I’ve just joined a varsity program and we have been doing a lot of long pieces in preparation for 6K season. Whether it be ‘racing’ pieces or ‘technique’ pieces, I do find myself stumbling on things to say. I’m not quite clicking as much as I did last year (maybe it’s because last year during fall season we were still learning how to actually row – this is my first year on varsity). Do you have any tips to coxing longer pieces without being annoying? And also – do you have an advice on how to steer while keeping it close with other boats that we’re practicing with?
I’ll tackle the steering question first. The first thing you’ve got to do is communicate with the other coxswains. Ask them where they’re pointing when you’re on straight bodies of water and adjust your point accordingly. Do this before you start rowing. When you’re on a river that has bends and curves, make sure you know when to start turning depending on whether you’re on the inside, middle, or outside and then tell the other coxswains when you’re starting your turn. This will help you prep for head races when you might have to turn while passing or being passed.
Related: Are the way boats lined up in practice a reflection of a coxswain’s steering ability? There were three eights today and our cox was put in the center lane. Personally, I would think shore side is easier because you can follow it better but … what are your thoughts?
In addition to communicating with one another, the next two most important things you’ve gotta do are not oversteer and not freak out because of how close another crew is to you. I’d say anywhere from 5-6ft. is enough room to have between the two sets of blades. Any more and you’re probably taking up too much of the river. Any less and you’re probably going to clash blades (unless you’re really good at keeping a point). When I first started coxing I was a chronic oversteerer. I got much better over the course of my freshman year but would still fall back into bad habits when having to steer next to other boats.
Related: The other day I was stuck in the center lane. Let’s just say it didn’t go so well. How do you concentrate on boats on either side of you/your point, your rowers, making calls and stroke rate? Ack, overwhelmed!
Trusting other coxswains is one of the hardest parts of the job for me and being really close to them always made me nervous. Whenever we’d do pieces with other crews I’d volunteer to be the one in the middle so I could force myself to become more comfortable with crews on either side of me. It forces you to be even more aware of the adjustments you’re making and how big they are vs. how small they need to be. If you get jittery because another crew is close to you and then overcorrect by throwing the rudder to one side, you’re going to end up doing a fishtail-pinball like maneuver that’s going throw off you, the rowers, the other coxswain(s), and your coach because of the potential that they’ll have to stop the piece so you can get your point again or so the crews can untangle their oars.
The TL;DR of this is to communicate, pick a point and stick to it, maintain your composure, and make small adjustments when necessary.
With regards to coxing longer pieces, as long as you’re not saying the same thing over and over and over expecting something different to happen, speaking in a monotonous tone, and/or saying a bunch of nonsense, you won’t be annoying. Check out the post linked below – I think there’s some good info in there that’ll help you figure out things to say throughout the pieces.Also, check out the recordings I’ve posted for some ideas of things to say and how to say them. (Don’t just pick out things that sound cool either – know why they’re being used and understand the purpose behind them.)
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.
Don’t put too much weight on the “varsity” label. I see it far too often and it’s annoying. Yes, being on varsity is a step above novice (or JV) but there’s really nothing special about it. You’re doing more work and pushing yourself harder but that’s the point. Congratulations, you leveled up and have now reached Level 2 in rowing. “Varsity” is just a word that people put on a pedestal because they think it means all these things that it doesn’t. The only difference between being on varsity and not being on varsity is that on varsity you’re expected to have a slightly better understanding of the concepts you learned the previous year, just like in school. Keep doing what you know how to do, make an effort to learn what you don’t, and always work to make small improvements when you’re out on the water. That is what being on the varsity team is about.