Question of the Day

My girls really like when I cox off of other boats, even if we’re just doing steady state. I’m in the 2V boat so they all want to beat the 1V at ALL times. I find it easy to cox when we’re next to another boat/in front of it. However, I never quite know what to say without being negative and annoying when we’re CLEARLY behind another boat. Yesterday afternoon we were practically three lengths behind the v1, and we STILL didn’t catch up even when they added a pause. What do I say at times like these? I always end up getting rather quiet since the overall attitude of my boat is pretty down. I feel like whenever I call a 10 or get into the piece at this point it does absolutely nothing, since my rowers have practically given up.

This is a tough situation. I’ve been in this spot before and it took a lot of trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s definitely always easier coxing when you’re ahead of or at least close to the boats you’re rowing with, but when you’re behind it’s an entirely new ball game. Your personality plays a huge part in situations like this too – my boats, regardless of their experience, knew that I was always going to be very matter of fact and brutally honest with what I said.

I could easily tell when we were behind because we were being out-muscled and when we were behind because our rowing was atrocious. If we were behind because we were being out-muscled and I knew there wasn’t a chance for us to catch up, I’d start focusing on technique. If we can’t beat them, we can at least row better than them, right? While they should still be rowing hard, there is no point in constantly telling them they’re behind, they need to row harder to catch up, etc. because it’s demoralizing and the rowers don’t get anything out of it. If your coaches get pissed off and say you should have been pushing them harder, honestly, I’d just shrug and move on. I got so frustrated when one of my coaches said this to me once that I just threw my hands up in the air and was like, short of pulling the oar myself, what do you want me to do? There’s only so much the coxswain can do, and all three parties – you, the rowers, and the coach(es) – have to accept that.

If this is the situation you’re in, try to take the competition out of it (regardless of what the rowers want) and focus on the things you can control, like how well they’re rowing. It doesn’t have to be “OK well, we’re like three lengths behind so let’s work on catches now!” but if you notice you’ve fallen to the back of the pack, just casually stop talking about the other boat and start calling for crisper catches, quick hands away, strong cores, jumping on the first inch, controlled recoveries, clean finishes, level hands into the catch, etc. Every minute or two, throw in a burst and get really into it. Call it like you’re calling a dead heat at a race. 

If the crew we were out with was one that we should be beating or staying with, all gloves are off, no apologies. I am not going to be nice and you can bet I’m going to kick your ass up and down the course until you row like I know you can. I don’t care if we get ahead of the other crew so much as I care about the rowing getting better. I still push for us to get ahead though, obviously. When this happens, I call the rowers out one by one. I make it a point to find out what makes them tick, what pisses them off, what motivates them, what are their goals, what do they want, etc. so that in times like these I can use it to our advantage. I’ll also use what I know about the other crew to push mine – “Amanda’s split was 8 seconds higher than yours Danielle. You know you’re stronger than her so start acting like it. Yea, there it is! Now, let’s get after that 5 seat…” When they do something you want, even if it’s the most minuscule, seemingly unimportant thing, you have to get pumped. Not to the point where it’s obvious you’re faking it, but get excited. Your excitement motivates the rowers and makes them want to work.

The other boat is irrelevant anyways. You’re not going to improve unless you focus on what you are doing and how you are rowing. I’d remind your rowers of that since it sounds like they might be more concerned with beating the 1V instead of becoming better athletes. Yes, the competition is good, but only when it encourages you to get better. When all you care about is beating someone, everything else falls to the wayside. Also, keep in mind that if they were beating the 1V every time they went out they probably would be the 1V … but they’re not, they’re the 2V which means their expectations need to be realistic given the lineups and whatever else.

Related: Today during practice we just did 20 minute pieces of steady state rowing. My crew gets bored very quickly and their stroke rating goes down, so I decided to add in various 13 stroke cycles throughout the piece, but I regret doing it because it wasn’t steady state. I’m just confused as to how to get them engaged throughout without sounding like a cheerleader but at the same time keeping up the drive and stroke.

Whatever you do, don’t get quiet. Regardless of the situation you’re in, you can’t give up. If the rowers have given up it’s your responsibility to get them back into it. If that’s something you’re struggling with then I’d talk with them and spend some time sorting out your priorities. Set goals for your steady state so that they aren’t only focusing on beating someone because that is rarely the goal for workouts like that.

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