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.

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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.