Tag: how to

How to Lose vs. How to Win

Coxing How To Racing

How to Lose vs. How to Win

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

It’s obviously not that simple or black and white but that’s the easiest way to frame the points I’m trying to make.

There are two big tactical mistakes that you can make during a race that could cost you a win, a qualifying position, or a spot in the medals. (There’s probably/definitely more but our team had issues with both of these at various points this year so they’re fresh on my mind.) I say you because it’s your job to be aware of how you’re moving and how the race is evolving. If you’re paying attention and not just robotically going through the motions of reciting your race plan then you’ll be able to recognize these situations and say/do something to (hopefully) prevent them from having a negative impact on your crew.

Getting comfortable/sitting on a lead

The longer you sit on a short lead the more confidence you’re giving the other crew(s) to make a move on you. A coach I worked with a few years ago frequently said “hope is not a strategy” – you can’t sit on a six seat lead and hope that you can hang on until you cross the finish line. Leads are fragile and you don’t want to give the other crew(s) any opportunity to think you’ve peaked and “now’s our chance”.

Succumbing to another crew’s move

A crew has broken you if they can get in your head with a single move. In most cases this happens somewhere between 750m and 1250m; you’ll be even or close up to this point, their coxswain calls for a move, they walk four or five seats, and you completely fall apart or scramble to make a counter-move and then fall apart because you’re just spinning your wheels.

You also can’t guarantee a win (it’s foolish to ever think that, regardless of how you stack up against your opponents) but you can put yourself in a good position to succeed, which is what these points address.

Make your moves decisive

Rather than being the one who gets broken, be the one doing the breaking. Once you start moving, regardless of whether you’re walking on a crew or moving away, don’t stop. Racing is a game of inches (see also our race against Wisco) so every move you make has to have an unwavering amount of intent, focus, and discipline behind it. This starts with you – your calls and your tone can/will have a huge effect on how successful your moves are.

Execute the race plan

It’s there for a reason. Without it the race lacks structure which makes it impossible for you to manage and if you can’t manage it, you can’t win it. Know when to focus on your boat, when to focus on the field, what your cadence should be, what your moves are, where you’ll take them, what volume/tone is appropriate at different points throughout the race, etc. Your coach not giving you a race plan is not an excuse for you not to have one. Period.

Practice how you want to race

I’ve always viewed this as a standard that the coxswain is responsible for upholding, mainly because attention-to-detail is a core component of what makes a good coxswain and the devil is always in the details. You have to have the discipline to act like an athlete on and off the water and as the coxswain, you sometimes have to be the person that reminds them of that when you’re away from the boathouse and holds them to it during practice. You can’t practice with a lackadaisical attitude and then expect it to all come together on race day – it never works like that.

This post, as you might have noticed, isn’t about giving you bullet-pointed solutions or ideas – it’s about increasing your awareness so you know what to pay attention to when you do pieces during practice, watch race video, etc. From there you (along with your boat and/or coach) can come up with strategies to achieve/deal with each situation so that on race day you’re prepared to manage the race regardless of what happens.

Image via // @tristanshipsides
Race skills: Coxing from behind

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Coxing from behind

Coxing when you’re behind is one of the hardest things you can be tasked with during a race, second only to coxing a race like our JV had this past weekend where they built up a 2/3 length lead by 1000m and then lost by a seat or two of open water. (You can watch the race here if you want.)

The latter has always been hard for me to work out how to do, on one hand because it’s (luckily) not a position I’ve found myself in very often but also because there just doesn’t seem to be a strategy for dealing with a broken crew (coxswain included). Today’s post though is gonna talk about coxing when you’ve fallen slightly back but are still within striking distance or when you’re in the thick of a race and are trying to work your way up to get your bow ball in front.

My strategy when I’m sitting in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth is to make it a two-boat race and work our way up crew by crew. These mini-races within the context of the overall race helps you to manage your calls (instead of bouncing around all over the place with minimal direction or focus) and in turn gives the crew small achievable goals to focus on.

The thing I struggled with initially when doing this was knowing when to demand more of my boat to actually get us past another crew. There were times where we’d slooowly move on them (or we’d move quickly initially and then sit for awhile) but when you’re sitting in fourth and you’ve only got 1100m left to work with, that’s not good enough. Creating these mini-races helped me develop my awareness because it forced me to pay attention to our speed relative to the other boats. I found that when we were sitting on a crew or the amount that we were walking on them slowed, it was usually because I was becoming too focused on what was happening outside the boat, which would dampen our fire a little bit and allow the crew’s focus to wander.

Once I realized this I’d make calls like “we’re in a good position on New Trier but we’ve been sitting for the last 10 strokes … let’s refocus the legs and shut them down … on this one … legs NOW, legs NOW…”. “Now” is a call I use a lot while coxing but in situations like this, the change in my tone when I said it communicated a (controlled) sense of urgency that resonated with the boat and helped us find that next gear and move. That’s the key too – as demanding of a call as “now” is, it was never that that they were responding to … it was how I said it and that can make a huge difference when you’re coxing from behind. One of my stroke seats used to call it my “don’t fuck with me” voice. When that came out during a race (which was only in certain situations) the crew just knew to snap back into it and respond to whatever I was saying in an instant.

Awhile ago I found this anecdote from Marcus McElhenney from when he raced in Beijing in 2008 that touches on creating mini-races and getting your crew excited about moving past the boats around you.

“In the Olympic final we had an okay start but at the 500m mark we were in 6th place. We were in lane two. The Dutch were in lane one and almost ¾ of a length up. Lane three and four had the Brits and Canada, who were WAY out. This left Poland and Australia leading us on the outside in lanes 5 and 6. My crew could not see anyone next to them. Realizing that we could overtake the Aussies and Poles, I started to race them. It was all about getting up just one place at a time.

Over the second 500 meters we were then able to overtake them and were sitting in fourth. In the process we were able to cut the Dutch lead from two seconds to half a second. Then we turned our focused in the third 500m on the Dutch which would put us in medal position. I can remember looking at the bend in the oars. As guys from the bow like Schnorbich and Hoopman could sense the lead and medal, the bend in the shaft grew. That feeling then started to pass up the crew as we began to move, the energy increased and we really started to cook. Stern pair, Volp and Inman, were now foaming at the mouth. We over took the Dutch establishing our Olympic medal spot.

New focus…the Brits! Their commanding lead over us during the first part of the race was now less than half a second. Last 500m and we were charging. We ended up not passing the Brits, but we came home with some hardware.”

If you’ve fallen really far back (like a length of open or more) then your focus has to shift to creating internal targets within the boat. You can’t keep saying “they’re walking away”, “we’re a length of open back”, etc. and expect the crew to suddenly have a burst of enthusiasm and “let’s go get ’em!” energy. Instead, focus on something tangible like dropping the splits by a second (and maintaining it) or re-establishing the rhythm so everyone is rowing together and not doing their own thing. If the boat is getting frantic, eliminating that feeling has to be your first priority otherwise you’ll just waste a ton of energy and have an even harder time trying to walk back on the other boats.

One question that comes up a lot is whether or not you should tell the crew that you’re in last place. For me, it’s 50-50 … if you’re sitting in last by no more than half a length of open water then you should tell them because closing that gap is doable. If you’re more than half a length back then I wouldn’t say anything until you’ve closed the gap to within striking distance of the other crew(s). This lets you focus solely on whatever’s going on with your boat without having to worry about the chaos around you (which honestly isn’t a bad thing).

That approach came out of a conversation my freshman year after my novice eight (predictably) fell pretty far behind our three varsity boats while doing pieces. I remember it being one of the few times where I said “I don’t know what to say” and my crew gave me a ton of ideas and feedback that we trial and error-ed over the next few practices to figure out a strategy that worked. That boat was made up of a bunch of two and three-sport athletes so to capitalize on our strength there was a lot of focus put on bending the oars (as long as our technique was good … our coaches drilled into us that that always came first).

This in turn became our rallying point. If we fell back we’d refocus on our technique – I made a lot of loose, breathe, relax, focus, sharp, together, etc. calls – and once we had that on lock I’d make the call to “bend and send”. The pick up and surge that resulted from that call was incredible – it was like lighting the afterburners. If we were half a length down when I made that call we could easily get even within ten strokes and then from there it was back to “regular” race-mode.

Coxing from behind isn’t something you want to have to do but I guarantee you’ll spend more time doing that over the course of your career than you will as the crew out front. You don’t want to find yourself in that situation and not know how to manage it though (because it all comes back to execution and management) so spend time discussing those “what if’s” with your crew so you can establish your Plan B, C, D, etc., as well as the calls you’ll make to get you back on track. For us, it was “bend and send”. By no means was it a “magic” call (there were times when it didn’t work) but it was well thought out, well rehearsed, and positive (in a non-cheesy way) and that was what made it the catalyst to making our “comebacks” effective.

Image via // @washingtonrowing

Coxing How To Q&A

Question of the Day

How to be more personal when coxing a race…?

There are tons of ways but here are my top three.

The best/easiest/most obvious way is to say your rowers names instead of their seat numbers. Calling a rower by their seat number is one of the laziest things a coxswain can do in my opinion (like, I truly can’t emphasize just how lazy I think it is) and it really grinds my gears when I hear them doing that. There’s just no excuse for it.

Related: Listen to Kaitlin’s recordings (here) as well as Connor’s (George Washington University – there are six, all found here) for examples of this. You always hear them address the rowers by name, not number.

Something I do a lot is call moves for pairs, which I talked a bit about in the post linked down below. I do it most often in the latter half of the race, usually between 1250m and 1750m since that chunk between your mid-race move and right before the sprint is when the boat can/will start to sag. Calling a pair out, especially when the race is close and saying “Quinn and Mik, you wanna be first across the line? Let’s get our bow ball in front over the next five...” or “sitting even, [ 5 + 6 ] go take your seats … on this one” are other examples of how I like to do it.

Related: One of the varsity rowers told me about a certain race move/call-10 for pairs? Like having all 8 take a 10, but emphasis for specific pairs. I’m not sure how to call that, can you help me out? I was thinking maybe ” Alright, we’re all 8 we’re going to take a 10 by pairs.. in two… in ONE.. on THIS one, stern pair let’s see what you got! That’s one… two… 5 and 6 right here 3… 4..” and so on..” I don’t know if that’s how you call it…

I read an interview awhile ago where Pete Cipollone said that one of his calls during the ’97 Worlds race (I think it was that one) was “on this one, the Americans have no fucking speed”. That was a direct quote from the coach of one of the countries they were racing against and it had gotten the boat really fired up so he turned it into a call that preempted one of their moves. That kind of “bulletin board material” – even though it’s not individually-personal, it’s still boat-personal – is a great thing to bring in the boat with you, provided you save it for the opportune moment for maximum effectiveness.

How to sit in the boat

Coxing How To

How to sit in the boat

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)

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to sit in the boat. Seems obvious at first – you just … sit in it – but if you’re working on establishing boat feel or trying to figure out how to not slide into the black hole that is the bow of a four, there are some tricks to it. I’ve talked about these in various posts before but I’ve tried to combine them all here so they’re in one place for easy access.

Related: Is there a ‘right way’ to sit in the coxswain seat? My left foot always gets super numb during practice!

Bowloaded fours

When it comes to how to properly situate yourself in a four, I see way more coxswains doing it wrong than doing it right. The purpose of these boats (compared to ones where you’re sitting in the stern) is to distribute the weight more evenly throughout the bow and eliminate the wind resistance that comes from having another body sitting straight up. In order to be effective in those two areas you have to actually be lying down. If someone is looking at your boat, they should see you like this, not like this. You being flat in the boat also helps keep it on keel. If you’re sitting straight up like the coxswain in the second picture and the boat is falling from side to side, you are most likely the main contributing factor.

If you’re having difficulty lying completely flat or are avoiding it because there’s no way to prevent yourself from sliding into the bow when the boat surges then you need to adjust the back (or neck) rest to accommodate your height. This is the equivalent of the rowers foot stretchers … they wouldn’t not change their foot stretchers just because the lineups aren’t set and they didn’t row in that seat yesterday or might not row in it tomorrow so in a similar vein, there’s no excuse for you to not adjust the back rest.

If you’re short, move it forward towards the bow to decrease the amount of extra space between your feet and the end of the boat. If you’re around my height (4’11”) then you still might not be able to reach the very tip of the boat with your feet but you’ll be far enough forward that your feet will be closer to the narrow end of the hull which will make it easier to brace them against the sides of the boat.

If you’re tall, you’ll need to move the back rest back towards the stern. For those of you who are more vertically blessed than the rest of us then that might mean moving it back so you’re right against your bow seat’s backstops, which also means that you must lie down as far as you can because their upper bodies/elbows will probably travel in the plane directly over your head. There’s pretty much no way to be a tall coxswain and comfortably cox in a bow loaded four though (at least that’s what I’ve heard from friends) so sacrifices will have to be made.

If the back rests in your shell aren’t the solid planks (which are amazing) and instead are those mesh nets (second in awfulness only to those stupid neck bars that some Resolutes have), make sure that you tighten them enough so that there’s no tension in your upper body when you’re lying down. The first time I coxed a four with one of those I didn’t think to tighten it and came off with the worst headache and a really sore ribcage because I was tensing my body so much to keep myself in a good position to see and not slide around. The next time I was in that boat I pulled the straps about 75% and that ended up being perfect (and not entirely uncomfortable…). If you don’t have one of those mesh nets I’m almost positive you can buy them online from the boat manufacturer but I’ve also seen crews DIY their own from old t-shirts (it involved grommets, carabiners, and thin rope or bungees), which is easier to do that it sounds.

Going back to the “sliding into the bow” problem, it took me forever to figure out how to deal with this. I can lay completely flat in every four I’ve ever been in but if I move the back rest up to the point when I can actually brace my feet against the boat then I end up with my chest right against the steering lever (the one that moves left and right), which as you can imagine makes it really difficult to steer. The solution was to throw an old soccer ball (the smaller ones that are 18-24″ in circumference work great) or a small beach ball into the bow of the boat to put my feet against. This lets you keep the back rest closer to the stern while giving you better control over your body and not compromising your ability to steer. Please don’t listen to your coaches when they tell you to just throw a life jacket in the bow because that’s stupid and not a legitimate solution. One, they’re split down the middle and have a giant hole in them and two, it is incredibly easy to get your feet tangled in them. Worst case scenario, if you flipped and your feet are caught up in a life jacket, how easy do you think it’s gonna be for you to get out of the boat? Not very. Don’t use life jackets.

Related: Coxswain Skills: Boat feel

Eights

It’s pretty easy to brace yourself in an eight but you’ve gotta know how to sit in the seat for this to actually work. You can casually sit in the boat during less intense stuff but when you’re doing pieces, drills, etc. you should make your body is “one with the boat” so you can feel what’s happening and so you’re not getting jerked around. The way to do this is to press your feet into the footboards on either side of your cox box (like you’re trying to push something away from you) while pressing the small of your back (that inward curve right above your butt) into the back of the seat. Doing these two things allows your body to move with the boat rather than in response to it.

Side note, I had a rude awakening when I was coxing in Florida over winter break when I got in the boat and realized our Resolutes don’t have these footboards. I’ve never been less in tune with a boat than I was that week, which was really frustrating for me because I felt like I was missing out on a lot of things the boat was doing. Having your feet flat on the bottom of the hull just doesn’t provide the same … feeling … resistance … I’m not sure what word to use … so it was tough to establish any kind of boat feel when I was in there. Similarly, when we were doing high rate stuff, like starts at 38-42spm, I felt like a rag doll. It took a lot more effort than I’m used to to keep my body stable, despite having what I consider to be pretty solid core strength. So Resolute coxswains … how do you combat this?

When it comes to your upper body, similar to the rowers you want to keep everything loose. Rather than tensing your shoulders to prevent your upper body from moving around you should instead use your core to keep everything stable. (More motivation to do core workouts.) I’ve heard of pressing your elbows into or around the gunnels to keep you from moving but I tried that in Florida and it just hurt so I can’t vouch for that method personally.

The positioning of your fingers/hands is the final component to how you sit in the boat. I know I’ve been talking about this a lot recently but you shouldn’t be gripping the steering cables with a full fist (this creates unnecessary tension in your shoulders and causes you to oversteer).

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

Instead you should hook your thumb, index, and middle fingers around them (see the picture illustrating how I do it in the post linked below) and then finish by hooking your pinkies over the gunnels. This helps you maintain full contact with the boat while preventing you from oversteering due to the limited range of motion you now have thanks to how you’ve weaved the cables between your fingers.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

What advice do you guys have for sitting in the boat? If you’re a tall/short coxswain in a four, what’s your method for positioning yourself?

Image via // @henryfieldman
Coxswain Skills: Race Steering

Coxing How To Racing

Coxswain Skills: Race Steering

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts || How to cox short, high intensity workouts

It’s officially racing season which means your steering is going to be under heavy scrutiny for the next ten weeks. If you steer a straight course you’re not going to get any recognition (and if you do it’s minimal) but any slight deviation towards one buoy line or the other will likely draw the ire of your rowers and/or your coach, depending on their vantage point. You’ve got a lot of “number one” jobs on race day but steering straight is THE number one priority of all your “number one” priorities so make sure it’s a skill you’re honing every day at practice.

Related: How to steer an eight

Steering during a race is, for the most part, exactly the same as steering on any regular day, at least in my opinion. There are very few things I do differently and the things I am doing differently are simply a result of my heightened levels of awareness. One of the hallmarks of steering is that the speed in which the hull responds to the rudder is directly proportional to the speed of the hull itself. The faster you’re going, the faster it’s going to respond to you making adjustments which means that your adjustments have to be that much smaller in order to avoid oversteering and serpentining your way down the course.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1

One thing that helps avoid oversteering is making sure you’re holding the strings correctly. Don’t just grip them with your full fist like you’re holding a broom handle or something – you’ve got to ground yourself in some way to the boat otherwise you’re not going to know when you’re making conscious adjustments or when your hands (and in turn, the rudder) are reacting to the boat surging, falling off keel, etc.

This is how I grip the strings when I’m coxing. I didn’t do it here because it would have been impossible to take the picture but in addition to positioning my fingers like this, I also hook my pinkies over the gunnels. This forces me to make millimeter adjustments at a time and nothing more, which is great for when we’re doing straight-shot pieces or I’m racing. If I want/need to make a larger adjustment then I have to take my pinkies off the gunnels and since 99.9% of my steering these days is auto-pilot, that conscious movement of moving my finger  “wakes me up” to the fact that I’m steering and forces me to evaluate why I’m doing it.

(During a regular practice I don’t hook my pinkies unless we’re doing pieces, mainly because I have small hands and it’s uncomfortable stretching my finger like that for an hour and a half. If you’re working on limiting how much you hit the rudder though you should spend more time with your pinkies hooked than unhooked.)

That aside, it’s time to think about how steering is integrated into your race plan. The most trouble you’re going to have with steering during a race is going to come in the first 3-5 strokes and this is usually a result of sloppy bladework by the rowers. If they’re trying to muscle the boat off the line instead of taking clean, crisp strokes then the boat is going to be offset and your point will get thrown off.

Related: In regards to steering during a sprint race, do you recommend using the tiller to steer or having the ports/starboards row with more pressure for a stroke or two in order to maintain a straight point?

If conditions are poor (wind, chop, etc.) then this will only exacerbate the amount of steering you’ve gotta do. The only way to try to avoid having this happen is to practice your starts and make sure those first few strokes are clean and together before you add the power in the fourth and fifth stroke. The calls you make here should emphasize this too.

We have a five-stroke start and last year our varsity coxswain would call it as “pry, complete, complete, accelerate, go“, where “pry” = light on the seats, pick the boat up out of the water, “complete” = hold the finishes, complete the strokes (aka don’t get so amped that you’re just throwing water around), “accelerate” = start adding power, and “go” = full commitment with the legs, time to haul on it. The more time you spending getting those first five strokes down (or however long your start is), the easier it’ll be on race day to get off the line with minimal touches on the rudder.

Don’t be afraid to tell the rowers too that the cleaner the start the less you’ll have to steer off the line. I’ve said this numerous times but I have no problem telling my crew that if they want me to not steer during a race then I expect them to take good, clean strokes so I don’t have to steer. I’ll take full responsibility for the other 195ish strokes but they’ve gotta work with me on the first five. I know I can hold a straight point without thinking about it so the less distracted I am by having to think about where I’m going, the more I can focus on executing the race plan.

The last thing to think about is the buoys, assuming the course you’re on has them. I’ve touched on how to get a point on buoyed courses before but ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what strategy works best for you. Some coxswains rely on their peripheral vision to maintain an even spacing between the shell and the buoys on either side of them, others focus on where the buoys converge on the horizon (aka their stroke’s head) and just aim straight towards that.

Related: Hi! Since the spring races all start boats at the same time, do you have any tips on steering straight? I can tell when I’m veering off my lane, but for some reason, I can’t/don’t know how to fix it! I remember you saying it’s all about the small adjustments, then straightening out, but I can’t seem to get it. [Ex today: all 3 boats lined up, me on the outside, I end up too far out away from the other 2]. Tips? Thanks!

There is no right or wrong strategy so utilize the time you have to practice on the course (if you have any) to see which one is easier for you. The first time I steered a buoyed course my coach told me to just go out and steer like I would if there weren’t buoys there and this allowed me to do whatever came naturally when it came to holding a point rather than explicitly focusing on where the buoys converged or where they were on either side of me in relation to the shell.

Not having buoys, while annoying, isn’t the end of the world. Like I said at the beginning, the only differences in my steering on race day is that I’m more aware of and subtle about my adjustments. That’s basically the “trick” for steering on an un-buoyed course. Grip the strings like I showed earlier, pick a point off the starting line (or aim at the markers at the end of the course if there are any – i.e. on the Charles there are 8ft tall lime green markers strapped to the trees on the Boston side across from the BU boathouse), and only make millimeter adjustments as necessary or as dictated by the weather conditions/bladework.

Image via // @rowingcelebration
Coxswain Skills: Coxing sprint workouts

Coxing How To Rowing Training & Nutrition

Coxswain Skills: Coxing sprint workouts

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts

Last week I talked about the nuances of coxing steady state workouts … this week is about coxing higher intensity, sprint workouts.

Related: How to cox steady state workouts

Science

Whereas steady state workouts are all about the long, slow burn of energy, sprint workouts are all about the short and fast use of it. These workouts are anaerobic, meaning they don’t rely on oxygen like aerobic (steady state) ones do to produce energy. It’s created at a much higher rate but the caveat is that whatever pace you’re holding is only sustainable for a few seconds up to around two minutes. Think of it like this – if the body of a 2k is like the 800m or 1500m events in track (where you have to balance your power and endurance without relying to heavily on one or the other), the start and sprint are like the 100m dash (where you’re just going flat out as hard as you can for a very short period of time).

Focus

Power. Power, power, power.  It’s a lot harder to make big technical changes during these pieces so you can’t be making the same kind of long, drawn out “coaching” calls that you make during steady state. This is your opportunity to really cox the rowers and get into it so don’t waste strokes by focusing too much on technique and not enough on getting them used to being in high pressure, racing-type situations (regardless of whether you’re next to another crew or not).

Tone

Since these shorter pieces usually involve being at or near race-pace, your tone should reflect that. Overall it should be alert, direct, and energetic without crossing the threshold of being batshit crazy and frantic (which is a typical novice problem). Your words should still be easily discernible … if they’re not, you need to slow down and focus on the quality of your calls and not the quantity.

Calls

Because the focus is more on power and you don’t have as much time to “coach” the rowers like you do when you’re doing steady state, the best/easiest way to incorporate technical calls into the workout is to tie them into your motivational ones. This is easy to do when you’re doing side-by-side pieces with another crew because you can make calls like “let’s take five to sharpen up the catches and take a seat on the JV” or even simpler, us any variation of “legs send“, “hook send“, “legs accelerate”, “direct squeeze“, etc. followed up with “WALKING” to let them know that whatever they’re doing is resulting in you walking on the other crew.

There’s usually not a ton of rest time (i.e. if you’re doing a 20 on, 10 off stroke rate ladder you’ve got maybe 30 seconds between each 20) so you have to make the most of the off-time by quickly and succinctly touching on the positive/negatives of the piece and reiterating whatever the focus/goals are for the next one. When I’m coxing this usually sounds like “OK guys, first 10 felt good but the second 10 started to sag, let’s make sure we’re staying light on the seats and picking it up together with the hips and not with the shoulders…”. I usually try to get out whatever I want/need to say in the first three or four strokes, that way they can row a few strokes in silence before we build it up again.

If you’ve got a little longer between pieces, like if you’re doing 4x2k and have two(ish) minutes between each one, then that gives you a bit more time to discuss with your stroke seat how it felt and decide what the focus needs to be for the next piece. Keep in mind that you’ve gotta balance that with (in most cases) stopping, spinning, communicating with the other coxswain(s) on your point, getting lined up, and giving the coach(es) time to talk if there’s anything they want/need to say. Even though there’s technically more rest time you might not actually get more time to converse with the crew so keep your feedback short like how I mentioned during the first example and then elaborate as necessary if you have time.

After the piece

You must – must – paddle after these pieces for at least ten strokes so the lactic acid (the byproduct of energy production) can work its way out of the rowers’ bodies. Stopping abruptly after a high intensity piece and not giving the body a chance to remove it can eventually lead to muscle cramps so remind the crew to keep moving and take slow, consistent breaths (since the burning feeling in their bodies is due to both lactic acid build up and a lack of oxygen – remember, anaerobic = no oxygen).

Image via // Boston Magazine
Coxswain Skills: Coxing steady state workouts

Coxing How To Rowing Training & Nutrition

Coxswain Skills: Coxing steady state workouts

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval

As disappointed as I am that we got like, no snow this winter, I am pumped that we were able to get on the water a full five weeks sooner than we were last year. We’ve been out for about two weeks now and have been doing our usual mix of steady state workouts and shorter, higher intensity pieces. I know there are several guys that love doing sprint workouts and loathe the steady state ones so on days when we’re doing 3-2-1 @ 18-20-24 for 19 minutes (like we did yesterday with the 1V) it’s important that the coxswains do their part to keep the energy up in the boat. This is accomplished less by knowing what to say (though that helps, obviously) and more so understanding how to cox these types of pieces, which is what today’s post is going to be about.

Science

Steady state (aerobic) workouts are long pieces at low(er) rates with short amounts of rest between each individual piece. In rowing, the longer you can go before the body experiences fatigue the better, so in order to accomplish that we focus the bulk of our training on workouts that work to improve our cardiovascular fitness. Simply put, the stronger the cardiovascular system, the better your endurance, and the further into a 2k you’ll get before you start to get tired. If you can delay the onset of fatigue from, for example, 1300m to 1800m, that could be the difference in who crosses the line first.

Focus

These pieces are prime opportunity to focus on technique and incorporate in the things you’ve heard the coach saying to the crew/individual rowers, as well as continue reiterating the concepts they’re trying to convey when you’re doing drills. For example, this week we’ve really been going all in on the catch. Since that’s the only part of the stroke we’ve really focused on, if I were our coxswains I’d make sure that was my main priority as far as technical calls go. You don’t want to be bouncing around (i.e. making a call for the catch on one stroke, a call for the finish on the next one, etc.) because that’s distracting so make a point to consider what your coach’s main focus has been that day/week so that your calls incorporate and reinforce that.

You can also tie in your technical focus to your team goals. For example, last year we lost to GW at Sprints by an absurd 0.1 seconds, which ended up preventing the eight from going to IRAs. If you consider how minuscule 0.1 seconds is when spread out across 2000 meters, it’s easy to see how all eight rowers consistently getting the blades in just a hair sooner at the catch and maximizing the amount of time they’re in the water can make a difference.

Tone

Tone is an area where a lot of coxswains struggle during steady state. If your tone is passive then the rowing will be too so you’ve got to work to find a balance between the energy you bring during sprint pieces and not sounding like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller (YouTube it).

When it comes to what you’re saying during sprint pieces, you’ll want to be moving between two types of calls – normal coxing calls and “coaching” calls. Your normal coxing calls should be said in a crisp, focused tone that gets the rowers attention without being jarring or too in their face. (If these types of calls are at an 8-9ish during a race, during steady state they should be around a 6-7ish.) Coaching calls are said in a more conversational tone – you’re not necessarily trying to match the rhythm of the strokes or anything like that, you’re just talking to the crew like you’d talk to them during a normal face to face conversation.

Calls

As with all your calls, you should keep your coaching calls as tight as possible and eliminate any filler words but don’t get so hung up on the idea that a call is only right/good if it’s five monosyllabic words or less. That’s not how it works (but that’s a conversation/debate for another post).

During steady state the bulk of my calls tend to be coaching calls but I try to follow up with coxing calls as necessary to reiterate the main point of whatever I was just saying. (I wanna say I do this ~50% of the time.) Below are two examples of some coaching calls based on some of the notes I’ve taken this week and in the case of the first one, what coxing calls I’d follow them up with.

“Let’s get the blades locked in behind us here … making sure we’re accelerating through our full arc. Unweight the hands in the last second of the recovery, find that resistance, … and prrry through. Pick off the catch … and accelerate. Lock, squeeze … lock, squeeze … lock, squeeze.

“The goal is to let gravity do the work so let’s sharpen up the catches by relaxing the outside shoulder and unweighting the handle before the slides turn around.”

Compared to your normal “lock, send” type of calls, these take a lot longer to say which some of you might try to get around by saying them as quickly as you can force them out of your mouth. Don’t. One, no one can understand you when you do that. Literally no one. Two, as you run out of breath you get quieter so by the time you finish your sentence your bow four probably assumes that you just trailed off because they can’t hear anything you’re saying. Three, in situations like this there’s nothing wrong with taking three, four, five strokes to say something to the crew. You’re rowing for 10+ miles, I think you can spare a few strokes to make a single call.

Related: Since were still waiting for the river to be ice-free, I’ve been thinking about what I need to work on when we get back on the water. I’ve decided that coxing steady state pieces are harder for me to cox. I think it’s because I don’t want to talk to much but I’m also scared of not saying enough or being too repetitive. Do you have advice for coxing steady state workouts?

Another important thing to remember is that you don’t have to talk the entire time, nor should you. Not only is that the easiest way to run out of things to say and set yourself up to become a repetitive parrot, eventually the rowers are just going to tune you out because you’re annoying and not saying anything substantial. Not talking gives you a chance to focus on the bladework and mull over in your head what calls you want to make while also giving them some time to process what you/the coach have been saying (and/or just enjoy rowing in silence for a bit). I try to break up my calls by doing 30 second internal focuses if there’s something specific I want them to think about (“Let’s take the next 30 seconds to listen to the catches and tighten up the timing…”) or I’ll just … stop talking for a bit. I don’t think you not talking always needs to be planned or announced but try to keep an eye on the clock anyways so that you don’t go for more than a minute at time without saying something (unless otherwise instructed).

Related: 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.

Miscellaneous reminders

When you’re doing these pieces you want to be aware of any time restrictions that are placed on the piece or the amount of rest since they usually correlate to a specific heart rate zone that you’re trying to stay within. (For example, if you’ve got three minutes of rest between pieces, make sure that it’s actually three minutes and not ninety seconds or five minutes. This is also why you need a working cox box and/or a watch – your phone doesn’t count.) The time between pieces is usually going to be spent paddling, spinning, getting water, discussing the previous piece, or a combination of all four so you’ve got to monitor your timer and not let them sit for too long or waste too much time getting water or lined up because this can mess with how effective the piece is.

Related: (Another reason) Why you need a working cox box

Also keep in mind that when you’re doing steady state with another boat, you’re not racing or competing against them. You can go off of them as positive reinforcement (“yea guys, we took three seats over the last ten strokes just by focusing more on maximizing our length through the water…” or “we’re side by side with the 2V right now, let’s see if we can push our bow ball ahead by getting a little more connection off the front end”) but you shouldn’t be going out and saying “OK, they’re seven lengths of open ahead of us, let’s take ten to walk back a seat”. Like … no. I’ve listened to way too many recordings where coxswains do that.

(Loosely) Related: My girls really like when I cox off of other boats, even if we’re just doing steady state. I’m in the 2V boat so they all want to beat the 1V at ALL times. I find it easy to cox when we’re next to another boat/in front of it. However, I never quite know what to say without being negative and annoying when we’re CLEARLY behind another boat. Yesterday afternoon we were practically three lengths behind the v1, and we STILL didn’t catch up even when they added a pause. What do I say at times like these? I always end up getting rather quiet since the overall attitude of my boat is pretty down. I feel like whenever I call a 10 or get into the piece at this point it does absolutely nothing, since my rowers have practically given up.

If I’m doing a long row with another crew then I’ll spend 98% of it focused on us and then maybe get competitive with them if they’re nearby (while still staying within the confines of the piece as far as rate goes) for the last few hundred meters, just to tie everything together and make sure we end on a high note. It’s not the main, secondary, or even tertiary focus of these pieces though so don’t go out there when you’re doing 12 miles of steady state with the sole goal of “beating” the other boat.

Image via // @stanfordlwtcrew

How To Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh!  I am a junior in college and due to a combination of good and bad experiences with coaches as well as a love for the sport,  I’m seriously considering coaching once I graduate and just had a few questions.  Would you say you need a specific degree to coach,  or is the saying “A degree is worth the paper it’s printed on” true? Do I have any chance of getting the opportunity be a grad assistant if I’m not studying exercise science, sports management or something else related? In general what advice would you give to someone who wants to coach? Thank you!

Ah, I love this question!

You definitely don’t need a specific degree. I studied exercise science because I went into college wanting to do research with/on athletes. (You know the show Sport Science on ESPN? I basically wanted to do all the stuff John Brenkus does.) I guess in some ways having that background has helped with coaching but I can’t think of a specific instance where I’ve actually used my degree in the four years I’ve been coaching. (Literally me.) Off the top of my head, the majors of the other coaches at the boathouse when they were in college were history, law (our head coach was a lawyer for 15ish years before he started coaching), theater, sociology, biology, political science, and English. Ultimately I think it’s less about whatever degree you have and more about how you apply the skills you learned while getting it … which I guess is true for most jobs.

Grad assistants and volunteer assistants are kinda the same and kinda different. Grad assistants sometimes get paid but they also obviously have the added hurdle of getting into grad school first. Volunteer assistants don’t get paid at all (NCAA rules, limit on number of coaches, etc.) and don’t have to be in grad school to coach there. I looked at a few schools that were hiring grad assistants but I’m just so burned out on school that I never pursued it. (Learning is great but school is blech so getting another degree, even if I can do it while coaching, is tabled for the foreseeable future.)

The best way to get into coaching is to just find a junior team that’s hiring coaches and reach out to them. They’re practically a dime a dozen so as long as you’ve got some rowing/coxing experience it shouldn’t be too hard to get involved. I definitely think starting out with juniors is the way to go because even if it’s with a top program, the environment is just more conducive to you being able to figure out your coaching style and trial-and-error stuff to find out what works. In some cases it’s something you can do while you’re still in school too. One of my friends started coaching his junior year and would coach the novices twice a week in the afternoons when they were in season and then four times a week during winter training. In the summers he helped out with the learn-to-row camps they offered and then after graduation he became their head coach for a year or two while working for a local company.

I was at a coaching conference a couple years ago, around the same time I decided coaching at the college level was what I wanted to do, and I asked Kevin Sauer (UVA’s coach) if he had any advice. He said that the best way to start coaching at this level is to go be a volunteer assistant because not only does it give you a lot of valuable experience but also because pretty much no team is ever going to turn down free help. I had a lot – like, a lot – of people tell me that was an awful idea (including other coaches I know who had been volunteer coaches … they compared it to indentured servitude) because you don’t get paid (the biggest deterrent, especially for people my age who are saddled with a ton of student loans and can’t really afford to work for free) and it’s not always a positive experience. One of the coaches I talked to told me that I’ll either figure out exactly what I want in a team or I’ll find out exactly what I don’t want and the latter kind of sums of my first experience with volunteer coaching.

I was initially really excited about it (and blatantly ignored any and all reservations that I had, which was stupid) and then spent the next few months thinking “I’ve made a huge mistake“. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep coaching after that, at least at this level, but my high school coach encouraged me to keep looking and that’s how I found my current job at MIT. One of my friends rowed here so I knew a little about the team and I figured what the hell, I’m moving back to Boston anyways, might as well reach out. I think within like, ten minutes of talking to our assistant on the phone I was like … this is where I want to be. At the end of our conversation he said he still had two or three other people to interview but I flat out said (a lot more aggressively than I’d intended) that I wanted the job and that was pretty much it. It was very much a “when you know, you know” situation for me and I haven’t regretted it once since. (I could seriously go on for days about why this has been such a positive experience for me but I’ll spare you.)

Something I see repeated a lot (and that I agree with) is to not assume that just because you’ve been rowing or coxing for awhile that you can just jump right into coaching (especially at the collegiate level) and be good at it. You do have to humble yourself a bit and put aside your own success and recognize that that has little to no bearing on how good of a coach you’ll be. There’s definitely some work that goes into figuring out how to communicate the things that seem like common sense to you to a group of rowers (especially novices) who might not conceptually understand what you’re saying. I think that’s probably what I spent most of my first year coaching working out how to do.

Definitely work your contacts though and keep your eyes and ears open for coaching or other volunteer opportunities in the summer as a way to get your foot in the door. One of the camps I coach at (Northeast Rowing Center) has college kids work as the counselors so that’d be something worth looking into if there are any camps being hosted near you. (If you want more info on NRC feel free to email me.) It’s super low-key and chill since your main responsibility is to make sure the kids get from Point A to Point B and don’t do anything stupid outside of practice and you get the benefit of being able to spend time with other coaches who could prove to be helpful connections in the future.

There’s probably a lot more I could say on this that I’m just not thinking of right now so if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

Coxswain Skills: How to handle a negative coxswain evaluation

College Coxing High School How To Teammates & Coaches

Coxswain Skills: How to handle a negative coxswain evaluation

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel 

This might seem like an unconventional topic to put under the “things you should know how to do” umbrella but after spending many hours on coxswain evals over the last year and a half and occasionally feeling like pulling teeth would have been a more enjoyable experience, I think learning how to handle negative feedback/constructive criticism is an important skill that coxswains need to pick up sooner rather than later.

Feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to your growth as a coxswain. When communicated properly, it should touch on three main things – what you’re doing well, what you need to improve on, and areas where you’ve made improvements since your last evaluation. This is a big reason why I revamped how the info on our evals is communicated to the coxswains. Before the coaches just handed them the 20+ pieces of paper and left them to their own devices but now it’s all laid out in a single spreadsheet that hits the three points I mentioned before.

Related: Coxswain evaluations + my system for organizing them

Where going over evals becomes a contentious and unproductive process is when you take the negative feedback personally. Being told you aren’t doing something well can sting because of the amount of time we put into coxing but if someone is critiquing your coxing, they’re not critiquing you. You have to be able to separate you the person from you the coxswain and look at these situations objectively. On the flip side though, if you’re not putting in the necessary extra effort outside of practice (or hell, even at practice…) or you show up every day with a shitty attitude then you really have no right to complain about whatever’s being said, which I think more coxswains than not need to understand.

With that in mind, here are eight things (some of which may or may not be inspired by our coxswains 😬) that you shoudn’t do when going over your evals.

Don’t get defensive

In most cases it’s the natural reaction to have but it can also come off as pretty immature. There’s a difference between defending your actions or making a case for why you did something a certain way and straight up making an excuse. You can defend something you’ve done one time (i.e. going through the wrong arch because you were unsure of which one to use due to construction on the bridge – a common problem on the Charles where this is always changing) but if you’re trying to defend something you’ve done multiple times (i.e. hitting the dock when coming in at the end of practice) then you’re just making excuses for why you haven’t adapted your steering to account for whatever was causing you to run into the dock in the first place (i.e. your speed, angle, line, etc.).

Don’t have an attitude or be sarcastic

Full disclosure, I started putting this post together after a particularly … uh, heated … meeting with one of our coxswains this past fall where this was the biggest issue I faced in trying to communicate with them the feedback that was on the evals. The bottom line is that you can be annoyed all you want but don’t be an asshole to the person taking time out of their schedule to go over this stuff with you because I promise, it just makes them not want to do it in the future … and if you have someone willing to go out of their way to discuss all of it with you, you are foolish if you don’t take advantage of it.

Don’t apologize 47 times for whatever mistake(s) you’ve made

Mainly looking at you, high school girls. Say it once sincerely and move on. Don’t make your coaches coddle you and have to keep saying “it’s fine” – I’ve had to do this recently and eventually it gets to the point where I’m like “I literally do not care if you’re sorry or how sorry you are, just do something different“. The more times you say sorry (especially for really trivial things that don’t require an apology) without actively changing your actions or behavior, the less your apology is going to mean when you really do screw up.

Don’t react immediately

If your immediate reaction to the feedback you’re getting is to blurt out “that’s not fair”, “I completely disagree”, etc. you will look so immature, even if the comments are unfair (which they rarely are) and you do disagree (which is fine but see point #1). Absorb the comments and think about what’s being said so you can try to understand why someone made that comment and then say that you’d like to come back to it later, either at the end of practice, tomorrow, etc., after you’ve had time to think about and process it.

And coaches, if your coxswain goes this route … respect it and say “OK, let’s touch base later”, even if that means spending an extra 20 minutes at the boathouse. If you force the issue by saying”no, we’re gonna do this now” you’re just gonna make them resent the whole evaluation process and their confidence/abilities will suffer as a result.

Don’t dwell on it, let it affect future practices, or use it as a reason/excuse for why you have a bad practice the following day

If you were caught off guard by the comments then that’s fine and you should take some time to deal with that but you also need to commit to letting them go, particularly when it’s time to get on the water. No pity parties or “woe is me” attitudes because the rowers don’t give a shit and the coaches are just gonna get annoyed because we have other stuff to focus on.

Don’t ignore comments you disagree with

Not all feedback is useful but disagreeing with a comment doesn’t mean you can straight up ignore it, particularly when getting any kind of feedback is so tough in the first place.

Don’t waste the opportunity to discuss, strategize, etc.

It’s like at the end of a job interview when they ask if you have any questions. You should always ask questions. I’m currently in the process of going over our winter evals with the coxswains and I told them ahead of time to bring questions, comments, things they wanted/needed clarification on, an action plan for the rest of winter training, a list of goals based on the feedback that was given, etc. because this is the prime chance to discuss all of that stuff with me. I see and talk to them every single day but direct one-on-one time like this is rare, as I assume it is with most of you and your coaches, so don’t waste the opportunity to pick their brains when it’s offered.

Don’t be resentful

If your coach(es) or the rowers have been telling you something for awhile and then it comes up again in the evals, you can expect that they’re all thinking “well … we told you so”. This shouldn’t piss you off or give you cause to be bitter towards them, it should instead act as a wake up call (or a “come to Jesus” moment, as our head coach calls it) that you need to do some serious self-analysis and get your shit together. They are telling you this stuff for. a. reason. Don’t ignore them just because you don’t think it’s important because it will bit you in the ass later.

Obviously these critiques are about what’s being said but ultimately their effectiveness is measured by how you handle and respond to them. This will also dictate how future evals go – the more receptive you are to feedback and the more diligently you go about addressing whatever issues are brought up, the more likely the rowers will be to continue giving you feedback because they can see that you’re taking it seriously. If you come off as aloof or combative in response to what’s being said, you’re not going to get better because the rowers will stop giving you any sort of feedback because it looks like you’re not taking it seriously. It’s your call.

Image via // @merijnsoeters
How to train when you’re sick … as a coxswain

Coxing How To Training & Nutrition

How to train when you’re sick … as a coxswain

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)

Coxing while sick is pretty damn unpleasant. If you’re not going through practice in a fog then you’re spending half of it hacking into the mic, which leaves you really sore and the rowers really irritated. I usually try to avoid coxing when I’m sick and I’ve been lucky that most of the coaches I’ve had were cool about giving us a break when we needed it but here are my three top tips for how to handle practice when you’re feeling under the weather.

Related: How to train when you’re sick (as a rower)

Turn the volume on your cox box up

I usually have it at about ⅓ volume but when I’m sick I turn the knob about ⅔ of the way up. If you’re losing your voice, have a sore throat, or your chest/torso is sore from coughing (this tends to be my problem) turning the volume up will continue amplifying your voice while letting you talk a little quieter and with less force than you normally do. This can be a life saver if you’re treading the line between having a voice and losing it. Just make sure you tell your crew you’re doing this since getting blasted by the speakers isn’t the most enjoyable way to go through practice.

Related: What coxswains can do to protect their voice

Be aware of the meds you’re taking

Cough suppressants, nasal decongestants, etc. are usually fine to take but just be aware if you start to feel loopy or anything before practice or while you’re on the water. If this happens, tell your coach or a teammate immediately. This really isn’t the time to wonder or care if someone’s going to be pissed at you. My freshman year of college I made the mistake of grabbing the wrong box (because I was in a hurry and not feeling well) and taking the “pop these if you want to fall asleep ASAP” meds before practice, which I realized while on the bus to the boathouse. I told my coach and our assistant drove me back to my dorm but after that I made sure everything was very clearly labelled “drowsy” and “non-drowsy” since reading boxes while sick and rushing out the door wasn’t always my top priority.

Similarly, if you go to the doctor and they give you medicine (and clear you to continue practicing), be aware of any side effects that come with it. It is really hard to cox when internally you’re freaking out because you’re experiencing the shortness of breath side effect that supposedly only a very small fraction of patients experience with the new meds you just started taking. Had that happen (also in college, also during the same week as the drowsy drugs incident) while coxing a race piece and it was just a straight up awful experience.

Switch out with another coxswain (if one’s available) and ride in the launch

If you’re not sick enough to miss practice but you’re not feeling 100% either, this is your equivalent to the rowers biking instead of going on the water to give their bodies a break. If I or any of the other coxswains were ever at this point my coach would have us ride in the launch and take video for him. It was an easy way to keep us engaged in what was going on, which we all definitely appreciated since getting sick can be a guilt trip-inducing experience for coxswains.

If there are no other coxswains that can rotate in for you, you pretty much just have to suck it up and do the best you can. Presumably if you’re at practice to begin with, even if you’re planning on riding in the launch, you’re OK enough to cox so this shouldn’t be too difficult to do but just communicate with your coach and crew so they know you’re not feeling great and can take that into account if you’re not up to your usual standards.

Image via // @ryanjnicholsonphoto