Words.

It’s not quite fun the way other sports are, like kicking and maneuvering in soccer. It’s not a game. Basically, it’s hard work.

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Question of the Day

Hey! I just had a really bad practice and I need some advice. So I have the top eight right now but our coach changes it up all the time. There is a race coming up but I’m not going so naturally I’d be moved down to the boats that aren’t going. Today for practice he kept me on the A boat but I screwed up and steered into another boat and my steering was just bad overall today. He seemed really disappointed and the last time he seemed so disappointed, he moved the A cox down to B. I just really want to make up for today and I’m scared tomorrow I won’t be on A boat. What do I say/do? Also can you link me to the post about what to do after a bad practice? I just really want to make up for today and prove to my coach that even though I’m not going to the next (last) race, I’m still worthy of A boat. Thank you so much.

So this might not be what you want to hear but if you’re not going to the race, don’t worry about not being in the top boat. It’s more important for the coxswain that is going to be in there and you moving down to the B boat for a few days will give you the opportunity to work on the stuff you didn’t do so well with today without the added pressure of prepping for your race.

Related: What do you like to do to cheer yourself up after a lost race or tough practice?

With regards to your coach, if you feel like he’s disappointed in you, you should make an effort to go up to him before practice starts and acknowledge the mistake(s) you made, apologize (only once – it starts to sound disingenuous and gets annoying after that), and ask if he has any feedback for you (other than to steer better). Having one bad practice doesn’t make you unworthy of the top boats but an unwillingness to acknowledge and/or work on your weaknesses does. It sounds like you might be at the end of your fall season so use the last few practices to really work on your steering and anything else that they’ve said they’d like to see you work on. Throughout the winter, be a leader when you’re at practice and show your coach why you deserve a spot in the A boat.

As I’ve said before, make sure you’re going after the top boat because you actually deserve the top boat and have the skills to back up being there and not because you want to just say “I’m coxing the A boat”. Obviously everyone wants the A boat but there’s nothing wrong with coxing the B boat or the C boat, especially if you’re still developing your skills.

Question of the Day

Hi. I walked on half a year ago as a coxswain knowing absolutely nothing, and this blog was such a godsend for me. Thank you! I was the absolute worst when I started – steering all over the place and almost dead silent during practices because I was so nervous about what to say. I’ve come a long way since then. My steering is much more consistent and I feel pretty confident about the things I’m saying in the boat but I feel like I’ve plateaued in my progress because I don’t know how to bring personality into the boat. I can rattle off canned phrases and words, but I don’t know how to really MOTIVATE the boat and get the rowers riled up. I’ve been told that I’m “too nice” when I’ve asked for criticisms from the rowers. I am not an inherently sassy person – I am actually pretty calm and mellow and I’m not sure how to address an issue like temperament. Is this something I can fix or was I just not meant to be a coxswain in the first place? All of the successful coxswains I know are so outspoken and I feel like I have a more quiet intensity that I try to bring into the boat. Thanks!

You seem really self-aware which is a great quality for a coxswain. It’s a good thing to be able to recognize where you started, where you’re at, what you could work on, etc.

You don’t have to have an inherently sassy personality to be a coxswain, although I don’t think anyone would deny that a little sass now and then never hurt. It’s not even sass either, it’s just knowing when to be assertive to get something done. I actually think having a quiet intensity and a less “in your face” approach to coxing is better because it makes your race-day aggressiveness more genuine. I actually talked about this in one of the first questions I ever answered on the blog last year. It’s sort of the opposite issue that you’re experiencing but there might be a nugget or two of advice in there that resonates with you.

This is quickly becoming my go-to piece of advice but talk to your rowers. One of the best ways to figure out how to motivate them is to find out what they find motivating. Why are they there, what drives them, what do they want to accomplish, etc. If you find out stuff like this, then you can make calls specifically for that during pieces and races. For example, if Brad says that he’s been trying to hold onto his finishes and can feel that his strokes are stronger because of it, use that during the race to kick off a burst and motivate Brad/the crew at the same time. Bonus points if you involve the crew(s) you’re racing against. In a situation like this I’d say something like: “Columbia’s washing out on their finishes, let’s take 5 to squeeze it in and take a seat. Lead it Brad … on this one … now … go!”

Another thing you can do is take a five or ten or whatever number applies to rattle off your competition. Instead of saying “1…2…3…etc.” you’d say “Georgetown … Princeton … Navy … Wisco … Harvard … Penn … Cornell … Dartmouth … Yale … “. Hearing the names of the people they’re racing that are trying just as hard to beat you as your boat is trying to beat them will make them dig deep (literally and figuratively) and crank out some killer strokes. This is best used towards the end of the race, maybe right before the sprint or so.

Motivating your crew is not all about the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah calls. Stuff like what I said above is motivating because you’re capitalizing on something that the rower(s) have spent hours working on at practice. The best way to get them to reap the full benefits of their efforts is to remind them of what they’ve accomplished during the 6-7 minutes when it matters most. To really get under their skin and push them your tone of voice has to be there too. I took out one of our freshman eights the other day and did some 20s with them racing me in the launch. The coxswain is a freshman walk-on who is still learning the ropes and finding her voice. The first few 20s they did were good but something was lacking. At one point when the guys were getting a drink I told her to get aggressive. I literally didn’t even care if it was over-the-top yelling, I just wanted her to get in their faces and push them. It’s really hard to explain what I mean in situations like that … you sort of just have to “get it” and do it. She made some great changes in her tone which resulted in the next several 20s just being balls-to-the-wall on. Once we stopped to spin I asked her how it felt and she said “better” and “really good”, to which I replied with “why?”. She said a couple things about technique but I said that I thought it was because of the change she made in her voice, which the guys all agreed with. At some point you have to just let go and do something you haven’t done before.

Don’t ask for criticism from the rowers, ask for feedback. Try to keep track of what they say (write it down) and make an effort to pick out one or two things to work on each day. Similarly to the rowers, most likely the changes you make are going to feel weird, uncomfortable, or silly but you’re definitely paying way more attention to that kind of stuff than the rowers are. Also work on becoming more confident in your role. Typically your coxing voice gets stronger as you become more confident with yourself. Forget about being “sassy”. Listen to some recordings to get a feel for what other coxswains sound like and use that to help you get a feel for you can do with your boats. When you’re at practice, try to keep everything but the hard pieces fairly conversational (like I talked about in the first post I linked to) but maintain that “quiet intensity” you talked about earlier. You’ll know the right time to bring the aggression based on what your coach has you doing.

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! Last week, I lost my voice after one of our fall head races. I was talking to my coaches and they said that your “coxing voice” shouldn’t come directly from the throat or something like that – it should come from deep breaths from your stomach or the bottom part of your throat. I am now officially confused and don’t know who else to ask! Help please? Thanks!

They’re right that the deeper voice you want to use when you’re coxing shouldn’t come from your throat, it should come from your diaphragm. Instead of yelling, you want to project your voice, which means using your core and diaphragm to “push” the sound up out of you instead of trying to just use the muscles in your throat to be loud.

Related: I’ve only been coxing for three years but I feel like it has changed my voice…do you feel like that? Like, I feel like I cant hit as many high notes when I sing in the car (haha) or is there something I’m doing wrong?? I lose my voice easily in races now, especially during the spring when we have like 3 races in a day. What can I do about this? Should I change the way I cox?

Sometimes this can be hard to visualize or understand but think about horror movies and stuff – what does every person do right before they scream? They take a huge breath and then sort of contract their torso as they yell, which always makes their voice way louder than if they’d just screamed from their throat (which always sounds really high pitched and not convincing at all). It’s the same way with coxing. You’ll know if you’re doing it “right” if you get out of the boat after a race and your abs are just on fire. (I’m convinced that’s at least half the reason why I had a semi-six pack in high school.) It’s also good motivation for you (and other coxswains) to do the core workouts with the rowers, especially during winter training. The stronger your core is, the less “work” you’ll have to do when it comes to projecting your voice.

Related: How to protect your voice

As far as losing your voice goes, check out the post linked above. Doing all of that combined with trying to project more than you yell will go a long way in preventing you from losing your voice again.

Question of the Day

Hey, so I am the 2V coxswain and we almost always practice with the 1V. Our coach usually starts us a length ahead (or something like that), but the 1V always comes back up. I was just wondering how I can keep the rowers calmer and still take great strokes as they walk on us (and if that happens in a race situation).

If you know that the 1V is going to come back up on you, a point should come where it doesn’t phase you (and/or the crew) anymore. Ideally you should also get to the point where instead of watching them walk on you, you start trying to hold them off and/or push them back. That’s the only way both crews are going to get better.

Related: My girls really like when I cox off of other boats, even if we’re just doing steady state. I’m in the 2V boat so they all want to beat the 1V at ALL times. I find it easy to cox when we’re next to another boat/in front of it. However, I never quite know what to say without being negative and annoying when we’re CLEARLY behind another boat. Yesterday afternoon we were practically three lengths behind the v1, and we STILL didn’t catch up even when they added a pause. What do I say at times like these? I always end up getting rather quiet since the overall attitude of my boat is pretty down. I feel like whenever I call a 10 or get into the piece at this point it does absolutely nothing, since my rowers have practically given up.

Something you can do is to tell them what the margin is like when you start, watch your time, and see how long it takes for the 1V to get bow to stern or even with you. Then, on the next piece say “it took them (whatever amount of time) for them to get even with us, I want you to hold them off for 10 more seconds on this one”. Give them something small like that to work towards and then when they hit the point where the “10 more seconds” kicks in tell them this is where they get tough, now push them back. Once the ten seconds are up, see how long they can maintain their pace and/or splits before it starts to fall off and the 1V walks up. Keep doing this each time you go out and keep increasing the time, strokes, whatever that you want to hold them off.

Point out things the other boat is doing too, like having sharp or sloppy strokes, and use that to help drive your crew. If their catches are sharp, say something like “they’re getting their blades in, let’s clean it up over the next five to match them”. If their catches are sloppy, tell them “they’re shortening up, this is where you make ’em work for it, show ’em how it’s done…”. Unless you are straight up doing a race piece where the goal is to see who crosses the line first, your goal here should be to get better (with a slight undertone of beating them obviously because … who doesn’t want to try and beat the 1V?). If your only goal is to beat the other boat, you’re not becoming better athletes.

Both of those calls are incredibly motivating but in completely different ways. Typically the top boat is one that everyone else strives to be in, as well as the boat that everyone looks up to, so you if you can point out what they’re doing well and help your rowers emulate that by pointing out what they can do better with their own technique, you’re not only helping them row better and stronger as a crew but you’re also helping them individually and preparing them a bit more for when they make that jump to the 1V. You’re also helping your coach by creating a deeper pool of athletes to choose from when he creates the 1V lineup.

Here’s a really random analogy that I just thought of  that I think conveys what I’m trying to say in maybe a slightly easier way to understand. You know how when you’re growing up, you reach a certain age (like, 10 or 11) where your parents start to give you more responsibility and trust you with things in the hopes that you’ll start to mature a little? If you rise to the occasion, that’s when people start thinking you’re older than you are because your level of maturity, responsibility, self-awareness, etc. is a bit higher than your peers. On the flip side, if your parents only ever treat you like the age you are, don’t push you or put you in situations where you need to maybe be more mature than you are, your development stays a little stagnant and you don’t really “grow” or mature at the same rate as your peers who are being put in those situations. With your boat, you want to be the parent that treats your kid like they’re a 1V rower even though they’re in the 2V. Don’t let them assume that just because they’re in the 2V that means that they have to accept being passed by the 1V all the time just because they’re the 1V. Push them and force them to mature so that when they are being challenged by the 1V, they can challenge them back and make everyone say “Wow … that’s the 2V?”.

To keep them calm, there’s only so much you can do. If they’re relying solely on you to prevent them from freaking out because omg there’s another boat, you’ve got bigger issues to address. They’ve got to be able to suck. it. up. and be mentally tough themselves instead of expecting you to be the mentally tough one and project that onto everyone else. Like I said in the post I linked to, the other boat is irrelevant. This also goes back to them maturing mostly on their own but with a bit of help from you. They have to figure out how to not let another crew walking on you flip the “panic” switch in their brains (as individuals) and then communicate that with you so that if/when you are in a situation like that, you know exactly what to say to them to keep them in the moment and focused on what your boat is doing.

Question of the Day

Hiya, I just started rowing recently and have to do some ergs with 18, 20 & 22 m/s but I don’t quite understand how this works. Does it really just depend on my speed or do I also have to change the resistance level to get those results?

I think you mean “strokes per minute” (SPM), not m/s, which is “meters per second”. The resistance has nothing to do with stroke rates, distance covered, etc. It’s essentially like the gears on a bike – higher damper settings require you to work harder to spin the fan on the next stroke whereas lower settings require less work to spin it. It affects how erging feels more than it affects the resistance you’re working against. The dampers are usually set at 4 or 5 so I would leave it there.