Tag: race skills

Top 5 Most Important Things to Know on Race Day

Coxing Racing

Top 5 Most Important Things to Know on Race Day

Got a great question from a novice coxswain the other day that asked what the most important things were to know/remember on race day (excluding your race plan and lineup). Pretty simple question overall but what I liked about it was the PS at the end: “I asked my coach and he said (completely seriously) the only important thing I need to remember is to finish ahead of [a rival team]. I didn’t want to be annoying and ask again but he didn’t really answer my question so … help?”.

C’mon coaches. Do better.

Related: Race skills: Race warmups

Excluding your race plan and lineup, which you should know well in advance, here are the most important things you need to know or find out on race day.

Traffic pattern

The worst time to find out that there’s a left hand traffic pattern instead of a right hand pattern is when you’re on the water warming up. (Saw that happen in Philly a couple years ago … it almost didn’t end well.) Make sure you’re familiar with the traffic pattern and any nuances, like shallow spots, pinch points, bridge arches you can’t go through, etc. before you launch so you’re not spending your warmup time hyperfocused on trying to figure out where to go.

If you get out on the water though and don’t know where you need to be or get confused by something, ask. There are officials, coaches, etc. in launches on the water who will answer whatever questions you have but they can’t help you if they don’t know there’s a problem. They’re not going to be annoyed or think you’re stupid for saying something but I can promise you that they will be super pissed if you don’t ask and then they have to chase you down to tell you to get off the course, you’re on the wrong side, etc. because at that point, not only are you potentially interfering with a race in progress, you’re putting yourself, your crew, and the other crews in danger.

When in doubt, speak up and ask for clarification.

Warm up pattern

This is in a similar vein to the traffic pattern. I’ve been on courses where you launch at the finish line and warm up parallel to the course as you row to the starting line and I’ve been on courses where you launch above the starting line, row down parallel to the course, do a short loop below the finish line, and then row back up the same side you came down to get back to the start. Knowing the traffic pattern doesn’t necessarily equate to knowing the warmup pattern so this is another thing to make sure you are 100% clear on before you launch.

If you’re able to practice the day before your race, use that time to familiarize yourself with the water, landmarks, etc. so that when you’re going out for your race, again, you’re not wasting your warmup time by trying to figure out where to go.

Official race (and weigh-in) time

99.9% of the time these days, race time = cell phone time (because unlike watches, your cell phone’s not going to slow down time as the battery dies). At the earliest you can probably ask your coach what time your race is on Thursday of that week. At the latest, particularly if there’s concerns about weather, you should find out by Friday afternoon. It’s on you though to go directly to your coach and ask for this information – don’t wait for them to give it to you. Even if they say “I’ll find out and let you know”, you’ve still gotta be the one to follow up. There’s a lot to do on race day and it’s easy for something like this to slip their mind.

This also applies to weigh-ins, particularly and especially if racing has been delayed and as a result, so have weigh-ins. I think USRowing altered the rule as a result of that fiasco at Youth Nats a few years ago but regardless, if you’re getting weighed in or you’re coxing lightweights who need to weigh in, you need to know when the weigh-ins are happening, where they’re at, how many chances they’ll get to weigh in (sometimes there’s a limit of two times before you’re ineligible to race), and what the time frame is (i.e. no later than 2hrs before race time).

Lane and Bow Number

One time when I was doing stake boats a crew rowed up to the start without a bow number but pretty confidently spun into my lane so I just assumed they were in the right place. A minute or so later another crew rowed up and said “you’re in our lane”. The coxswain was like “oh sorry, I wasn’t sure what lane we were in so I just decided to go here” (as if that’s a practical solution) before turning around to ask me what lane she was in. I had no idea and it took a few minutes for the officials to figure out too, which ended up delaying the start of the race.

When you get your race time from your coach, make sure you also get the lane number and grab your bow number, if you’re using them (most big regattas do, sometimes smaller races or duels don’t). Most duel races (especially in college) will do the lane draw at the coaches and coxswains meeting so there’s no excuse for not knowing where to go.

The kicker with that coxswain, and the reason it took awhile for the officials to figure out where they were supposed to be, was that their race was the one before the one they were trying to line up for. Know your race time, know your lane number.

Launch time

There’s a fine balance in knowing when to launch. Too soon and you’ll end up sitting on the water for awhile (which at best, means your muscles cool down and at worst, you’ll be stuck in the elements, which means excess time in the blistering sun or freezing ass cold) or too late and you’ll have to rush up to the start and sacrifice getting a proper warm up in. I talked about determining when to launch in the “race warmups” post linked at the top so check it out for more info on that.

My personal preference is to be shoving off the dock about 40 minutes before race time – I think that tends to give me enough time to run through our warmup, get a quick drink, and then get locked on to the stake boats with 2-3 minutes to spare so the crew can have some quiet time before the race starts.

All of these things are discussed in the coaches and coxswains meeting but if you miss it or there isn’t one, find an official and ask them the specifics for each of these. They’re there to answer your questions so don’t be shy about talking to them. If you don’t have USRowing officials (who wear blue shirts, navy jackets, and khaki pants at every race), look for “regatta headquarters” and ask someone in there. If they don’t know, they’ll be the best people to point you towards someone who does.

Related: What happens at a coaches and coxswains meeting?

Also, for the novices in particular, if you haven’t yet, check out the two posts linked above and at the start of the post. There’s a ton of information in there that, if you haven’t figured most of it out by this point in the season, will definitely help you out as we enter the last few weeks of racing.

Image via // @merijnsoeters
Race skills: Calling a head race

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Calling a head race

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

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

Related: Managing the nuances of a head race

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

Develop a list of internal calls.

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

Related: HOCR: Race plans and Race calls

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

Race skills: Managing the nuances of a head race

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Managing the nuances of a head race

Now that the fall season is well underway and we’re a little less than a month away from Head of the Charles, I wanted to share some tips for head racing for those of you that are new to coxing or new to head racing.

Look at the course before you arrive

With Google Maps being, ya know, a thing, there’s no excuse to not have a general idea of what the river looks like before you get to the race site. Race maps are obviously ideal but they’re not always available so the next best alternative is looking the course up on Google. This will give you just as good of a look at the turns, bridges, possible landmarks, geography (i.e. how much room is there to navigate), etc. and will help you plot out a rough idea of where you might want to execute (or avoid executing) certain moves.

Don’t count on being able to do your usual water warmup

Making your way to the starting line, especially at big regattas like HOCR, tends to be a crowded affair. You can rarely row above half pressure or by anything less than all eight, which makes getting the crew properly warmed up tough. To combat this, do a land warmup (7-10 minutes of dynamic stretching plus a light jog … or something similar) 20ish minutes or so before you launch so that when you’re on the water, you can focus on getting from Point A to Point B without the distraction of having to actually call the warmup and the crew can focus on getting into their rhythm, establishing their swing early, and keeping their focus internal.

Establish your rhythm early

Your first priority coming out of your high strokes should be on lengthening to a sustainable pace and immediately finding your rhythm. This is where you can really work your tone of voice and use your calls to help facilitate that. The sooner the crew gets into their rhythm, the better – you don’t want to still be trying to figure this out when you’re eight minutes in to a 3.5 mile long race.

Related: What are some “rhythmic calls” you use? I know ones such as hook, send and catch, send but I was wondering what others are used. and Hello! Sorry if this is a dumb question but I was wondering, what does it mean when coxswains say “cha”? Thank you!

Plan ahead

This is where knowing the course and having studied it ahead of time will really help you. In a head race you’ve always gotta be thinking one bridge or turn ahead of where you’re currently at, which means knowing where the buoy line is (and when to follow it closely vs. when to stray off of it) and whether you need to be on the outside or inside of this turn in order to get the better/faster/more effective line on the next turn. You’ve probably heard (or will hear) numerous times that the inside line is the fastest but that isn’t always the case. The best example of this is the stretch between Weeks and Eliot on the Charles – Eliot is a bigger/more important turn than Anderson so coming out of Weeks (a turn to port) you should line yourself up on the outside of Anderson (a turn to starboard) so that coming out of that one you’re automatically lined up on the inside of Eliot (a turn to port). This minimizes the number of crews you have to tousle with to get that inside line and has been my go-to strategy for nailing the Eliot turn for the last four years.

Steer competitively and aggressively

Those two things are not synonymous with “a lot” or “recklessly”. You have to be smart here because your steering, per usual, can make or break you. Patience and forethought is key and will help you avoid or navigate through at least 50% of the situations you’ll encounter. It all starts with holding the strings correctly though. You know the phrase “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”? Look at steering the same way – your hand position on the strings and the gunnels is the “single step” in that analogy. I talked about this in the “race steering” post linked below so check that out to see how I hold the strings when I’m coxing and how it helps me avoid oversteering.

Related: Race steering, oversteering, and “steering a lot vs. never steering”

Communicate with your bow/stroke

Saying it again for the people in the back that didn’t hear this the first 8,023 times it’s been said – not yielding during a race because you didn’t see the other crew, didn’t know they were there, didn’t hear their coxswain yelling at you to yield, etc. is not an excuse and you deserve every second of the penalty/penalties you incur. I get that you’re looking forward and you can’t see what’s behind you blah blah blah but your stroke/bow can and they should know (either through their own common sense or because you’ve discussed this with them beforehand … preferably both but definitely the latter) that they need to communicate to you in some way that a crew is behind you, walking on you, etc. and you need to yield.

Maximize your time in the straightaways

When you’re in long straight stretches, this is your best opportunity to pass a crew or make up time by steering laser-straight. Way too many coxswains fail to take advantage of this because they’re focused on unimportant stuff (i.e. that crew that’s four and a half lengths of open in front of you) or just completely lacking in awareness of where they’re at and what’s happening around them.

Work the crowds

If you’re neck and neck with another crew and you’re near a heavily populated spot on the course, bring all that energy from the crowd into your boat.  Use it to reignite your crew if the boat’s starting to feel a little heavy or to add some extra fire to the start of a move. Make your crew think that all that cheering is for them and then harness that to help you move through the other crew(s), even if that means only taking a seat or two. Sometimes that’s all it takes to change the tone of a race.

Know what logistics need to be handled … and then handle them

Heel ties, bow numbers, top nuts, knowing the subtle differences in rules at each regatta, etc. … all the little things that might trip up an unprepared coxswain, figure out what they are ahead of time and take the initiative in handling it. Discuss this with your coach ahead of time (because they’ll definitely have a list of little things that you can do so they don’t have to) so you know beforehand what your priorities need to be once you get to the course.

Better safe than sorry (ALWAYS)

Your most important job as a coxswain is to keep the crew safe. Everything else you do outside of that is a bonus. Whether it’s on the water, walking to/from the launch site, or loading/unloading the trailer, your main focus has to be on executing the safest course of action followed by the fastest/most efficient, etc. There’s obviously a risk-reward aspect to it when you’re racing but there’s a very fine line between taking a calculated risk to move ahead of a crew or take a sharper turn and straight up putting your crew (and potentially others) in a dangerous situation. Erring on the side of safety isn’t always a popular decision in the moment but you’ve gotta be able to deal with a few people being annoyed at you for a small amount of time and recognize that the alternative (a lot of people being furious with you for an extended period of time) will tarnish your status/position on the team a lot more in the long run.

If you guys have any other pieces of advice, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Image via // @alanmcewan
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
Race skills: Calls for when you’re behind

Coxing Racing

Race skills: Calls for when you’re behind

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

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

Fix the rowing

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

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

Match the speed of the crews in front of you

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

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

Make your move

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

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

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

Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

Coxing Racing

Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

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

Today’s post is going to be a super quick recap-ish post on strategies for steering a buoyed course. I’ve gotten several emails about this lately and with IRAs this weekend and Youth Nationals coming up soon, this will hopefully be a good last-minute refresher for anyone that hasn’t had much experience with buoyed courses (which apparently is more common than I thought it was).

I talked a lot about race steering in the last post (linked below) so I won’t regurgitate what I said there but a point that does bear repeating is that if you’re thinking about steering during your race, something has already gone wrong.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

There are four things you can loosely focus on when you’re on a buoyed course to help you maintain a straight course. They include:

A point far off in the distance (like a building or tower on the skyline)

The center line where the buoys meet

The distance that one side’s blades are off the buoy line

The buoy line that’s just ahead of you

When looking at the buoys just up ahead, it’s similar to standing on the street and looking one block up, then you walk a block and look up at the next block. You’re taking it one chunk at a time as opposed to looking down the whole street, or course in this case. I’m personally not a huge fan of this approach because I think it pulls your attention back to your steering more than it should but if the idea of looking straight down the whole course at once is a little daunting, this could be an approach worth trying.

The center-line approach is a commonly used one but coxswains tend to overthink it and freak out because they can’t actually see where the buoys meet because the rowers are in their way. This is where good coxswains separate themselves from the rest because a good coxswain would be able to use their critical thinking skills and common sense (more so the latter than the former, to be honest) to realize that obviously the point where the buoys meet won’t be visible when you’re actually following a straight course. The goal here is to point yourself at the start so that the center line is “hidden” behind the rowers and then to use whatever’s on either side of that point to maintain a course straight down the middle between them.

The last approach is to use your peripheral vision to maintain an equal distance between the blades and the buoy line. This is best used in tandem with focusing on the center-line or a point off in the distance. It’s also easy to practice too when you’re rowing side-by-side with another crew at home (sans buoys) since keeping the crews close without clashing blades is an important part of practice management. The one downside to it is that if you focus too hard on one buoy line it can tend to pull you over to that side. I have a tendency to do this so my go-to is to always look straight ahead and focus on the center-line.

Buoy lines ultimately are not a hard thing to handle, even if you don’t have a ton of experience with them. The last two years at Sprints I’ve seen a lot of coxswains, mostly freshman/walk-ons I assume, nervously asking their coaches what to point at, how to hold a point between the buoys, etc. and it’s very obvious that they’re thinking way too hard about it. Buoys are your friend so don’t think about them more than you need to – they’re there to make your life easier, not harder.

Image via // @merijnsoeters
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
Race Skills: Race warmups

Coxing Racing

Race Skills: Race warmups

First, if you don’t already have a watch – get one. Go to Walmart, Target, or Amazon and get one of those super basic sport watches that cost like $10-$15. I had one in high school that I stored on my cox box (after practice I’d take it off and attach it to the wrist strap) and the only time I wore it was on race day. Your phone is not an acceptable substitute. It’s just not. (And if you really need me to explain why, come to the Sparks camp this summer and see how long it takes before Marcus jumps on your ass for not having your hands completely free. That should clear it up pretty quick.)

Time management is an essential skill for coxswains and there is no day where that is more apparent than on race day. Prior to that, you should know the following:

How long it takes to do your land warmup

(Roughly) how long it takes to walk from where your trailer is to where the docks are

How long it takes to execute your warmup on the water

How long it takes to the get from the launch site to the starting line.

How many minutes prior to the start of the race you need to be locked on

When I’m coxing, the pre-race warmup unofficially starts about 20 minutes before we meet to do our land warmup. Few things piss me off more on race day than having to run around the site trying to round up rowers like a bunch of blind, deaf sheep so 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 2 minutes before our planned start time I’ll say “X minutes til’ we start the warmup”, “last call, we’re starting in 2 minutes”, etc. This prevents a situation where I’m trying to get started and people aren’t ready because they’re changing, running to the bathroom, groggy from their nap, etc. I have enough to worry about so even though it’s still my responsibility to make sure everyone is in the same place at the same pre-discussed time, giving those countdown reminders takes a lot of pressure off of me because if someone is late, I know there’s at least 6-7 other people who will have my back and say “…she said we were meeting several times, you shouldn’t have waited til the last minute to [do whatever].”.

If you’re at a big regatta (IRAs, Youth Nats, Stotesbury, Sprints, etc.) where there’s a lot of crews waiting to launch from only a couple docks, you’ve gotta account for that wait time so you don’t end up having to rush to get up to the starting line. If you’re one of the early races or are one of the first few after the lunch break you won’t have to worry about this but if you’re racing in the mid-late morning or anytime in the afternoon, this is something to keep in mind.

Usually about an hour before our meet-up time I’d go scope out the launch site and ask the officials if things were running on time, if we should consider getting in line a little sooner, etc. If things had been going smooth so far then we’d maintain the same schedule but if it looked like there was already a line forming or there were novice/freshman events before ours (they are notoriously slow AF) then they’d recommend coming down 10ish minutes sooner than we’d originally planned, that way if we had to wait it wouldn’t impact our warmup plans.

Practicing your race-warmup during the week will help you determine roughly how much time it’ll take for you to get through everything you have planned. Ours, for example, tend to take between 30 and 35 minutes with the important stuff being the practice starts – we usually try to get in at least three at half pressure + half speed, 3/4 pressure + 3/4 speed, and 90% 5 + 5 + 5.

Flexibility and adaptability are two other key parts of being a good race-day coxswain because there will definitely be times when you either aren’t able to complete your entire warmup or you finish early, get stuck on the water, etc. and have to add something in order to keep the crew warm (in the “warm up” sense and also in the sense that if it’s cold out you don’t want to just be sitting there not moving). Adding stuff is always easy because you can just do light steady state at 18-20spm until it’s time to go … it’s cutting the warmup down that is hard.

If Plan A is your ideal warmup (say 35 minutes) then you need to also have a Plan B (if time constraints limit you to 20-25 minutes) and a Plan C (45 minutes) as your contingency plans. These are things that you should go over with your coach well in advance of race day too, that way you can establish what the crew can do without so you’re not just arbitrarily doing some things and not others.

A few other tips/reminders:

If possible, do the bulk of your warmup in the opposite direction of the course and the starts, power bursts, etc. alongside the course.

This isn’t possible everywhere but when you do have the chance to do it it can give you a good feel for how the conditions will effect the boat when you’re moving at race pace. (Pay attention when the officials are going over the traffic pattern during the coaches and coxswains meeting so you’ll know if you can do this or not.)

Time permitting I always try to get in at least one start in our lane before locking on, that way I can get an idea for what it’ll feel like and if I need to make an adjustment to my calls to account for that (i.e. if it’s choppy then I’ll try to incorporate in more “clean”, “down and away”, etc. type calls).

Related: What happens at a coaches and coxswains meeting?

99% of the time the officials want you locked on two minutes prior to the start of your race, which means you should be in the staging area at least 10-12 minutes beforehand.

I’ve been to a handful of races where we had to be locked on three minutes or five minutes prior but two minutes is standard. Just being in your lane doesn’t count as being locked on either, even if you’re backing it down and are six inches away from the stake boat when they call “two minutes to the start”. If the conditions are poor and you know it’s going to take some time to get into the stake boats, pointed, etc. then you must account for that during your warmup. You can’t afford to waste time on a good day, let alone on a day when it’s windy.

Also, if you’re finishing up your warmup by doing starts in your lane, don’t try to do “just one more” or do a full start, 20, and settle so that you end up 250m away from the stake boats. A crew did this when I raced at Oak Ridge one year and we started the race without them … like, five of us were locked on ready to go and she was still trying to back it down (from 200m away) after deciding to do a start with three minutes to go. They protested, they lost, and that coxswain (whose team was in the tent next to ours) got reamed by her coach after the race.

Related: How to enter stake boats (also here) and how NOT to enter stake boats

Do a race walk-through a day or two before you race.

Fridays are our race walk-through days, which is exactly what it sounds like … the coxswains run the crew through the race warmup on their own before meeting up with the coaches and hitting the high points of the race along the course. This usually takes about 35 minutes to complete.

Having a chance to run through the warmup uninterrupted is an important part of your race prep so if it’s not something you’ve discussed or practiced during the week (i.e. it’s not a regular part of your schedule like ours is), speak up before the start of practice, ask what it is if you’re unsure (like at the beginning of the season, you’re new in the boat, etc.), and then go through it as part of that day’s warmup. It can be easy for coaches to forget to talk with the coxswains about that stuff so take the initiative and say something if they haven’t.

Once you get into the season and your training becomes more race-focused (like, right now…) you should be running through your race warmup at least once a week (either on your own or at the coach’s instruction). Just like anything else you practice, the more familiar you are with it and the more consistently you run through it the calmer and more focused you (and the crew) will be on race day.

Image via // @petereed
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
How to scull your bow around

Coxing How To Novice Racing Rowing

How to scull your bow around

This past weekend we raced at Princeton and during the brief coaches and coxswains meeting on Friday night, Princeton’s head coach mentioned something that I thought warranted a quick recap post of some spring racing “how-to’s”.

We were going over the 2k course, how early to be locked on, etc. and he said that the coxswains should all know how to scull the boats around in order to get their points because the previous week the stake boats were ripped off whatever was holding them in place because (fellow D1 Ivy League) crews didn’t know how to scull their bows around. I saw a lot of crews have issues with this two weeks ago as well due to the wind so I wanted to quickly go over this, that way there’s hopefully no confusion as to how it’s done.

Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between being unable to get your point  due to the wind or current (been there, done that so I can sympathize) and straight up not knowing how and from my point of view (which the officials I was driving shared) it looked like both rowers and coxswains just didn’t know what they were doing (which was not only stressful for them but also for the other coxswains who were able to do it and had to spend 5+ minutes adjusting because they kept losing their point waiting for other crews to lock on and get aligned).

I’ve probably said it a hundred times by now (if not more) but coxswains, SERIOUSLY, if you don’t know how to back into a stake boat and/or scull the boat around to get your point, you need to speak up during practice and have your coach go over it with you and your crew. None of this “I don’t want my coach to think I’m incompetent” or “I don’t want to look stupid by asking a question” bullshit. You have to know how to do this so … suck it up. And coaches, you need to actually teach your coxswains how to do this, especially your novice coxswains. There’s really no excuse to not spend 15 minutes at the end of the day letting them practice backing into your launch or the dock and getting their points.

Below are links to several posts that talk about backing into stake boats, getting your point, etc., in addition to a couple other spring season basics that I think might be helpful. If you have questions on any of this or want/need something clarified feel free to send me an email or leave a comment.

QOTD: Can you explain the hand raising process at the start? Like you raise hand while getting point and keep it up till you’re done? If you’re on the line, how do you fix your point so you don’t cross the line and have to back? I heard of scull/row…(???) There’s no stake boats… just a regular start. What’s the stake’s purpose?

QOTD: A new USRowing rule for sprint starts does not recognize hands at the starting line; they simply wait for alignment and then call the start. At my race today, the marshals called the start before coxswains got their points, which led to us steering into each other’s lanes for about the first twenty strokes fairly severely. How do you let the marshals know whether or not you’re ready without the hand up if they rush the start like they did today?

Stake boat tips & tricks This is a great video that shows and explains how to back into stake boats (in both an eight and a bow loaded four), scull the boat around, and tap it immediately before the start. Rowers, I highly recommend you watch this video as well so you understand what the coxswain is asking you to do. There is no “most important” takeaway from this video because literally everything is important but if you do only take one thing away, for the love of god, please let it be what is discussed at 6:05 – tapping the boat with too many people instead of sculling it. This is one of those things that when I see coxswains doing it I start twitchingespecially on windy days when even the smallest amount of common sense would indicate that this isn’t going to effective.

Racing skills: Pre-race prep This post has a lot of information in it that will probably be most helpful for novice coxswains (but also will be good reminders for those of you who are seasoned vets). It goes over getting to the line and staging before the start of the race (both for a floating start and with stake boats) and includes a couple videos that show how to get into starting platforms and what they look like from a stake holders point of view, which is pretty neat.

What happens at a coaches and coxswains meeting? Every regatta is different but for the most part, these are the things that the officials will go over with you before you race. I’ve been in ones that last for 30 minutes and I’ve been in ones that last for 5. Our meeting this past Saturday morning lasted about 10 minutes and was about as straightforward and to the point as you can get. The more experience you are the more this will become the norm but in high school regattas especially, the officials tend to operate with an abundance of caution so they’ll usually spend a good amount of time going over this stuff (and thus, you should be paying attention to all of it, regardless of how early in the morning it is or how many times you’ve heard the same thing over the years).

For more how to’s and race skill posts, you can check out their respective tags here and here.

Image via // Kevin Light