Pro tip: Advice from a former novice, pt. 2

Previously: Advice from a former novice || Maintaining the set while on the rudder || Get on the erg

This is an email I got at the end of the 2014 spring season from a (then) novice coxswain at a men’s program here on the East Coast. I’d included it within another post at the time but felt it warranted it’s own post, particularly since the first “advice from a former novice” post (linked above) got a lot of a positive feedback.

“Hi everyone! I wanted to share with you all a couple of things that I learned after I walked on to my team as a novice coxswain. No experience at all in anything crew related. All I knew how to do was compete (I had been a varsity athlete in high school). In fact, I didn’t even know how to say starboard or skeg properly. The point is, I learned a lot along the way and ended up in the third varsity boat of a silver medal winning crew for a division one program, so anything truly is possible.

For the novices (and more experienced coxswains) out there, I have a couple of things to say that I feel are sometimes overlooked or forgotten.

Your job is to steer

I think this always bear repeating and it is certainly something that my coach harped on many times. You can’t let your emotions or competitive spirit get in the way of your main priority. And, I would say to not worry too much about your calls until you can steer, because steering takes up most of your focus. Calls will always be secondary to steering straight in a race since snaking adds meters and time to your crew’s efforts. Guys know how to motivate themselves, so really the best thing you can do is give them the shortest course, which occurs when you steer straight.

Tone matters

This is something that I didn’t realize I was missing until I listened to a recording of myself (which is why you should record yourself). When my coach gave me feedback, he said that I at times sounded frantic or doubtful, which not what you want your crew to hear. If I don’t know something, I either don’t say anything at all, or I just make something up (not always the preferable thing to do, but sometimes necessary). But no matter what, I’ve learned to sound confident in the decisions that I am making on the water. Also, when you get into a race, it shows that guys that you are just as invested as they are in winning, which is important for their mentality. They also appreciate it when you care just as much as they do.

You win some, you lose some

Sometimes you put in a lot of hard work and come up short. Other times you win by a foot. Just know that when you have done the best job you can do, there might be times when another crew rowed better. The sport is about working hard and always improving. You should always appreciate the work that you do, and strive to improve so that you have no regrets. It goes for coxswains just as much as it goes for rowerscoxswains can always improve as well.

I know this sounds simple, and it might not mean much coming from a novice rower, but as a coxswain looking back on my first year, I feel like these three things come up in a lot of the races I was lucky to be a part of. Listen to your coaches, work with your rowers, and best wishes to all.”

Music to erg to, pt. 143

Wrapping up spring break tomorrow with some scrimmages against FIT and then we’re officially in-season. Yesterday’s post on making moves had those vibes in mind, as will several upcoming posts but as always, if you’ve got questions, especially racing-related ones, feel free to ask or email me.

I’m also always down to listen to recordings too, it’s just a matter of finding a few spare minutes (which have been in short supply lately) to actually do it. If you want feedback prior to an upcoming race, the earlier in the week you can send them to me, the better. If you just want general advice/feedback/critiques that’s totally fine but if there’s something specific you’ve been working on or a specific part of the piece you want feedback on, noting that in your email will significantly expedite my response time.

Race plans: Making moves

What is a move? Or, rather, what is it not? A move isn’t some random burst of hard strokes that you take because you don’t know what else to say and you know you’ve gotta say/do something. Those arbitrary power tens you call with little to no context? That’s not a move. What a move is is a part of the larger overall strategy (aka … your race plan) that gets you from Point A to Point B, which means they’ve gotta be executed with intention and a bit of forethought.

In my race plans we’ve always included two planned moves – one around 1000m (the stereotypical “20 at 1000m”) and another towards the latter half of the 3rd 500m. We had a third ten or fifteen stroke burst in our back pockets for the first thousand if we needed it but we avoided using it unless absolutely necessary – i.e. we had the lead and needed to do something to fend off a charging crew or we were in a position to get even or take the lead and knew we’d have the psychological advantage in the second half if we did it before 1000m.

Another thing that moves accomplish is helping keep the crew committed to the larger goal of the piece at vulnerable points during the race. You should obviously be feeding them information throughout that keeps everyone on the same page but a secondary purpose of a move is to act as a rallying point for the rowers. This was our basis for that move in the 3rd 500 – we knew that if the race was competitive then we’d need to make a move here to set us up for the sprint but there were times when, based on what I was seeing and sensing, I’d call it for nothing more than pure commitment to the (wo)man in front of you, the team, yourself, etc. We almost always accomplished the goal of getting even, getting our bow ball in front, etc. but this is an example of how phrasing it can have a big impact on how effective it is. Don’t be all business all the time and forget about the people is what I’m getting at.

As you get more experienced (and your listening skills adapt to the noise of the race course) you’ll be able to start predicting and picking up on when the crews around you are making moves, which gives you the significant advantage of being able to counter it with one of your own. There are few things more satisfying than seeing a crew start a move, waiting a couple strokes, and then laying down a solid 20 of your own to put them back in their place. I say “seeing” too because you’re not always going to hear the move being called. Sometimes you might but you should rely on sight more than sound because silent moves are a thing and any coxswain worth their weight will know what a difference they can make if the other crew(s) don’t pick up on it.

An important point to remember is that the effort you’re putting into your move has to be maintained on that 11th stroke (or whatever stroke follows the last one in the burst). If you have a really effective move but follow it up with a couple mediocre strokes, whatever advantage you gained is gonna be lost and you’ll end up taxing your body even more in the process. I’ll try to make a call or two about this as we near the end of those strokes, usually something simple like “maintain it now” on the first stroke after the move, “no sag, sustain the effort…”, etc.

Related: All about Power 10s

Like I said earlier, we usually included at least two planned moves while keeping it in mind that we might do three total based on how the race evolved in the early part of the piece. That “unplanned” move wasn’t technically unplanned but I knew that if I needed to use it, it wasn’t gonna catch the crew off guard and create unnecessary chaos. That’s what can/will happen though if you start using power tens disguised as “moves” as a fallback when you’ve got nothing else to say. Unplanned moves tend to be reactionary in response to another crew’s increase in speed or like I said earlier, as a competitive tactic to get your bow ball in front or to reel the other crew back in and prevent them from increasing their lead.

There’s lots of good examples of moves in the recordings I’ve posted but a great example is the one below (starting at 1:50ish) from the recording I posted of UW vs. Cal’s duel in 2009 (the second recording in this post). I’ve included the original video below the recording too, where you can hear AND see Katelin calling this move and the impact it had on UW’s position relative to Cal.