Tag: motivation

Racing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: 1996 Atlanta Olympics M8+ Final

One of my favorite things about coaching at camps in the summer is the other coaches I get to work with. I’ve gotten to work with Michiel Bartman the last two years at the Sparks camps and this year I had the chance to hear him talk about his introduction to the sport and his experience at the Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens Olympics where he won gold and two silvers. TBH I’d tell people to come to Sparks just to hear this talk … it’s that captivating.

This week’s video is the final of the Atlanta Olympics when the Netherlands won the gold. I won’t spoil the whole talk he gave but here’s part of what he said about this race:

“When I rowed that race, that final, I don’t know anything of the first 1000 meters. I know that I heard the beep and I know just before 1000 meters when our coxswain said, when the Germans were a little bit ahead of us, ‘Germans are fading, we go now‘. That’s when I kind of like, woke up. In the last 1000 meters, I’m rowing in 3-seat, and it’s clear that we’re going to win … you start to hear the crowd, usually it’s just the people you row for, your parents and that’s about it, but here it was several thousand people in huge grandstands producing a lot of noise, which was totally foreign to me. So I already hear going into the last 500 meters the roars and then going into the last 250 meters, I think ‘we’re going to win’ and the next stroke I think ‘shut up, you’re not there yet’. And then we crossed the finish line … and you know, everything just comes together.”

Also, fun fact about Michiel – he was the stroke of the Dutch 8+ that raced Harvard in 2004. You’re probably familiar with the race.

College Racing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Inches

It’s crazy that I’ve been posting videos every Monday for three and a half years and I haven’t posted this one yet. It’s been my favorite rowing video for as long as I can remember … and it’s not even a rowing video. Not really, anyways. I made the decision awhile ago that I wasn’t going to post it on the blog until the time was right because I didn’t want to post it on just any regular Monday … it had to be before something big. Well, now’s that time.

Last year at Sprints we lost to George Washington by 0.1 seconds. 0.1 seconds. Practically a bow ball. We came in 4th by 0.1 seconds and missed out on qualifying the eight for IRAs. One inch.

The inches we need are everywhere around us. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. Claw with our fingernails for that inch because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing … between living and dying.

In any fight it’s the guy who’s willing to die who is going to win that inch.

Defining the role of the coxswain: Motivation

Coxing Teammates & Coaches

Defining the role of the coxswain: Motivation

Despite not being that high on the list of things you’re responsible for doing, helping to motivate your crew is still an important part of your job as a coxswain.

Related: What do coaches look for in a coxswain + Motivation (tag)

I’ve talked a lot about motivation in the past and there’s definitely no shortage of inspiration in the quotes, videos, and recordings I post but if you want something simpler to go off of, here are the two most basic things you can do to motivate your teammates.

Lead by example

Be present because even on days when practice is boring, you can’t be. If you’re motivated by something, whether it’s a personal goal or a team goal, bring that energy to practice and on the water. Your interactions with the rowers, coxswains, and coaches, your engagement during team meetings, etc. are all things that might seem inconsequential but can actually be strong motivating factors for the people around you.

Know what your teammates want

If you’ve asked me any version of the question “what’s a good call to make to motivate my crew”, you’ll know that my first answer is ALWAYS to talk to your teammates. Everybody is driven by different things which means you have to pay attention and get to know the people on your team so you know where their motivation lies. Remember, your job isn’t necessarily to give them motivation, it’s to draw out what’s already there.

Both of these should be considered “non-negotiable” – you should be doing them every single day without thinking about it and without being asked. Given that most of us are in the midst of winter training and are likely to be stuck inside for at least another six weeks, doing both of these is a good way to start setting yourself apart from the other coxswains.

Image via // @spsbc_17
End of the season calls + motivation

College Coxing Racing Rowing

End of the season calls + motivation

This is an email I sent over the weekend to our varsity coxswain who will be driving the four we’re taking to IRAs this weekend. As I’ve said in the past, being in the launch every day has its perks and while it may be boring at times it can be a useful tool once the end of the season rolls around. I tend to take a lot of notes when we’re out, either in a notebook or on my phone, and it’s nice to be able to pull them out now and get a few ideas for calls or new things to say that we haven’t talked about in awhile. Even though you could take a lot of what I said down below into the boat with you verbatim, there’s really only a few explicitly laid out calls in here. There’s a lot to be inferred though so coming up with calls on your own shouldn’t be hard.

“Here’s some of my notes on the guys from the last few months. The whole not being able to see them thing means you’ve gotta rely on what you know they have a tendency to do and these are their tendencies. Incorporate these into your calls this week (throughout the entire practice, not just the 500s and 250s we’ll be doing) so you can pull them out on Fri/Sat/Sun without having to think about it.


No wind up

No up and down movement with the shoulders at the catch – lock the blade in then hang on it (“suspend send” for three is a good call here…don’t say “for the next three” or anything, just call it…)

Keep the hands moving out of the finish – he’s got to be a metronome if he’s gonna stroke this four and it’s on you to not let up for a single stroke if you see the rate fall off.

Release clean, feel the boat send away followed by smooth, relaxed hands out of the finish

Lean into the rigger


Keep the shoulders low

Patient with hands out of the finish

Don’t lunge at the catch

Hold the finishes, has a tendency to wash out at higher rates/pressures


Sit up/posture in general, particularly through the back end

Stay loose in the shoulders (tends to get tense when told to sit up)

Don’t get grabby at the catch

Back it in, don’t miss water at the catch

Hands down and away – specifically say “[his name]” when you make this call so he knows you’re talking to him

Stay connected with the feet at the finish


Hold the finishes in

Don’t cut off the lay back, get all the swing through the finish – especially important since he’s in bow now

General stuff

Suspend the weight, feet light on the stretchers

Accelerate with the hips

No lift out of the catch

Find speed through the legs

Smooth turnaround at the finish, keep the hands and seat moving (important for [STROKE], he adds the tiniest pause over the knees and that’s where [THREE] + [TWO] get ahead of him)

Build together through the water, don’t force it via rushing the hands out of bow ([THREE] + [TWO] in particular but applies to the whole boat)

Stay relaxed and long

During the “10 to relax” after the start, focus on actually getting them to relax and swing rather than just calling another 10. You shouldn’t need to count this out, instead remind them that every stroke needs to be relaxed but intentional, free of tension, etc. and then make repetitive swing-related calls for several strokes as you begin to establish your rhythm. Keep your voice calm but focused here.

Third 500 – the focus has to re-shift back to their form as fatigue sets in. Catches sharp, posture tall, cores solid, chins up, hanging on the handle, sequencing, mind over matter, etc. – all of it has to be on point. Every single thing you say, more so in this 500 than any other 500 during the race, has to have a purpose otherwise all you’re doing is taking speed away instead of adding it.

During the last 500 when you build for the sprint you have to be unrelenting when it comes to those rates. I know we’ve talked about not getting picky when it falls off by a beat but during the sprint that can’t happen. As the rate goes up remind them to sustain their rhythm and speed by picking it up together and staying light on the seats. As [THREE] said, the organization during this chunk needs to be better. There can’t be any second-guessing, tripping over your calls, periods of silence, etc. especially if you’re tight with another crew.

Be prepared. Eliminate all distractions. Be relentless. That’s your only job this week.”

Image via // @calebj.photography

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi – I was wondering what you thought about motivating rowers outside of practice, such as making healthy choices or attending practice more often. Sometimes when I try this I feel pretentious or nosy and even though I have respect from my teammates in the boat and at practice, they might not take me seriously or say something along the lines of, “thanks Coach”. Thanks for any advice.

Eh, I think this is one of those things where you have to know your audience and understand the culture of the program. If you’re a fairly casual team then having someone suddenly trying to inject in a level of enthusiasm and personal responsibility that isn’t typically there can come off as you being that “eager beaver” type of person that we all know and roll our eyes at. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to try to up the level of your team but … it doesn’t always work. It also depends on your experience level too. If you’re a novice and you’re walking down the hallways at school saying “make good choices!” to other people on your team then it can’t be hard to see how that would get annoying.

Personally, I really don’t like when people do this because it’s rare that it actually comes off as intended and not as coming from a place of superiority. It’s just one of those things that (maybe irrationally sometimes) really pisses me off, regardless of whether it’s happening to me or people around me. Making healthy choices, showing up to practice, etc. are things that people need to decide for themselves that they’re going to do and it can be really annoying to have someone in your ear telling you to do something that you aren’t fully committed to doing. It’s kind of like telling an addict that they need to get clean – most of them know that’s what they need to do but they don’t want to do it because someone’s telling them to, they want to do it because it’s what they want and choose to do. It’s a weird analogy but one of my coaches said that to us in college and it’s just always kinda stuck with me.

Ultimately I think you can go one of two ways here. One, just back off because this approach isn’t working. Two, talk to one person (your stroke seat or the person who seems to be the most committed out of the group) about why you’re doing this and get them to buy into it. It’s a lot easier to get other people to buy in if you’ve already got someone (influential) on your side. Think about how you’re communicating this too – if you feel like you’re coming off wrong figure out why. Is it just because people aren’t responding the way you want them to (you can communicate fine and still have people not respond) or is it because you actually do sound pretentious when you talk to them? This is a good skill to develop in general so I’d encourage you to do it regardless of what you end up deciding to do. Every situation is different but in this one I’d say it’s probably best to just let it go because it sounds like you’re (unintentionally) annoying your teammates more than you’re motivating them. I wouldn’t take it personally though, especially if you still get along well and they still respect you in general.

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 27

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 27

Chelsea Lucas 2008 Junior World Championships Team USA W8+ Grand Final

If this recording doesn’t give you goosebumps, check your pulse. This is one of the best recordings out there because it checks all the boxes – execution of the race plan, tone of voice, communication with the crew, etc. She does such a good job of telling them their location on the other crews throughout the race, specifically where they are seat-wise. The rowers could be blindfolded the entire race and still know exactly where they are – that’s what you want!

Once they get out of the start and settle into their base rhythm she shifts her down to a more relaxed tone (still intense, still focused, just a little more chill) but at 2:07 you can sense it starting to shift back up before she hits you with that next level of intensity at 2:14. She demonstrates a lot of vocal control through those first two minutes, which is definitely something worth practicing since that can be a hard part of the race for coxswains to maintain their composure in. As they start walking through crews she continues to do a really good job of telling them they’re moving and by how much with each stroke.

At 3:09 she calls for five to use the hips and then says “hips five, hips four…”, which is a good example of what I’ve talked about in the past with regards to knowing when during the stroke to say the numbers (if you say them). “Hips” is obviously a front end call since you’re engaging your hips at the catch as your press through the drive, thus it wouldn’t make sense to stick with the regular convention of calling the numbers at the catch, which is why she flips to calling them at the finish. Also, notice how all of her calls are “let’s”, “we”, etc.?

Another thing I’ve talked about a lot recently is motivational calls. “Make them remember this” at 3:51 is a great example of a good motivational call. (Her tone building into that call is flawless too.) Notice too how they’re progressively walking through Germany and up on Romania? She’s constantly telling them their position, which is also hugely motivating, especially in races that are tight like this one is. Even though there isn’t video of this race, you, the person listening, should still easily be able to plot out where the United States, Germany, Romania, etc. are based entirely on the positional updates she’s giving her boat. If you can get excited about where they started vs. where they’re at now just based off of listening to her calls, imagine what it’s like for the rowers who are actually in the boat. They don’t have to worry about where they’re at or what’s going on around them, all they’ve gotta do is focus on one thing, which is moving the boat and that is one of the most motivating things a coxswain can do for their crew.

We gotta talk about 4:44 too … if that isn’t the most motivating, most savage fucking call you’ve ever heard, what is?? There’s a reason why you hear so many coxswains nowadays use that and say it the exact same way.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize that between the start of the race and 5:10 they went from being 4 seats down on Romania to 5.5 seats up, which makes her call of “we’re 500m away from a world championship” at 5:10 so much more epic. Another example of a brutally motivational call. This is one of the ones you keep in your back pocket though for the big races – we’re talking grand finals at IRAs, last 250m at Henley, etc.

The ending is crazy frantic but it’s the right kind of frantic. It’s energetic, it’s electric, it’s just … hard to put into words. If you’ve been in a race like this then you know you can’t really describe it because even though you’re 100% in the moment as it’s all happening, as soon as you come off the water you’re like … what just happened??? Anyways, this is just a great recording and one of the very few that falls under the “gold standard” umbrella. Definitely a lot to be taken away from it and incorporated into your own coxing.

Other calls I liked:

“Lay it on…”

“Let’s close this gap, baby…”

“Stand up!

“This one’s gonna be close guys, time to sit up and show ’em who we are…”

Steve Young USA Men’s 8+ Practice

This is a super short recording from inside the USA men’s 8+ during one of their steady state practices in the lead up to the 2013 World Cup. Right off the bat I love the “find that confident finish” call and how he immediately responds to the coach telling them to go to 3/4 pressure. How he builds into that 18 – “three quarter press 18, we’ll come up one beat … on this one” – is exactly how you wanna call a shift in rate, not just in terms of response time between when the coach calls it and when you actually do it but also in how he communicates it. Very succinct, no extraneous words, just where they’re at and where they wanna go.

The other call I like is the “long arm stretch” call near the end. I think that’s a good basic call to make to remind the rowers to get the arms out first before swinging over with the bodies.

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