Coxswain Bags, pt. 2: What I carry in my backpack

Part 1

I grew up with my dad always talking about Boys Scouts. He was involved in it as kid, eventually progressing to the rank of Eagle Scout, as was my brother who also recently achieved his Eagle Scout rank. The Boy Scout motto is perhaps one of the few, if not the only motto I know – “Be prepared.” My backpack isn’t so much a regular backpack as it is a veritable treasure chest full of everything you could possibly ever need while out on the water and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t represent the Boy Scout motto better than anything else I’ve ever seen.

A question was once asked of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement, that said “Be prepared for what?” His response?

“Oh, for any old thing.”

I’ve often been told by fellow coaches that I remind them of a Boy Scout because I am quite literally prepared for anything that might happen on the water. As a coxswain, it’s your job to be in control and to be prepared for whatever situation might arise. Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. You have to anticipate these circumstances and make sure you have the necessary tools available should you need them.

Below I’ve posted photos that show the contents of my bag. Since I’ve started coaching it’s transitioned from just a coxing bag to also include some of my coaching tools as well. It might seem like a lot of stuff, but I promise you, every single thing has a purpose. Some things I use all the time and others I only use every few months. The important thing is to always have what I need on hand in case a situation comes up where that particular item is necessary.Previously (and for the last 10+ years) I’ve been using a black Nike drawstring bag for practically anything and everything – school, crew, travel, life, etc. When I started coaching, I decided that I wanted something specifically for crew so I wouldn’t have to take everything out of my Nike bag when I wanted to use it for something else. Specifications were something that had ample amounts of space to store stuff so I wouldn’t have to dig to find what I needed, black, and waterproof. I found this cross-body backpack on eBay and asked my brother to get it for me as a month and a half early birthday present. Below you can see what it looks like from the front and the back. On the front strap, above the pink ribbon and slightly obscured by my hair, is a pouch for your cell phone. When I’m not on the water I keep my phone in there (it’s the perfect size for my iPhone 4.) Here’s the front:And the back:And no, before anyone asks, I don’t expect my little yellow floater to keep my backpack above water should it ever fall in. It’s just there for decoration, as are the two pins on the front pocket (one from CRI and one from Head of the Charles). That picture has everything I carry with me in the bag, so you can get an idea of what it looks like when it’s full. It really doesn’t look or feel any more bulky than your average backpack. So far, I’ve had it for about 9 months and it’s been amazing. Knock on wood, I haven’t had any problems with my stuff getting wet when I’m out in the rain or when I end up sitting in a few inches of water in the boat (which actually happened, thanks to a particularly hurricane-esque morning on the Charles back in May). It has sat in 4 inches of water in an 8+ before and my stuff inside stayed perfectly dry, which I took to be a true test of it’s waterproof-ability. I don’t recommend doing this, but at the time I didn’t have any other options, so I was pleased that my stuff stayed protected.

The backpack itself has four compartments – two on the front (one small, one medium), a small one on the side, and then the large main compartment. I’ll start with the front pockets and work my way up.No self-respecting coxswain goes out on the water without Hot Hands (1). I carry these with me all the time, even in the summer (sometimes the mornings can still be a little chilly at the beginning and end of the season). They’re great to keep in your hands, obviously, but on particularly cold mornings I’ll even put some under my ear warmer to keep my ears warm. In addition to Hot Hands, I also recommend the Hot Hands heated insoles for your shoes. I wear my Hunter Wellies once it’s too cold to wear sandals and usually have a pair of the insoles with me just in case my toes are extra cold that morning.This is is everything I keep in the other front pocket. In the small black cosmetic bag (1) I keep a spare set of  AA and AAA batteries (2). The AA batteries are for my camera and the AAA are for my recorder. These are a recent addition that I wouldn’t have thought to add until my coach was trying to get footage of our 8+ one morning and his camera died. Towards the end of the fall I tried to record every outing, so having a spare set  ensured that I’d never get caught trying to record something with dead batteries. I’m not sure why I have Super Glue (3) in here, but I can’t find a reason to NOT have it, so it gets to stay. I also keep sunscreen in this pocket. 100+ degree days combined with absolutely NO cloud cover and a lot of sun reflecting off the water led to some pretty wicked sunburns this summer, most of which probably could have been prevented if I’d put sunscreen on. The reason I carry it with me is, in fact, not so much for myself as it is for the rowers (although it’s just as important for you to wear it as it is for the rowers). Before you go out, make sure everyone has some on, especially on the backs of their necks and shoulders. The sunscreen I have is Neutrogena’s Wet Skin (4) and Ultimate Sport (5). Both work amazing, so I highly recommend either (or both).

Another thing that I make a point to note when discussing sunscreen is to please, please, PLEASE check the expiration date of your sunscreen if you use a bottle that you’ve had at home for awhile. When I was a senior in high school I was racing in Virginia and my boat got stuck on the water for SIX HOURS due to … something. I don’t even remember what it was, but we were stuck up by the starting line forever. It was hot and extremely sunny, but I’d put sunscreen on earlier in the day so I wasn’t too worried. When we got off the water I started to feel like I’d gotten burned but didn’t realize the extent of it until the bus ride home. I’d put sweatpants on and fallen asleep, but when I woke up it was like my legs were on FIRE. I took my sweatpants off and … trust me, you NEVER want to see your legs be the color mine were. Tomatoes looked albino in comparison. I had also completely lost my voice, which was a very, very rare occurrence for me. By the time we got home, I’d developed huge blisters all over my shoulders, neck, and legs (which made wearing clothes unbearable). I can’t think of a time when I have been so incredibly miserable. I ended up going to the doctor a day or two later and thought to bring my sunscreen with me, just in case. We found upon closer inspection of the bottle that it had actually expired six months prior, which, as evidenced by my burns, indicated that it didn’t protect me from the sun at all. I was sunburned SO bad that I had actually burned my vocal cords, which was why I lost my voice. I couldn’t talk above a whisper for nearly two weeks, all from a sunburn. Let this be a warning – check the expiration date on the bottles.
This is what I keep in the small side pouch (which you can’t really see in either of the pictures). The two screwdrivers (1) are made by Concept2 to be used for tightening the oars. If you have Concept2 oars (what else would you have…) you probably have some spares lying around your boathouse, but if you want your own, the manual they send with the oars recommends a T-20 screwdriver. The abundance of pens (2) is for when I’m coaching. I take a lot of notes on what I see while I’m on the launch, so having pens handy is a plus. I don’t recommend trying to take notes while you’re coxing though – use your recorder instead. In addition to the pens, I like to keep a Sharpie or some other kind of permanent marker (3) with me in case there’s something that needs labeling. I’ve used it to mark tape on the boat and to label boat slings, among other things. Having some kind of writing implement in your bag eliminates trying to search for one in the boathouse, so try and keep at least one pen or pencil with you at all times. The last thing I keep in this section is a few individual Crystal Light packs (4). When it’s really hot out and I’m on the launch, I try and keep a water bottle with me at all times, but I’m not a huge fan of the taste of water so I keep some Crystal Light with me to make it more tasty.

I use vinyl cosmetic bags (1) to hold everything so that if for some reason the interior of my bag does get wet, everything will still be fairly protected. When I bought these bags, they came in a set of 3, which was great since they were all different sizes and it was cheaper than buying individual bags multiple times over. Check WalMart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade, etc. for similar ones.You can honestly never have enough band-aids. Johnson & Johnson could give you a lifetime supply and you’d run out in a week. Somebody is always getting a blister or cutting themselves on a rigger bolt or getting a splinter from the dock. Be prepared and stock up. When I bought band-aids (2), I bought every size I could find, from the smallest to the largest, which at the time seemed like overkill until a few weeks later when I was halfway through my stash. Having a supply of band aids in various sizes will save you a lot of time and sanity when your rowers aren’t complaining that the band aid they begged for is too big or too small for their blisters. My suggestion is to buy an assortment so you’re prepared for whatever sized blister or injury you’re presented with. Waterproof ones are ideal, as are the fabric ones over the plastic-coated ones. If you get gauze pads, make sure you get the kind that are NON-STICK. Nothing is worse than having your palm raw from a ripped-open blister only to have to pull gauze off of it. Gauze pads are also good if you have a rower who gets track bites on their calves, which can lead to a lot of pain and bloodshed. When it comes to athletic tape (3), I have a couple different rolls simply because people have different preferences. I have the flex wrap, regular cloth athletic tape, and a roll of Nexcare’s new flexible and breathable tape. So far the flexible & breathable one seems to be the most popular, but they’re all good options. The use of tape, especially among novice guys, seems to be a sign of how badass one is – the more tape on your hands, the more hardcore you are. That’s not it’s purpose, so don’t let your rowers waste it (that stuff is expensive!).In addition to my bag of band-aids, I also have another small bag (1) that contains a lot of alcohol swabs, in addition to a few other things. I bought the alcohol swabs (3) on a whim and I’ve been surprised at how useful they’ve been. If a rower has a blister pop or some skin get ripped off their hands I make them clean the spot off with the alcohol before they bandage it up. This helps eliminate any germs or anything that could potentially lead to an infection. If they bleed on the oar handle or anything, I’ll clean them off after practice with the alcohol too so that the next person who has that oar doesn’t get the previous person’s blood and sweat (and possibly tears) all over them. Neosporin (2) is another item I keep in here, for obvious reasons. NewSkin (4) is “controversial” amongst rowers – some love it, some hate it. I had an extra bottle lying around my apartment, so I keep it with me just in case. I got this small bottle of Nivea’s Express Hydration (5) in the mail from Target and use it if/when my fingers get sore from holding the steering ropes. The last thing I keep in here is a small role of almost-gone athletic tape (6).
This bag (1) was another freebie I got in the mail from Target. In it, I keep spare hair ties (2), chapstick (3), Advil (6), hand sanitizer (5), and Excedrin (4). If you cox for a girl’s team, expect to be asked at least once a day if you have an extra rubber band. Having a few spares definitely doesn’t hurt, although once you lend them out you might never see them again. I saw this chapstick on super-clearance at the grocery store one day so I grabbed a few of them. Do you know how painful and miserable it is trying to cox with dry, cracked lips from being out in the wind, rain, and snow for extended periods of time? It’s the WORST. It’s our equivalent of blisters. I always end up getting the worst chapped lips when it starts to get cold, so chapstick is my best friend throughout the fall and winter. The two that I have, in addition to Blistex’s Medicated ointment, are Chapstick’s Lip Shield 365 and Ultra Skin Protectant. The Advil is pretty self-explanatory; if someone is sore or has a headache or something, Advil can make practice a little more bearable for them. I wouldn’t advertise to everyone that you have this though…only break it out in case someone really needs it and they specifically ask you if you have some. Hand sanitizer, like the alcohol swabs, is just another thing to keep germs and bacteria at bay. If I’m cleaning off someone’s nasty handles or I’m the recipient of a particularly sweaty high-five (a common occurrence when you coach high school boys), I use some of this so I can feel slightly less gross for the time being. The Excedrin is just for me. I get really bad migraines that are both caused and exacerbated by light, which is really unfortunate when you’re out coaching or coxing on a sunny day. After spending a miserable four hours on the water one day with a skull-splitting headache, I decided I needed to have some medicine with me so I can take it if I feel one coming on. If you get headaches or anything like that, I definitely recommend keeping some medicine with you.
This bag (1) contains my electronic stuff and a roll of electrical tape (4). I use the electrical tape whenever I need to mark where the boat is supposed to sit on the racks or to tape the workout or a note by my feet, amongst other things. I usually try and get a rundown of what we’re doing that morning from my coach, so I’ll scribble it down and then tape it to the footboard so I can see it throughout practice. You guys have heard me talk time and again about the power of video footage – it’s amazing. When I started coaching I bought myself a FlipCam (2) on eBay so I could record the rowers and then watch the footage later. From the coxswain’s seat it doesn’t work that great but from the launch it’s really useful. The other thing I keep in here is my beloved recorder (3). I can’t remember when I bought this (sometime between junior and senior year of high school) but it was long enough ago that they no longer make this model. (If you haven’t read this post I did on recorders, check it out.) Every coxswain – regardless if you’re a novice, varsity, or elite – should have a recorder. Mine is an Olympus one that I keep in a compact travel container that I got from WalMart. It came with a clip-on mic, which I keep in the top part of the container. 9ish years later and it still works great. For those of you who are planning to cox in college, here’s a useful tip if your parents are skeptical about buying you one – tell them that in addition to coxing you’ll use it to record your lectures. I actually did this and it came in really handy while studying for exams.
Sometimes I get hungry when I’m coaching, especially during the summer when I’d go from my own practice right into coaching skills camp. Resealable bags of granola (1) are just the trick for mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks. After experiencing a tidal wave one morning while coxing, I had the displeasure of discovering once I got back on land that my phone got fried from the water. After I got a new phone, I decided that I needed something to protect it when I go out so that if we ever get swamped with water again, at least my obnoxiously expensive iPhone would be safe. My parents bought me this waterproof case (2) to keep it in when I go out and so far, it’s worked like a charm, especially on days where it’s been raining. There was also that time my backpack wasn’t zipped all the way and the case with my phone inside fell out into the Charles when I tossed my bag into the launch…yes it floats, yes it’s waterproof, no my phone wasn’t harmed, and yes I did have a massive heart attack watching the case fly into the river.
A notebook is an invaluable resource to a coxswain. Keeping a record of who’s in your boat, what you did during practice, what drills worked, what didn’t, things you have questions on, your race strategy, etc. is just another thing that can make a good coxswain great. I have a couple notebooks, although I never have more than one of these in my bag at any given time. The first notebook is a basic Moleskine (1) that I use for coaching (notes, lineups, etc.) and taking notes when I go to conferences and clinics. The second is a Markings notebook (2) that I found at Target on super-clearance. I use this one to keep track of all my ideas and rough drafts for blog posts. The third is a Miquelrius notebook (3) I picked up at TJMaxx (again, on super-clearance) to use as my actual coxing notebook. I used these notebooks in college and loved them because of the color-coded edges. Mine has four different colored edges and each represents something different – one is for practice stuff, one is for general boat notes, one is for race notes, and the other I haven’t come up with a use for yet. The fourth notebook (4) is probably the greatest accessory to coxing ever. I’ve been wanting one for years and after winning trivia night at CRI I got some as part of my prize. They’re made by the company Rite in the Rain and what’s great about them is that the paper is waterproof, so you can use them when it’s raining, snowing, etc. and your writing won’t smear or smudge.
This is my traveling closet, without the actual clothes (those are permanently kept on the backseat of my Jeep). While I was back in Ohio in May I was going through my room and found this mini-mesh bag (1) that to this day I have no idea what it went with, but it’s new purpose is to contain all the stuff you see here. An alternative if you don’t happen to have a mini-mesh bag lying around are the ones that are made for delicate clothing items and lingerie. At our annual Christmas party, my 8+ got me some awesome presents that included lots of high-vis gear. Since we normally row before the sun is up, visibility on the river is usually pretty low so I’m looking forward to trying out my new vest (2), ear warmer (3), and gloves (7). I have a rain coat that I wear when it’s raining but I keep this cycling shell (4) that can fold into itself in my bag in case it starts to rain while I’m on the water without  my jacket. It’s lightweight, breathable, and repels moisture, so it’s also nice to wear in the summer when it’s raining but too warm out for a regular rain jacket. I also keep a cheap, plastic poncho (5) in there as well, just in case. In addition to the gloves my boat got me, I also have a pair of Under Armour Cold Gear liner gloves (6) that I bought last spring. They’re great to wear in the early spring by themselves when it’s raining and still a bit chilly or when it’s cold outside under your fleece gloves for an extra layer of warmth. They’re thin and have rubber grips on them so you don’t have to worry about your hands slipping off the balls on the strings while you’re trying to steer. The last two things I have with me are socks. Why I have a regular pair of socks (9) with me, I’m not entirely sure, but they have come in handy the few times I had to hop on the erg over the summer with the kids I was coaching. As soon as it’s warm enough to wear sandals I shun regular shoes, which can be inconvenient when you have to teach people how to erg. The socks at least protect the back of my ankles from getting blisters. The other pair of socks are a pair of waterproof ones (8) that I got when I was in high school. Suffice it to say, you should have a pair, whether you’re a rower or a coxswain. They’re that awesome.

I get made fun of so much for this last picture, but nobody’s complaining when we’re rigging/de-rigging boats and no one has to search for a wrench.
7/16 wrenches (3) are the only REAL tool any rower, coxswain, or coach needs. I have multiples because my coaches in high school used to give everyone on the team one at the beginning of each season so that no one would have an excuse to not help with rigging/de-rigging. When I was a senior, I went to a coxswain clinic in Virginia where we all got a Vespoli coxswain tool (2). In addition to a 7/16 wrench, it’s also got 3/4″ and 5/8″ slots, as well as a deep slot for wing nuts and thumbscrews. The wing nut slot is especially amazing for loosening the screws on foot stretchers. The other tool that’s up there (1) is one that I got recently at an event at CRI. It’s genius because it’s an all-in-one tool that contains a pocket knife, mini-LED flashlight, and every rower’s favorite accessory, a bottle opener. Everything is contained in a small cosmetic case that I’ve adorned with a keychain floater I’ve had since college. With everything inside, the bag probably weighs about 3+ pounds, so the floater is really there just for decoration.

I hope this tour of my backpack gives everyone an idea of what I take out in the boat and on the launch with me, as well as gives you some ideas of what to put in your own coxswain bag. Like the Boy Scouts say, be prepared for any old thing and make sure you’ve got the appropriate tools handy so that if something happens while on the water, you’ll be able to handle it.

Question of the Day

I never want to be THAT coxswain whose rowers zone out and don’t listen. I feel like my rowers look out of the boat a lot and it affects the set and their technique. Do you have any posts/suggestions to make sure I’m on the right path?

I really believe that about 85% of the effort in staying focused in the boat HAS to come from the rowers – the coxswain has a job to do in that respect but they can only do so much. The best and most effective way to find out if you’re on the right track is to talk to your coach and your boat. Explain that you’ve noticed a lot of people looking out of the boat, etc. which causes all these different problems and you’re wondering if there’s anything you can do to help them keep their focus in the boat.

Get feedback on how you’re doing overall – can you be more aggressive at times or are you doing a good job wit that? How does your tone of voice resonate with the rowers – do you sound engaged, present, focused, etc. or are you pretty monotonous and flat with your calls? Do you sound like you’re in control and have a solid plan that you’re ready to execute or do you make your calls like you aren’t really sure of what you’re doing? The information you get from them will be way more valuable to you than anything else.

Related: My rowers told me after practice today that I should focus on the tone of my voice and not be so “intense” during our practices. I don’t really know how to fix that actually. Like I don’t think I am so “intense” but rather just firm and trying to be concise with the command I give out. They said that they really like how I cox during a race piece because my intensity level fits the circumstances. But they also said that if I cox in a similar tone to race pieces, they can’t take me seriously during the races. But my problem when I first started coxing was not being firm enough and getting complaints about how I should be more direct on my commands. Now when I am, my rowers say this. I don’t really know what is the happy medium. Like I listen to coxing recordings and I feel like I am doing fairly similar tones.

In my experience, rowers looking out of the boat and stuff tends to be more about them than it does you. Obviously you need to be doing your part to keep them engaged and focused but some people are just that ADD (literally and figuratively) and have a hard time staying “in the boat” when they’re just moving back and forth. It takes a lot of concentration to row which a lot of people, especially novices, don’t realize. If they’re looking out of the boat a lot, you’re right, it will definitely affect the set and technique. That’s something I constantly try and tell the kids I coach – even though it seems minimal, you turning your head shifts your body weight enough that it will offset the boat.

Question of the Day

I still have trouble judging distances [m] any tips?

I used to have trouble with that too. Practice and racing have been what’s helped me the most in gauging how far I am from something. Nearly every race I did in high school was on a buoyed course and the last 250m were always red buoys so comparing where the start of the red buoys were and where the finish line buoys were helped me learn to gauge what 250m looked like on the river when we were practicing. A lot of it is just carefully calculated guesswork though.

I also try and study the river that I’m on to get an idea of how far apart the major landmarks are from each other and then I convert the distance in miles to meters. On the Charles there are a ton of things you can use for landmarks but on your home course it can vary. My coach in high school, who was also a coxswain, taught me that trick and while it’s time consuming, it helped a lot. As I got used to what 50m, 400m, 1000m, etc. felt like it almost became like muscle memory to me so it’s gotten a lot easier to judge distances the more experienced I’ve become.

Question of the Day

So nervous for spring races! I’m so worried that we’ll start and I won’t keep straight, crash into another boat and not only ruin our race, but another boat’s. I know practice makes perfect but how do I take down the anxiety attack?

I actually feel similarly before most races. It’s not so much that I doubt myself but the adrenaline building from the time I launch all the way up to the start gives me the jitters. When we get locked on to the stake boat I usually take a second where I close my eyes, take a couple deep breaths, mentally run through my game plan, and tell myself that I know what I’m doing, my crew knows what they’re doing, and all we have to do is execute. As soon as the start marshal says “GO” everything gets channeled into the race. The adrenaline that gave me jitters before fuels me during the race – I literally think I run on nothing but pure adrenaline for those six minutes.

Related: Hi! Since the spring races all start boats at the same time, do you have any tips on steering straight? I can tell when I’m veering off my lane, but for some reason, I can’t/don’t know how to fix it! I remember you saying it’s all about the small adjustments, then straightening out, but I can’t seem to get it. [Ex today: all 3 boats lined up, me on the outside, I end up too far out away from the other 2]. Tips? Thanks!

You have to trust the face that you know what you’re doing, your coach trusts you, your crew trusts you, and you trust them. Assuming you’ve been having good practices and your crew is well-prepared, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You know how to steer. If you didn’t, your coach wouldn’t keep you with that boat – he’d put someone who know what they were doing in there.

If it’s something you’re not 100% confident about, practice your steering every time you go out. Have your coach watch you and give you feedback. Most likely you’ll have buoys when you race so you’ll have a guide on either side as you go down the course. When you get to the starting line, take a second to breathe, remind yourself of the plan, and get ready to go. When the starting marshal says “GO”, let your instincts take over. When the race is over you’ll wonder why you were ever anxious in the first place.

Question of the Day

Can you explain the term ‘run’? When a cox says “more run” it’s referring to the length and lay back of the recovery and such, correct?

No. “Run” refers to the distance your boat travels per stroke, so if your coach or coxswain is calling for “more run” they want to see the boat travel farther between strokes. If you’re rowing really fast, rushing the slides, etc. you’re essentially burning your wheels. A lot of energy is being wasted because you’re not moving very far with each stroke you take. Your boat will travel the farthest per stroke when your slide and body move at the same speed coming into the catch and when your strokes are clean and powerful. A coxswain might tell you to lengthen out the stroke to increase the amount of run you’re getting since shortening it up will limit how far you travel but the run is all about the boat, not the bodies.

Related: There’s a lot of like, I don’t know how to describe this really, lurching in the boat? Because I think the girls slide forward to fast and that makes us go back instead of forward if that makes sense. how would you correct this? Thanks!

Examples of good run can be seen below. The first video is the USA Women’s 8+ from this year practicing in Lucerne and the second video is from the same practice except it’s in slow motion. Watch from the time they get to the finish to when they get back to the catch and see how far the boat travels.

For coxswains (and rowers too, but mostly coxswains), a good way to judge the amount of run your boat is getting is to look at the distance between your 2-seat’s last puddle and the stroke’s catch. If you’re getting good run, 2-seat’s puddle should pass the stroke seat before they take a stroke. If you’re not getting good run (or generating a lot of power) then the stroke will have already started their stroke or be very close to the catch before 2-seat’s puddle reaches them.

How to Call a Pick Drill (and Reverse Pick Drill)

Previously: Steer an eight/four

The pick drill

A pick drill is a fairly basic warmup (probably the most basic) that involves transitioning through each part of the stroke. It helps to isolate the recovery and the drive, as well as help the rowers with body preparation. The goal is to build one upon the other until you eventually get to full slide, where you can feel all four parts of the stroke flow together.

To start, have the rowers sit at the finish, blades squared and buried. The first part of the drill is “arms only” so if you’re doing the drill by 6s, you’d say “Stern 6, sitting ready at the finish, blades buried … arms only, ready row” and then have them row with arms only for however many strokes you choose. The standard number is 10 but with short, choppy strokes like this, sometimes I’ll extend it to 15 or 20 when there’s time. If you were doing 10 strokes, on stroke 8 you would make the call for the first transition, which is to arms and bodies. The reason it would be on stroke 8 is so that when you’ve completed “in two”, you’ll have rowed ten strokes. 8+2…get it? Don’t be that coxswain that says “10 strokes each” and then ends up doing 12 or 15 or 32. Believe it or not, rowers can count too and if they start to catch on that they’re doing more strokes than you’re telling them to do, that can lead to some not-positive feedback on your coxswain evaluations.

When I make the transition to arms and bodies, I usually say “alright, let’s add the bodies in two … that’s one … and two, on this one“, where “one” and “two” are called at the catch and “on this one” is called at the finish of “two”.

After arms and bodies comes half slide. Same call as before – “half slide in two … one, two, on this one“. Some coaches will have you do 1/4 slide after arms and bodies but more often than not this is skipped in favor of going straight to half slide.

Following half slide is full slide, which is the last part of the drill. When we go to full slide I remind the rowers to lengthen out and not shorten the slides up since the previous three parts of the drill involve either no slide or shortened slides. “In two, let’s lengthen out to full slide. That’s one … and two, on this one, stay nice and looong, catch send…” By drawing out the word “long” it almost forces the rowers to utilize the full length of their slides before they get to the catch. “Catch” is short and annunciated so that they don’t liken the long slides to a sluggish catch. Similarly to 1/4 slide, sometimes coaches will throw in 3/4 slide before going to full. Again, it’s up to you.

With the pick drill, it’s important that the rowers actually do each part of the stroke that you’re telling them to do. It’s broken down for a reason. I’m very hypersensitive to this because it is such a pet peeve of mine but there are few things in rowing that piss me off more than when I or another coxswain calls for “arms only” and you see the rowers rowing with arms and bodies. Drives. Me. INSANE. “Arms only” means “arms only”!! In the boat this is difficult to see from our vantage point but on the ergs it is definitely something we have the power to put a stop to. Don’t let the rowers cheat and use their shoulders either – on the first stroke of the drill to get the boat up and out of the water, fine, acceptable, but after that … arms … ONLY!!!

The reverse pick drill

A variation of the pick drill that your coach might have you do is called the “reverse pick drill”. This is a great drill for isolating each part of the drive and teaching rowers to not do one thing before the other (i.e. don’t bend the arms before the legs are down, etc.). Although it can take some time to explain, this is a great drill to do with novices due to their penchant for trying to open their backs while still on the drive and so on.

This drill, like the regular pick drill, is best done by 4s or 6s but you can do it by all eight if you want – just make sure the rowers keep it balanced otherwise it’s gonna be tough to execute. Starting with whatever group of rowers you choose, have them row with JUST the legs. Just the legs, contrary to what some rowers think means rowing with just. your. legs. No arms, no back, just. the. legsThis means that your upper body should still be reaching forward and your arms are still extended. The ONLY thing that happens between the catch and the first part of this drill is that your legs go down. The call to start this would be “Stern 6, sitting ready at the catch, blades squared and buried … starting with just the legs, ready row.” When I do this drill, for legs only I tend to do 10-15 strokes total.

Following legs only is legs and back. After the leg drive, you’ll open the back but keep the arms extended straight out – the arms are the final part of the stroke, which we haven’t gotten to yet. When you see it, this part of the drill tends to look very rigid due to the fact that the arms are still straight. When calling for the addition of the backs, say “in two, let’s add the backs, that’s one … and two, on this one, legs swing…”. Occasionally I like to say “swing” just to remind the rowers to pivot from the hips and open the backs up. After doing however many strokes without the backs, sometimes they’ll not lay back as much as they normally would; saying “swing” just puts the bug in their ear so they’ll do it from here out.

The final part of the reverse pick drill is to add in the arms and row normally. Up to the point, the arms have been extended straight out, so the call will go something like “in two, let’s add in the arms, we’ll go in one … and two, now accelerate it through … accelerate through, that’s it…”. Legs and legs + backs reiterates hanging off the handle and not breaking the arms early so once you do add the arms in you wanna make sure they’re accelerating the weight through the drive and all the way into the finish.

Below is a video that gives a good demonstration of the reverse pick drill and what it should look like.