Coxswain Recordings, pt. 8

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for recordings of head races so I’ve pulled a couple out that I had bookmarked and posted them below. If you guys have any recordings from head races you’ve done this season or in the past that you’d like reviewed and don’t mind other people listening to, please post them on YouTube or Soundcloud and send me the link. Several of these are from HOCR so if you’ve never been before, this will give you a great look at the course.

Milwaukee Rowing Club Men’s Youth 8+ at Head of the Charles (2012)
As I was listening to this one I kept thinking that while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good either. Not every recording has to be OMG super amazing but there should always be something in it that excites the person listening to it. You are coxing a race, after all. In this one, there wasn’t anything that popped out at me as being spectacular that I would point out to another person but luckily there also wasn’t anything terrible that I’d point out either. There’s a lot of talking going on but not a lot being said. That’s the best way I can describe it. I’m all for conversational coxing but this was a little too conversational. The calls get repetitive before they even hit Western Ave. too, which if I was a rower would be a great way to get me to tune you out.

San Diego Rowing Club Youth 8+ at Head of the Charles (2012)
This is a good example of a coxswain who is talking a lot and not really saying anything. His intensity is good but it’s empty, if that makes sense. It’s like he’s being loud just to be loud. Something that really annoyed me was at 7:44 when he yelled “eyes in the boat, you keep those eyes in the boat and you focus!”. I didn’t like the way he said it because a) after listening to almost eight minutes of the recording, I understand why the rower(s) might have been looking out of the boat and b) it sounded like he was scolding a dog or something. Something else that bothers me is that there’s a lot of “you” and “your” happening, like “you need to do this for your team”, etc. I don’t like when coxswains do that because it makes me think they take their roles a little too seriously, like they aren’t responsible for moving the boat too.

Hobart Rowing at the Head of the Charles
I like how she starts out the piece with “let’s get us moving”. Notice how coming out of the bridges she’s hugging the buoy line? That’s how you wanna do it.

  • At 1:19, she tells them where Notre Dame is and that’s where they started but it’s not going to be where they finish – that’s a good call to make to give your crew something to work forwards in the early parts of the race instead of going out and just rowing. Pick a boat in front of you, put a target on their back, and go after them.
  • The twelve seconds of “hook, send” from 1:54-2:06 were a little excessive in my opinion…normally you don’t want to say the same thing more than two or three times in a row because after that you get tuned out.

Notice how she’s still hugging the buoys pretty tightly as they start coming around the turn? She’s taking a great course. Remember, your oars can go over the buoys but the hull can’t. The over-repetiveness of some of her calls are already driving me crazy and we’re only at Riverside. It seems like the only thing she’s comfortable saying are calls with “hook” in them.

  • I like that around 5:48 she tells them that she wants to stay up on the boat behind them because she wants the line on Weeks – that’s definitely something you need to communicate with your crew coming into the turns, especially Weeks and Eliot. In order for you to have the cleanest and sharpest line, you’ve got to either hold off the crew that has the potential to pass you until you’re at least through the bridge or make your move now so that you can pass the crew in front of you before you get to the bridge (as opposed to trying to do it under the bridge).
  • At 6:11, all I’m thinking is that there are ten minutes left of the recording and I’m already really sick of hearing “hook” and “down and away”. NOT something you want people to be thinking when they listen to your recording or when they’re in the boat with you. Your calls should be varied enough that you aren’t saying the same exact thing every 2-3 calls.

Her course coming into Weeks is great and she does a good job telling the crew exactly what she needs them to do while giving them a bit of confidence (“you guys are going to make this boat fly”) as they get closer to the bridge. I would definitely recommend watching her turn several times through because she nailed it.

  • At 8:06 when she says “that’s us”, she’s referring to when the announcers call out the crews that are coming through Weeks and make a quick comment on how they look so far. If you nailed the bridge, they’re going to say something really great about you. If you get in a collision…well…just hurry out of there. There are also a TON of photographers on Weeks, at Weld, and on shore so taking 5 for the cameras is never a bad thing. In this stretch, using the crowd’s energy to reinvigorate your crew after Weeks would be an advantageous move. Solid turn around Anderson – remember, stay away from Newell.
  • At 9:38, “little headwind, swing deep” is a good call, regardless of whether of where you’re coxing. Being able to read the wind and telling the crews how to respond to it is a sign of good coxswain because it shows you’ve got a good technical understanding of the stroke.
  • 10:02, “focus 10 for level hands”, that’s something that should be done over five strokes, not ten. Anything that is a “focus” should be done in short bursts. (Bonus points if at 10:26 you catch her say “all eight”.)

During this stretch, it would have been a good idea to tell them where they are on the crews in front of them. She made a bold statement early on in the race about Notre Dame but hasn’t said anything about them since. Regardless of whether you’ve gained on them or they’ve walked away, you should be letting them know where they are on the competition. Coming around Eliot she calls for the starboards to give her pressure for three strokes but then ends up needing pressure from them for about 10. It’s always better to overestimate how many strokes it’ll take to do something than to underestimate it because as you can hear, there’s a momentary second of panic in her voice where I bet she was thinking “shit, we’re not going to make it”. In situations like that if you have to keep calling for pressure from one side, help them out by calling the other side down. Other than that she did a great job coming through the bridge. Coming around the Belmont dock you can see how close the hull is to the buoys, which means she set herself up really well for that final turn. One thing that she does particularly well during the race, other than steering, is telling them where they are on the course. I think she pointed out a fair amount of the landmarks, as well as some really important meter-marks. Make sure you look at a map before hand and know where all those things are.

  • At 15:12 she says she’s got the point for the finish line which is a great thing for the rowers to hear because it means there’s no more steering, they’re in the home stretch, and the ONLY thing all five or nine of you are focused on is driving towards the line.

In the end here, especially within the last 20, you have to stop with the technique calls. No more “hook, send”. You really shouldn’t even be making any after Eliot because by this point everybody is dead and could hardly give two fucks about their technique. It’s either going to be there or it isn’t, and if it’s not it’s going to be really hard for you or them to fix it at this point. This is where all your calls should be about where they are, where the other crews are, how far they are from the line, and any other motivational things you can think of. Another thing would have been to call last 5 to line (around 15:55) or something like that, just so they know to put everything they’ve got left into those last few strokes. It’s like how you already want to be at full pressure crossing the line at the start, you want to cross the line the same way, with the same intensity, power, and drive. Overall I’d say this was pretty good. I would have liked to have heard more variety in her calls but I think she makes up for it (only a little bit though) with her awesome course.

Tail of the Fish
I’m assuming this is a novice crew so I’m only going to say a couple quick things about it. These apply to everyone, not just this particular coxswain.

  • Stop saying “show them why we’re here”, “prove we deserve to be here”, etc. I hate calls like that. Unless you’re at the Olympics, Henley, NCAA Championships, or IRAs, stop. Even then, it’s an unnecessary call because you wouldn’t be at any of those regattas if you hadn’t already proved you had what it takes to compete there. In this case, you’re at Tail of the Fish. Anyone can go to that. It’s not a special race in terms of exclusivity.
  • 0:44, “this is a race, act like it”. No shit. I actually think it’s a little hypocritical for her to make that call when she’s coxing this piece like she’s running warmups or drills at practice.
  • 1:22, “the harder you push, the farther well go, the farther away we’ll be”. Typically yes, that is how it works.
  • 1:50, “we’re almost halfway there”. NO. NO NO NO NO NO. NO!
  • Like I’ve said before, if you’re going to take 5s, 10s, 20s, etc. make sure they’re for something. If you’re just taking random “power” 10s, the rowers are most likely not changing anything about their strokes, let alone pulling any harder.
  • 2:29, “I want lots of speed”…not a bad call just not said very well. If you’re going to ask for speed, do you know what they need to do to get that speed? What specifically about their technique do they need to focus on? What needs to happen? If you can’t answer those questions, don’t say something like this. If you just say “I want lots of speed” with no further instructions, the rowers aren’t going to change anything because they’re also thinking “well, duh, I want lots of speed too”. You’ve got to tell them the who, what, where, where, why, and how.
  • 2:34, “do not let your bodies/minds give up”. A better way to say this would be “We were hitting 1: 49 splits in practice the other day – I know you’re capable of doing it and you know you’re capable of doing it.” Remind them that even though they’re tired they’ve done this before so you’re not asking them to do anything they haven’t already proven they can do.
  • 5:29, “the harder you pull, the faster you’ll get there”. See 1:50.

This coxswain is a good example of what I like to call a “Tumblr coxswain”. What’s a Tumblr coxswain? A Tumblr coxswain is someone, typically a novice, typically a female, who goes on Tumblr and reads all the “inspirational” quotes in the rowing and fitness tags and carries them into the boat to use as literal motivation for their crew. I can only fault them so much because like most things, I have to assume no one ever taught them to not be a cheerleader when they say “you’re job is to motivate them”. There are much better ways of going about this so stop doing this.

Vesta Women’s Champ 8+ at Head of the Charles (2012)
This is a great recording. It’s from a coxswain from the UK so the style is a bit different than we’re used to here in the states. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between coxes from Europe and the US is they are much more rhythmic with their calls than we are. It drives me nuts to listen to, to be honest, not because I think it’s bad or anything but because there’s just no fluidity to it. Anyways, over the first 90 seconds or so you can get a really good idea of what the start of the race is like in terms of staging, what the officials are saying, how they bring you to the line, etc.

Some calls I liked throughout the race:

  • 1:45, “let’s stay tidy…” That sounds so quintessentially British, doesn’t it?
  • 1:54, “extend into the front a little more, bring the handles to me…” Meaning to make sure you’re getting fully compressed and getting your full reach/extension.
  • 2:54, “we claimed the inside…” Good to let your crew know the line you’re taking and where you’re at.
  • 3:38, “half a length now, I want this over in the next 20…” Brilliant call to make when overtaking someone because it gives your crew a “time limit” and doesn’t give them any room to take their time with it. Be realistic about making this call though; don’t say 20 strokes if it’s going to take you 50.
  • 4:38, “stay wide…” Sometimes it’s really that simple. Notice how she’s still really tight on the buoy line? She’s putting her crew in a great position.
  • 10:27, “rudder on…” Always important to tell the crew when you’re on the rudder, especially on a curvy river like the Charles.
  • 11:15, “sprint to the next bridge (Anderson)…” That is a ballsy move and I love it.

Notre Dame Men’s Rowing N8 Head of the Hooch 2011
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even listen to this recording after the first 45 seconds so I couldn’t tell you anything about how this coxswain did. Feel free to let me know what you thought of it though. This is what happened and this is why I didn’t listen to any more of the recording:

Coxswain: *talking about a lot of stuff that should have been said on land and during the warm-up, doesn’t appear to be paying attention to where the starting line is or how close they are to it, and doesn’t call for the crew to build into the line*
Stroke: “Where’s the starting line?”
Coxswain: “That was it.”
Stroke: “WHAT?!”
Coxswain: “That’s what he just called. We are in the race.” she says nonchalantly before going back to saying a bunch of unimportant stuff.

If I was the crew, I’d be pissed. I can promise you too that if I was the coach of that team that coxswain would be on land for at least a week.

UMass Mens Rowing Head Of The Charles 2012
Nothing super noteworthy from this one but it’s another good look at the course for those who haven’t steered it before. This coxswain doesn’t have the best line (notice how far she is from the buoy lines when there doesn’t seem to be any crews around that would prohibit her from getting closer) and you can see she’s doing a lot of unnecessary steering since you can see her hand moving in the video.

At 8:06 she says they’ve almost made contact with the 4+ in front of them (which isn’t really the case but that’s beside the point) and then takes a power 10 to try to pass them before Weeks, which is definitely not a realistic goal. In a situation like this, you have to weigh the risk of trying to pass before the bridge and potentially being unable to (possibly leading to a collision under the bridge) or holding back through the bridge and then exploding out of Weeks in that little straightaway past Weld to pass the other crew. At 11:25 there’s a collision with that same crew under Anderson.

University of Tennessee Head of the Charles 2011
Overall, this was a very well-coxed and well-steered race. I think it’s probably the best recording in this set. I like how she talks to the individuals in the boat and tells them what she needs them to do while motivating them (without being too corny) at the same time. Her intensity is good without being too much. She also makes some really good technical calls and does a good job of telling the crew where they are and where she’s steering. Her Weeks turn was textbook so I’d suggest studying her course. Coming around Eliot, see how close the buoys are to her riggers? As they’re coming under Eliot the video resets to the beginning and does something weird so you don’t get to see the finish but I think up to this point you get the point.

UMass Champ 8 through Weeks Head of the Charles 2012
Pretty sure this is what Gwen Stefani was talking about when she said “this shit is bananas”… The UMass coxswain handled this perfectly.

Notre Dame Head of the Hooch 2011
The only major thing I have to say about this is about the swearing. If you know me you know I swear a lot but I hardly ever swear when I’m coxing. It’s mainly because I feel like it should be saved for very extreme, specific situations, like when you’re neck and neck with a crew coming to the line at the Olympics or if your name is Pete Cipollone and you’re coxing HOCR. Other than that, there are few cases where it’s justified. The context of the situation has to be appropriate and randomly during Head of the Hooch does not constitute an appropriate situation. Some coxswains (mostly male, sometimes female) do it because they think it exudes a sense of toughness and aggression to their rowers. It doesn’t, no matter how old you are. Keep in mind that swearing in general is considered unsportsmanlike by most regatta officials and you will be penalized if they hear you using profanity during the race, especially if you’re being loud and obnoxious about it. Some will let it go as long as it’s only being directed at your crew and your intentions for motivation are clear with your call but if you even think about directing something at a crew you collide with or is in your way, you will most certainly be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I’m not saying don’t swear, just be smart and strategic about what you say, why and where you say it, and who you say it to.

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17 thoughts on “Coxswain Recordings, pt. 8

  1. Ro Thompson says:

    Fame and fortune! The Vesta HOCR race is me πŸ™‚ Such a great weekend for us, we travelled over from London for 5 days and it was such fun. Missed it this year but hoping to be back in 2014.

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