Question of the Day

I recently had an anxiety attack in the boat (they didn’t notice and it was still safe). Part of the reason may have been because I’m not sure what to say. I’m good at short calls but as a junior coxing adult men (average age 45) I lack the confidence to make long calls and exercises that weren’t given to me. Do you have any suggestions of calls I could start with? We have been focusing on control on the slide and finishes. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

Regardless of whether anyone noticed or not, coxswains having an anxiety attack in the boat isn’t safe, no matter how minor it is. It’s just not. I have anxiety (and regular panic attacks) too so I know it’sΒ not something you have a lot of control over but that’s part of the problem – you don’t really have any control over what’s happening, which is also what tends to exacerbate some people’s anxiety in those situations, and it can leave you feeling distracted, dizzy, etc. (neither things that you want your coxswain to be feeling ever).

I’ve heard several stories from coaches about people having panic attacks in the boat and it can go from relatively minor and “I’m OK *deep breath* I’m OK…” to pretty serious and “We’ve gotta get him/her outta the boat now” (which they’ve gotta try to do while the person is sitting there having a combined panic/asthma attack). It’s just not something that you want to risk have happening, for the sake of that person especially, but also for the rest of the crew. You also don’t want to haveΒ  your entire practice derailed either because of it but most people tend to not want to say that out of fear of being seen as “insensitive” to the issue (even though that’s a fairly legitimate concern).

Not to minimize your situation but if you’re having an anxiety attack in part because you’re not sure what calls to make, as a coach, that would make me question your ability to handle being a coxswain in general or at the very least, your ability to cox a masters crew. Before you do anything else though I would really advise you to talk with the coach of that crew (if you haven’t already) and let him/her know that coxing them is intimidating to you and either figure out a plan for the two of you to communicate more on the workouts or to find another coxswain who can handle working with them. Jumping from coxing high school crews to masters can be tough at first and not everyone is cut out for it. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad coxswain or anything if you’re not but if it’s becoming too overwhelming to the point where you’re having a panic attack (or multiple attacks) while you’re on the water over something as simple as making calls, you really owe it to them to relinquish the seat to someone who is better equipped to cox them.

As a junior, assuming you’ve been coxing for three years now, you should have a solid arsenal of calls and drills in your back pocket that you can pull out if/when you need them. The coach should obviously let you know what he wants to do that day but he shouldn’t need to spoon-feed his coxswain every workout he wants done, drill he wants called, or call he wants made. If that’s what he has to do he might as well take out coxless small boats.

I’m not sure if by exercises you meant the actual workout or drills so I’ll try to hit both of those. Workouts are completely dependent on your crew’s training plan for the week (assuming you have one). When in doubt if you aren’t given a workout to do with them or you’re sent off on your own and told to put them through something, just do a long steady state piece, particularly if you’ve been focusing a lot on technique lately. 2×20, 3×15, at 18-22spm etc. are good ones to do.

As far as drills go, double pause drills are great for slide control (I like to pause at hands away and 1/2 slide) as are exaggerated slides, assuming your crew is skilled enough to row with good technique at borderline-obnoxiously low stroke rates (think 12-14spm). Catch-placement drills are another fun drill to do that help work on slide control. The main focus is on catch-timing (hence the name) but moving the slides together on the recovery is obviously a pretty big part of that.

When I make calls for the recovery/slide control, I like to draw out whatever I’m saying and get them to match their recovery length to the length of whatever I’m saying. I’ll say “relax”, “control”, “smooth”, “long”, “patience”, etc. for about three strokes, which gives the stroke a chance to match up his slide speed with my voice and for everyone else to fall in line with him. From there I’ll call it like that as I need to. The biggest thing I try to remind them of is that in order to have any forward momentum, they’ve got to have good ratio. You can’t have good ratio unless you’re patient on the recovery.

Another thing to remind them is that on the recovery they shouldn’t be pulling themselves into the catch or really doing that much work at all; all you’ve gotta do is let the boat run under you. If you looked out of the boat at the shoreline while on the recovery it should almost look/feel like you’re not even moving because you’re letting the boat do all the work.

For the finish, it depends on what you’re working on – clean releases, getting a good send at the end of the drive, etc. For clean releases, simple square-blade rowing is probably the most basic drill you can do because all you’ve gotta do is apply weight with the outside hand to extract the blade. You could also do this with the outside hand only if you wanted. Posture is critical when working on finishes too so make sure that’s something you’re making calls for.

Another drill is rowing with feet out since you’ve gotta have a solid finish with the arms to help you maintain your connection to the stretchers on the last part of the stroke. It’s not strictly a “finishes” drill but my coaches have always used it to help enforce good finish posture in my boats when we’ve been working on that part of the stroke. If you’re working on building power throughout the drive and finishing the stroke off with the max amount of send, you could do half-pressure catches building into full-pressure finishes. Not only does that work on quick catches but it also helps them feel the acceleration on the drive, all culminating in a full-pressure finish.

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