Winter training tips for coxswains

…because we all know there’s no worse time to be a coxswain than during the winter.

The winter months are a great time for coxswains to work on two main skills: your ability to spot and diagnose technical proficiencies/deficiencies and polish up some of your calls. One of the best things you can do for yourself is talk to your coach and ask them to let you run a practice (or multiple practices) under their supervision. As thrilling as taking the rowers through a body circuit is, doing that for 3+ months is not going to make you a better coxswain.

Related: How to survive winter training: Coxswains

One of my coaches overheard a friend and I whining about taking our respective eights through circuits our sophomore year (pretty sure the gist of our conversation was “this is so stupid, I’m so bored, I could be doing my homework right now (lol), etc.”) so the next practice he had us stay upstairs and alternate taking the rowers through warmups and different drills. It was good for us because at that point after a year of experience we knew how things should be called, we just needed to fine-tune how we did it.

When it comes to working on your technical calls, you should limit this to two occasions: warmups/drills and group workouts where everyone is rowing at the same pace (rate pyramids are an ideal workout for this). Basically anytime the rowers are all doing the same thing, go for it, otherwise, be a silent observer. In cases like this, you’re not really focusing on the individual so the rowers who don’t like being coxed on the erg won’t have much to complain about. This is more for you than it is for them anyways.

Related: So I’m a novice coxswain and I’m really not athletic. The other coxswains told me that during winter training we do everything the rowers do but because I haven’t been erging and working out with the team, I’m scared I won’t be able to keep up with them. What should I do?

One of the main things you should focus on is how you call the transitions between rates, pressure, starts and settles, etc. Remember that just because you’re not on the water doesn’t mean you can start monologue-ing with your calls. Everything should still be simple and concise. I’ve used this analogy before but for those who haven’t heard it, if you can’t tweet whatever call you’re trying to make (aka it’s longer than the length of one tweet, which is 140 characters), it’s too long. Take out the unnecessary words so only the really important ones (the ones that are critical in conveying your message) remain. This would also be a good opportunity to practice the difference between “over” and “on” in terms of when to do something.

If the workout is going to have a technical focus, particularly if you’re in the tanks, determine what the focus is ahead of time (catches, finishes, sequencing, etc.) so you can create a “word bank” comprised of 10-12 calls that you can then incorporate into your vocabulary while you’re coxing. The more you practice them off the water the more natural they’ll sound on the water (and the less effort you’ll have to go through trying to come up with something to say). If you’re an experienced coxswain, don’t fall back on the same general calls that you’re used to using. Get creative and come up with some new ones by listening to recordings, talking with the rowers, etc. This is your time to figure out what works and what doesn’t before you get on the water so don’t waste the opportunity by being lazy.

When incorporating these technical filler calls, also make sure that your tone matches the overall intensity of the piece. The goal in coxing these pieces on land is to mimic how you would do it on the water during practice or in some cases, like you would on race day. (Side note, I think practicing race-day warmups, starts and settles, etc. are all GREAT to do on the ergs, especially if you give yourself a time limit to have it all done by.) If the rowers are doing low-rate steady state pieces with a focus on controlled and in-sync leg drives, don’t cox them like they’re bow ball to bow ball with Brown and Harvard in the grand final at IRAs and you’re trying to nose your boat out in front with a five for legs.

The second thing that you should do when not working on your calls is sharpening up  your “technical eye”. Being on land gives you the opportunity to look at the rowers in a way that you don’t normally get to – from the side. This should be your “go to” thing to do if/when you aren’t given anything else to do. I personally don’t like calling drills or whatever while trying to observe the rowers because then my focus is split between the two and I end up not being wholly focused on either. One consistently distracts from the other and if I’m not losing track of what stroke we’re on, how much time is left, etc. then I just end up looking at the rowers without really seeing anything.

Related: The coxswain in winter

When observing the rowers, you should have a picture in your head of what the “ideal” rower’s form looks like. I used to always pick the best rower on our team and compare everyone’s form to her. This is after actually confirming with our coach that she had the best form on the team and would be a good example for others to follow. From there you can compare what you’re seeing in front of you to what you’re visualizing in your head and note what’s different between the two. The details aren’t what’s important here, rather you should be looking at the building-block kind of things – mainly leg drive, the transitions through the body sequence (legs → back → arms and back up), posture, etc.

From there, you can either make the correction directly to the rower or make a note of it in your notebook (which you should absolutely have on you) to address at another time. Something that I’d recommend doing is writing down what the issue was and what correction you made so that you can reference it later (as in days, weeks, or months later). Additionally, if something looks off but you aren’t sure what specifically the problem is, ask an experienced coxswain or your coach if they could look at the rower and explain what they’re seeing, what the correction needs to be, why that specific correction is needed, and what a good on-the-water call for that would be.

Related: 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?

I also do a lot of walking when I’m observing the rowers on the ergs. Very rarely do I stand in the same place for more than a minute or two, unless I’m standing at the front of the room and observing everyone as a group. I like to stand in front of each individual for three to five strokes and look at them like I would in the boat. From there I try to figure out what’s good/bad about their form and what they might look like with an oar in their hands. As I mentioned in the post linked above, it’s a game I play with myself. It involves a lot of educated guesswork but ultimately it’s a great way to teach yourself about technique and form in general. And, as I’ve said thousands of times before, if you learn the tendencies of the rowers and what calls to make to address them while you’re still on land then you’ll be one step ahead of the game once you get out on the water.


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