Question of the Day

I know that, in general, having 8 seat back or having bow row (or having 7 seat back or having 2 seat row) do roughly the same thing, but I’ve found that there’s a subtle difference between stern backing and bow rowing, and it’s hard to determine which to use in some situations since they can have very different outcomes. Can you explain the differences and give some examples of when to use which?

Unless I have someone who is 100% inexperienced in bow, I rarely have the stern back or row when I’m trying to get a point. The bow of the boat is lighter and narrower than the stern and the bowman doesn’t have to worry about moving an extra 100lbs like the stroke does (the 100lbs being the coxswain), which makes it a little more effective and takes less time/effort. Plus, if you’re getting a point you’re not gonna rotate your back end of the boat, you’re gonna rotate the front … that should be the most obvious reason why you’d use bow pair.

The only time I really use stern pair to help me get my point is if we’re in between drills or pieces and our coach is talking to bow pair. I’d rather have 7-seat or stroke back it (and then I can finish adjusting when we start rowing) than risk distracting bow or 2-seat when they’re trying to listen to what our coach is saying.

Regarding stake boats, when backing, you always start with stern pair and work your way up the boat depending on how much power you need (stern pair, stern four, stern six, etc.). When you get close to the stake boat and can see what adjustments need to be made, then you can have your stern pair take really light arms only strokes to help you out. Once you’re locked on, resume using bow pair to get your point since using stern pair will make it too difficult for the person holding the boat to keep a good grip on it.

99.98% of the time, you should be using bow pair. It’s just one of those unwritten rules of coxing that you get weird looks for if you don’t follow it.


Coxswain Recordings, pt. 2

Part 1

Radnor Lightweight 8+
First thing I have to say about this video isn’t even about the coxing…it’s about the stroke. Seven strokes into the starting sequence and he’s already looking out of the boat!! Coxswains, please. Don’t let that shit fly. He does it throughout the ENTIRE race. This coxswain does a decent job of telling the crew where they are in relation to the other crews so there really shouldn’t be any reason for the stroke to be looking out of the boat like that. He has more pressing responsibilities. I actually thought overall this coxswain did a nice job. His voice is strong and authoritative, which as well all know are important qualities in a coxswain. Notice how he’s not yelling – his voice is raised but for the most part, he’s just talking to the rowers. There were a few points where I might have annunciated things a little more but for the most part, good job. His technical calls were good (hanging catches, quick hands, thread the legs – really liked that call, etc.) and he told the rowers exactly what he wanted (let’s take a seat, let’s move past lane 3). One call he made that I liked goes back to the stroke looking out of the boat – he said “heads forward, I got your back”. When I see rowers looking out of the boat I automatically assume that there must be a some reason why they don’t trust their coxswain, otherwise why aren’t they listening to him when he tells them where they are? Establishing trust between yourself and your crew is critical in times like this. He took several 10s but there was one spot where I think a move could have helped them…he says “Morristown is fading” and then goes back into his regular calls. Don’t do that! If you can see a crew is fading, take a 10 and capitalize on it! Another thing that he said a lot was “top 3”, he wanted to be in the “top 3”. Instead of being saying that, I would have added an extra punch of motivation by saying “We’re sitting in 4th by five seats, I want to be in the top 3. Let’s take a 10 and even up the bowballs, ready to go, on THIS ONE.” I think specifics like that are important when you’re sitting just off the podium. Overall, very good coxing. One quick note on the rowing – if you watch the stroke, you can see him losing his neck and hunching his shoulders as he pulls in on the drive. Don’t be afraid to talk to your directly to your stroke and tell them to make an adjustment if it’s necessary. We tend to overlook them since they’re right in front of us but they need individual shout outs too.

Australian Men’s 8+ at the ETC
This coxswain’s voice makes me laugh a little but I really live several of his calls. This is just a training row but I think calls like “going home with length and power” and “let’s set ourselves up for the row home” could easily be incorporated into a race situation. I’m not sure what the purpose of the row was but he does a great job of reminding them to get their length while still staying powerful. I like the “hook” call he uses when making calls for sharper catches. (Side note…how much fun would it be to stare at that stroke for an afternoon?)

Lauren, I don’t know who you are, but you’re a coxswain after my own heart. I could write an entire post on everything I love about these recordings. Listen to the others here and here. Tone of voice, the calls, the enthusiasm…top notch.

Berkeley High School
I really like this girl’s coxing. Similar to “Lauren” I think her tone of voice and calls are spot on. The only thing I don’t like is calling the strokes of a 10 at the finish instead of the catch. I come from the school of thought that says each new stroke should be called at the beginning of said stroke. I think it helps with making the entries into the water sharper and cleaner, whereas in these videos, some of the catches are lackluster. One thing I really like in the first video is when they’re sitting and waiting, she doesn’t JUST sit there and wait. She uses the time to throw in a quick catch placement drill. Catch/finish drills like this are really great if you’re waiting on a coach or another boat; it also makes YOU look good to your coach when they come up and see you doing something constructive with the crew instead of just sitting there deciphering cloud shapes. In a later video she takes a “focus five for catches”, which I do a lot of with my crew. Not every 5, 10, or 20 you take has to be specifically for power. These short “focus” bursts remind the rowers of specific things that, as they get more fatigued, they might forget about or get lazy with. Watch her other videos here, here, here, and here.

Notre Dame’s MV8+ at Head of the Charles (2011) (EDIT: Private as of 11/8/14)
Ugh, I really hate to rag on a fellow coxswain, especially for a HOCR piece since I know how hectic that race was for me, but I just do not like this recording. For someone coxing a varsity eight, I expect(ed) better/more. Even though I don’t like it, you should still listen to it. Maybe you’ll find something YOU like, which is what the point of listening to these is about. Here are my thoughts.

1.) He doesn’t build into the starting line…um, what??
2.) He says “we gotta go” like, 50 times. If you say something too much, it loses all meaning. Save your “we gotta go’s” for the end of the race or when you’re neck-and-neck with another crew going into a bridge or turn. Saying it 45 seconds into the race is so unnecessary.
3.) I wonder if he knows how long a “boat length” is.
4.) “Only one or two lengths!” Please don’t make me explain to you why this is a HORRIBLE call.
5.) If I never heard “kick, send” again, it will be too soon.
6.) At the beginning he says “I need stronger finishes” a lot…instead of saying that and then moving on, tell them HOW to achieve it. It doesn’t have to be a monologue, just a quick blurb – “I want to see stronger finishes, really squeeze the core, sharp and clean around the turn.”
7.) He tells Virginia to move to port…although I’m not sure why because Virginia isn’t even in the picture. Don’t do this. It gives your rowers a false sense of hope. When you indicate that you’re passing or about to pass someone and then you never do, their trust in you deteriorates.
8.) “All eight, I need quicker legs.” Why? Where? On the drive, on the recovery, what?
9.) I don’t think I heard him say where they were in the course once. That can make a long race seem even longer to the rowers.10.) This is a two part one – “Virginia’s going!” and “I need more.” HOW can you see what UVA is doing when they are so far ahead of you? You need more WHAT? Power? Length? Leg drive? Body swing?
11.) On a positive note, he nailed Weeks.

I could go on but I think you get the point. When I look at coxswains and their races, I ask myself if the boat didn’t have a coxswain, would they have rowed differently? I don’t think this boat would have rowed any differently if they were rowing by themselves without their coxswain. That’s NOT what you want. It perpetuates the stereotype that we don’t contribute to them crew and are LITERALLY dead weight. Also, there’s a lot of unnecessary talking going on by someone in the boat. Barring the fact that that shouldn’t happen ever, if you have a rower telling you what to say to the crew, you need to do some personal reevaluation. Yes, there are times when that’s appropriate, especially if you’re asking for feedback, but during the middle of Head of the Charles is not the appropriate time.

Rowing Starts
I featured this video as the Video of the Week back in early November. I like authoritativeness in the commands she gives but the ONLY thing that I don’t like is that she sounds bored, like this is what she’s been doing all day and she is so over it. One thing she says that I remind my crews of every chance I get is that you have to row well even when you’re tired. Another thing she does that I do too is the “BOOM” at the start of a shift. When racing, I would do it on the first stroke of our settle after our high 20 at the start. The aggressiveness in your voice helps to reiterate the fact that the “settle” doesn’t mean there should be a drop in power.

Victoria City Rowing Club U17 Henley
This is another recording where I question if the coxswain made them row better of if they would have rowed the same without her. This is a classic example of “cheerleader coxswain” who doesn’t sound sure of what she’s saying. The whole race is cheerleader motivation, not rowing motivation…does that make sense? The one thing that I liked that she said that I think we all tend to forget at some point in our lives is “it will hurt to back down and it will hurt to keep pushing, so we’re going to keep pushing”. That’s a great call to make at the end of the race when you need to get that extra push from the crew. I think her coxing is better in this video because the calls you NEED to hear are in there (location to other crews, technical calls, calls for the body, etc.) but overall I still think it was way too cheerleader-y. I’m a big proponent for talking throughout the whole race and there are a few points in both recordings where she stops talking for a few strokes, which I think gives the rowers an opportunity to let their focus drift out of the boat. Your voice is what’s keeping them in the boat and from giving in to the pain, so talking the whole time (with a purpose) is something I think is important. Another thing she does that I like is when she tells the crew in the second video that she’s sick of looking at Sagamore’s bow. I made a similar call during a race to my crew when we were sitting on an 8+ instead of walking through them and as soon as I said that we blew by them. I don’t know why it worked but it got the crew’s attention and we moved.

UCSB Rowing Women’s Varsity 8+
A couple things I noticed about this recording. The calls at the start don’t match up with the catches, which to me made the starting sequence look a little sloppy to me. Between strokes 4 and 5 of the starting 10 she goes from calling the strokes at the catch to calling them at the finish. That can confuse the rowers and make them rush the slides if you throw off when you’re calling the strokes. Pick one or the other but don’t switch in the middle. There’s also a lot of yelling. There’s enthusiasm and aggressiveness and then there’s this. When I hear coxswains yelling like this a) I want to give them a coupon for cough drops and b) I wonder WHY they’re yelling. What you say is not made more effective by straight up yelling it…I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Tone. Of. Voice. On that note, another thing she does is when they shift at the 1:00 mark and she powers down her voice, she goes from 60 to 0mph in 0.5 seconds. All the emotion, aggressiveness, everything just goes away. It comes back in a very roller coaster kind of way throughout the race, but you CAN’T let all the emotion leave your voice when the stroke rate comes down. If you do that, it’ll translate to a drop in power from the rowers. One call I did like was “let’s take a 10 to gain some inches”…rowing is a game of inches, after all.

Question of the Day

I have been told by my rowers that I need to call them out directly more, rather than general corrections to the boat as a whole. I cox collegiate men but I’m not afraid to push them around. My problem is that I am having trouble actually seeing what the problem is. I can tell that catches are off, someone is rushing, but I can’t always tell exactly who it is. Any suggestions for improving this skill?

That’s good that your rowers want you to call them out more individually – don’t take it as a bad thing! There’s a couple things you can do to help yourself get more acquainted with the tendencies of the individual rowers.

When you’re inside on the ergs, watch the rowers for a few minutes each. Have a notebook handy and write down what you see about their stroke – get REALLY analytical about it. Look at the catch, drive, finish, hands, bodies, slides, where their chin is, etc. This will give you an idea of each rower’s “style” and from there you can make the appropriate calls, both as positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

When you’re out on the water, ask your coach if  you can spend a day just focusing on the rowing. Maybe do a long steady state piece or something where you don’t have to talk very much and can focus on the bladework. For us as coxswains, it’s very hard to see the individual rowers since we’ve got a 6’5″ mammoth sitting directly in front of us blocking our view of the rest of the rowers. Go through the boat pair by pair, then by fours, then all eight and see what you notice about the blades with each group. Breaking it down and looking at the boat in small chunks is sometimes easier than trying to process the whole eight at once. Another thing you can do to focus your brain on the blades is too stare directly at your stroke’s sternum. It sounds weird but looking directly ahead like that allows your peripheral vision to take over, which can help you see which seat is early or late. Have a recorder with you when you do this that way you can just say what you see instead of jostling around with your pen and paper.

Ask your coach if he can record the crew when you’re on the water, preferably one day when you’re doing drills and one day when you’re doing steady state. Get side views of the entire eight (both on starboard and port) as well as 30-45 second long zoomed-in shots of the individuals, preferably shot from the side they row. A flip cam works great, but if you’re brave you can use an iPhone too. The quality on both is pretty good. If your coach has the time, ask him/her if they’d mind watching it with you and pointing out what they notice with each rower, things that they would like to see improved or have noticed about their rowing in general. See if you can spot anyone rushing, diving at the catch, being early or late to the catch, etc. Make note of what you see.

Talk to your rowers. If they’re asking you to call them out individually, they probably already have something in mind that they want you to say to them. Six-seat might know that he rushes the slide but not be aware of when he does it. Three-seat knows that his catches need to be sharper but tends to forget to just unweight the handle during harder pieces. Communicating with them and then repeating to them in the boat what they’ve told you is a GREAT way to earn respect and trust from your crew.

When you talk to the “whole boat” and tell them to fix something, internally with each rower it usually becomes “well, I know I’m not doing this so I assume that the person who IS doing it will get their shit together and fix it” … generally the rower that thinks this is the rower who you’re actually directing your call towards but they don’t know it because you didn’t say their name or seat. As you become more familiar with their individual tendencies, that’ll happen less.

When you do talk to the whole boat though, make sure you give them specifics of what you want them to do – for example, setting the boat. We tend to get lazy and say “set the boat”, assuming that everyone can feel what side the boat is dipping to and what change needs to be made. More often times than not, that isn’t the case. Instead say “let’s set the boat, starboards let’s raise the hands a 1/4 inch at the finish, ports let’s bring ’em down just a little”. The specifics make the rowers on each side think about their hands and where they are in relation to what you just told them to do, so EVERYONE can make an adjustment. Talking to the boat without giving specifics makes the rowers complacent – giving them a specific instruction, even when you’re talking to the whole crew, reels their minds back into the boat.

Related: In the boat, when you’re calling a rower out to make a change, is it better to call them by their seat or name? A rower told me that by using a name it puts them on the spot – but isn’t that the point to make a change?

Calling them out individually doesn’t strictly mean one-by-one either. You can talk to them by pairs (or sometimes fours) too if you notice that something that both rowers are doing.