Racing skills: 10 regatta tips for coxswains

Take responsibility for your cox box. 

These things are expensive  – don’t let them out of your sight. Make sure they are clearly and visibly labelled with your name and/or your team name. Bring the charger home with you and fully charge it the night before your race. Also double check that you’ve got a working mic before you leave the boathouse.

Bring weight if you need it. 

Some regattas require coxswains to provide their own weight if they’re below the minimum. Check with your coach and see if the regattas you’re going to require this.

Have your recorder, notebook, and a pen.

Make sure the batteries are charged and bring extras just in case. Have your notebook and a pen or two on hand so that you can throw together a quick recap of your race after you get off the water.

Wear the right clothes.

The “right” clothes all depend on the conditions, but make sure that you are at least wearing clothes that display your school or team logo/colors. Don’t wear something that would make it impossible to identify you as a member of your team. Check the weather the night before and pack appropriately. Unless the weather is cloudless, no wind, and 85 degrees, you’ll probably get a little chilly on the water. Rainboots or Bean boots are another good thing to have on hand, particularly if it’s cold, raining, or has rained recently, that way you can keep your feet dry while slopping through a muddy race site.

Related: What to wear

Have several wrenches.

One is necessary, multiple is preferred. Inevitably someone in your boat is going to say “I don’t have a wrench”, which only slows down the rigging process. Have extras on hand so you can share them with the rowers. Make sure they’re marked with your name though otherwise you might not get them back.

Review the course map before you race.

The week of, or at the very least the day before, find a map of the race site and go over it. Look at the race course and see what identifiable landmarks you can point out, as well as where the meter marks are. Use this to help you form your race plan. Find out where your trailer is going to be in relation to where the docks are so you can determine the best way to get down there. Also locate where the coaches and coxswains meeting will be held.

Drink plenty of water and have a few cough drops on hand, just in case.

I’m not a huge fan of cough drops but if it’s really cold or the air is dry then inevitably my throat will get kinda sore. I always try to make sure I drink a lot on race day but if I don’t have any water a cough drop is a good alternative (just not while you’re coxing – you’ll choke).

Related: How to protect your voice

Know when and where the coaches + coxswains meeting will be held.

These aren’t optional. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been to the same regatta three years in a row and you know everything they say at the meeting forwards and backwards, you should still go. This year could be the year they’ve made a change with the traffic pattern and unless you’re there, you’re not going to know about it. There’s nothing more important that you need to be doing at the ungodly hours that coxswain meetings are held so you might as well go.

Show the novice coxswains around.

Once you’ve been to the coxswains meeting, the boats are rigged, etc. take the novice coxswains on a quick tour and show them where all the important stuff is. Answer their questions, point out stuff about the race course, etc.

Keep track of your rowers.

When you get on the bus, make them countdown from bow to stern. Tell them well ahead of time what time you’re meeting before your race, at the bus, for team meetings, etc. Have everyone’s phone numbers on hand so you can get a hold of them if someone is missing. If they want to go off during the down time, at least try to get an idea of where they’re going so you know where to look if you need to go find someone.

Question of the Day

Do you have any recruitment tips for getting freshmen hooked?

Tell them what got you hooked. Be honest and don’t sugarcoat things (like the cold weather, erg tests, early morning practices, etc.), even if you’re desperate for people to sign up. Tell them about the regattas, traveling, spring break training, etc. How much class time can they anticipate missing? Throw in some info on a fun rowing tradition, like shirt betting or a tradition your team has. Tell them the history of your program (regardless of how long you’ve been around) and what makes it an extra-curricular worth participating in. What makes you stand out? “Crew is just awesome/better/more fun, duh” is not a reason. Also, please, I beg you, do not give them the standard spiel of “teammates, family, great coaches, etc.”. It’s so played out at this point and doesn’t even sound like a legitimate reason when people say it anymore – it sounds rehearsed and like you have no other reasons why they should consider joining.

Another thing, don’t be awkward and overly enthusiastic when you’re recruiting people. You know the type of person I’m talking about too. Don’t be those people. The kids you’re trying to recruit feel awkward enough as it is, don’t make them feel even weirder. If you have any trophies or medals from previous regattas, bring them. Have a coach, coxswain, team captain, senior, junior, sophomore, and freshman there so that the people you’re recruiting can get perspective and information from someone at every level on the team.

Have a FAQ handout prepared beforehand with the contact info of all the relevant people on the team listed on it. Don’t forget to include the handles/links for your team’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or website. If you include any or all of those things, make sure they’re regularly posted on and up to date. I guarantee you, if I went to your team’s Twitter and saw you hadn’t tweeted since last spring or that the most recent results on the website are from 2009, I’ll write you off immediately. It’s hard to take you seriously when you talk about how much commitment rowing takes when you can’t even keep your own team information up to date. That’s important stuff that people do look at.

What to pack when traveling to a regatta

Traveling to regattas has always been one my favorite parts of crew. My team in high school always traveled outside the state of Ohio to race, which meant we were traveling a minimum of 200+ miles, so Fridays would be our travel days and we’d race on Saturdays and Sundays. This meant at least two nights in a hotel every week from the beginning of April to the end of May.

After four years of this, I became pretty adept at packing for the bus, hotel, and race site. If you’re traveling this spring, especially to regattas that require overnight stays, here are some of the essentials that I always make sure to pack.

For the bus/plane

For the race site

Charging cables and an external battery (like a Mophie or Anker) can be lifesavers when you’re traveling, especially if you’re stuck on a plane or bus that doesn’t have outlets. Your phone’s charger can also be an easy thing to forget so I like to keep a couple of spares in my backpack, that way I don’t have to run around my apartment collecting up all my chargers to bring with me.

Now that most of our work, notes, etc. are stored in the cloud, keeping up with homework while traveling is a lot easier. My laptop is a must-have if we’re going on a long trip or I have a lot to do but to save space on shorter trips I’ll just bring my iPad. I can still answer emails and get some writing done if I need to but I primarily use it to relax and catch up on some reading.

Before you leave (or start packing), make sure you also check the weather so you know what the conditions will be like at the race site. In most cases you’ll be spending all day there so you’ll want to have extra clothes on hand to keep you warm and/or dry.

Question of the Day

What’s the best way to adjust to higher rate ergs? For a few years now after winter training I just take forever to get my body/legs adjusted to 30+ rates on ergs. It’s fine in the boat, it’s just ergs. My teammates don’t have this problem as much as I do and we’re doing the same workouts. We’re all lightweights. I just feel like I’ll never be able to do good 2ks this way and it’s holding me back from being put in top boat. My coach told me it’s my erg scores, so what should I do?

Try adding in some intervals (8x500m, something like that) into your training during the winter. Right now though, you’ve just got to get on the erg and practice. Short sprints, 2ks, etc. The best way to get better at doing 2ks is to do steady state and more 2ks. Try doing 3x2k with a decent period of rest between each one. Bump the rate up each time – 28, 30,32, etc.

Also, don’t get discouraged. Talk with your coach too and ask them what they think you should do. They’ve got a better idea that I do of what your training, technique, etc. is like so they would be your best resource for figuring out what you can do to improve your erg times.

Question of the Day

My coach has enlisted the help of the rowers who’ve finished their last season at school to help with a learn to row program for the new recruits. We’ll be taking them out in quads for a couple of weeks. Do you have any advice on how to teach them to get the basics down? My learn to row experience is just a big blur now!

Start small…and then back up from whatever you think “starting small” is and start even smaller. The first few times you go out, I would do nothing but catch placement from each position (just tapping down from the finish to start, moving to arms, arms and body, 1/2 slide, then all the way to the catch). Teaching them to tap down first and figure out what their hands have to do to in order to get the blade to respond will help you out a lot, and at the same time will demonstrate how important it is for the boat to be set. Make sure you spend some time going over that as soon as you get on the water, preferably before you even start rowing if you can. Have the ports push their hands all the way down, then have the starboards do the same. Make them figure out what they have to do in order to set it up instead of you telling them. I find that makes the concepts stick better, even if in the moment you feel like an asshole for not just telling them what to do. Once they understand that concept, move into tapping down, figuring out how the oars work, etc. Once they’ve got that figured out, start doing pause drills. Start with a double pause, then go down to a single, and then to straight rowing. I’d stick with just pairs for all of this to start until everyone is reasonably comfortable before you move on to having all four row.

Biggest suggestion is to just be patient. It’s what I have to remind myself every time I’m with novices because at this point, this stuff is so “auto-pilot” for me that I don’t even think about it anymore. You’re going to think that getting the hands away before the legs come up is like, “duh!”, but they don’t get that yet, so you’ve got to take the time to explain it while not going too crazy.

Have a plan of what you want to do before you get to the boathouse. Don’t be overly ambitious either. Think about their skill level and the amount of time you have. If you notice you’re not going to get through everything you had planned, don’t worry about it. Don’t suddenly start trying to rush through things because that’s when people get frustrated and accidents happen.

Crack a few jokes, throw in a few analogies and metaphors, and just make it fun. Obviously the environment in serious but you can still keep the mood light and relaxed. Have a good time with it and don’t take anything that happens too seriously.

Question of the Day

What are some short little phrases I can say in between counting numbers in the starting sequence/power 10s/focus 10s, etc?

Listen to the sprint race recordings I’ve posted – you’ll get some great ideas from there.

Other stuff you can say … the stroke rate and split (if you have a Speed Coach)  are good to say during the starting sequence, particularly if there’s a specific rate/split you want to be at. For focus 5s/10s, keep whatever you’re saying related to whatever the focus is. When I do 5 for legs, the only things I say is “legs, legs, legs, legs” between strokes or something similar that relates to pure power. I also like to say “drive”, “send”, “complete”, “accelerate”, and “stay on it”, in addition to miscellaneous stuff like “yea!”, “there we go!”, “walking!”, etc. when I’m calling bursts.