Tag: practice management

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

I went to school to cox for guys but due to an incident that happened a few years ago regarding another coxswain, I only got to cox first semester a few times and not at all the next semester. The coach had me switch to the girl’s team, which is great but I feel very out of practice. I have had really great practices when I have gone with assistant coaches but the other day I went with our head coach and top 2 coxswains. I was in the middle boat (a boat on each side) and had a truly horrible practice. It started off badly when I bumped one of the other boats on the first couple of strokes because the power was uneven. Later, as I have just joined I did not know a drill so I was slightly behind the other coxswains because my stroke had to tell me the sequence. Then after we did a 15, as other coaches have had me done before, I stopped thinking out coach would want to weigh enough after it. Then when doing ss, he had us do a pause every stroke while the other coxswains went ahead, they ended up moving to the right but my boat was so far behind I didn’t see and just went straight. He ended up yelling at me because the other coxswains were in the other sides then he said stop moving that way and I only heard stop so I weighed-enough. Apparently he never yells.

After that the rowers began to tune me out completely and no one was really even “trying”. The whole team talked about how bad my coxing was after. One of the coxswains literally came up to me and said she heard from everyone how the coach never yells and how bad my coxing was. How do I recover from this? I felt very novice-y and I need to manage practice better, how do I accomplish this? Additionally, when I steer I feel like I am constantly moving the rudder slightly? This sounds so silly but how do I just go straight? Should I be making constant adjustments? I have coxed for over three years and while I have put every ounce of energy into working really hard to be the best coxswain (and even won my final at Nationals), I feel like I am still not a great practice coxswain and steerer. We also have 10 coxswains on our team and I have never not been able to work my way to the top. My coaches aren’t big on communicating/advising/teaching the coxswains so I am struggling to get guidance on how to achieve being a more effective and efficient coxswain. Thank you so much.

How much time did you spend prior to going on the water with the top two coxswains and/or the head coach to figure out what the practice plan was, how that coach likes to run practice, asking questions about drills/workouts you’re unfamiliar with, and gather intel on the boat you’d be coxing?

I get what you’re saying about coaches not being big on communicating or teaching coxswains and I’m not saying that that isn’t a valid problem but unless you’re actively and consistently taking the initiative to talk to them yourself and gather all the info I just listed before you go out (which is practically the bare minimum of what your communication with your coach should be anyways), you’re discrediting almost immediately any argument you make about why practice went poorly (in this context). It’s one thing if you do all that and you’re ill-prepared because they give you ambiguous, brusquely explained instructions but it’s another if you’re straight up unprepared because you didn’t make the effort to talk to them in the first place and then stepped in the boat unsure of 17 different things.

Related: Coxswain skills: Running a smooth practice

cannot stress this enough that you have to be the one actively seeking this information out because it’s rare you’ll find a coach who just freely offers it up to you. Some definitely do and they’re awesome for doing so but they’re also the unicorns of the rowing world. And especially if you’re feeling out of practice and/or are going out with a coach who you don’t normally practice with, that doubles – maybe even triples  – the importance of you communicating with them rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Recovering from this will probably be a long process if things went as poorly as you said. I say that because when I’ve worked with (or been coached by) coaches who “never yell” and then something happens that causes them to react uncharacteristically, that coxswain tends to stay on their shit list for awhile before that coach feels like they can trust them again (or at all, if they’re a coxswain they haven’t really worked with before). The length of time can be accelerated or prolonged too depending on the coxswain’s willingness to admit fault/responsibility (and then actually do something different) and the rate at which they do so. There’s a big difference between apologizing immediately after practice and waiting a few days to do it. Your situation might be different but that’s how it’s played out in my experience 99% of the time.

Moving past this starts with you apologizing to your coach, the other coxswains, and your boat for having a negative impact on the quality of practice that day. And not in that fake way where you emptily say “I’m sorry” 830592 times thinking the more you say it the more people will believe you. (See the “don’t apologize” bullet point in this post and the second paragraph of the post linked below for more on that.) From there, you need to get in the habit of talking with whatever coach you’re going out with (or at the very least, the other coxswain(s)) as soon as you get to practice every single day so you can hear what the plan is and ask any questions that arise before you launch.

Related: The overall point of this whole story are my questions: do you have any tips on how to improve my coxing over the summer (during which I’m not doing any sort of summer rowing programs)? And, are there any specific things you think I should do to help gain the varsity coach’s trust back? I want to prove to him that I’m good enough for second boat or for the lightweight V8 even as a junior with only a year of experience because I really think I’m not that bad of a coxswain now and that any sort of improvement could boost that. Anyway, thank you so much for this blog and for whatever answer or advice you can give!

As far as on-the-water practice management, there’s a lot of stuff in the “practice management” tag that I’d encourage you to read through. Obviously it’s impossible to incorporate everything that’s pointed out or suggested in there so start off by picking 2-3 things that are relevant to the areas you’ve struggled with and incorporating those changes into your coxing.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 2

For steering, check out the post linked above – it covers the exact question you asked about whether or not you should be making constant adjustments. One thing that I got in the habit of doing whenever I’d take out a boat I hadn’t been in before was just playing with the rudder and strings while it was still in the racks. This helped give me a good idea of how big or small my “small adjustments” needed to be in order to actually get the rudder to respond, which in turned helped me understand the difference between making constant adjustments vs. anticipating what adjustments needed to be made. I got into more detail and try to explain it a little more thoroughly in that post I linked to though so definitely check that out. I also find that how you hold the strings makes a big difference so check out the photo and middle few paragraphs in this post for an explanation on what’s worked best for me.

Coxswain skills: Running a smooth practice

Coxing Novice

Coxswain skills: Running a smooth practice

There’s a lot of things you can do to make yourself invaluable to your team and one of the highest ones on the list (top five, easily) is being able to run a smooth practice. Since most of us are only a few days into the fall semester and haven’t been on the water too many times yet, now is when you should be communicating with the other coxswains and coaches about how practices are gonna run this year so that you can maximize the amount of time you have on the water. Varsity coxswains, you should be familiarizing the new coxswains on your team with whatever your “best practices” are for running/managing practice so that they’re up to speed and can start getting used to the way things work on your team (rather than trying to figure it out on their own because they’re afraid they’ll look stupid if they ask).

Below are some quick bullet points on what you should be doing on a daily basis to ensure practice runs efficiently. I’ve touched on or elaborated on several of these in a variety of previous posts so if you want to check those out you can visit the “practice management” tag.

Have a practice plan before you launch

If you don’t know what the plan is, ask your coach. Ideally if/when possible you should arrive a few minutes before the rest of the team so you can talk have a few uninterrupted minutes with your coach to go over what you’ll be doing that day and ask any questions you have. The practice plan should entail where you’re meeting once you launch (especially important if multiple crews are going out together), the primary focus/purpose of whatever drills you’ll be doing (this is a good opportunity to get clarification on how the drill is executed if you’re unsure or unfamiliar with it), what pieces you’ll be doing, and anything in particular from the last few days of practice that you should be watching for or carrying over (i.e. incorporating in the technical work you did yesterday into your calls during the steady state piece today).

If you’re going out with another crew, keep the boats together

Communication with the other coxswains is imperative so that you’re not getting too far ahead or behind or drifting away from each other. From a pure safety standpoint, your coach should be able to see you in his direct line of vision if he’s behind both crews in the launch – one of you shouldn’t be 300m to the left of the launch and the other 100m to the right. It’s impossible to actually watch the crews and coach when the boats are really spread out so make it a priority to work together and communicate so that you know where the other is pointed. If you’re doing drills or something and one crew gets really far ahead or behind, know what the protocol is for that – does your coach want you to keep going, if you’re really far ahead do they want you to drop the drill and replace it with a pause so the other crew can catch up, if you’re the one behind do they want you to row continuously at 3/4 pressure until you catch up and then continue on with the drill … etc. All that stuff needs to be ironed out and communicated amongst the coxswain corps before you launch. Ideally it should be a start-of-the-season “this is how we’re gonna handle XYZ situation” type of conversation but it never hurts to discuss it amongst yourselves again each time you go out together.

Shut up

You would be amazed how much you learn and accomplish when you stop. talking. The mic is a privilege, not a right. Listen to your coach, don’t be having side conversations when they’re trying to coach (adjusting your point and other safety issues are obviously the exception to the rule), and whatever calls you’re making, make sure they’re something that will have a positive effect on the rowers and the boat. That especially applies to novice coxswains. You do not have to and should not talk for the entire practice. There’s a lot that has to be learned and understood before your calls will be effective so don’t be afraid to just focus on your steering and soak in the knowledge bombs your coach is dropping throughout practice. You’ll pick up the nuances of coxing a lot faster that way.

Be in control

Safety is your first priority. Think out your actions before you do them and always be looking and thinking ahead of where you currently are. Follow directions but don’t pass go, do not collect $200 if you don’t understand what you’re being asked to do. You’ll save more time asking for clarification than you will by making assumptions. Make your calls clear and concise, communicate commands immediately, (i.e. when your coach says “OK let’s get started”, don’t spend 30 seconds monologuing to the crew about whatever you’re about to do before you actually say “sit ready”), and speak with authority. Own your fuck ups as soon as they happen and move on. You will make mistakes and that’s fine, just don’t make the same one twice and don’t be that person that says “it wasn’t my fault”. It might not have been but it’s your crew, your equipment, etc. and you’re the coxswain, thus whatever it is is your responsibility.

Ultimately a smooth practice is a collaborative effort between you, the other coxswains, and your coach(es), which means a) you’ve all got to be on the same page and b) you’ve gotta be able to adapt at a moment’s notice if/when something changes or derails the original plan. This is where being in control and maintaining your composure can really make you stand out in a positive way, not just to your coach but your crew as well. “How do I earn my boat’s respect” is a frequent question that I get asked and one piece of that 1000 piece puzzle is being able to do all the things above really well.

Image via // @bill.bcqt

Coxswain recordings, pt. 43

Coxing Drills High School

Coxswain recordings, pt. 43

Mount baker men’s v8+ Steady State

This is a quick clip of some steady state with Mt. Baker’s varsity eight from 2014 and is just another good example of how to cox your crew through low rate pieces like this. The tone of voice, calls, etc. are all solid and there’s a good mix of positive reinforcement, technical pointers, and calls for individual adjustments.

Penn AC Junior Men 2016 Practice Recording

Bart sent me this recording last year and I ended up sharing it with several other coxswains (including a couple at MIT) so they could see what I meant when I talked about being more engaging, active, assertive, etc. when calling the warmup and drills. Because we tend to do the same warmup and drills most days of the week it’s easy to kind of zone out and just go through the motions, which can translate to you sounding super monotonous and bored.

Here’s part of the reply I sent to Bart after I listened to this: “My one suggestion would be to slow down what you’re saying. I like the conversational tone you have (that’s how I cox too) but there are times when you’re saying so much and you’re saying it so quickly that it can hard to process it all, especially when you’re doing stuff that’s so technically focused like you were here. Everything you’re saying is good and exactly what you should be communicating to the crew, just try to slow down the pace of your speech so that the rowers can take the feedback you’re giving them and incorporate it without first having to redirect their focus to try and figure out what you said. Tone, annunciation, etc. were all excellent throughout though.”

Rather than write out every technical call he makes as a “call I like”, just take note of pretty much everything he’s saying. Between bladework, body positioning, timing, acceleration, picking the boat up, etc. there’s like, 50 easily discernible calls in here that you can take in the boat with you. Note how he says things too – tone and enunciation is key.


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

Coxswain recordings, pt. 40

Coxing Racing Recordings

Coxswain recordings, pt. 40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other calls I liked:

“Let’s cruise now, tap it along…”

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

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

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

“Hang and send…”

“Keep squeezing me away…”

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

Australia Men’s 8+ training row

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

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

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

Team USA 2012 M8+ 10 at base pace

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

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

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

Other calls I liked:

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

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

Coxing How To Q&A

Question of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coxswain skills: Evaluating practices


Coxswain skills: Evaluating practices

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 || Race steering || Steering a buoyed course

Raise your hand if after practice your coach, a teammate, your parents, etc. ask “how’d it go?” and you shrug and say “good” for no reason in particular other than nothing disastrous or of note happened. I spent most of my first year or two of coxing doing this before one of the varsity coxswains asked if it was actually good or if I was just saying that because I didn’t know how to actually evaluate a practice. Obviously the latter was the case because I’d just assumed that as long as I didn’t hit anything and the boat had been reasonably set, that’s all there was to a “good” practice.

Related: The four defaults

There’s a ton of different things you could look at to determine how practices went but as a coxswain, here are three you should start with.

Did you make calls throughout practice that reinforced the coach’s technical focus for that day?

Did you make technical corrections that contributed to an increase in boat speed?

An easy way to determine the effectiveness of a technical call is if the boat’s speed picks up within 3-5 strokes and is maintained for 5+ strokes. If you’ve got a SpeedCoach you can determine if your speed is improving by watching for a consistent improvement in splits that is maintained for five or more strokes. If you don’t have a SpeedCoach you can look to see if the boat is running out further between strokes, which is easily determined by watching for an increase in the distance between your puddles.

Did you work towards and/or achieve your personal goals for that day?

Ideally you want to accomplish all of them to some extent but my goal on any given day is to hit two of the three, usually with the priority being reinforcing the technical focus. (If we’re not focusing on something specific that day then I’ll make calls for whatever we did the day before or last week or whenever.) That one is always non-negotiable because it’s like, kind of your job to do that regardless of whatever else is going on.

I don’t always have a personal goal when I go on the water (and if I do it’s usually just making sure I’m steering well) so I’ll try to spend a lot of time watching the blades and relying on boat feel to guide whatever technical calls I’m making, with the goal being to tie in stuff our coach has been saying (to an individual or the crew), maintain what feels good, and/or fix any issues that pop up. That all then obviously falls under the umbrella of hitting our splits when we’re doing steady state or pieces. If those three things are happening then hitting our splits should come easily.

Related: Coxswain skills – Boat feel

Being able to look back at your performance during practice is beneficial to you for a lot of reasons but one that coxswains tend to overlook is that if you’re regularly critiquing yourself and making improvements based off of that, there’s not gonna be a ton of surprises that pop up if/when your team does coxswain evals. It’s always in your best interest to get regular feedback from the rowers but that can’t be the only thing you do to get better. Having an objective eye towards your own coxing has got to be part of the process and that starts with asking yourself these three questions a few times each week.

Image via // @tristanshipsides
Practice calls

Coxing Technique

Practice calls

Previously: Race calls

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

Image via // @roeibond
How to prioritize and organize your calls

Coxing How To Racing

How to prioritize and organize your calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via // @lucerneregatta

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! Obviously rowers need to adjust their foot stretchers, spacers, shoe height, etc. but I never know when the right time to let them do that is. If the dock is pretty empty then I will let them do it before we shove off but when it’s busy and a lot of them need to adjust I just don’t know when to let them adjust. How have you usually done this in the past? Thanks!

Good question. The amount of time you have to spend doing this lessens as you get further into the season because the lineups aren’t going to change as much (and presumably the shell you’re rowing won’t either) but how I’ve always done it and how our coxswains tend to do it is to tell them to hold off on making any adjustments and then we’ll row 10-15 strokes away from the dock before stopping and letting them do their thing. When we launch in the mornings, the coxswains will always stop just upstream from the dock to either wait for the other boat (since our two eights usually practice together) or to wait for instructions from the coaches (since we tend to run the warmups) so they’ve always got a minute or so to make whatever changes they need.

Even if you’re going out on your own and your coach tells you to go right into the warmup and they’ll catch up to you, you can still stop for a second before getting started. Just be quick about it and don’t waste time, that’s the main thing. The coaches aren’t gonna care that somebody needed to move a spacer but if they look over and see you just idly sitting there with no one making any obvious adjustments, that’s when they’ll get annoyed. Same goes for if you stay on the dock to do this … if you’re taking five minutes to launch there better be someone noticeably struggling with whatever they’re adjusting otherwise I can guarantee we’ll be muttering “WTF are they doing…” to ourselves on the launch.

Despite having four teams rowing out of one boathouse, it never gets that crowded on our dock, even when three of the four (or all four) teams are practicing at the same time … and even then, that only happens once or twice a week. (Having two finger docks with four available sides to launch off of definitely helps too.) Ideally you want to get on and off quickly regardless but if there are three or more people trying to adjust their stretchers, slides, etc. then I/our coxswains will just stay on the dock and everyone else can just maneuver around us. Sometimes it’s just easier that way.

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! So the pressure today in my boat was pretty off – 2 seat got sick so another guy had to come in for him. The bow seat was noticeably stronger than 2 seat and I didn’t really notice until I started turning (we were doing side by side pieces – if it were just us it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal but since it was a straight shot it was). I obviously made an effort to adapt for it but I was really having trouble holding a point because of it and one coach was getting frustrated by that. After practice the other coach who was out with us came up to me and said that he noticed it and I need to let the coaches know when stuff like that happens. So, I get that I have to let them know but can I really say that without making it seem like a big deal? I feel like it makes it seem as if I don’t know what I’m doing (I’m new to the boys team so I’m also trying to earn my spot). Thanks!

It isn’t a big deal. There’s a big difference between coxswains who straight up steer like they just came to the boathouse after last call and coxswains who are having trouble holding a point because there’s a pressure disparity between port and starboard. From the launch I can usually tell which is which because if there’s a pressure issue then you’re always gonna pull towards the same side whereas if you’re just not good at steering you’re gonna be all over the place.

You’ve (meaning coxswains in general) gotta get over thinking that speaking up and saying that something is off reflects poorly on your abilities. This has nothing to do with you – it’s a lineup issue that could (potentially) be easily be addressed by pulling the boats together and making a quick switch. At the very least the coaches can make note of it so that when they look at the results of the pieces (especially if they’re trying to compare rowers and do unofficial seat races) they’ll know at least one reason why you were behind or not as far ahead as you should have been.

When I’m coxing I’m not about to have my skills scrutinized because one rower/side is getting out-pulled by the other. That’s not my fault since, in case no one else noticed, I’m the only one in the boat without an oar and it’s rarely something you can compensate for with your steering without it having a noticeable effect on the boat’s set and speed (since being on the rudder creates drag and slows you down). It’s a lot easier for you and less irritating for the rowers and coaches if you just say “the ports have consistently been out-pulling the starboards which is why whenever we’re rowing at pressure we pull towards starboard” than for you to stay quiet because you want to protect your ego.

If there’s a difference in pressure between sides or certain rowers then I’ll just tell them “starboards, you guys are getting pulled around by the ports, let’s make sure we’re all at 3/4 pressure here so the boat stays set and I don’t have to constantly be on the rudder”. If their egos are so fragile that they can’t handle being told they need to pull harder then that’s their issue to deal with, not mine. It’s always a lot more obvious when there’s a difference between individuals when it’s with bow pair so I’ll tell them that they’re gonna have a much bigger impact on my point than anyone else in the boat so they’ve gotta match up with each other. I usually start by telling the stronger guy (let’s assume he’s bow seat) to back off and then after having said that, if he’s still pulling 2-seat around then I’ll tell 2-seat they need to pick it up a little. I tend to notice stuff like this pretty quickly so I’ll try to sort it out during the warmup but if it carries over into the actual workout (specifically if we’re doing straight shot pieces) then I won’t wait more than a piece or two before saying something to the coach(es). If it’s noticeably bad then I’ll tell them as soon as we’re done with the first one (because they probably noticed it too) but if it’s just a mild annoyance for me as far as steering goes I’ll wait until the next piece is over to give the rowers a chance to work it out after I say something about it.

My point with all of this is that it isn’t a big deal and it’s your responsibility as the coxswain to speak up when stuff happens that can impact the effectiveness and/or results of a piece. If you don’t that’s at best frustrating for the coaches who are trying to make sense of the results and at worst not fair to the rowers for all the other obvious reasons.