Question of the Day

Hi, I’m going to start coxing the novice men for this upcoming season, as well as rowing myself, but I’m so nervous about my first outing – do you have any tips? I’m mainly worried about the steering, spacial awareness, and other boats.

The number one piece of advice that I can give you is this: even if you are nervous, don’t let that affect your demeanor in the boat. I kind of look at it as being the captain of the Titanic – you’ve gotta be calm all the time so as to not incite panic aboard the ship. If your crew thinks that you don’t know what you’re doing, they might try and “take over” and tell you what to do and before you know it, you’ve got eight different opinions coming out you and each rower thinks theirs is the right one. I’ve seen this happen with several novice crews, which honestly just makes me laugh because the rowers are always novices too, so what do they know? Bottom line, stay calm and execute practice confidently.

Related: Defining the role of the coxswain: Mike Teti’s “Three S’s of Coxing”

The first few times you go out, your coach is probably going to run everything from the launch so all you’ll need to do is focusing on learning to steer. As you get more comfortable with steering, then you can start talking to the boat, learning what calls to make, etc. (If you want some more advice on steering, check out the steering tag.) After your first few outings, spend a few minutes talking to your coach and getting some feedback from them. Ask if they noticed anything in particular that you’ve improved on since the last practice and what you can do to keep improving. Even though most coaches are clueless when it comes to coxing, every now and then they offer up some good pieces of advice.

Related: How to steer and eight or four and How to cox a boat in and out of the boathouse

Once you get out on the water and can see the width of the boat with the oars extended, you’ll get a good idea as to how much room you take up on the river. Number one rule of coxing – use your common sense. (There’s actually like, 876 (at least) “number one rules of coxing” … this is just one of them.) Don’t get too close to shore and try to avoid other boats at all costs (for obvious reasons). Experienced coxswains will know to just move out of the way of novices but you should never assume that another boat will actually move. Your best bet is to maintain a safe distance at all times.

Question of the Day

Is it unrealistic for someone who is 5’7 to row at a D1 school or would I be better off on the club level? I’m really interested in the challenge of rowing in college, I just don’t know if I’d physically be able to. I was just wondering since in your last answer you said the average person on your club team is 5’3-5’7.

Depends – are you a guy or a girl? If you’re a guy then you’re gonna be on the short side by several inches if you’re looking at pretty much any of the Sprints schools. If you’re a girl, you might still be on the shorter side but not so much that you’d be out of the running for any of the boats.

Height is just one factor when it comes to rowing (and it’s far from being the most important). If your erg times measure up to what college teams are looking for and you’ve got a solid rowing resume there’s no reason why you wouldn’t get an equal look when compared to someone who’s 6’0″. Plus, if you’re a lightweight that can work in your favor too when looking at colleges. Lightweight teams were in essence created specifically for shorter rowers – and by shorter I mean “average height” people, not the freakishly tall amazons that dominate most collegiate teams. Not a lot of teams have dedicated lightweight squads, so you’d have to do some research to find out what schools have them if that’s something you’re interested in.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t worry too much about your height. Your height isn’t something you have control over but how strong you are, your erg times, what you bring to the team … all of that is stuff you have control over. Focus on the variables you can change, not the ones you can’t.

Question of the Day

Hey there! Basically, my team lost all of their coxswains for the fall season, so I got bamboozled into coxing the Varsity A boat at the Charles with only 2.5 weeks of experience. So now winter training is in full swing and the novice team found a coxswain who coxed all four years of high school. The varsity guys are thinking about “stealing” her as their coxswain instead. On one hand, I want the boys in my boat to win and if they could do better with her as their coxswain then I want what’s best for them. But on the other, I don’t want to lose them! I feel like I’ve improved so much over just one season and I’ve been doing tons and tons of research these past few months off the water to prepare for the spring. I don’t know what I can do to keep my spot at their coxswain. What are your thoughts?

I’d talk to them and your coach (either separately or together) and state your case. Why should you be the coxswain that gets to cox this boat? What about you makes you the better choice? I can definitely understand them wanting to have a more experienced coxswain – that’s pretty natural. It sounds like you have a good relationship with your boat though so I doubt their intentions are malicious. Like you said, they want what’s best for the boat and what’s going to help them win. There are some serious advantages to having an experienced coxswain in your boat but that’s not to say that the research you’ve been doing the last few months hasn’t upped your skill level.

Talk to the guys in your boat and ask them what about this other coxswain is more enticing to them. Don’t approach the subject like “why do you want her instead of me” because that’ll just give them a reason to not want you. Instead, approach it as “if she’s doing something well then I want to learn how to do it too so I can incorporate it into my coxing and get better”. Also talk with your coach and see what his criteria is for choosing coxswains for his boats. Again, state your case as to why your name should be in the mix. Hopefully your coach will see your enthusiasm and recognize the efforts you’ve been putting in during the off-season and keep you on his short list for coxing that boat. This could also be a good opportunity to do a coxswain evaluation so you can keep everyone’s feedback organized.

Related: How are coxswain evaluations conducted?

During the indoor months, show up to every practice, be on time (which means early), help take erg scores down, cox the guys on the erg when they need it, volunteer to run circuits, help clean the ergs down after practice (gross, but necessary), take lots of notes, assist the coach with anything he might need help with … in short, be engaged. If you tell your coach you want to be considered for this spot in the boat, you’ve gotta work for it. Part of working for it involves not being a wallflower during the winter. Assuming you’re not on the water yet, you have to display a different skill set to demonstrate what makes you a good coxswain. (Granted, this is stuff you should do after you’re assigned a boat too, not just during the process of getting one.) Stuff like this can earn you a lot of respect from the rowers, which is one of the most crucial parts of coxing.

Related: At the moment I have been doing quite well within my squad, I have been in the A boat (quad). I row for school and next term part way through the season we have a new rower joining us as one left. She is really tall and said her older brothers were quite good rowers. Today was her first time in a boat and she has never been on an erg. Is it possible that she could take “my” spot? This is my second season rowing and I am not very tall, 5’3. I am really worried she will!!

Ultimately though, the decision will most likely be up to the coach and whatever that decision is, you’ve got to respect it. If you don’t get to cox this boat, wish the other coxswain good luck, tell her what a great group of guys she has, and then throw your focus into your new boat. Approach them with the same enthusiasm as you would had you gotten to cox your other boat. Don’t make them feel like they’re your second choice – that’s a terrible way to start off the season and won’t do much for you in terms of gaining respect from the rowers.

Question of the Day

Hi, I’m a sophomore in high school and I really want to get my name out there for colleges. I’m only 5’1 and I row now but for college I don’t think my times would be good enough to row. How can I get my name out if I just want to cox in college? Also would you need coxing experience or could I join the team and learn later?

It depends on the schools you’re looking at. Division 1 schools usually prefer coxswains who have a few years of experience but they do hold walk-on tryouts for those who have never rowed or coxed before (or those who have participated in crew but aren’t sure if they want to row or not yet) so that’d definitely be an option. If you went to a school that has a club team, you could probably still row if you wanted. The typical “rower’s body” doesn’t really exist at the club level – all but one of the rowers on the team I coach now had never seen an oar before they came to college and they definitely don’t look like your stereotypical rower. Most of the girls (and guys) are between 5’3″ and 5’10”, if I had to guess.

Related: Hi! So I’m a senior in my first year of club rowing. I’m really athletic and strong from swimming and cross country but I’m 5’2 and like 115. Do you think I have a future in college rowing or should I be a coxswain? Thanks.

For someone who has never coxed before and assuming you won’t cox before going to college, getting your name out there probably won’t do much for you. If you really want to cox in college and don’t think that rowing would be an option for you, I would make the switch to coxing now while you’re still in high school. If I was a college coach and you contacted me about coxing on the team, I’d probably be a lot more interested/excited if you said you have two years of coxing experience vs. four years of rowing experience, even though you knew ahead of time that rowing probably wouldn’t pan out due to your erg times or whatever.

Question of the Day

What’s the difference between coxing an 8+ and a 4+ ? I’ve mainly been coxing a four.

I personally don’t think there’s much of a difference, although in most cases going from a four to an eight is a much easier transition than an eight to a four. The two major (and obvious) nuances are that the steering reacts a little differently and you have more bodies to concern yourself with. Eights don’t react as quickly to your steering in comparison to a four, which tends to respond to the smallest touch on the rudder rather quickly, because they’re larger, which means you’ll have to be patient and not oversteer thinking that your rudder’s not working or something. Similar to a four though the boat’s steering will be affected by the number of people rowing, how fast you’re going, etc.

Related: How to steer an eight or four

If you’re transitioning to an eight I’d spend the first practice or two familiarizing yourself with the steering so you can figure out how your boat moves. Other than actual boat stuff, having four additional rowers to worry about can be tricky if you’re used to focusing on only four people but you pick up how to deal with them (for lack of a better phrase) pretty quickly. Being able to actually see the rowers is a huge plus but since you’re probably not used to watching the blades you’ll have to spend a few practices familiarizing yourself with the bladework. Other than that everything is, for the most part, the same.

Question of the Day

If you’re in a bow loader, how does a cox help the rowers’ techniques? I can feel if the timing or the set’s off, but not much more than that…

I don’t think coxswains should be put in bowloaders unless they’ve got at least a year or two of experience because you can’t see anything. You have to make all your calls based on intuition, feel, what you hear, and what you know about your rower’s tendencies. I know it’s unrealistic to want that but it’s hard for a novice coxswain to get in one and be able to be effective because they just haven’t had enough time on the water to have developed any of those skills yet.

The best ways that I can suggest to be an effective coxswain for your crew is to watch video of them. Every time you go out, ask your coach to take some video of the crew during warm-ups, drills, pieces, etc. The clips don’t need to be that long either – 10, 15 seconds is plenty. After practice is over, spend some time watching the video (in slow-mo preferably) and taking notes on what you see. Whose hands are down at the catch, what does everyone’s posture look like, who is rushing their slide, etc. The more video you watch and the more notes you take, the more you’ll begin to get a feel for what each rower’s individual tendencies are. This will help because you’ll know that during the cut-the-cake drill, Jill is always too slow with her hands away, which tends to make her rush to get to the catch.

Instead of straight up telling each rower what they need to fix or what they’re doing wrong, you’ll be giving them reminders based on what you’ve already observed. Instead of “Jill, you’re rushing into the catch”, which you’d be able to see based on blade movement in a stern-loader, you’d say “Jill, remember to get the hands away from the body smooth and quick, matching Karen, so you don’t rush into the catch.” If she’s NOT doing it, you’ll have at least reminded her of something she tends to do so she can be aware of it going forward; if she IS doing it, she’ll shift her focus to her hands and do something (hopefully) to try and fix it.

Another thing to do is talk with your coach. Ask him/her what they observe about each rower, pair, and the boat as a whole to get a sense of what they’re doing well and what needs improvement. Make notes of the good and bad and when they occur so that during those situations you can say “We’ve been doing a good job with controlling the slides the last few practices so let’s start to shift our focus towards a crisper catch.” That’ll remind them of the work you’ve been doing over the last week on slide control and to also begin cleaning up the catches. As you get more experienced and start to feel the changes, you’ll be able to tell by feel what a crisp catch is vs. a sluggish one. You’ll be able to see it on the video too…maybe the first four catches are crisp but then after that they start to get a little lazy. You can use that in the boat – four or five strokes into a piece or drill you can say “Don’t let the catches fall off, stay on it, grab the water, CATCH“.

It requires a lot of outside work on your part because you’re essentially losing an entire sense, so you’ve got to utilize your other ones to make up for your lack of sight, so to speak. Video of your crew is definitely my number one suggestion though. Watching them on the ergs and taking video of them rowing on there can also be helpful since a lot of erg tendencies will translate into what they do in the boat. Bowloaders can get frustrating because a lot of what you learn about the crew has to happen off the water, outside of practice and when you are on the water, you never really know if they’re doing what they’ve tended to do in the past.

I understand the physics and aerodynamics behind why bowloaders are more effective than stern loaders but I think that unless you have a really good coxswain who really knows his/her crew, the gains you get from them are partially negated by having a coxswain who has no idea what’s happening with their boat. The key is to study, study, study your rowers and figure out what makes them tick so that if you’re blindfolded and they walk into a room, you’ll know exactly who it is based on the sounds of their footsteps.