Coxswain Recordings, pt. 9

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Today’s post of recordings is going to be super short in comparison to the other ones I’ve posted (only one recording vs. the usual five to seven) because I’ve got big plans for today that don’t include sitting on my laptop listening to race recordings – the Macy’s parade being one of them!! (Don’t worry though, I’ll make it up to you with a longer recordings post sometime in the next two weeks.) So while you’re sitting around your table this afternoon/evening with family and/or friends and are trying to think of something to be thankful for, remember to raise a glass for your coxswain (the good ones and the bad ones because, as you’ve seen, we can learn from both of them) and all the work they put in to helping your boat go fast.

Abingdon vs. Belmont Hill (Henley 2009)
I could have sworn I’d already posted this one but apparently not! I got an email asking if I could provide some feedback on this one so that’s what today’s post will be. This is another one of the “internet famous” recordings (most of which I posted in Part 1) that you might have already heard (several times…). The coxswain in this video is Abingdon’s Rory Copus and the race is the quarter finals of Henley vs. Belmont Hill in 2009. This video is actually good insight to what the start is like at Henley, in case you ever find out you’re racing there. (FYI Abingdon is the crew on the right in the maroon, Belmont is on the left in the navy and white.)

0:20 – 0:23, good job telling the crew what’s happening as far as when your hand is up, when it’s down, that your timer is ready, etc. I feel like this helps keep the crew focused and prevents any surprises (like, “oh shit, we’re starting now!”). Maybe – maybe – overdid it by telling them about Belmont’s coxswain but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal considering there’s only one other crew there. Personally I probably would have just focused on what I was doing and only said “both coxswains’ hands are down” when I saw that we were both ready but it’s really not that big of a deal. I don’t think any crew has ever complained about their coxswain giving them too much information.

0:47, the intensity in his voice at the start? Damn, son. Take note guys, this is how a good start is called.

0:57, “one, send, two, send…” The intonation here is spot on. The catches are called with a sharp bite to them while the recoveries are a bit drawn out, just enough to remind the rowers to keep the slides long.

1:04, “six, breathe…” I actually said out loud “oh, good idea!” when I heard him call this because I really like the idea of reminding the rowers to breathe immediately after the start. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to breathe at the beginning of a race but those quick reminders are all the rowers need to remind them to get a quick intake of air on the recovery.

1:13, notice that coinciding with the shift in pace is a shift in his tone of voice? The intensity is subtle but it’s there even though the volume isn’t as high as it was a few strokes ago. Don’t get so caught up in coxing that you forget to talk to your crew.

1:41, “swing the waists into the headwind…” Good job reading the wind here and telling the crew how to react to it.

2:37, I love the countdown here, especially since it’s coming before a big move. A countdown of three strokes instead of “in two” (in my opinion) helps prep the crew better and gives them that extra split second to prepare and do some renegotiating with their bodies if necessary. In my experience there’s just an inkling more intensity showing itself in the catches when I give them that extra stroke to get ready.

3:33, “…concerted effort for one minute…” If you remember Pete’s recording (at the bottom), this is exactly like what he says when he calls for that one minute commitment during the Powerhouse Stretch. I laughed a bit because I feel like only a Brit would ask for a “concerted effort”…it just sounds so proper and so quintessentially British. I think this is a great call though. You should never be afraid to ask for, or at times demand, a commitment like this from your teammates. This is aΒ strategic call though and not something you should just randomly call out for because you think it makes you sound like you know what you’re doing (novices). You’re essentially asking them for a power 10 except over the course of 60 seconds – it’s not an easy thing to do which is why this should be used sparingly and only when necessary. Rory says right after this that if they want to break them, it needs to happen now and he’s right. That’s what this one minute commitment is for – breaking Belmont, or at the very least, cracking their foundation. In a 2k race, this would probably be best used somewhere in the middle thousand when the pain is really starting to set in. For the rowers, they’ll know the move has been successful when they can see they’ve walked on the crew. Their “gratification”, if you will, is physical. For you though, you will know it’s been successful when you can see the look on the other crew’s faces that says “maybe 2nd place isn’t so bad after all…”. Your gratification is mental and psychological. Once you have it, it’s then your responsibility to translate that to your crew. Take the energy you just sucked out of that other crew and inject it into your own.

4:04, “they went too hard, fucking punish them…” I love calls like this (probably a little too much). They’re so vindictive and aggressive. I obviously respect the crews I’m racing against because when it comes down to it we’re all doing the same thing but you can bet when we’re racing that I’m sure as hell not going to feel bad for them. If they make a mistake and I see it, I’m gonna nail them on it and do my absolute best to make sure it haunts them long after the race has ended. Watching the other crew(s) in addition to your own can be tough but it gives you the advantage of seeing when someone else messes up, which then gives you the opportunity to say “punish them” and really mean it.

4:36, best. fucking. call. EVER. Seriously, if you were in that Belmont boat and all of a sudden you see the coxswain of the crew beside you point at your boat and say “I’m coming for you!!”, that would throw you off. Don’t even lie because you know there’d be a small voice in the back of your head saying “…fuck”. Epic. Epic. Epic.

5:20, “loose, long in the wind…” Good call to remind them to stay relaxed at the catch, not tense because of the wind, and to use the full slide on the recovery and not shorten up.

6:11, “fucking go…” Another call that is necessary sometimes because occasionally there’s just no other way to say it – you’ve just gotta fucking go. Don’t say this every five strokes though. Again, this is a strategic call that should only be called when you’re in similarly close situations like these guys were.

6:18, “level, now walk…” This is where you finish the job that you started with that one minute commitment. If that was where you started to break them, this is where you finish it. Once you’re level, you don’t give up a single inch to that other crew. Commit and go.

6:53, “now we’ve broken them, go, go, go…” I was thinking this too a few strokes earlier. Belmont in comparison just looks sluggish and tired whereas Abingdon is still looking sharp. Now this isn’t saying that Belmont’s coxswain wasn’t doing just as good of a job as Abingdon’s because, who knows, maybe he was, but I really believe that a huge part of why Abingdon still looks fresh here is because they’ve got a relentless coxswain who isn’t willing to settle for anything less than what he knows his crew is capable, which to me sounds like nothing short of excellence. THAT is the type of coxswain I hope you aspire to be.

7:12, “on bowman, finish the fight…” Just because you’re close to the finish line and you’ve clearly got your bow ball ahead does not mean that you can just ride it out. That’s not how we roll in this sport. If that’s how you wanna race, move to Jamaica and become a track star. Finish the fight that you started.

Now, for a few miscellaneous notes. At the beginning of the race right when the marshal says “attention”, you can see Belmont bury their blades just a tad. Look at their blades at 0:43 compared to 0:45. This is a good habit to get into practicing with your crew just so you can be positive that the blades are fully buried at the start and you’re able to get as much water on the face of the blade as possible. It also drastically reduces the likelihood that you’ll wash out on the first stroke.

Another thing to pay attention to is when Rory is telling his crew where the other crew is. Abingdon is down for the majority of the race but I doubt any of the rowers ever felt defeated by the coxswain saying where Belmont was on them. Several times he’d say “they’re up half a length” or whatever the margin was but I don’t recall him ever saying that his crew was down. Other times he’d just say “half a length” without saying “up” or “down” at all. There’s a subtle bit of psychology there that I think is important to think about. If you hear that someone else is up it’s like, “ok, time to do some work to close the gap” but if you hear that you’re down it’s like “ugh, dammit, how are we gonna get out of this”. Think about the words that you’re using (another reason why recording yourself and planning ahead is important) and see if there are any subtle changes you could make that might affect your crew differently.

The last thing is at 4:45 when he calls for the “magna shuffle”. This is briefly discussed in the comment section under the video but it’s also something I learned a bit about this summer at Penn AC. You can hear him at 4:46 call for the bow pair to get in quick and for the middle four to “lift”. Assuming he’s looking at the same kinds of things we were, calling for the bow pair to go in quick isn’t necessarily saying “go in before everyone else”, it’s more so about being so spot on with the timing while erring towards being just the tiniest bit early (less than a nanosecond-tiny) in order toΒ get the bow out of the water right at the catch. Lifting the bow like this makes it easier – “easier” – to accelerate the boat, which is what he’s asking for when he calls for the middle four to “lift”.

Another thing that helps “lift” the boat is making sure everyone is sitting up tall and is light on the seats. Lightness isΒ key. Generally when the boat looks or feels heavy it’s because the bow isn’t coming out of the water at the catch (for whatever reason), which results in the rowers feeling like the load is heavier. Think of the bow being lifted up like you walking on your tiptoes through molasses. The lighter you are and the less you’re touching the molasses the easier it’ll be for you to traverse it, whereas if you were walking normally with your feet completely flat on the ground it’d be very difficult for you to move because there’s more surface area for the molasses to attach itself to which in turn increases the load you’re working against in order to move. (I think load is the right term here…) Hopefully that kind of makes sense. Watch this video of the men’s Olympic 8+ and only pay attention to the bow of the boat. Look at the difference between when they’re paddling and when they’re on. See how at the catch there’s just a little bit of daylight under the bow of the boat? That is what I’m talking about.

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