Coxswain Recordings, pt. 7

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6

This post is all recordings from one coxswain. You might recognize the first recording as it became pretty popular a couple months ago after it made the rounds on Reddit and was picked up by USRowing. I listened to it around the same time it was posted on YouTube and was planning on including it in the next set of recordings but Connor, the coxswain, sent it to me and asked for some feedback so I held off on posting it for the masses. He also sent me a link to his SoundCloud page that has several other great recordings on there. I’ve been dying to get my hands on some IRA recordings so I was really excited to see he had one on there. If anyone is curious what a solid collegiate coxswain should or does sound like, these are all great examples.

George Washington University vs. Navy
Below is a copy-paste of what I emailed to Connor.

  • At the start, remind everyone to bury their blades. 7 seat was only about ¾ of the way in during the countdown. You can really see it at 2:17 how everyone’s blades are just under the surface but his is peeking out a bit. You can also see it on his first puddle, there’s a lot of whitewater compared to everyone else’s deep, dark ones.
  • 2:47, “get ready…” That’s a great call coming into the settle. Helps them mentally prepare to lengthen out the slides.
  • 3:13, “jump and send…” The annunciation in your voice is perfect right here.
  • 3:42, “first 500m move, nice and calm…” Whether it was planned or not, good job actually being calm when you told them to be calm. They really respond to your voice so if you’re calm when you tell them to be calm or aggressive when you want to see/feel the aggression, you’re going to see and feel that response on the next stroke.
  • 4:12, after you take a move like that and/or if you tell them where they are mid-move, don’t forget to tell them where they finished. Did they walk two seats or lose half a seat? Let them know how the move worked. It’s a psychological thing. If it worked, it’ll boost them up. If it didn’t, tell them something that was good, what didn’t work, and how you want them to respond – “catches were clean but we lost some of that ratio, let’s get it back, stride it out, gimme a seat here”.
  • 4:46, “I’m sitting…” What do you want them to do? How do you want to move? Give them a task, even something as simple as 5 to take half a seat or something, just to pick them up and get you moving again.
  • It’s kind of hard to tell with the camera moving with the surge of the boat but it looks like 6-seat isn’t getting as long as the other ports. Not sure if that’s actually what’s happening but just watching his catch angle, it looks shallow compared to the other guys on his side. Remind him to get that body prep, all the reach by the time the slides move, get fully compressed, etc. Occasionally he’s washing out and coming out of the water early, as is 3-seat, so also remind them to keep the strokes tight and squeeze it in at the finish.
  • 5:32, “I’m on bowball…” Holy hell, intensity. Nice job.
  • 5:48, the slingshot 10 looked sluggish compared to the rest of the race thus far. For a move like that, remind them to stay light on the seats, sit up, engage the cores, quick catches, tight finishes, etc. Think of what a slingshot is if you had to describe it to someone and then do that with your rowers. You want them to be able to visualize themselves and the boat moving together like they’re being shot out…
  • 7:25, when you made the call for “5 for releases” they got SO much crisper.
  • 7:49, you’ve got such an awesome range of calmness and aggression in the few strokes before and during the sprint.
  • 8:41,  Nice job calling 7 to the line. Solid.

And to finish it off: “Your crew rowed a good race and you coxed a great piece. I was paying more attention to your coxing than the actual rowing but I noticed a lot that it looked pretty unset at times, like you were on a different side every stroke for a few strokes at a time. Remind them not to settle for that. Small adjustments, get it right at the finish coming around the corner, stabilize it coming into the catch, lock on, send; stabilize, lock, send.”

IRA Petite Finals 2013 F8
“Meow!” “Don’t meow.” “Baaah!” “None of that shit.” “Let’s have some fun!” *inaudible weird noise* “Shut the fuck up.” “…meow.” “…I do love cats.”

Annnd moving right along. The race starts at 1:50.

  • 1:48, “breathe in…” Especially before big races…
  • 1:49, “breathe out…” …remind them to do this.
  • 1:52, listen to this starting sequence, beginning to end. It’s sharp, concise, powerful, aggressive, and demanding.
  • 2:26, “up Wisco…” Quick and easy way to say you’re up on a crew while in the middle of making more important calls.
  • 2:58 – 3:03, “holding our margin…even with Princeton…one seat up on Princeton” In five seconds he told them their location on another crew three times with minimal effort. All it takes is one quick glance over to see where you’re at. “Holding our margin” is a good call too because it says two things – you’re not being walked on, which is good, and that you’re staying even, which depending on the situation may or may not be good. Either way, it says a lot while saying very little.
  • 3:32, “very good, boys…every fucking stroke is harder…” I just like this exchange. So polite one second and then right on your ass the next. I like it.
  • 3:58, “300m at a time…” However you break the race down, remind them of it when you cross the markers. Not only does it help “pass the time” but completing each segment is like achieving a mini-goal. If they know they’re hitting those goals it’s just going to boost them up. I can’t remember which race this was but my crew broke the race down into 300m “levels”, like a video game, and after every 300m I’d say “leveling up”. We knew each level was going to be tougher and present new challenges so we had to step up the commitment and focus each time. That ended up being probably one of the best races I’ve ever had.
  • 4:18, “we gotta move, we can’t sit…” Always make a move after calls like this.
  • 4:25, “let’s go after it…” I can’t decide if I love the relaxation here or if I want a call like this to have more fire behind it…
  • 4:39 – 5:00, that is how you build intensity with your voice and evoke a response from your crew.
  • 5:36, “get ready to fuck them in two, that’s one, and two, fuck the lightweights!” Ah, this. I’d pull so hard for a call like this. *obligatory “watch the swearing” comment*
  • 6:07, “gotta bring it up…” What rate are you at and where do you need it to be?
  • 6:50, “Duncan, head in, this 10s for you…” If you’ve got a rower who has a chronic issue, like looking out of the boat or whatever, give them a couple strokes that are just for them. It puts the pressure on them a little bit to really maximize those strokes and get their shit together while still being encouraging, like you know they can do it so on this 10 you want to see it.
  • 7:25, “we’re gonna move through them in two…” A clear goal/direct command. GOOD.

One of my favorite things about Connor’s coxing is that he has managed to find that perfect balance between being calm and aggressive. Coxswains that can find and perfect that balance are the kind of coxswains I would give everything for as a rower. Another thing I like is everything that happens after the race is over. He tells them exactly where they were on the other crews when they crossed, congratulated them on a great race and season, showed great sportsmanship by congratulating the other crews, and really just made it evident that he loved coxing this boat regardless of the outcome of the race. You don’t say “that was fun as fuck” unless you mean it, trust me. You can also hear one of the guys say “we gave ’em a run for their money” in reference to Princeton (“fucking Princeton”, to quote that person) and they did – they finished 0.8 seconds behind them. Really, really, really good piece.

Circling back around to the start of the race, is it important to be serious and focused at the start? Yea. Is it also important to be relaxed and enjoy yourself? Yea. You don’t make it to IRAs by half-assing things and being unfocused. I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that all nine of these guys were zeroed in on the job at hand but I also get the feeling from the start of this piece that they don’t take themselves so seriously that they can’t joke around and have a bit of fun too. This sounds like a crew that wants to have fun while they race just as badly as they want to win and to be honest, that’s the kind of attitude I want my crews to have. If you go out there with a rigid attitude of “win, win, win, pull hard, I’m a rowing robot” every time, you’re not going to have a good time. Loosen up. Relax. Meow at your coxswain every once in awhile. You’re out there to win and have fun, so have it.

Edit: Video of the race synced with the audio.

GWU Freshman 8 SIRAs Grand Final
Does it amuse anyone else how robotic and monotonous the starting official sounds? Reminds me of a Dalek (Doctor Who reference for the non-Whovians…).

  • 0:18, “pryyyyyy through…” I don’t know why I never thought of this before but saying “through” after “pry” just makes sense. I only just started saying “pry” during the start this year and it feels so awkward because it’s like…what do I say after that? I’m definitely going to try this.
  • 0:27, I can’t tell if he says “blades in quick” or “blazing quick” but either one is good.
  • 0:47, “get ready boys, shift in two, one, ready, two, SHIIIFT, BOOM…” Perfect transition is perfect!
  • 1:12, “lengthen out half a beat…on this, looong there…” This is another good example of using the tone of your voice to enforce what you want.
  • 1:30, “we’re gonna go off their move…” You are cementing how invaluable you are to your crew if you can recognize when another coxswain is about to call a move and then capitalize off of it by making a counter-move that the other boat doesn’t know is coming.
  • 1:42, “go now, break away…” Good call to make when you want to walk, open the distance between two boats, etc.
  • 1:53-2:00, “5-seat’s getting his blade in for UVA, you’ve gotta get yours in too…” I can’t tell you how much effort I would put into getting my blade in right at the catch if a coxswain said this to me. Think of every race like a seat-race – you’re racing the other strokes, the other 7s, the other 6s, etc. This call was brilliant. It’s not demoralizing or anything but it gets across the message that this thing needs to happen and is followed up with a punch of motivation.
  • 2:25 – 2:29, “I’m on your seat, gotta go get ’em…” Another good example. If you’re at a loss for things to say, doing something like this is great because a) it avoids random babbling and b) it gives someone another reason to pull hard. Plus, the personal attention, like I’ve said before, tells the rowers that not only are you invested in the entire boat doing well but each individual rower as well. It lets them realize that you’re going out with the understanding that there are eight individuals in the boat and that you aren’t out there on auto-pilot reciting the plan you came up with the other night.
  • 2:33, “I’m on 3-seat, this is our race…” Even though his voice is really calm when he says this, there’s a confidence behind it that told me as soon as I heard it that this was their race and there was no looking back. Sometimes when coxswains say “this is our race” they say it in that loud, aggressive voice that makes me question if it actually is their race. If it’s your race you should be calm and confident because you know you’ve got it under control and all you have to do from here is keep executing things right.
  • 2:39, “Dannon, Carter, five for catches…” At first I thought he said “dammit Carter” but after listening to this a couple times I think he just said the name of another rower. Anyways, I like how he did this by saying this is what needs to happen, next five is for you guys. I like the calls in between and the follow up too. “Stomp ’em” and then the follow up with “good”, “that’s it”, and “lookin’ good” is just how you should execute something like this.
  • 3:18 – 3:36, everything. about this. is perfect. The build-up with his voice during the countdown followed by an appropriately-aggressive “slingshot, engage“…awesome.
  • 4:00, “I got bowball!” After saying “I’m on bow deck but I need more” at 3:46 this is a brilliant response to what the crew did when he asked for more.
  • 4:28, “this one, go…” Not everything has to, needs to, or can happen “in two”. I really, really encourage you to find the places where you can say “this one, go” and start incorporating that instead of calling everything “in two”. That goes for practices as well, not just races.
  • 4:30, “5 to breathe and swing…” Combining these two things into one call is great because to swing you’ve gotta relax and to relax you’ve gotta breathe. What do most rowers forget to do when they row? Breathe. And how relaxed are most rowers when they’re 1500m into a race? Not very. More times than not you do need to remind them to breathe because they’ll actually forget to do it. Calling out when to inhale and exhale for a couple strokes is always a good thing to do as you get towards the end of the race, especially as you get closer to starting the sprint.
  • 4:51, “it’s gonna be an easy win…” I’m debatable on calls like this, but not because I don’t like them. I love them but the one time I said this to my boat, the crew that we’d just annihilated with a move at 750m to go, our biggest competition in this particular race, made a huge move on us and came within half a length at the finish. After that I never said any race was going to be an easy win ever again, regardless of how much open water we had on the field. My advice is to be cautious with this call – it can definitely give you a false sense of security sometimes.
  • 4:58, “NOW…” When something needs to happen and you need it to happen now, this is the level of aggressiveness you should have.
  • 5:42, “sprint for those shirts, sprint for the win, that’s it, take it…” This is an infinitely better way of saying “how bad do you want it, show me you want it”. Obviously they want it otherwise they wouldn’t be here. Give them something tangible to go for. There’s always a tangible reason to win a race…that, in addition to all the other obvious stuff, is what you can remind them of instead of saying the predictable and not-at-all motivating “how bad do you want it”.
  • 5:48, “we’re gonna blast ’em away…” You being confident as you say this, like this is what you know is going to happen, not just what you want to happen, is going to make a call like this 10x more effective.
  • 6:20, saying “keep going” in between each of the last five strokes is a good way to get them to hang on until the very last stroke. It’s a motivational push for your brain more than it is for your body but sometimes you need your brain pushed more than your body. This is a good way to accomplish that.

Something else I really like about this crew as a whole is that after races you hear them congratulating the other crews. Any crew I coach, I promise you that this will be made clear from the very beginning of the season: I have one requirement of you when you’re racing – one – and that is to respect yourselves and the competition. Respect yourself by rowing a good race and respect the competition by recognizing the fact that they’re out there putting in just as much effort into moving their boat as you are yours. They do the same pieces, they lift the same weights, they do the same core workouts, they do the same exact things you do. We all know what this sport demands mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically, thus a mutual respect for your fellow competitors is required. Nobody gives a fuck if you won the race if you’re disrespectful to the people you’re competing with. As the saying goes, “be humble in victory and gracious in defeat”.

GWU Freshman 8+ vs. Georgetown
Last one!

  • 0:29, “can’t lean to starboard otherwise we’ll turn…” I know most rowers don’t know/understand this but seriously if there is ever a time for you to NOT be moving around and constantly adjusting your weight, it’s at the starting line when your coxswain is trying to get a point. You have no idea how frustrating it is trying to get a point, especially in windy conditions, get it, and then have to go through the whole process again because someone off-set the boat and it turned. Please, do your coxswains a favor and sit still during and after the period of time where they’re getting a point. Coxswains, you can also help them out by giving them some “adjusting time” (dependent on how much time you have between getting locked on and the start of the race) before saying “ok, I’m getting a point now, everyone calm your movements” or something to that effect.
  • 3:14, “fuck yea, I’m on their 3-seat, get ready to break them and crush their fucking dreams…” This is cocky. Love it.
  • 3:32, “move me!” Good call.
  • 3:44, he said he wanted the bow deck over 10 and the crew delivers. That’s how it’s done.
  • 3:55, I can’t help but chuckle every time he says “very good”. I love the mixture of proper, gentlemanly language combined with the rougher, more intense “fuck yeas”.
  • 4:06, “5 for relaxation…” After you’ve made a big move and gained something significant on an opposing crew, it’s always a good idea to take a few strokes to bring the focus back in, relax the bodies, breathe, and sharpen up the strokes while still maintaining the level of intensity that got you where you’re at in the first place. This is also especially good if you’re planning another big move soon after.
  • 4:20, “you see them now, you don’t let them walk back one fucking inch…” Once you’ve walked ahead of a crew, you can’t see them but the rowers can. I can’t think of anything you can say that is more motivating than being able to see the backs of your opponents. Remind them that they’re in the commanding position and it’s up to them to keep you there. Don’t give anything back.
  • 5:18, “oh yea, now we’re moving away…” Few things excite me more than having a crew being able to take long, powerful strokes at those high rates and be able to see and feel the boat running on every single one.
  • 5:31, “this is where we died last race…” This call can have two effects on a crew. I get why coxswains say it because I say it too. For me, I say it as a challenge. Last time this is what happened but the difference between then and now is we’re better, we’re stronger, and we’re smarter – it’s not going to happen again. The two outcomes are that they’ll either remember this is where they died last time and their brains will give into that and they’ll die again or the brains will respond with a determined “fuck that” and will rise to overcome the challenge. In order for this call to be effective and come off the way you want it to, you have to understand the brains of the eight men or women in your boat. If there’s even a question of the mental vulnerability of any one of them, you can’t use this call.
  • 6:02, “you gotta work for it…” Notice how he said they still had to work for it after telling them they’ve got 3/4 of a length of open? You can’t get complacent when you open up a lead like that because you never know what that other crew has left. It’s your responsibility to remind them of that. Do the work necessary to get you ahead and then keep doing work to keep you ahead.
  • 6:52, “get ready to go for our sprint…not yet, in 10 strokes…” Hearing “go for our sprint” is what starts that flip switch so just as a precaution it’s always good to start this with “in 10 strokes” instead of following up with it. My theory is that even though the rowers do listen to us and the words we say do have an effect on their strokes, they’re only really taking in maybe 25% of what we’re saying. It’s more important for the blood to flow to the muscles than the brain during races (although the brain is still important, obviously) so they’re only comprehending the important buzzwords that they know to listen for, “sprint” being one of them. Everything else in that sentence is a blur but “sprint” will stand out so that’s what they respond to. They also know to respond to “in X (strokes)”, so if you say “in 10 strokes we’re gonna start the build into our sprint” they’ll process it ass “in 10 strokes *static static static* sprint *static static* startic*”. They know what’s coming and when and that’s all they need to know. This is one of the reasons why I tell coxswains to be careful about monologuing, especially during races. The rowers just do. not. care. in addition to the fact that they physically cannot process everything you’re saying while trying to row as hard as they can at the same time. Physiologically it’s not possible. The best way I can think to explain what I’m saying is like this: think of all of your calls as being tweets. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so you’ve really got to cut down on the unnecessary words, characters, etc. in order to say what you want to say. Your calls should be the same way. If you can’t fit what you want to say in a tweet, what you’re saying isn’t going to be effective. (Like I said…just a theory, but a fairly good one, if I do say so myself.)
  • 7:12, “through and through…” I love this and yes, I know I’m reading way too much into this but think about it…through and through with anything means that from one end of the other, it was clean, sharp, and quick with minimal disruption to whatever is encasing it. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, is exactly what you want your strokes through the water to be.
  • 7:19, “blackout 10 motherfuckers…” I wish I could cox college kids all the time because somehow I don’t think my masters 8+ of 50ish year old women would respond the same to this call as a bunch of 20-somethings.

Overall, another great piece…or, to quote Connor, “very good“. One of the things that I consistently kept thinking about while listening to these recordings (all of which I listened to probably six or seven times each while writing this) was that “I want to coach this kid”. I had to actually go back several times and replay a section of the recording because I was thinking too much about how I’d love to coach at GWU just so I could see him in action every day. Rowers, I really can’t stress this enough – if you have a coxswain who is not just good but great, you damn well better appreciate them because they will win you races. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a coxswain too and I think we’re god’s gift to rowing. I don’t, by any means, but if you ask any rower who has a coxswain who truly knows their stuff they’ll tell you that in close races it’s come down to what the coxswain said that helped push them ahead. Coxswains are like steroids except we’re legal to use. Sure, sometimes we ignite a bit of rage in our athletes but we’re also the stuff that can give you an extra bit of competitive edge over the competition. Don’t take your coxswains for granted.

I’m definitely taking away a lot from these recordings and I hope you will too. For those of you who are looking ahead to college, recruitment, etc. I sincerely encourage you to listen to these recordings and pay close attention to the details. Coaches (the good ones, at least) aren’t looking at just the calls you make and the results you achieve, they’re looking at your personality, attitude, how strategic you are, and all the tiny things that you think they aren’t paying attention to. They are. Or, at least, I would/will be.

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