Hi there!! I’m a fellow coxswain for my university’s junior varsity team but I’m fairly new at being a cox. My rowers tend to be sloppy with their catches and releases, they also skip their oars on the water when they feather, and start losing energy during their 6th out of 8th 13 stroke cycle. Do you have any advice I can use? I really want to help them but they’re just so stubborn sometimes, argh! Thanks for any help!
When you notice the strokes starting to get sloppy, pay closer attention and see if you can figure out when it starts. Are they sloppy all the time on a consistent basis or is it only during the last 20 or 30 strokes of a long piece that they start to get sluggish? Ask your coach what he/she sees and make note of it. Ask the boat when they start to notice it. When do you notice it? This can help you with the calls you make to correct it. If they’re being sloppy right from the get-go then it’s usually a focus thing but if they’re getting sloppy towards the end of a piece, they’re usually tired and that’s why their technique is starting to falter.
You want to get the catches in at the longest part of the stroke – do they know where their longest point is? A good trick to helping them get that length is to have them sit in the boat (while you’re on the dock) fully compressed at the catch. Then take a regular drinking straw and tape it to the gunnel. It gives them a point to aim for on every stroke so that they know when they hit that straw, they’ve reached their catch, so all they need to do is lift the hands and drop the blades in. I’ve also had coaches put tape on the tracks so that when the rowers feel their seat hit that bump, they’ll know they’ve reached their full compression/max length.
Catch placement drills are great for working on the timing of catches. Basically, you call the catch, usually starting from the finish, and the rowers go to the catch, the goal being to all enter the water at the same time. They do NOT take a full stroke…they only go to the catch. Once they’ve gone to the catch you can say “Ok, back to the finish” and they’ll pull their blades out of the water and go back to the finish. This drill is stationary, so you should not be moving. When you do this drill, listen for that “plop” sound when the oars enter the water. That’s going to tell you more about what the timing is like than just watching the blades. Have the rowers listen for it too.
Here’s an example of how its done.
Another thing is to make sure they’re not starting the legs before their blades are in the water. If the blades aren’t in before the legs go down, not only are you missing a ton of water but you’re also going to have a really sloppy entry. Call the catches for five to ten strokes (going off your stroke’s oar) and then start transitioning the call to “lock, sssend” or “push, sssend” where the “lock” or “push” is that point when they all enter the water and the “sssend” is on the recovery after they’ve taken the stroke.
To clean up the releases, remind them to squeeze into the finish, meaning to keep pressure on the drive through the WHOLE stroke. Releases get sloppy when the pressure comes off coming into the finish. Calling for an acceleration into the finish (starting the catch at 50% pressure, finishing at full pressure or something along those lines) forces them to get good layback and work on clean extractions. Also remind them to tap the handle down. I don’t know why so many rowers forget to do this and then complain about not being able to get their oars out of the water. If you’re not tapping down, the boat’s going to go off set and you’re going to have a harder time getting it out because you’re trying to move the handle away at the same height you’re drawing it in. It doesn’t work like that.
Going off of that, the set will effect the cleanliness of the catches and finishes too. Remind them where their handle heights need to be and where they need to pull into (typically when laying back properly, the belly button is where they should be pulling into).
If their blades are dragging on the water this is almost entirely a handle heights issue because it means the oar handle is being carried too high. Tell them on the next stroke to get their HANDS down (make sure they know the difference between their hands and the blades – you have no idea how many people don’t recognize the difference) and lift the blades off the water.
On strokes where the boat is set and all the blades are off the water, point that out and say “Yea guys, that’s it … did you feel how smooth and clean that stroke was? THAT is what we’re going for.” If you show enthusiasm when they do something right it shows them that you’re paying attention, you’re invested, and you see the changes they’re making. They’re much more likely to respond to excitement like this vs. negative comments like “Come on guys, this looks terrible. Get the hands down and stop dragging the blades.” It’s easy to get frustrated but you have to quell that frustration in order to help the boat get better.Challenge them – “How many strokes can we go with the hands down and blades up? Let’s go for 5 strokes.” If you can get five strokes, great – next time go for seven. If you present them with a challenge, most likely they’ll accept it.
Remind them of the simple physics of rowing – every time their blade drags across the water, they’re slowing the boat down. The reason you feather the blades and keep them off the water is because it slices through the air and helps the boat maintain the speed you just created on the drive. If your blades are on the water, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary drag and the energy you just put into the drive to build the speed up is partially wasted if you’re just going to slow the boat down on the recovery.
Losing energy towards the end of long/hard workouts isn’t uncommon but they just have to stay focused and not just go through the motions when they get tired. The more steady state you do the more your endurance will improve but that’s only gonna take you so far. The focus and intent has to be there too. They can’t be stubborn – remind them of that. If they truly are committed to the sport, to individual improvement, and to helping the boat get faster, they’ll put their stubbornness aside and listen to you and your coach. Humility goes a long way in the sport of rowing. Talk to the rowers and find out from their perspective what is happening in the boat. Have your coach video you one day and then spend some time going over it with your crew. Point out different things to them so they can see what they’re doing. They might not realize that they’re doing something wrong until they actually see it.