Question of the Day

I’m a novice walk-on coxswain and I’m coxing a boat largely made up of walk-ons as well. We’re a pretty decent boat, but they have a tendency to just fall apart whenever they start hitting higher stroke rates. Races make them nervous and before we know it we’re rushing up those slides, our technique’s falling apart, and we’re hitting sprint rates at the 1000m mark. Being right next to other boats in particular freaks us out, especially when they’re making a move. Is there any way I can calm them down other than the obvious, “bodies calm, slow on the recovery,” calls? I’m having a hard time balancing the need to calm them down and keeping the intensity of a race piece. Thanks!

This is more of an issue you have to work on during practice over a period of time vs. being something you can fix with a few good calls on race day. They have to recognize that rowing at an unsustainable pace isn’t getting them anywhere and it’s not going to get them anywhere. I’ve said this before but rowing in a race is like driving. You’ve got to be aware of what the other cars are doing but in general not pay them any attention. I don’t know how they expect to have a good race if being by other boats freaks them out.

Why it freaks you out is the bigger question. Until you figure out the answer to that question, nothing else will do you much good. I know that sounds super shrink-like but whatever you do to fix the problem isn’t going to make much of a difference if you don’t know what the actual problem actually is. My first suggestion would be to sit down with them and figure that out. If their answer involves them saying “I don’t know” or anything about thinking they’re going to lose because people are beside them, feel free to smack them on the head and tell them to suck it up and get their shit together.

Call wise, telling them where they are in the race and what they need to do to maintain their position, make a move, or walk away is always helpful. Sometimes rowers get frantic like that because their coxswain isn’t telling them what’s happening so they assuming the race is going to hell and then they start freaking out and then the race really does go to hell. Keep them updated on their progress. Also tell them to FOCUS from the very beginning. As soon as you get locked on at the start, tell them to forget about everything else other than the other eight people in the boat and the oar in their hand. Deep breaths, focus on the goal of the race (whatever it is – winning alone is not a goal).

Talk to them about their technique – swinging together out of bow, moving eight as one, no weight on the legs on the recovery, smooth, controlled, and composed on the slides, rotating towards the riggers, getting that length, unweighting the hands, strong, sharp catches, jump on the first inch, drive the legs down, power through the water, layback, still maintaining the strong core and straight back, chin up, eyes forward, loose upper body, get the handle all the way in, clean finishes, tap down with the outside hand, aggressive with the feathering (you want to hear the oarlocks – one sound), smooth, quick hands away, sitting up tall at bodies over, patience on the slide, maintain the handle heights, building excitement to the catch, catching sharp, driving determined through the water.

The more you work on this during practice, the better you’ll be on race day. It can’t all happen during the race. Talk to them and figure out what’s up. From there, start working with your stroke on maintaining a good rate and not letting the bow 7 push him/her up the slide. Get the overall technique and slide control down, then start pushing them. When you know they’ve got it, demand more. Push them to push themselves. During the race, you’re not their friend, therapist, etc. – you’re their coxswain. The intensity has to be there 100% of the time, regardless of what is happening around you. If you’re confident, they will be too. Talk like you believe every single word that’s coming out of your mouth and they’ll believe you too.

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