Question of the Day

Do you think it’s better for novices to learn how to row primarily one one side rather than switching between port and starboard or do you think it’s good to be frequently switched? I was constantly switched as a novice and now I feel like I really struggle with technique and I was wondering if that could possibly have anything to do with it.

I think the side you’re on is a combination of a few things, one of those being what’s comfortable for you, so while I definitely think that novices should be introduced to both sides eventually they should start prioritizing one over the other. Sometimes you get on starboard and you’re just like “what is this…” because nothing feels right, but when you get on port, everything clicks. You might not be as strong on the other side but the fact that you have some proficiency can really help your coaches out if they’re short on rowers.

Related: As a coach, do you expect your rowers to be able to row both sides in a sweep boat? Should every rower be flexible or is it ok to limit yourself to 1 side only? I ask because we have 7 wks until WEHORR & after rowing for 2.5yrs exclusively on stroke side, my coach has asked me to switch sides & potentially row in 7 seat at WEHORR. I feel like it has huge potential to fail, particularly as it means my injured shoulder will be my outside shoulder on bowside … what should I do? Should I persevere?

What specifically about technique do you struggle with? If you know what it is, go talk to your coach. Tell him that you’re struggling with these things and what are his suggestions for making some technical improvements? Can you possibly spend some time during practice on drills that target your specific concerns? Definitely don’t keep stuff like this to yourself. Having information like this is really helpful for coaches because it lets us know what we need to work on and allows us to point out specific things to be adjusted instead of assuming everything is fine and going out and doing steady state or something.

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Question of the Day

Why would a coach put novices with varsity rowers in a boat for training? What benefits would that get the novices, and wouldn’t that be very frustrating for varsity rowers? I’m not one of those novices and I really wish I was but I don’t really know in what parts of my rowing it would help, if you know what I mean.

To an extent it’ll probably be a little annoying for the varsity boat but I think most coaches would expect them to be technically proficient and mature enough to deal with it. If they want the novices to succeed they’ve got to be willing to deal with the difference in boat feel for a practice and help the younger rowers get better.

There are a lot of benefits for the novices. Feeling what a consistent stroke rate feels like (number one, in my opinion), getting an idea for what each pressure level really feels like, getting a better sense of how to adjust the hands to fix the set, etc. are some examples. On a secondary level, I think it helps them psychologically. Being in a varsity boat, especially a good varsity boat full of good athletes and strong team leaders, I feel like that would motivate them to sit up a little taller, lift their chins a little higher, keep their cores a little tighter, and perform just a little bit better. I would make the argument that even if they didn’t make any technical improvements during the row, if they became more confident in themselves or motivated to improve, the outing was a success.

Related: OK so I’m not one of the top coxswains on my team but sometimes my coach likes to put lower level coxswains in the varsity boat so that they can experience good rowing except I find that a lot of the girls in the varsity boat are so used to good coxing that they get annoyed with me. Sometimes they like, swear at me and tell met to do things (not even advice, but just like “can you PLEASE FUCKING DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SET”). What do I do when I’m trying my best and calling set and this happens???

The only time this really ever backfires is when the inexperienced rowers use it as a crutch to lean on and then when they get back into their regular boat boat no one knows how to fix whatever issues there are because they’ve relied on the varsity rowers to sort it out. This isn’t super common though and when I’ve experienced it, it’s been with rowers who were never that committed in the first place.

Question of the Day

OK so I’m not one of the top coxswains on my team but sometimes my coach likes to put lower level coxswains in the varsity boat so that they can experience good rowing except I find that a lot of the girls in the varsity boat are so used to good coxing that they get annoyed with me. Sometimes they like, swear at me and tell met to do things (not even advice, but just like “can you PLEASE FUCKING DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SET”). What do I do when I’m trying my best and calling set and this happens???

Starting with them yelling at you to do something about the set, here’s what I think, and I tell this to my rowers too … if you know the boat is unset and you can feel that the boat is leaning to starboard, why would you yell at someone else to tell you what to do? Why wouldn’t you just do it? If you don’t know how to fix the set on your own without someone telling you how to do it, that’s a problem.

I’ve had this happen to me before and it always irritated me. One time the boat I was coxing kept saying the same thing – “fix the fucking set” and I was so over it because I’d been making calls for it for awhile that I finally just said “why don’t you do something about the fucking set?” Yes, it’s the coxswain’s job to make the appropriate calls and keep everyone on the same page but it’s not like we can walk down the boat to every rower and say “OK, your hands need to go here and your hands need to go here”. Your rowers need to take ownership for their seat, their oar, and their handle heights and you are well within your right to tell them that.

On a side not – when you call for changes with set, give them specifics. I remind coxswains that you almost have to treat rowers like they’re toddlers (without actually treating them like they’re toddlers) and tell them every single detail of every single thing you want them to do. If the boat’s not set, don’t say “set it up” unless your crew is experienced enough to know what to do without you telling them or if you’re racing or something and don’t have the seconds to dedicate to explaining it out. If you’re doing drills, steady state, etc., then you can get really down into the details. “We’re leaning to starboard, let’s have the ports bring the hands down and the starboards lift ’em up. Let’s find the balance and hold it here…”

Handle heights are about 50% of the reason why the set can be off … the other 50% is made up of about 500 other things. Body weight not centered on the seat, drawing the blade out early, looking out of the boat, etc. Talk with your coach about these things and figure out what he notices with the bodies so that you can make additional calls to fix them in addition to reminding them about appropriate handle heights.

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?

When you get put in the varsity boat, does it help you? When you get out of the boat, do you feel like you’ve had the opportunity to do something to improve your skills like your coach is intending? Or, are you stressed, annoyed, and not feeling like you did anything constructive? If the latter is the case, which is sounds like it might be, I would talk to your coach. Explain that you understand why he wants you to go in with the varsity boat but the attitudes of the crew (yelling, complaining, swearing, etc.) make it hard for you to actually achieve anything. Instead of going with this varsity boat, can you go out with the 2V or whatever the next varsity boat is? See if you can figure something out that works for you and the crews.

I have no patience for rowers who act like that. At one point, you were a novice or JV rower too so your attitude is pretty hypocritical right now. If I were the coach I’d just tell that if they want your team to continue improving and being fast, the less experienced coxswains have to be nurtured and given chances to improve their skills. They need to hop down off their high horses and recognize that if they want boats to succeed, they need to suck it up and tolerate the younger coxswains when they get put in their boats. Yea, admittedly it can be really annoying because they probably don’t know as much as your regular varsity coxswain but that’s the point – that’s why they’re being put in your boat, so they can get the experience and LEARN.

Related: So, what did you see?

If you’re in this boat again and the rowers do something like this, SHUT. IT. DOWN. Do not let it happen. Regardless of your experience level, you are the coxswain and you are the leader of the crew when you’re on the water. If somebody starts talking when they shouldn’t be or yelling expletives for no reason, tell them to stop. You have to suck it up too and deal with whatever intimidation you might feel from them. There’s really just no other way to say it. Suck it up, tell them to shut up, and get on with practice. If you let them continue to push you around they’re going to keep doing it because they know you won’t say anything to them about it. Don’t be that coxswain that let’s her rowers walk all over her. Take charge of the situation and get it under control.

Question of the Day

Hello! (I’m not going to give too much detail since there may be teammates who read your blog.) We’re in high school and the novices pranked us [it was an innocent one] and everybody is SO mad now, more so because they got one put over them. It’s high school, so I’m wondering, if my teammates can act like that, is it even worth it to be on the team with them?

That sounds really dumb – your teammates reactions, not the prank. What’s wrong with a little fun? As long as no one was directly hurt (physically, emotionally, whatever), what’s the problem?

It sucks that your teammates are displaying such a poor attitude but unless their attitudes are always like this, I wouldn’t do anything crazy like quit the team or something. If it’s really causing a huge issue that is having negative effects on the team and you’re in position where you can call a team meeting, I’d have one so everyone can just hash it out and be done with it. Even if you’re not in that position, recruit your team captain or coxswain to make it happen (preferably someone neutral to the situation). Nobody needs unnecessary drama on their team. Ask your teammates, is this making us faster? Is this good for team camaraderie? Is this helping us towards that Youth Nationals team trophy? The answers are probably “no”, which hopefully will help them realize how immature they’re being.

Question of the Day

I was switched from 7 seat to 3 seat after having been 7 for over 6 months. What might’ve caused my coach to do that?

There are two reasons – the logical one and the illogical one. And I only say illogical because it’s the opposite of logical, not because it’s being done for a stupid or malicious reason.

Related: Hey, as a coach you might be able to tell me, in a quad how do you decide who goes where? And the same for an eight? Where you’re placed in the boat, should this tell you anything about where you “sit” compared to the rest of the crew?

The logical one, if you think about where individual rowers are placed in the boat, is that your coach thinks that you have the power to make the boat go faster and that you’re better utilized in the engine room than in stern pair. That’s not to say that you didn’t do a good job of translating the rhythm back to bow 6 but you’ve got the ability to harness your power and push the boat along, and that’s something he wants to capitalize on.

If you’ve been working on your technique lately or have been having issues with something, he might have also put you in 3-seat because it’s the least disruptive seat in the boat. It’ll give you a chance to refine whatever you’re working on without causing too much harm to the balance of the boat.

Related: OK, so I was just moved from stroke to bow and I’ve only sat in the same seat twice in the past two weeks, let alone the same boat … what am I doing wrong? 

Alternatively, maybe he just wanted to make a switch. Sometimes coaches do that and there’s no rhyme or reason for it. Maybe it has nothing to do with you at all – he might just have another rower he wants to try in 7-seat. In both situations, the best way to find out what’s up is to talk to your coach and see if there’s something specific he wants you to work on or if he’s just tweaking the lineup to see which combination makes the boat the fastest.

Question of the Day

I know you’re an amazing cox but have you ever been put into a situation where you’ve been bumped down a boat? Everybody said I was doing well and improving but my friend got switched from rower to cox yesterday and she’s so good she coxed varsity seat racing. I’m not trying to be mean, she’s my friend, but I guess I’m just bitter that she’s such a quick learner and varsity likes her better for it, I feel. I guess I just don’t know what to do…

Oh yea. When I was a junior in high school I coxed the lightweight 8+ … we went to nationals, finished 10th overall … it was a great year. Despite it being a great boat there were some people in it that I didn’t get along with at all. I mean, it’s high school – take the normal high school drama and then throw on eight girls trying to make weight every week. Luckily, when we were in the boat and practicing we were fine and never had any problems but off the water we definitely weren’t hanging out together or anything.

Senior year it was assumed that I’d be with the lightweights again. Something happened before going out for our first race (a combination of boat problems, coach problems, etc.) and I lost it on them. I was so over the over-talking and back-talking to one another, the drama, etc. and I basically told them to shut up, fuck off, and let’s just go out and race. I’d already maintained in my head that I didn’t think I wanted to cox them that year but the only other boat left was the novice eight, which on principle I wasn’t keen on because … they’re novices.

When we got back to the boathouse that week, they told our coach that they wanted another girl (someone who was actually friends with them) to be their coxswain, which really didn’t bother me that much but he went about making the switch entirely the wrong way. He put me with the novice eight but the way he explained it, it was more of a punishment than anything else. I was pissed … not really pissed, more so offended I think because I’m about to go to college to cox and you’re punishing me for not getting along with two or three people by putting me with a group of people who literally don’t even know how to row? Awesome. If I was furious with anything it wasn’t so much the situation, it was the decision in general because I was a senior coxing novices and he tried to make it out like the reason that happened was solely because I was a terrible coxswain when everyone, even the lightweight girls, knew that wasn’t the case.

Related: I am in my 3rd year coxing and I’m fighting for the JV boat with another girl who is in the same grade as me. I was really, really bad my novice year and wasn’t really good until now. I really want to beat her so I asked some rowers what I could do better and they said that people respect her more, and that she is more authoritative. But the thing is when I try to be authoritative people just think I’m a bitch because I’m normally really friendly and nice. How do I earn their respect?

Luckily, we had another coach who took us under his wing and pretty much exclusively coached us that year. He had issues with the head coach as well and spent many hours after practice and throughout the season calming us down after this coach would purposely do things to piss us/me off. He wasn’t shy about making it known either that he didn’t like our boat. What I know, for a fact, was that he didn’t anticipate this novice 8+ being as good as we were. They still are the best boat I’ve ever coxed – I’ve never seen a better women’s eight, even when I coxed in college. The one race we lost was the BEST race I have ever had in a boat. It was at the Midwest Championships and we lost by less than a bow ball after being in a dead heat with the winning crew for all but the last 5-10 meters.

Looking back on it, coxing that boat was hands down the best “punishment” I’ve ever had. We all got along, I never questioned their commitment, they worked harder than any crew I’ve ever had, and they wanted it. Some of the other crews on the team, I felt like they knew they were going to win so they started to get a little complacent about things. This crew, even when they were winning race after race after race (and setting course records while doing so) never had that attitude.

My coach also told me that one of the reasons why we were as good as we were was because of what I brought to the boat – they benefited from my three years of previous experience, my passion, and my get-shit-done attitude. I knew when to push them but most importantly I knew how to push them. There were times when I felt like I was slave-driving them but no one ever said they didn’t want that and that, I think, made all the difference. I wouldn’t necessarily say that bumping me down gave me a reality check, because I don’t think that I was ever complacent or anything about my spot in the boat beforehand to the point where I needed a reality check, but it did open my eyes to a lot of things and I am 1000% a better coxswain for it.

I wouldn’t be bitter about your situation. I was bitter for awhile but I quickly realized, unbeknownst to the head coach, that I was in a much better position now with this boat than I was with any of the varsity boats I’d coxed before (and I’d been coxing varsity since I was a novice). Yea, it sucks being moved around, especially when you think that someone who has less experience than you has the potential to be better than you are, but you’ve got to find something positive about being switched and use that to fuel you.

Related: This is probably going to sound really stuck up but I promise you I am not intending it to be that way. I’m the only coxswain my team has. I’ve coxed them through every race and I love coxing so much and I love my team, but one of my rowers now says she wants to be a coxswain and there’s only enough girls for one boat. I’m honestly terrified she’s going to try and take my spot and I want it way more than she does, to be quite honest. I’m just really worried and idk what to do.

Instead of using your energy to be upset that your friend got moved up, channel it and your coxing skills towards making your new boat the fastest boat on the team. Shock the hell out of everyone. Trust me, there really is nothing like racing with your boat and looking over to where your teammates are on shore and seeing stunned looks on their faces because they had no idea you were this good.

Question of the Day

I have a slight situation. I’m a 2nd year coxswain for a D2 college and I feel like I’m associated with the bottom boat because we are the only boat that practices frequently with the new assistant coach. I know I have a lot to improve on and I shouldn’t have that mentality that I’m a horrid coxswain but I just don’t know what to do when I try so hard during the pieces to increase the intensity (with rhythm calls, focus 5/10s, powers, imaginary scenarios, etc.) but there’s just a lack of ‘something’(will power? determination?) in my boat. It’s been especially tough this week. On Tuesday, we did 2X25’ 18-22-18. I drove the only 8+ with the other 3 varsity coxswains in 4+s. 8+s are definitely supposed to beat 4+s, no matter what, but we finished behind every time. We were started 2’ behind on the first piece, but even on the second one when we all started together, we still didn’t pass them. Coach had a talk with our boat after and gave them a chance to redeem themselves on Thursday, but he switched me and two rookie rowers out. The boat definitely moved and beat the 4+ on all the pieces. The lack of intensity happened again today though when we practiced with the novices, whom we also finished behind. I just don’t know what it is. One of my rowers said that if she’s in a shitty boat one more time she’s quitting, but I don’t think she means that my boat is the “shitty” boat (cause she’s been with novices lately), but at the same time it does lower my morale. Though she might not have meant that I drove the bottom boat, I feel like my other teammates do. I don’t know what to do anymore, or say anymore. Is it me? What can I do to change this?

Maybe the reason you’re with the “lower boat” is because your coach sees something in you that he thinks could resonate with those rowers. He thinks that you could be the key component in making them better. That’s a compliment, not an insult. Is that actually the case? Why knows, but it’s a lot more positive thinking that than it is “well, clearly I suck and that’s why I’m with this crew”.

If you’re curious why you’re with that boat, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. You might find that there are certain parts of your coxing style that he thinks would help these rowers but there are other parts that he wants you to work on in a lower-stress environment than if you were with the first or second varsity boats. Maybe your vocal intensity and the clarity of your calls is something he really likes but your steering is something that needs a lot of work. You never know until you ask.

What’s your overall team/boat morale like? Are the rowers people you can depend on to show up (literally and figuratively) every day and give 100% or are they the type who are pretty “meh” about things? If it’s the latter, I don’t want to say they’re lost causes but there’s really only so much you can do. They have to be motivated to go out and row their best before they even wake up in the morning. If they’re not there’s nothing you’re going to be able to say that will help them.

If you know they’re committed, great. If they’re not, talk with your coach and get their take on things. Do they know that this is their attitude towards the team and it’s something they’ve accepted and found a way to work with or are they unaware about the lack of commitment from them? Either way, if it’s to the point where they’re going out and just rowing without a purpose or literally just going through the motions, that’s something that warrants a conversation with your coach. No one wants to coach people who are unmotivated or unwillingly to put the effort in and I know for me, as a coxswain, I cannot cox people like that. It mostly has to do with my already dangerously low levels of patience but also because I want to row with people who are just as fired up to be on the water as I am – if I can tell right away through your attitude or performance that you’re not excited to me there, it makes me less motivated to be with you, which then leads to me putting in less effort.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your teammates think you’re the reason the boat performed one way or the other, it’s whether or not the coach thinks that. The only way to have any kind of definitive answer is to sit down and talk to them. I would also talk to the rowers in your boat. Ask them what felt different, why’d it feel different, what did that particular coxswain say that they think helped them move, how did she say it, what’s something she did well that they’d like to see you incorporate, etc. Also talk to that coxswain. I’m an extremely competitive person and would probably be really annoyed if I was in your situation because I would see myself to now be in direct competition with this other coxswain but experience (and maturity, obviously) has taught me that there’s a lot of value in using our competition to our advantage.

I mean “competition” in a friendly way too. If something she does can help you improve your skill set, by all means, interpret it to your style and incorporate it and vice versa – if she thinks that something you do would help her, tell her how you do it, let her interpret it in her own way, and go from there. Yes, personally, our goals as coxswains are to get better but the main point of our role on the team is the help make the boats move fast. If that means using something you learned from another coxswain who took out that boat one day then so be it. I’m trying to get away from the mindset of automatically shunning things because I disagree with how they’re done (because it’s not how I do them) or who the person is that originally did them and in doing that I’ve picked up a lot of great techniques that they’ve used but have been able to incorporate into my style and make my own.

Spend some time talking to your coach, teammates, etc. and get feedback from them. Use your coxing powers to do what you can to get people excited to be at practice. Maybe if they see that you are enthusiastic about being there and going out and you can get them fired up to row, regardless of who they’re up against, that’ll trigger something in them that motivates them to give it a little more when they’re on the water.