Question of the Day

Hey I’m a novice coxswain but I have learned very fast and all the guys on varsity want me to be a varsity coxswain and I’m a really good motivator. But the varsity coxswain right now is a girl who has been coxing the same amount of time as me and who isn’t really good at all and it’s only cause she is a senior. How can I really prove myself to my coach? I am a junior. I’ve already showed him my recording and he said just to work on more technical stuff. What’s your opinion?

I think if you have a good grasp on everything else, I’d take his advice and start honing your technical skills. Ask him specifically what you need to work on – is it technical stuff like steering or is it being able to spot issues with the bladework and give technical feedback to the rowers? Take note of what he says and then make a concerted effort to work on those things. When you go out, tell your rowers that you’re trying to work on this or that or whatever and then get feedback from them after practice on how you did. With stuff like steering you can’t really do that but in terms of making technical calls, you can improve a lot by talking to your rowers and finding out what calls worked or didn’t work. If your coach sees you making the effort to improve and at the same time sees your crew getting better as a result of that, that’ll be a huge notch in the win column for you.

Another thing you could do is propose the idea of coxswain evaluations. This will allow the rowers to evaluate both coxswains and provide some useful information to your coach, potentially stuff he wasn’t aware of beforehand. It can also help him make decisions on who gets what boat since he’ll have more tangible info in front of him other than seniority and what he’s observed on the water. It’s also good stuff for the coxswains too, obviously.

Related: How are coxswain evaluations conducted?

You have to assume though she did get the varsity boat for a reason other than the fact that she’s a senior. A great way to ensure you never get the boat you want though is to accuse your coach, no matter how innocently you put it, of doing something like this and then saying “well, I’m the better coxswain and they like me more anyways, so I should have that boat.” Instead, find out what her skills are. What is she good at? Ask her for advice. If she’s really good at steering, ask her how she navigates a tricky turn in the river or how she always manages to dock perfectly on the first try. Learn from each other. As a coach, I’d be much more willing to consider someone for a varsity spot if I saw them working with all of their teammates and not just ignoring the ones they didn’t think were very good or deserving of their spots.

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Coxswain Recordings, pt. 3

Part 1 || Part 2

NEIRA 2012 Boy’s 8+ Heat
Really like the intensity and aggressiveness in her voice, but also how she knows when to not be aggressive. Does a great job telling her crew where she is in relation to the crews, as well as exactly what she wants them to do. I liked her “10 for confidence” call – if you’re going to make a call like that, make sure that those are the 10 best strokes your crew takes. A call like that calls for something magical.

NEIRA 2012 Boy’s 8+ Final
“BREAK THEM!!” I love using calls like that, especially when we’re in a dead lock with another crew and I know they can hear me (what can I say, I really enjoy messing with other crews…). I also really love her “never be satisfied” call. I think she overuses the “knees down” and “jump on it” call in this recording, but I like her style so that’s a minor issue.

2011 NARF 4v Race
2:39 is the most unenthusiastic “boom” I’ve ever heard. If you’re going to call “boom” on a catch, fucking CALL IT!! GET AGGRESSIVE!! (Example: here at 0:29) I like how he said they were coming up on SportsGraphics (although he uses it a little excessively)…somehow when you remind the rowers that there are professional photographers out there, they seem to row a little prettier. Don’t be afraid to use that as a call! It’s unconventional but it works. Overall, not a bad recording…there’s just a little too much motivational speaking going on and not enough coxing.

Mary Whipple #1 and Mary Whipple #2
I’m not even going to say anything about Mary’s recordings. I have my likes and dislikes with her style but she’s the one with two Olympic gold medals, not me. If I’m not mistaken, this is from the Down & Dirty coxing CD (which I have – somewhere), so all of her swearing is bleeped out. It’s like they think we don’t do this too…

Liberty Leagues 2012
Right off the bat, I love her “get us out ahead” call. Obviously there is a goal with racing but making this call right at the start gives the crew an immediate objective.

  • 0:45, really like how she draws out “breeeathe”. You can never remind the rowers to breathe enough. “They know we’re out for blood” – great call to give them extra “push”.
  • There are a lot of things I like about this recording, but one thing in particular is that when talking to her crew, she doesn’t say “guys” or “boys”, she says “gentlemen”. I don’t know why but I think that subtle change in vocabulary gives the calls more feeling.
  • 1:20, “they’re probably at our 4 seat” – nice job telling them where the other crew is, but don’t say “probably”, “maybe”, “might be”, etc. That gives the rowers the opportunity to look out of the boat and see if the other crew actually is where you think they are. Even if you’re not 100% positive, act like you are. Instead of “probably at our 4 seat” say “they’re sitting on 4 seat”.
  • “You want that fucking banner? Let’s see you get it now.” Awesome call.
  • 2:33 has got to be the greatest call for legs I’ve heard since Pete’s HOCR recording.
  • “They’re dying, we got ’em” – that would have been a good spot to make a move and really break that other crew.
  • 4:24, “gotta go right here and now…comin’ up on 500m…gonna be close…you can see it, you can taste it” – great call to get them pumped for the sprint and let them know it’s going to be a close fight. Immediately after that would have been a great opportunity to take a power 20 to make a move and really hammer the message home.
  • “Fuck them, let’s GO!” Definitely – definitely – a call I would make. Reminds the crew to focus on themselves, no one else, and, well, fuck that other boat.

Last thing, notice how she says last 10 strokes and it actually is the last 10 strokes? That’s HUGE. I wish I knew whether or not they won…fantastic coxing.

Head of the Harbour
Notice how she’s making a lot of calls to bump the beat up one or bring it down one? That’s not something you want to be doing during a race. Make sure when you’re at practice your stroke is constantly working on maintaining a consistent stroke rate. During steady state pieces is a good opportunity for the two of you to work together on this.

  • 2:02, “we’re just sitting…make the decision now, are you gonna sit or are you gonna walk away?” Would have been a good opportunity to take a ten to move.
  • 2:58, “get the blade wet before you start the leg drive” – I am SO stealing this. Great call to remind the rowers to get the blade in the water before they start the legs to avoid missing any water at the catch.
  • 10:19, “find that new level” – I’m not sure what she was referring to but I interpreted it as “dig a little deeper, push a little more”.

Braxton Memorial Regatta
OK, listen to her voice at the beginning when she’s staging and then tell me if based on that, the voice you hear when they start racing is what you expected. If you say “yup”, you are SO lying!! This is what I would classify as an angry coxswain. Her coxing is great (the calls are very good) but the intensity is at an unnecessary level, in my opinion. For the last 250m, yea, that’d be appropriate, but 250m in? Seems a liiittle over-zealous to me. Listening to this is making my blood pressure rise, so I can only imagine what hers was like. If the whole race is called at this level of aggressiveness, I think I would personally find it hard to discern when she wants me to get aggressive, if that makes sense. Tone of voice is HUGE.

  • 2:12, “pivot from the hips” – I use this call a lot to remind the rowers to swing from the hips, not their low backs, which they can start to do as they become more fatigued. “Prove yourselves” and “drive them away” are two other calls I really liked. I also liked how after the race was over she said “Nice race, I’m proud of you.” Always take the opportunity after a race, whether it was good or bad, to tell your rowers good job. Regardless of the outcome, they just gave it everything they had, so a pat on the back for their efforts is always encouraged.

This is also a good recording to listen to for novices who haven’t done a spring season yet because it gives you a chance to hear what it’s like up at the starting line. In the background you can hear the starting marshal talking to each of the crews. His job it is to make sure the crews are aligned and to then call the start once the crews are even. In this race, the starting call he uses is known as a “quick start”.

Question of the Day

What would you say differently if this post was asked by a varsity coxswain?

I’d still bring it to the coach’s attention but as the more experienced coxswain (thus a team leader by default) I’d also take the coxswain(s) aside and ask/say something along these lines.

Why did you join crew? Did they actually want to do it or were they forced to find an extracurricular to partake in?

You lack of enthusiasm has become quite noticeable to the rowers in your boat – did you know that?

It’s been noted that you don’t enjoy going out on the water. It’s kind of a big part of coxing so if you don’t enjoy being out there, I’d say it’s time to start reevaluating if rowing is the sport for you.

Regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, if you’re going to be here you need to take it seriously because coxswains who are flippant about safety or not paying attention because they’re uninterested can quickly become some of the biggest hazards on the river.

Are you aware of the responsibilities of a coxswain? If yes, any particular reason why they’re not doing them? If no, explain what they are (general responsibilities and any specific ones that your club has).

Can you handle the responsibilities? If yes, good. Come back tomorrow prepared to do better. If not, again, time to start reevaluating things.

Explain the team dynamic to them – what’s the philosophy, what are the team’s goals for the season, why are the coxswains important in helping achieve those goals, etc.

Let them know that you and the other varsity coxswains (and rowers) are there to help (and that you want to help) but they can only help you if you’re willing to listen and learn. A blasé attitude is not going to be accepted by anyone who chooses to be a member of the team.

That is all assuming you’re talking to a novice. If you’re talking to a fellow varsity coxswain, this is what I’d say:

Seriously, you’ve been already been doing this for 2, 3, 4 years. Underclassmen look up to you  and you’re expected to set the example. Get your shit together.

Things are a little different when you’re a varsity coxswain because you’ve got more experience and an assumed leadership role on your side. You should however, like I said, alert the coach to the issue but let them know that you’ve talked to the person and this was what was said. This makes them aware of the situation and gives them an opportunity to quietly observe the person to see if any improvements can be seen.

Related: How do you deal with coxswains who just don’t really want to do what they’re supposed to do? I’m a very passionate novice cox but there are others who tend to slack off and don’t like going out on water and aren’t very helpful/motivating to the rowers. Some girls on their boats have come up to me and asked me to talk to the other coxswains.

If after a week or so things are starting to look better, let the issue rest for the time being. If not, then it’s time for the coach to step in and talk to the athlete and really lay down the law of shape up or get out.