Question of the Day

When a boat is down on one side, what can a coxswain do or say to get the boat set?

There’s no “magic call” that will automatically fix it. It’s both as simple and difficult as identifying the problem and telling them what you want them to do. You can’t just say “set the boat” and assume that everyone automatically knows what to do to fix it. You’ve either got to narrow the problem down to one pair or talk directly to the ports and starboards.

Related: I just found this blog and THANK GOD. Today was my second day ever coxing for novice women’s 8 and it was terrifying making calls myself. My stern seat was yelling at me telling me what to say because I didn’t know what to do. With all 8 rowing we almost kept falling over and all I could say was “one catch, everybody watch the person in front of you.” How else would you recommend steadying the boat when we’re tipping?

Instead of saying “set the boat”, know automatically which side needs to lift the hands and which ones need to lower them. Based on where your stroke’s handle is or how far down to the side the boat is tipping, you should be able to give a good approximation as to how much adjustment needs to be made one way or the other with the hands (1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, etc.). Don’t assume the set is purely because of handle heights though, especially if you’re working with an experienced crew who has their handle heights, for the most part, under control.

When you want an adjustment to be made, talk directly to the person/people you want to make that adjustment. General boat statements tend to go about as far as your stern pair, maybe, as far as who hears them. The rowers who actually pay attention to them are even fewer. It’s like when there’s an accident and someone yells “call 911” into a crowd of people. For a minute, no one is going to do anything because they’ll assume that someone else will do it or is doing it. That’s the reason why they tell you to point to someone directly and tell them to do it. It’s the same in the boat – you have to give direct instructions so no one assumes that they’re not the problem or someone else is going to make the adjustment. Don’t tell just one side to lift/lower their hands either; both sides are at fault, thus both sides need to fix it.

Related: So, what did you see? 

Another thing to be aware of is what you are doing. Make sure you’re sitting still and not causing a lot of unnecessary wobbling in the stern. If you’re leaning out to one side or doing something else to offset the boat and then tell the rowers to fix the set, they won’t know if the boat set up because you moved or because of an adjustment with the hands.

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Defining the Role of the Coxswain: Mike Teti’s “Three S’s of Coxing”

I was lucky enough to hear Mike Teti speak at a coxswain clinic I attended when I was in high school and one of the things he spoke about were “the three S’s”. The three S’s are what a coxswain should consider to be their highest priorities. For novice coxswains, consider this an introduction; for experienced coxswains, consider this a reminder.

SAFETY

Safety is always and forever your absolute number one priority. Why? Because you’re in charge of a $20,000-$40,000 boat and eight other lives. If something happens on the water, it is your responsibility to do what is best for your crew. I tend to compare being a coxswain to sitting in the exit row on an airplane. You have to understand how the boat works, how to operate it, be able to follow the instructions given by your coach, and assess, select, and follow the safest travel route(s), amongst many other things. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

STEERING

Steering is an imperative skill that all coxswains must become proficient with as quickly as possible. It’s not something to joke about and spend four months trying to figure out. Yes, it’s tricky learning to navigate a 53 foot long shell along waterways with a steering system that consists of two strings and a credit-card sized rudder but again, it goes back to safety. Zigzagging across the river and not following the traffic patterns can have disastrous outcomes for both your crew and anyone else on the water. The rowers are not there to steer the boat for you – it is your responsibility to figure it out.

SPEECH

I think if most coaches (and experienced coxswains) had their way, novices would be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, coxswains must be heard if they are to do the job that is required of them and to additionally ensure the safety of their crew. HOWEVER, I do believe that novice coxswains should be silent until they’re comfortable with steering the boat and have a firm grasp on their duties. Essentially, you must prove to me that you can handle everything that is being asked of you. Instincts are key as a coxswain and once safety and steering become second-nature, then you can talk. Another important part of “speech” is learning and knowing what to say. If what you’re saying isn’t constructive to the crew, you shouldn’t be saying it.

Being a coxswain is an amazing position to hold, but it is not one without responsibilities. Although these are just three of them, like I said before, they should be considered your top priorities. Mastery of these skills through practice, listening to your coach, and learning from your fellow coxswains will put you on the path to becoming your crew’s biggest asset.

Related: What do coaches look for in a coxswain?

For more on each of the three S’s check out the “safety“, “steering“, and “communication” tags.

Question of the Day

Hi there, I love your blog! Some of my rowers were talking about coxing personalities. They said I am the happiest person on the team and I’m the “positive cox” while the other cox is the “kick your ass” kind of cox. We’re both competing for the same varsity spot in the spring. I don’t know if this is a weird question but do their comments mean anything? When I heard that, I got a bit deflated thinking that they take her more seriously as a cox. Am I being too self conscious? Thanks for the help.

Just like rower’s earn their nicknames (threetard), so do the coxswains. I wouldn’t read too much into what they said, especially since it obviously wasn’t coming from a mean place. I definitely don’t think it’s a bad thing that they consider you the happiest person on the team – you’ve basically shown them that regardless of the situation, you’ll always be the coxswain that has on smile on her face, which can be a really good thing for them when they have a shitty workout ahead of them and need to find some way to get pumped for it.

I would talk to them and ask them why they consider the other coxswain the “kick your ass” kind. Is she aggressive (in a good way) with them on the water? How does she push them? Does her “kick your ass” style actually kick your ass? What about it works for them? I think that’s all valuable information to have because it gives you more insight into what you’re rowers are looking for in a coxswain, which is something that can in turn help you get in the varsity boat this spring. Keep your bubbly personality but also try and take on a little bit of the edge that the “kick your ass” girl has. The combination is good, especially when you can flip the switch and know when you need to be in “normal mode” and “ass kicking mode”.

You have no reason to be self-conscious. Observe this coxswain and see if you can pick out what she does that has given her that nickname. Try and emulate that a little, in your own style. Don’t be deflated or any less enthusiastic. Each coxswain has their thing that stands out to the rowers. It doesn’t mean they take you any less seriously unless you’ve given them a reason to, which it doesn’t sound like you have.

Question of the Day

Hello! Our rowers’ first 2x6k test is soon. As a novice cox, what should I be looking for to help them out with technique and motivate them?

Definitely understand “strategy”. Here’s a post on 2k strategy I wrote a few weeks ago and embedded in this post (#5) is some information on 5k strategy. Your rowers should have a plan as to how they’re going to approach the piece so make sure YOU know what their plan is if you’re going to be coxing them. Both of those posts, even though they’re for different distances than what your rowers will be doing, should give you a general idea as to what they should be doing throughout each piece.

Related: Hi, rowing question! Tomorrow I’ve got my first 4k with the varsity team at my school. Obvs it’s for time and the first 2k of it will be rate capped at a 24. How should I approach this piece (split and technique wise, because I’m not too worried, I know I’ll do my best) and what could I do to make it an overall great 4k? Thanks!

Be prepared to talk them down if they’re nervous or jittery before they start, in between the 6ks, and in the middle of the pieces. At some point they might hit a mental block and/or want to stop. Know how and when to push them. Talk to them at practice sometime before the day of the piece and ask them what they want you to tell them if that happens … what do they need to hear in order to keep pushing? If you read through the “erg” tag and read some of the questions/responses on there, you’ll be able to get a good sense of what rowers want to hear, what you should tell them, etc.

Related: I know I physically can perform the workouts on the erg, but I mentally psych myself out I guess you could say. Do you have any tips on mental toughness/blocking out that annoying voice that wants you to quit on the erg? Thanks!

The BIGGEST piece of advice I can give you is this: make sure that anyone you cox actually wants to be coxed. Some rowers hate when coxswains talk to them on the erg but the coxswains don’t find that out until the rower screams at them. Before the piece, split up the rowers with the other coxswains (i.e. each person takes five rowers) so you can focus on a small group of people instead of every person on the team. Talk to the rowers in your group and say “hey, so would you like me to cox you during the piece?” If they say no, don’t be offended. It’s just a personal preference. Respect their opinion though – no coxing means no coxing, not even a quick “good job” or anything. If they say yes, but only in the last 1000m, respect it. Pay attention to where they are so that you can be there during the last 1000m. Don’t show up at 800m – it’s not the same and can speak volumes to your rower about how much you actually care about what they want. If they say “yes, ride my ass”, find out what they want you to say to them and what they want/need to focus on during their piece. Don’t try and FIX their technique during the piece, just give them basic reminders.

Related: As a novice rower, I’m just wondering: are coxswains supposed to talk at you all the time [erg or boat] or leave you to get in your own zone?

Second biggest piece of advice is to make sure that you’re saying useful stuff to them. Don’t give each rower some big monologue – they have NO IDEA what the hell you’re saying so keep everything short and sweet. What you say should have a purpose so don’t throw something out just because you heard another coxswain say it and it sounded like a cool call. I see way too many novices do that and it drives me insane when I ask them why they said that and they say “I don’t know”. Prove how effective you can be at motivating the rowers and pushing them through each piece. It’ll speak volumes to your coaches and if you listen to and actually help the rowers, it’ll earn you a lot of respect.