When I was a senior, I attended a coxswain clinic hosted by Vespoli in Fairfax, Virginia. Because of scheduling conflicts the other three years I was in high school, this was the only clinic I was able to attend. There were some fantastic speakers, including Marcus McElhenney, Yaz Farooq, Mike Teti, and my personal favorite, Pete Cipollone. Every so often I pull out my notebook from high school and read through the notes I took. It’s funny because a lot of what I learned that day, despite being things I already knew from my previous three years of experience, were reiterated in such a strong manner that I tend to give the same advice to the coxswains I coach now, almost word for word. It really made me realize how invaluable we are and can be to our teams.
Below I’ve written out everything I wrote down that day. Forgive the short, choppy sentences – there was a lot to get down so I wrote quickly with a lot of shorthand. I hope everyone can find something to pull from it and keep in mind as we go through the winter training season into the spring racing season. If anyone has questions on anything, leave a comment or send me an email at rowingandcoxing [at] gmail [dot] com. This information is coming from some of the best coxswains and coaches in the sport of rowing, all of whom I hold in very high regard. It might not be what your coach has taught you, but keep in mind that doesn’t make it wrong or untrue. Look at this as another learning opportunity and as a chance to try something different than what you’re used to. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!
What a Coach Looks For in Their Coxswains (also see the previous post I wrote on this topic)
- Take everything slower when getting the boat out of the racks and into the water. Moving too fast can result in injury, damage to the boats, or both.
- Are they listening to the coach? Pay attention and be able to repeat what the coach says.
- Safety and steering are #1. Know and follow the traffic patterns.
- Have a good knowledge of the sport – understand the “bigger picture”. The objective is to win the race.
- Don’t have a big ego.
- Do they agree with the coaching philosophies? Convey your opinions to the coach but still follow the workouts, etc. as planned. Keep any discontent with their philosophies subtle.
- Have a realistic assessment of your crew. Be realistic about your goals. Race and beat crews on your level.
- Communicate in an articulate manner. Be loud and clear. Tkae your time when calling drills, pieces, etc. DO NOT talk into the mic or to the rowers when the coach is talking (unless it is for safety purposes).
- Are they truthful? The biggest lie in rowing is “last 20”. Always tell it like it is – don’t sugarcoat anything. Being truthful conveys a confidence in the boat.
- Will they execute the race plan? Don’t let things falls apart. Move the boat efficiently.
- Do the athletes trust me? Pat attention. Favors do not equal trust. Coxswains are not servants. Gain trust by making good calls, steering straight, etc.
- How do they react under pressure? Don’t let pressure get to you. If you panic, the crew panics.
Supporting Your Coach’s Strategy
The coxswain’s role.
- Observer and adviser.
- Race prep officer – what can we do to get ready for the race?
- Liaison – the “go to” guy.
- Friend – it’s last on the list for a reason.
- We aren’t coaches. We make the rowers and coaches lives easier. Be polite – rowers are cranky. We are not dead weight.
Race prep officer.
- Every practice = race prep time trials. Go through everything in your mind. Get in their heads. The most prepared crew usually wins. Everyone should know the race strategy and be prepared to execute it.
Observer and adviser.
- Observation is our most powerful contribution. Advise the rowers on changes and give them feedback.
- Sometimes we’re in a grey ea. It provides us the opportunity to say what no one wants to hear.
- Don’t broadcast problems – be subtle.
- The coach may come to the coxswain for opinions on how things feel. Don’t hold back. If something doesn’t feel right, they need to know.
- Coaches rely on the coxswains to tell the truth.
- Be able to calm everyone down. Sometimes just listening helps.
- Develop a good relationship with the rowers.
- Remember, we’re trying to win. Coxswains need to be fair and impartial. Leave everything on the water.
Learning your coach’s technical plan.
- The coach sets the plan.
- Listen! Listening to the coach is the best way to make a contribution to the team.
- Reinforce the coach’s message.
- Coaches typically use specific words to invoke a technical change. Works may also be specific to the rowers. Learn the words and use the same language as the coach to avoid any miscommunications or things being “lost in translation”.
- Have equipment, tools, and athletes ready.
- Know where you and your team need to be at all times.
- BE ON TIME.
- Know the workout plan.
- When the coach gives and order, you schedule it and make the call.
- All commands must be crisp and clear.
Help the rowers.
- You are the external feedback.
- When the coach talks to the rowers, reinforce it.
- Compliment and point out what is good, but still be truthful.
- Be ready to start pieces on time.
- Line up even.
- Race at the given cadence – DO. NOT. CHEAT.
- It is not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
- Don’t be afraid to just shut up.
- Tone of voice is very important.
- Give loud, clear, preparatory commands.
- Who, what, when – i.e. bow 4, swing pick, on this one…
- Give decisive commands.
- Run the show.
- Use your coach’s regular drills – don’t add in anything new.
- Make good use of the time.
- Show the coach that the crew gets better when you’re the coxswain.
- The more “solo” practice you get, the easier race day will be.
Putting it all together.
- Combine all of the above traits and you’ll be an integral part of the coach’s strategy.
- If you’re going to say something, make sure it’s important.
- Juice ’em up.
- Rhythm calls during race are good.
- Keep the voice soft, lower tension, tell them what’s going on, bring up your voice to get them moving.
Keys to Effective Steering
- Goals should be to not effect the balance, steer a subtle course, and center yourself in the lane.
- Steering with the fingers allows greater control, keeps the steering subtle, and keeps the boat balanced (vs. steering with your whole hand)
Steering on the recovery.
- Designed for straight shots and high stroke rates.
- Boat responds quicker.
- Should be done at 30spm or higher.
- Don’t use on major adjustments.
- Special circumstances: in strong cross winds, ride the rudder, and inform the crew.
- Safety = trust.
- Be aware of EVERYTHING.
- Pre-practice: get info on the course/water by talking to other coaches and coxswains.
- Always know bridges, traffic patters, buoys, penalties, rules, etc.
- Avoid stupid mistakes.
RelationshipsCoxswain to coxswain
- Pre-practice: know the workout and the course/river
- On the water: Be silent (less is more). Speak to the other coxswain only when it’s necessary. Be polite, never get emotional, and never argue. Respect the competition.
- Off the water: Never get involved in trash talking. Ignore smack talk. Repair any miscommunications.
- Varsity coxswains: Take responsibility for actions of the team. Help out the younger coxswains.
How to Run a Smooth Practice
- Make the practice plan before you get out on the water.
- Make them fun (while still being effective).
- Talk about where to meet up with other coxswains and coaches.
- Keep the boats together.
- Listen to the coach and other rowers.
- Earn respect.
- Only make calls that will have an effect on the rowers.
Be in control.
- Dictate commands immediately.
- Make your calls clear and concise.
- Keep safety in mind.
- Think out your actions before you do them.
- Don’t allow misconduct.
- Ask questions.
- If you don’t understand, do not continue until you’ve received clarification and do understand.
- Follow directions.
- Help out – take oars down while the rowers are running or stretching, etc.
- Try not to be negative.
- Positive wording is key.
What a Rower Looks For in a CoxswainPractice mode.
- Steering is the most important thing rowers look for. They don’t want to be able to feel the steering.
- Be a coach on the water.
- Don’t be annoying but nag for changes.
- They’d rather hear it from a coxswain than a coach.
- Less is more – know when to shut up.
- Act as a liaison between the coach and athlete. Help to smooth things over when necessary.
- Watch your tone of voice. Don’t be annoying.
Off the water training.
- Erg pieces – be there and take down times.
- On days of hard pieces, instill a sense of competition but ONLY during hard pieces.
- Run with the athletes (if you are physically capable of doing so).
- Make an effort to pull your own weight.
- When dictating the race plan, be aware of your tone of voice – be calm and in control. Don’t raise your voice unless you have to. Use positive words and instill a sense of potential.
- Take care of behind the scenes stuff.
- Know the times of when you need to meet at the boat, get on the water, and be at the starting line.
- Never, ever, EVER be late to the line. EVER!!!
Racing (aka “how to scare the hell out of everyone when you race”).
- Don’t try to starve yourself just to be at weight.
- Plan weight loss in advance if/when necessary.
- Be organized.
- Make sure everyone has IDs, if necessary.
- Know where you and your team need to be at all times.
- Keep your cox-box charged.
- Have sunscreen.
Take the lead.
- Be prepared to answer questions.
- Be intelligent and organized.
- Check out the venue, observe wind and weather conditions.
- Measure time from hands on through the time you return to the dock to get an idea of when you should be where.
- Stick to a normal sleep schedule.
- Get up before your crew and start handling logistics.
- Get down to the course early, if possible.
- Check regatta times and delays.
- Check the boats.
- Weight in as far in advance as possible.
- Drink water to gain a pound or two if you’re below the minimum then “get rid of it”.
- Figure out any last-minute logistics.
- Go over your observations with the coach and crew.
- Give yourself 5-6 minutes to get into the stake boats.
- Know how much time it will take to get from the dock to the starting line and plan your workout accordingly.
At the line.
- Quiet positive talk.
- Get them focused.
Let ‘er rip.
- Come off the line in control.
- Prepare for shifts and EXECUTE.
The body of the race.
- Implement the plans.
- Articulate and they will execute.
- Don’t lie – tell them the truth.
- Focus on short-term goals.
- Don’t change the race plan in the middle of the race – it will destroy the rower’s confidence.
- Give challenges – i.e. “Is this where you want to be?”, “Where’s the speed?”, etc.
- Make the appropriate calls and give feedback every step of the way.
- STEER STRAIGHT.
- There are no magical calls.
- Have conviction. You must convey confidence.
- Sound aware and in control.
- Calls must be about what you can do, not what you can’t.
- Get inside your rower’s heads. Know what inspires and intimidates them.
- Lower your voice when needed.