As a novice coxswain I still really struggle with the technical aspect of practices. This summer I joined a boat club and spent two weeks out on the water learning to row, hoping that the first-hand experience would help me understand how to fix some common problems. Now that I’m coxing again, I still get really confused when something is wrong with the set. I don’t know what other advice to give other than handle height suggestions and counting for catch-timing, especially when it doesn’t seem to be up or down to one side consistently (like rocking back and forth with every stroke). I was wondering what advice you would give to your rowers in a situation like this, and how you can recognize and remedy some common technical problems.
There are a lot of things that can mess with the set and all of them are exacerbated when the rowers you’re coxing are novices. The most common and obvious thing is handle heights and that tends to be what coaches point out the most, so it’s natural for that to be the go-to thing you call for when trying to get the boat to set up.
Calling for catch timing, even though it does cause the boat to go offset, doesn’t do anything to help with the set (at least in my experience) because it takes the focus away from one problem and puts it on another. People start rushing up the slide because they’re behind the count or sitting at the catch and waiting because they’re ahead of it. Any inkling of thought about handle heights goes out the window, which in turn can end up making the set even worse.
When the boat goes off set and I’m coxing, I usually…
Tell the side it’s down to to lift their hands. If that doesn’t work after a stroke or two I’ll tell the other side to lower their hands a bit.
Change how I say “set it up”. If you say “set the boat” too often it’ll start to lose it’s meaning and people will stop listening, so in addition to tell each side what to do I’ll say “stabilize it”, “level it out”, etc.
Remind them to adjust their handle heights only at the finish. Coming out of the turn at the finish is the only spot where their hands should move; too many people try to make adjustments in the middle of the stroke and that ends up throwing the boat way over to the other side (and pissing off the rowers who just had their fingers smashed on the gunnels).
Remind them to shape the finishes by pulling in to their targets and giving themselves room to tap down. So many people either pull into their laps and lift their hands up immediately after the finish or pull in too high and come away at the same height … and then wonder why the boat’s not set.
Make sure their weight is centered in the middle of the boat and that they’re not moving around unnecessarily while they’re sitting out.
Usually I’ll make general calls for technique and the bodies unless I hear the coach point out something specific, in which case I’ll try to focus my calls on that and incorporate the feedback they’re giving into my rotation of calls. For example, if they say something to 3-seat about getting the bodies set early so they’re not rocking over mid-recovery and diving down with the shoulders at the catch (resulting in their blade going up in the air, which leads to a litany of other issues), then I’ll make that (and 3-seat) the focus of my calls for a few strokes until the boat levels out.
As far as recognizing other general technique issues, that comes with experience, paying attention during practice, and hearing/seeing what your coach is pointing out. If you hear them tell someone they’re washing out, look to that person’s oar and see if you can see it. (If you don’t understand what washing out is, for example, ask.) From there, listen to see what the change is that the coach wants them to make and then watch their blade to see if they actually make that change. See if you can spot the differences between before the change and after. Remember what the boat felt like during the “wrong” strokes so that in the future when the boat feels like that again you can look to see if anyone is washing out and then make the necessary corrections from there.