When there are so many different things happening in a such a short amount of time it can be tough knowing what exactly to look at or make calls for, particularly if you’re a novice and have’t fully grasped all the technical nuances yet. The four things listed below are the “defaults” that you should always be paying attention to (every day at practice and as necessary during races) since they are what tend to have the biggest impacts on boat speed (slowing it down when adjustments are needed and increasing it when adjustments are made).
Related: So, what did you see?
Timing at the catch and finish
This should be the most obvious. Are the blades going in and coming out together? If you notice that the timing is off at one (or both) end(s) of the stroke then you should immediately be making a call, either to a specific person, pair, or the entire crew, to get them back into rhythm with the stroke and following the cadence they’re setting.
Related: Timing at the catch
This should be the second most obvious. Standard ratio is 2:1, meaning the recovery should be twice as long as the drive – 2 (recovery) to 1 (drive). Rush during the second half of the recovery (starting from the bodies over position) can kill boat speed so it’s important to call a ratio-shift when you feel this happening to get the crew back on track. Communication with the stroke can be a big help here since they’re usually more aware of when rush is happening than you are (unless it’s really bad).
There should be no missed water at the catch and no washing out at the finish – the blade stays fully buried all the way through from beginning to end. If you’re coxing novices or less-experienced rowers, make sure that you communicate what the proper depth is (there’s usually tape on the oar shaft down near the blade – they shouldn’t be buried past that point).
Related: An Intro to Rigging, pt. 3: Pitch (Quick note: adjusting the rigging should never be your “go to” solution. Fix your technique first then see if any alterations can be made to the rigging to complement the changes you’ve made with your rowing.)
Jump at the catch
This is also referred to as the “impulse”. It’s a result of getting a strong, committed, and deliberate push off the foot boards as the blade enters the water and the slide changes direction. The further into practice/the race you are, the more likely it’s going to be that you need to make a call for this since it relies heavily on maximum engagement from the legs.
Related: Boat feel
Keep in mind that this is something you can feel more easily than you can see. If the the rowers are missing water at the catch then that’s a visual indication that the “impulse” isn’t happening but if you’re experienced enough to have a good sense of boat feel then the boat feeling sluggish, heavy, etc. should be another indication that you need to spend some time focusing on reigniting that impulse at the front end.