Question of the Day

What do you do when you’re in stroke and you’re the only person keeping the boat off port and the coxswain won’t say a word because my attempting to pry the boat off the water is throwing off the stroke thereby throwing off the entirety of the boat. Nobody really wants to address the problem, like the coach attributes it to a different technical issue, when really its quite obviously laziness with the handle heights on the recovery.

Trying to pull the boat off of port yourself isn’t going to fix anything and in most cases will probably make the problem worse (as I’m sure you’ve found out). I don’t understand why your coxswain hasn’t said anything about this – they do know it’s their responsibility to notice and point this kind of stuff out, right? Regardless of whether it’s because of lazy handle heights or whatever technical issues your coach is pointing out, the coxswain should be making the necessary calls to correct the issue and maintain the changes.

Related: Coxswain skills: “So, what did you see?”

I assume you’ve said something to him/her about this but if you haven’t, maybe try talking to them on land before practice one day and just saying that they’ve probably noticed how difficult it’s been for you to maintain a consistent stroke rate with the boat constantly sitting over on port, so could they make an effort to throw in some calls during the warmup (and throughout practice, if necessary) to direct everyone’s attention to maintaining level hands, not washing out, catching together, etc.

Related: Setting the boat

If they don’t know what to look for, tell them to check out the posts from the “setting the boat” tag (linked above), as well as the other posts linked in here. If they still won’t say anything, talk to your coach and tell them that the set has been a continual problem over the last few practices and it needs to be addressed but the coxswain is having problems doing that (for whatever reason). If there’s a more experienced coxswain on the team, maybe also ask them if they’d mind talking to the coxswain about how to handle issues like this. The rowers are the ones that obviously have to make the change but like I said earlier, it’s the coxswain’s responsibility to be pointing this stuff out and calling for those changes.

As annoying as it is that the boat is continually down to your side, you have to stop trying to fix it yourself because pretty soon (if it hasn’t already) it’s going to start coming off as you being really passive aggressive and assuming that you’re the only one in the boat not contributing to the problem. One of my friends had the same issue with one of her crews and one of the rowers tried to do what you’re doing except she jerked her handle up on the one stroke where the boat was semi-set, which abruptly threw it over to the other side. This resulted in one of the other rowers smashing her pinky on the gunnel so hard that it actually broke the skin and bone. Lots of blood, lots of screaming, and lots of name calling followed. (If you’ve ever had your finger(s) smashed between the handle and the gunnel, you know how bad it hurts.)

That day the team had a niiice looong discussion on land about how to set the boat, why the boat needs to be set if you want to be able to take good strokes, how everyone needs to make an adjustment when the coxswain says “starboards lift the hands, ports bring ’em down (or vice versa)”, and how the passive-aggressive jerking of the handle needed to stop. Hopefully you haven’t reached that point yet but I’d tread lightly going forward.

Related: As a novice coxswain I still really struggle with the technical aspect of practices. This summer I joined a boat club and spent two weeks out on the water learning to row, hoping that the first-hand experience would help me understand how to fix some common problems. Now that I’m coxing again, I still get really confused when something is wrong with the set. I don’t know what other advice to give other than handle height suggestions and counting for catch-timing, especially when it doesn’t seem to be up or down to one side consistently (like rocking back and forth with every stroke). I was wondering what advice you would give to your rowers in a situation like this, and how you can recognize and remedy some common technical problems.

Your best option for getting the issue resolved is to just stay on the coxswain about making calls for focusing on the handle heights and having your coach talk to the crew about whatever technique issues he thinks are the problem. All you need to do is focus on rowing well and maintaining a pace that everyone can follow. Eventually they’re all gonna have to realize that if you can’t get your blade out of the water because the boat is always down to your side, the pace is always going to be inconsistent and/or they’re not gonna have anyone to follow.

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