Question of the Day

The other day I was stuck in the center lane. Let’s just say it didn’t go so well. How do you concentrate on boats on either side of you/your point, your rowers, making calls and stroke rate? Ack, overwhelmed!

This is why I always wanted to be in the center lane – it forced me to focus on everything and really helped me get better at multi-tasking while coxing. Now I think I can probably do eighteen things at once and not even blink. It is overwhelming though, especially if you’re a novice and still trying to learn how to steer and talk at the same time. My biggest thing with being in the center wasn’t so much what I was doing, because obviously I knew what I was doing (as in, what adjustments I was making), but what the other coxswains were doing. I knew that I could steer a decent line and keep away from the other boats, but what about them? Can they do that? Or am I going to have to constantly be worrying about whether or not they’re going to steer into me?

Related: Are the way boats lined up in practice a reflection of a coxswain’s steering ability? There were three eights today and our cox was put in the center lane. Personally, I would think shore side is easier because you can follow it better but … what are your thoughts?

Trust between coxswains is huge so you’ve got to establish before you get out on the water that each person is going to be aware of the other boats and make it a point to try and maintain a certain distance between all of you at all times. If you notice someone is getting a little too close for comfort, don’t be afraid to call over and say “Hey, watch your starboard blades!” or simply “Move to port!”. With girls this is always such a bigger issue than it needs to be because I think it gets interpreted as the other person being unnecessarily bitchy but it’s not like that. Even if it comes out in what may sound like an angry tone, unless she’s already asked you eighty times to move and you aren’t listening, most of the time it’s not meant in a bad way. If someone asks you to move, just do it. It’s for their safety and yours.

When I get out on the water, I just have this mindset of this is what I have to do and there are no other options. Once I got the hang of steering, I pushed it to the bottom of my list of things to pay attention to and basically went on auto-pilot. The only time I actively think about steering is during steady state when I don’t have to talk as much or when there are a lot of other crews around, in which case I tell the rowers “OK guys, traffic’s a little heavy so I’m just gonna steer for a bit”, that way they know that I’m focusing on something and not just being unreasonably quiet. I’m always aware of what I’m doing but at the same time I’m not, if that makes sense. It’s like driving a car – you know what you’re doing but you’re not always actively thinking about it. You can hold a conversation while singing along to the radio while driving and not think anything of it. That’s how I approach coxing. Every 20-30 strokes or so I’ll pop my head out to the side and see if there’s anything up ahead and then make any necessary adjustments, but other than that I don’t worry about my steering too much.

The #1 thing I focus on is the rowers. Hands down, always, they are (and should be) my priority. I’m constantly moving my eyes back and forth between starboard and port, bow and stern. I’ve gotten to know my rower’s tendencies pretty well so I remind them of things I know they’re working on and then just ad lib the rest. I basically just tell them what I see. It really is that simple. If you see someone’s timing is off, tell them. If you see someone washing out, tell them. If you see someone rowing it in, tell them. None of that requires any extra brainpower on your end so it takes minimal, if not zero, effort for you to make that call.

Related: In the boat, when you’re calling a rower out to make a change, is it better to call them by their seat or name? A rower told me that by using a name it puts them on the spot – but isn’t that the point to make a change?

As you get more experienced you’ll be able to talk without stopping while doing everything else you do and not think anything of it. I actually surprised myself a lot this past fall when I’d record myself and then find later when I listed to it that I talked for 25, 30, 40 minutes straight with a decent amount of intensity during race pieces or hard steady state. At least 85% of what I said wasn’t anything complicated either – it was all what I saw, pointing out locations, etc.

Related: It was commented on yesterday that I was ‘too quiet’. I think part of it is because I’m still concentrating so hard on the steering in an 8 (it’s a work in progress) that I forget the speaking part. Also, I’m coxing a boat with people in it who helped teach me to row so I struggle with the idea of ‘correcting’ them! I need to find my ability to motivate them, steer, and not panic about other boats around me. How do you multi-task when coxing? Any advice?

With stroke rate, I don’t pay attention to it unless we’re doing a drill or steady state that requires us to be at a specific rate. If we’re doing that then I’ll glance down every few strokes to make sure we’re on pace but I usually won’t say anything unless it’s starting to fall off, in which case I’ll say something like “We’re down at a 26, let’s bump it back up to a 28 on this one…”. Usually when we do have a specific rate we need to be at I won’t say anything unless we go +/- one beat, just because being that hyper-focused on the rate can lead to rush in the boat as they try to make up that half a beat. Ultimately though, all you’re doing is shifting your eyes down and back up over the course of like, a millisecond, and then reporting what your cox box says so again, it doesn’t take much effort to do this alongside everything else.

What makes your job easier is having a stroke who makes it a priority to stay consistent. I had a stroke in high school once who I went off on during practice because she, for the life of her, could/would not hold a steady pace. The crew obviously has a part to play in this, the stroke can’t do it entirely on their own, but it starts with them. The rest of the rowers were already super frustrated because they were trying to follow and couldn’t because the rate was so inconsistent and I got pissed because I was trying to watch so many different things and our coach kept yelling at us that he knew we weren’t at the stroke rate he wanted because he had his SpeedCoach out and why wasn’t I telling her to be at a 24, blah blah blah. The next time we stopped I said something along the lines of “This is your responsibility to hit a certain rate. Either make the effort or switch with 6-seat because I’m getting sick of telling you to get the rate where it needs to be and you not making the effort to change anything.”

If your stroke is having issues with holding a consistent rate, find out why. Is the rest of the boat rushing her or can she just not maintain the pace? Once you determine the cause, help her figure out a solution. If it’s the boat rushing, make calls that address moving out of bow together (the hands coming away, bodies swinging forward, etc.) and starting the wheels together. If your stroke is having problems on her own, one thing I do is when we’re doing steady state or something, I’ll take my mic off and tell her the stroke rate every … single … stroke for at least 10 strokes or so, that way she’ll know what range she’s in and can try and tighten it up to whatever rate we actually need to be at. One of my coaches had me do this a few times and it took a lot of time and was super annoying for both of us but it actually did help a lot.

So, circling back to your original question (sorry for going off on tangents), you have to tell yourself “these are my responsibilities, this is what I have to do, and I’m going to do go do it.” You’ve got to commit 100% to multi-tasking, which sounds almost like an oxymoron, but you have to commit 100% to each thing and then do each thing at 100%. It takes a lot of practice, focus, commitment, and patience on your end but once you get the hang of it you’ll wonder why doing all this was ever an issue in the first place. If I’ve had a bad practice because something went wrong or I just got overwhelmed by everything, when we go out the next day, I just take a deep breath and think “Get your shit together. Do not get overwhelmed. You know what you’re doing, you’re in control.” Usually I say that to myself in my head but there have been a few times where I’ll say, in a mildly frustrated voice, “Get your shit together!” out loud, which usually elicits a laugh from my boat.

One piece of advice I can give you though is to never let an overwhelming situation affect your mindset after you’re off the water. If something during practice overwhelmed you, instead of dwelling on it figure out what the situation was, what caused the stress, why it caused you stress, and how you can fix it so that doesn’t happen the next day.

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