Words.

These are the bodies Yale is exploiting. We have come here today to make clear how unprotected we are, to show graphically what we are being exposed to. On a day like today, the rain freezes on our skin. Then we sit on a bus for half an hour as the ice melts into our sweats to meet the sweat that has soaked our clothes underneath … No effective action has been taken and no matter what we hear, it doesn’t make these bodies warmer, or dryer, or less prone to sickness … We are not just healthy young things in blue and white uniforms who perform feats of strength for Yale in the nice spring weather; we are not just statistics on your win column. We’re human and being treated as less than such.

Tips for coxing a time trial

Between mid-May and this week I’ve gotten several questions from coxswains about time trials – it seems like there were more than a few regattas this year that did them in lieu of heats. Below are a couple excerpts from some email replies I sent that include tips I’ve picked up from fellow coxswains and coaches over the years. If you have any strategies that have worked for you, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Pacing into and off the line

The simple approach to a time trial is to just go off the line with your normal start (no need to do the 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full stuff, just do 5 to build as you approach the line and go straight into your high strokes as you cross – much like a head race) before lengthening out to your base pace. If you’re confident that you’ll make the top 12 or however many it is to advance, you can sometimes pace a little lower than normal (i.e. 33-34 instead of 35-36) but that’s something to discuss with your coach (and crew) well in advance of your race. I wouldn’t plan on racing at anything lower than your normal rate though but if your coach is confident and thinks it’s OK to conserve a bit of energy for the final, feel free to talk about it with them.

use the puddles to gauge if you’re on pace

Another point to remember (and this is important for all head races, not just time trials) is to not go out too hard. It’s easy to think you’re moving really well when there aren’t any other boats around to gauge your speed off of but you run the risk of burning out around 750m in and then it’s just a slow, painful crawl to the finish.

Practicing your start + the first 500 head-race style during practice is a good way to see how the crew feels, how the boat’s moving, etc. and gives you a chance to practice racing the splits vs. racing another crew (or five). If you’ve got a speed coach then obviously that makes it super easy but if you don’t have any splits to go off of, watch the puddles. Based on what I saw leading up to IRAs, when our varsity 8+ was running at top speed our stroke’s blade was entering the water just behind our bow seat’s puddle from the previous stroke. If the margins started to get smaller – i.e. stroke’s blade going in before the puddle reaches him) then I knew we were shortening up a bit and starting to fall off pace. You’ll have to watch your crews to know what the puddle margin usually is but that’s a good way to gauge your pace if you haven’t got a speed coach on board.

Don’t forget to start your clock

Last thing is to make sure you start your clock when you cross the start line. This is another thing you should be doing during practice so that it becomes second nature and not something you have to remember to do on race day. My coaches were always very intent on making sure we were cognizant of these easily overlooked details and after getting my ass verbally kicked by them for about two months, I came to really appreciate their constant reminders to not let stuff like this slip through the cracks. To them, the more little things like this you do, the more free speed you’re racking up and as cliche as “free speed” is, it’s also so, so true.

If you know your average 2k time (or 1500m, depending on what you race), this will help you gauge your speed and where you’re at on the course if it’s not clearly marked or there aren’t any landmarks to go off of. For example, if your boat’s average 2k time this season has been 6:00, you should be crossing 1500m around 4:30 in. If you’re coming through 1500m at 4:32 you know you’re a little off pace and should probably take a 10 to dig in at the start of the last 500m and really hit it with the legs before you build into the sprint.

This works as a great motivator too because if you’re on or ahead of your usual pace, that’s just gonna motivate the crew to keep pushing. Even if you’re off pace a little, hearing the time worked into a call can be the thing that helps them refocus and get back on track – i.e. “through 1000m we’re 3:03 in, that’s a 1.5 seconds off our time from last week; let’s commit to holding the finishes on this 10 and try to hit 1500m by 4:31 … ready … now.”

internal motivation is key (and not as hard as you think)

You do have to rely a lot on internal motivation to keep the crew going during time trials but you’ve likely got a lot more material to pull from than you think you do. Make sure you’ve got a good understanding of your crew’s technical strengths and weaknesses so you can make calls for that as necessary, and don’t underestimate the power of calling a move just for yourselves. I’ve done that before where I’ve called a ten for us … for the seniors, for the juniors … for [whatever team I’m coxing] … etc. and sometimes those are the most powerful tens in the whole piece. I usually save those for the 3rd 500 when I know they’re hurting and really wishing we had some crews around us for that visual confirmation of where we’re at on the field. 98% of the rest of my calls are almost exactly what I’d say during a normal race though.

Video of the Week: Disqualifying Sydney Rowing Club

Everybody got so pissed that Sydney got DQ’ed but what the ump said to the stroke is exactly right – “You are the stroke, you can see me waving the flag, I waved you over. It’s your responsibility if she (the coxswain) can’t hear…” and then he trails off but to continue that thought, if you’re the stroke and  you can see the umpire waving a flag behind you, it’s your job to communicate that to the coxswain. You bear just as much responsibility for any negative outcome for not communicating what the ump is saying as the coxswain does for making poor steering decisions in the first place.

Flashback Friday: June 4th – 17th

ONE YEAR AGO
Tracking progress in your notebook

Words.

Reviewing the CoxOrb If your team’s in the market for new (better) cox boxes, definitely check out the Orb.

TWO YEARS AGO
QOTD: Hello! I finished my last race of the season yesterday and my coach and I were talking about what I can do to benefit the rowers more next season. She said that I need to have a couple of calls that come from my deep belly of coxing abilities, that the crews recognize as “shit gets done” calls. She gave the example of “hit the last nail into their coffin” and said that that was too extreme for my team, but that I needed something equivalent to that to finish out close races with. Do you have any favorites? or any good recordings I should listen to? thanks so much!!!

QOTD: Hi, your blog is really helpful! I have a kind of strange question, but should female rowers wear anything under their uni/trou? Thank you so much!

Words.

VOTW: Recounting the coxed 4+ at the 1984 Olympics

THREE YEARS AGO
“In” vs. “Over” vs. “On” They don’t mean the same thing and aren’t really interchangeable.

QOTD: Hi there!! So I am a junior school (Under 14′s) cox and we have moved into using bow loader quads, instead of the usual stern loaders we used to use. We have been racing in an oct for awhile so I am a bit out of practice with the quads. Anyways, in the bow loader, I obviously have a very restricted field of vision, so I was wondering if you had any tips on “reading” or “feeling” the boat, to pick up on faults e.t.c ? Also I sometimes feel like I stay quiet for too long, during steady state if there are no obvious technical calls, rate calls, or rhythm calls. Is there anything that I can say to make it a bit less silent and awkward for the rowers?

QOTD: Hi! I’m finishing my junior year in high school and I know it’s quite late for me, but after my past spring season I’ve decided that I want to cox in college. I’m uncertain about a couple things in the process though. First off, I emailed the head coach for my top choice college, and he emailed back that he would share the email with his recruitment coordinator, his assistant coach, to answer all my questions. So when I email coaches from now on, should I just always email the assistant coach? For another college, they don’t have an assistant coach listed, but they have a novice coach. Should I email them over the head coach? And lastly, what are some good things for a coxswain to include in those emails?

What to Wear: Official Visits, pt. 2

FOUR YEARS AGO
Books on rowing, pt. 1 If you’re looking for some books to read this summer, here are a few options.

QOTD: Hello! I’m not great at estimating distances but I’m learning and getting better – but my coach told me and the other coxswains on the team that it is better to call the sprint early and then ask for 10 more strokes than to call it a little late and wonder what could have been (strokes used in the race). However, I always feel bad if I tell the rowers we have twenty strokes left when we actually have thirty. What do you think? Is my coach wrong or do I just need to suck it up? Thanks!!

Words.

QOTD: Any words of advice for making the transition from coxing at the high school level to coxing in university? I had my first practice this week (the uni has a club program in the summer) and it’s safe to say that the practice was a little … rocky. Is this normal for the first practice? My coach was really great about it all, saying I have the whole summer to get up to speed and I made sure to take full responsibility for any errors or spotty bits in my communication so as not to start off poorly with the rowers (I’m a girl coxing the men’s team, by the way). But I guess I’m just worried about all the usual things … gaining respect, executing the workout and drills properly, meeting the rowers’ and coach’s expectations, etc. I could rant all day to you about this but I suppose it just comes down to: do I have too high expectations of myself in wanting things to go smoothly right off the bat? How long do you think it will take to get in the swing of things? Sorry if this question isn’t quite coherent

Five Tips for Making the Most of Summer Camps

It’s that time of year and I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on how to make the most of your time at a summer rowing camp. This year will be my third one doing camps so below is a list of tips that I’ve pulled together from several other coaches I’ve worked with and my own observations from the camps I’ve done so far.

You must be an active participant

This means engaging with the coaches, engaging with the other athletes, and taking a lot of notes. All the camps I’ve been too give you a notebook on Day 1 for this exact reason, because we know there’s going to be a lot of information dispensed and you’re not going to remember it all. Don’t wait for coaches to say “you should write this down” either because in most cases, we won’t.

So what should you write down? Any and all questions you want to ask the coaches you’re working with, their responses, feedback you ask for/receive on your individual rowing technique, anything you learn about technique that you might not have known before, any new drills you pick up (and their purpose, how it’s done, what it targets, etc.), any new calls or phrases you learn, post-practice reflections, etc. The opportunities to take notes during camp are endless and it makes it super easy to answer the inevitable “so what you’d do at camp” question your parents will ask on the drive home.

Your experience is a direct reflection of your level of investment and engagement

Have you ever worked on a group project and had that one kid who said nothing, contributed nothing, and made trying to engage with them akin to pulling teeth … and then complained to the teacher after the fact that the other people in their group sucked, they wouldn’t let them do anything, and whatever grade they got isn’t fair? Don’t be that person.

It’s pretty obvious when someone wants to learn and ask questions but is just shy and unsure of how to engage with the coaches or other kids. That’s totally fine and easy to work through. It’s also obvious who’s there just because their parents have the money to spend and want their kid to do something over the summer, even though the kid couldn’t care less about becoming a better rower or coxswain. This one is a lot harder to manage for both the coaches and athletes because … if you don’t want to be there, there’s not gonna be much that convinces you to try and make the best of it.

To quote another coach, “don’t make us pull information or a conversation out of you – it gets exhausting fast and isn’t where we want to put our efforts”. I’ve never worked with a coach who didn’t care about the experience a kid was having. We all want you to have a good time and get something out of being there but the onus can’t be put entirely on the coaches to make that happen. We’ll facilitate it but you’ve gotta work with us and not just sulk in the background whenever the coaches are laying out the plan for the day or trying to create a dialogue. Take ownership of your time at camp and be involved in the process.

Have specific and realistic goals

“Lower my 2k”, “learn about technique”, and “steer straighter” are three of the most common “goals” I’ve seen kids come into camp with and none are specific enough or realistic for a camp that lasts 3-5 days. Coxswains especially, when you say “learn about technique” … what does that mean?? There are umpteen hundred different facets of technique that I can promise you will take longer than our 3-5 90 minute group sessions to go over.

Related: Coxswains and summer camp

The more specific you are about what you want to learn, the better we as coaches will be able to address those things during practice or in group/one-on-one conversations. If the starting point is “I want to become a better coxswain in three days”, it’s like … great! … but how? Break that down into 2-3 things based on stuff that you were working on or struggled with during the previous season. Last summer we had a guy who wanted to pick up some strategies on improving his communication skills because that was something he struggled with throughout the season after unexpectedly getting moved into the varsity eight (as a freshman coxing juniors/seniors). That was a great goal because not only could all the other coxswains contribute their own advice on what’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for them but he also had two opportunities per day for six days to test everyone’s suggestions and find out what worked for him.

We probably weren’t going to see the benefits of the work he was doing at the end of the week but that was never the point … the point was for him to soak up as much information as he could so he could take it home and continue employing and tweaking it throughout the year. He came in with one very specific goal and was able to collect tons of advice from the other coxswains and the coaches (I distinctly remember him asking us about the best/worst coxswains on our team and why they were such) that ultimately paved the way towards him becoming a better coxswain in the long run. That was unlikely to happen though if he’d come in with something more vague and generic.

Come with questions

This goes back to being an active participant. There’s always scheduled opportunities for you to talk with coaches individually and you should take full advantage of that by coming prepared with a list of 5-7 questions that you want to have answered throughout the week. Don’t make them all about recruiting either because nearly every camp has dedicated time where they’ll talk to the entire group about that specifically. This is a good opportunity though to learn more about that specific coach’s program if you’re interested in rowing there but don’t be that guy that goes up to the Cornell lightweight coach to ask about the Harvard lightweight program. Know your audience.

Ask them for advice based on their personal experiences too. Several of the coaches I’ve worked with at these camps have rowed for the national team, been to the Olympics or World Championships, won NCAA/IRA titles (as athletes and coaches), etc. so you should pick their brains and find out what’s worked for them that might also work for you. If you’ve been trying to hit a new PR for awhile but seem to have hit a plateau, ask how they overcame that if/when it happened to them (or their teammates). If your boat had trouble this past season forming a cohesive identity, ask them how they/their coxswains/coaches handled similar situations where there were a lot of strong personalities in the boat who always seemed to be at odds with one another. Trust me when I say rowing coaches have stories that would put your grandparents “back in my day” stories to shame so don’t be afraid to engage with them and ask questions that go beyond “this is my 2k, how recruitable am I”.

For coxswains, one question that should be on your list for every coach you interact with is what’s their best piece of advice for improving communication with your coach. I guarantee every coach will tell you something different based on the experiences they’ve had with their coxswains and everything they tell you will be gold. One question I remember being asked had to do with something I said relating to someone’s technique – the coxswain had honed in on a specific phrase I said and asked how she could incorporate that into her calls because that same issue was something someone in her boat had struggled with the previous season. We spent a couple minutes brainstorming more concise ways of saying the same thing, as well as going over what exactly I was getting at so she understood the background of the technical issue we were working on, how to identify and correct it (using the calls we came up with), and how to tweak those calls based on whether they were doing something like steady state or in a faster-paced environment like a race.

Make mistakes and don’t assume your way is the only way

One of my favorite things that I’ve heard another (coxswain) coach say is that you’re gonna get called out for mistakes at camp because you’re not getting called out for them at home. If you were, you wouldn’t be making them. That applies to your rowing technique, your practice management skills, etc.

Related: Making mistakes

You should go in with a very open mind and be prepared to do things differently than you’re used to doing them … especially if you’ve been doing them wrong. “Suspend all beliefs you have about coxing” was how one coach phrased it last year because if you’ve been taught how to cox by people who have never coxed, you’re in for an eye-opening few days.

If you’ve been to a summer rowing camp (either a week-long one or a longer program like dev or HP camp) in the past, what are your tips for making the most out of your time there?

Question of the Day

Hi! I am a recently graduated high school senior that, due to my birth year, has to race U23 this summer. Do you have any tips on how to make the transition from junior to intermediate rowing easier? I will be competing at some major races this summer (IDR, Henley) so any info on how to get into a U23 training mentality would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

I think the best/most important piece of advice is to just go into it with an open mind and be coachable. You’ll definitely be pushed at a level higher than you probably have been thus far so your mentality has to be one of holding yourself accountable to doing the work more than anything else. Don’t overlook the simple stuff either – Wes Ng talked about this at one of the camps I was at last year and it’s all great advice that would definitely apply to your situation. That post is linked below.

Related: 10 simple things you can do to be a better athlete

One of the things I remember friends in college saying about moving up to U23s (and college rowing in general) was how much more seriously they had to take their recovery. The changes in training were obvious but if you don’t follow that up by adapting how you recover, the training itself will be less effective.

They all also kept pretty detailed training journals but one also kept a separate recovery journal where he detailed the different routines/recovery methods he tried before finding the “sweet spot” of what worked, in addition to laying out his thoughts on how he was feeling mentally about training, what hurdles he was facing and how he overcame them (particularly when it came to hitting new PRs), etc. Ultimately I think that journal (which was a physical notebook compared to an Excel doc for his training journal) proved to be the most useful tool for him simply because of the introspection it allowed. It’s not something that works for everyone, which is fine, but it’s definitely something worth trying to see if it helps you too.

For him (and a lot of other rowers I know), being more in touch with the mental/emotional side of training helped in a lot of different ways (the least of which being able to train smarter) but it all went back to holding himself accountable to keeping those journals in the first place so he could track his progress/mentality throughout the season.