Question of the Day

I rowed for three seasons and I have been asked to help cox a crew for a race thing in the beginning of September. A lot of the people haven’t rowed much/before and we are allowed 12 on-water sessions before the race. The coach has said that I need to coach more since I can sometimes see more from the coxswain seat than they can see from the coach’s boat, except I’m not experienced enough with coxing to know what to look for other than obvious timing issues etc. Do you have any tips?

First thing I’d do is go talk to your coach about what she specifically wants you to look for. Ask for two or three things and then talk with her about what you should be noticing about each of them and what it looks like when it’s right vs. wrong. Bring a notebook so you can write down what she says instead of trying to remember everything. (Trust me, you’re not going to remember, especially if you’ve never coxed before.)

Second thing is to talk to your coxswain or other coxswains at your club and ask them about some of the basic things they look for. If they say something different than what your coach said, ask them the same follow up questions you asked your coach about what you should notice, what it should look like, etc.

Related: So, what did you see?

My suggestions of things to look for are timing at the catch, like you said, catch angles, and how clean the finishes are.

Timing

This is the easiest thing to notice as it’s fairly obvious when someone is catching before or after the stroke. Instead of making an ambiguous call like “watch the timing” to the entire boat, be specific about what needs to happen and who needs to do it. “Bow pair, you’re a little early, let’s match the hands away to stern six and swing together…” or “4, you’re half a stroke late, get the body set a bit sooner on the next one…”. Make sure that if they get off with their timing to wait at the finish and come in on the next stroke instead of waiting at the catch or the middle of the slide, which some novices will do. (Why the finish instead of the catch? Because the boat is more stable when people are at the finish and less stable when they’re compressed at the catch, so it’s less likely to throw off the set of the boat if someone comes in at the finish.)

Catch angles

It can be hard to diagnose the bodies when you can’t see them, especially as a novice coxswain, but looking at the catch angles is a good alternative. You want everyone’s angles to be relatively the same and matching the angles of stern pair to ensure that they’re fully compressed and maximizing their leg drive. If a rower isn’t fully compressed the shaft of the oar will be more perpendicular to the boat whereas if they’re over compressed their oar will be more parallel to the boat in comparison to the stroke’s oar. You might have to turn your head to look at stern pair’s oars since it’s easy to look directly over them and only see bow 6’s. If you see someone either going too far or not far enough, you can point it out by reminding them to get to where their knees are over their ankles and no further.

Clean finishes

If the finishes aren’t clean and people are washing out you’ll see a lot of white water splashing forward, almost like a mini tidal wave. It’ll also be kinda noisy. If the blades are buried too deep on the drive they might get stuck at the finish, especially if the boat isn’t set, which could lead to a rower catching a crab. If you see someone washing out, tell them to accelerate the blade through the water (meaning the stroke should get stronger as you approach the finish), hold the blade in for the entire stroke instead of tapping the hands down before you’re all the way to the finish, and pull all the way into their body before tapping down (thumbs should just brush their stomach before the hands go away). Before you start rowing make sure you remind everyone to bury the blades too. If someone’s blade is only buried halfway instead of entirely when they go to take a stroke they’ll wash out.

Don’t try to look for everything the next time you go out with your boat. Pick one or two things to focus on during practice, then the next practice pick two more things, and then two more after that. Once you’ve got an idea of what everything should look like, start to focus on all of it in the practices leading up to your race. If you get overwhelmed, go back to just watching one or two things. Don’t just watch whatever you think is the easiest to spot though because that won’t help you or the rowers. Make an effort to look for all the little details that you might not otherwise notice. Take notes on what you see either when you’re not rowing or once you get off the water and review them the next day before you go out. Communicate with your coach too about what you’re seeing, if you have questions, etc.

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