at all, I had to incorporate some of that into my coxing because it’s what made the boat faster. I’ve also had coaches who pushed me to be a more technical, drill sergeant-y coxswain that I was prepared to be given that’d I’d only been coxing for a year or so. I wasn’t thrilled about adapting my style of coxing to be more of either of those things but I also had no right or reason to say “no, I’m not doing this”. Even now, I’ve been coxing for 15 years and I still adapt to whatever the crew wants (even when they say they’ll default to my style) because saying “I don’t want to change and be something I’m not” just fundamentally feels like I’m going against the most basic role of coxing, which is to serve the crew.
Anyways, to answer your question, you should talk with your coach. Say that you want to make sure you’re staying competitive for one of the two spots that are available and you wanted to see what observations they’d made about your coxing through the first few weeks of practice. If you’ve been working on stuff, like refining your steering or increasing your technical feedback during drill work, say that and ask if there are any other areas where they feel you could stand to make improvements that would give you a better shot at being placed in one of those two boats.
I don’t typically think you should bring up other coxswains in conversations like this but I do think a good question to ask every once in awhile is what they’re doing well that you could incorporate if it’s not something you’re doing already. At MIT our varsity coxswain the last two years was always great about keeping things running during practice, not wasting time, responding immediately when we’d ask him to do something, etc. and that was huge in ensuring we were using our time effectively. Our 2V coxswain was OK at this but still left a lot to be desired so this was something I talked about with her a lot, especially in the context of things she could do to make a case for being boated higher. Bottom line, if you get the feeling your coach prefers the other coxswains over you, talk to them and see if that’s the case … but approach it by asking what they’re doing to make things run better, faster, and smoother, not in a whine-y “why do you like them better than me” kind of way. (I’ve been in the room when college coxswains have done that and it just makes me roll my eyes so hard.)
I can’t remember what the context of this story was but a coach I worked with a few years ago said that one of the best things a new varsity coxswain asked him was “what did [the last varsity coxswain, let’s call him Jake] do that made your job easier?”. (He was similar to you, pretty much in between two other coxswains and was trying to figure out how he could get an edge over the other two in order to become the permanent 1V coxswain.) Obviously all the standard stuff applied but the primary thing was Jake’s coachability and adaptability, meaning that he took feedback, reflected on it, and found ways to immediately tweak his coxing based on what he was seeing/hearing from others. He also was able to get into any boat, be it the 1V eight or the 4V four and make it go fast, even when the boats varied wildly in the style of coxing they responded to. If you can get into a boat that likes cheerleaders and get them to respond and then get in a boat the next day with a crew who likes an in-your-face hardass and do the same thing (and steer straight on top of all of that), you’re basically worth your weight in gold.
Basically what you need to do is, one, like I said, talk to your coach and two, whenever you’re in the launch, observe the styles, presence, etc. of the other two coxswains to see what they’re doing well and then try to incorporate some of that into your own coxing the next time you go out. The absolute dumbest reason for losing your seat in a boat is “I didn’t want to change what I was doing”. You’ve only been coxing for a year so while I get that you’ve probably established a style of coxing, it’s definitely not going to be the one you stick with for your entire career so use this opportunity to identify the areas where you can ebb and flow a bit with your approach in order to give you the best shot at making one of the boats.
Hello, I am a junior in high school and I am a rower but I’m on the shorter side (5’4) and my erg scores aren’t anything to brag about. I actually started out as a coxswain in my freshman year but one day my coach had me sub in and I just never subbed out. The thing is that I don’t really enjoy rowing all that much (I still like it but it isn’t what I think I’m good at) but I was really passionate about coxing and I want to try and walk on as a coxswain at college. I don’t really know how to go about it though. Should I try to cox at my high school again? Also, should I reach out to college coaches and, if so, when should I consider doing that? Thanks.
Bring it up with your coach before the start of next season (or now, if you’re still practicing or see them around). Just be honest and say that you feel like you were making a stronger contribution to the team when you were coxing vs. when you’re rowing. Don’t be afraid to say that rowing’s not where you feel your strengths lie either. It’s one thing to be like, “I’m short and my erg scores are lame so I’m just gonna switch to coxing”. I hate when people take that route because it just screams laziness. You can get stronger and fitter and improve your erg times if you just put the work in. On the flip side though, if someone says “I genuinely don’t enjoy rowing as much I do coxing”, that’s a different story because, in my experience, the people that say that are the ones that worked their asses off to be good rowers (and most of the time were) but just didn’t have the same passion for moving the boat as they did driving it … and that’s OK.
Related: What it means to be a “walk on”
If you’re planning to walk on, especially as someone who already has experience, it’s always worth reaching out to the coach just to let them know you’re interested. It helps them get a good idea of what their numbers will be and they can lump you in with the rest of the freshmen when they send out compliance paperwork for you to fill out over the summer. The sooner you get that done the better because you’ll be able to get on the water faster once practice begins in the fall.
As far as when to reach out to them, just wait until you know where you’re going and then shoot them an email in the spring saying you were accepted, are interested in walking on to the team, etc. and include a bit of info about yourself (i.e. height, weight, what boats you’ve coxed, your intended major, etc.) to wrap it up. Doesn’t need to be more than a paragraph or so at most.
I don’t think I’ve ever stood at a more electrified finish line than this one was. What a race, especially the last 250m. Congrats to Yale!!
Wellesley College WV8+ Final 2016 NCAA Championships
I posted the recording from Wellesley’s heat at NCAAs back in December (you can check it out here) and similar to that recording, the audio’s a little muffled here. This is actually a good thing to keep in mind too now that the spring season is getting closer – if you’re not using a GoPro, make sure you play around with different spots to put your recorder so you can find one that protects it from the water while still being able to capture a clear sound.
If you want to watch the NCAA’s footage of the race and listen to their commentary, you can check it out here – skip ahead to 3:23:00ish (the race starts about a minute after that). Wellesley is in Lane 2 with the black boat and blue and white oars. I’d also recommend muting the NCAA video and starting the recording when the race starts, that way you can listen to the race as you watch it.
From a coxing standpoint, this piece accomplishes three of the things that make up a good recording – there’s no screaming off the line, she gives consistent updates on their pace and position, and at the end of the race you have a pretty good idea of where most of the crews finished just based on the updates she was giving throughout the piece. All of that is rooted in communication so if you’re a sophomore or junior who is trying to put together audio to sent to the JNT or college coaches, I would highly recommend you make your communication skills a central focus during practice in the weeks leading up to your first race. Ale demonstrates really well how to do this effectively by keeping the information concise (aka saying only what needs to be said) and using her tone rather than volume to convey her message.
Related: What makes a good coxswain recording
One of the most well executed parts of the race was when they’re crossing 1000m between 3:16 and 3:42ish. Through the first 1000m there’s this focus of just chipping away at the field stroke by stroke in order to establish their lead and then as they come across 1000m it’s like OK, we’ve got now, if anyone else wants it, they’re gonna have to take it from us because we are not giving it up.
I think the best part of the NCAA commentary is near the end where Williams starts to take the rate up but Wellesley is still at like, a 33 or something, and the announcer says they have “plenty of stroke rate left to go up and not much water left to defend”. That’s probably the best position you could be in coming into the last 250m of a race.
Other calls I liked:
“Catches with her, shoulders with her…”
“Our confidence in two … one … two, our confidence. MOVE through that 1000 … MOVE through that 1000. Seize it now … seize it now, blue. We command this. Sit up, we’re across. Sit up, now this is our 500 because we’ve trained … LET’S GO!“
George Washington University 1F vs. Georgetown University 1F
Right off the start, I like the “draw through” call on the first stroke. That’s an easy one to whiff, especially if your blade’s not all the way buried or you pull out of the catch instead of push, so having that call as a reminder is a good way to make sure everyone stays horizontal through the drive.
Out of the high strokes they make their shift down to base and at 1:47 you hear him say that he wants to shift down one more beat to a 35. His execution here (between 1:47 and 2:00ish) is really smooth, mainly because there’s no sense of urgency in his tone that the shift has to happen right freakin’ now like you sometimes hear in other recordings. He draws it out over a couple of strokes which allows him time to make very clear, direct calls about what he wants and most importantly (especially when it comes to rate shifts), when he wants it to happen. This is something you should regularly be practicing when you’re doing pyramid pieces or anything else involving rate shifts, that way you can establish a good flow in initiating it and the crew can get accustomed to the calls you’ll make when the rate needs to change.
Little goals are obviously a big part of any race plan and he does a good job here of (indirectly) tying those to the crew’s overall technique. You’ve gotta be careful about making too many technical calls during a race and becoming hyperfocused on that but I think he does a good job of balancing those calls with follow-up calls that say where they are now on Georgetown after taking a few strokes to get the blades in, swing through a headwind, keep the outside shoulder up, etc.
The only thing I’d suggest not doing from this recording really isn’t that egregious but there’s definitely better – or at least clearer – ways to call it. Rather than saying “200m ’til the 500m mark” just say “750 to go” or if you’re making a move at 500, “15 strokes ’til we make our move”.
Other calls I liked:
“At the 500, we’re gonna walk away. We’re gonna sting at the 5…”
“Stay loose, stay long … stay loose, stay long…”, said on the drive, recovery.
You can find and listen to more recordings by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page.
Hey! I am a high school senior interested in rowing in college. I have committed to attending a school, but I did not go through the recruiting process. Before committing to the school, I was in contact with one of the assistant coaches, and met with and spoke with him. How do I go about getting in contact with the coach again about joining the team in the fall? Thanks!
Also, (unrelated) do you have any tips for rowing a single? I know the stroke, but keep having trouble with one of my oars getting caught under the water. (One day it was port, another it was starboard). Thanks again!
Just email them, re-introduce yourself, say you’ll be attending that school in the fall, and you’re still interested in joining the team. Assuming you’re already an experienced rower, they’ll probably just lump you in with the rest of the recruits once you get all the compliance paperwork done. (I talked about this a bit in the post linked below.)
Related: What it means to be a “walk-on”
Whenever that would happen with our walk-ons (getting the oars caught) (literally, without fail, every. single. time.) it would be because one (or both) of the oarlocks were backwards. So, out of habit, my first suggestion is to make sure you’re got everything set up correctly and facing the right way. Also make sure your hands are always left over right.
The main thing I’d keep in mind though is to make sure you’re drawing through level with both hands and keeping both elbows up at the finish. Really focus on squeezing the lats through the finish and maintaining pressure on the blades all the way through the drive so you give yourself the best chance to get a good, clean release. Also make sure that your posture is on point and you’re not shifting your weight all over the place. Relaxed upper body, engaged core, etc. This will help you maintain your balance and give you a more stable platform to work off of, which should make it easier to maintain an even blade depth with both oars.
My experience with sculling is (obviously) pretty limited so if anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to leave ’em in the comments.