Question of the Day

Since were still waiting for the river to be ice-free, I’ve been thinking about what I need to work on when we get back on the water. I’ve decided that coxing steady state pieces are harder for me to cox. I think it’s because I don’t want to talk to much but I’m also scared of not saying enough or being too repetitive. Do you have advice for coxing steady state workouts?

The first thing you’ve gotta do is talk to your coach and figure out what he wants to do that day. If you go out with the intent of coxing a 4x2k like I’ve outlined it down below but then find out that that’s not what he wants to do or he doesn’t know that’s what you’ve got planned then both of you are gong to be thrown off, especially you. Always communicate ahead of time and say “I saw we were doing X today and I wanted to know if you wanted me to run the workout in a specific way or if it’s OK if I do my own thing with them” … and then give them an idea of how you’ve planned it out. Get their input and be flexible. More often than not over the years if I’ve asked to run it on my own I’ve been allowed and the coaches will only chime in if/when they’re seeing something that I’m not or can’t. It’s a good way to establish yourself in the boat and with the coaches so I encourage you guys to try that the next time you go out for a steady state row.

Steady state pieces, despite occasionally being boring, tend to be some of my favorite on-the-water workouts because there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to how to cox the rowers. I think you also have to not be afraid to just be quiet. That’s one of the hard parts about coxing is learning when it’s appropriate/necessary for you to talk and when it’s appropriate/necessary for you to not talk.

If we’re doing a particularly long piece, like 30-45 minutes of low-rate rowing, there are periods where I won’t talk for 2-3 minutes, sometimes up to 5 minutes, at a time. This gives the rowers an opportunity to focus on themselves, their own technique, finding and maintaining a rhythm within the boat, etc. without me chirping in their ear. It also gives me a chance to focus on my steering (which I’m always working on, regardless of what the workout is) and the blades. I usually try to watch for basic technique stuff unless there’s something specific I’ve been told to watch for, but I also like to challenge myself a bit and look for things that are naturally tougher to see from the front vs. from the side (such as rowing it in, washing out, etc.). I also like to guess what the hands/bodies are doing based on what the blades look like.

Whenever we stop for a water break or to spin I’ll go through everything I saw and ask the rower or the coach if they noticed that they were dipping their hands, lunging, rowing it in, etc. and see if I was right with what I deduced in my head. It’s a weird game I play with myself but it’s helped me so much over the years. I practically taught myself everything I know about technique by doing this. I’ll also talk to the coach and say something like “I saw X happening with [rower’s] blade so do you think saying something like [call] would help or is there a better way to address that?” I like doing this on the water if I can vs. off the water and away from the rowers because it lets the rower I’m talking about hear directly from the coach what I could/should say in that situation so that when they hear it again, they’ll know what I’m referring to. I also think it makes me look good because it shows that I’m not just along for the ride and even though I’m not saying anything, my brain is laser focused on what’s happening in the boat. Making myself look good is low on my list of priorities but it’s still a priority.

One of the best ways to break up a long steady state session is to do something like this, that way it’s organized and you’re not just making random calls and going through the motions with no objectives or goals. I usually only do this if we’re doing 2x30min, 3x20min, etc. but you could do it with distance pieces if you wanted. If we’re doing something like 3x6k, 4x2k, etc. then I’ll cox them a bit more like we’re doing an actual piece, if that makes sense, while still focusing on just a few specific things. I like to break each individual piece into smaller chunks (i.e. 1000m) and focus on one or two things before combining everything we worked on in all of the previous pieces in the final piece.

On the “coxing intensity scale” where 1 is talking normally to your crew between pieces and 10 is a race, I’m usually around a 6 (relaxed but focused tone) for the majority of whatever we’re doing. I’ll bring it up to a 7.5 when emphasizing a particular technical point during a drill or calling 5s, 10s, and 20s during steady state so that the rowers stay engaged and alert (and I don’t get bored). During steady state, when it comes down to the last thousand meters or two minutes or whatever I’ll try to cox it a little more intensely (somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9) to help them push through to the end.

What helps with avoiding repetition in your calls is knowing your crew, the things they do well/need to work on, and the individual tendencies of your rowers. This requires you to be actively paying attention to what they look like on the ergs, what their blades look like on the water, what your coach is saying to them, etc.  Sit down with the coaches before practice too and pick their brains about the rowers and what they’re seeing from the launch. If you’re coxing experienced rowers that were with a different coxswain last year, talk to that coxswain and get any info from them that you can about their tendencies, the calls they made for them, etc. A pretty solid understanding of all aspects of technique is crucial too. You should also get input from the rowers about what they want to focus on that day. Don’t confuse that with giving them options though because that’s not what you’re doing. They should know based on the last few practices what they need to work on individually and/or as a crew. (It should go without saying but all of this should be written down in your notebook too.)

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