Coxswain recordings, pt. 13

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 11 || Part 12

Below are some more recordings that people emailed me back in late April/early May. If you want to share any of your audio from this spring, make sure you send me a link to wherever it’s posted (YouTube, Soundcloud, etc.) or send me an mp3 and I’ll make it into a video and post it on my YouTube channel. If you haven’t seen your recording posted yet, I have just a few more left to post from the original group of emails I got so those will get put up in July’s recordings post.

MV4+ Time Trials Independence Day Regatta 2013
This audio is a good example of what a time trial is like if you’ve never done one before. They’re essentially head races cut down to 1000m or 1500m, depending on the regatta. Typically time trials are run down two lanes of a regular six lane course, with the crews alternating which lane they come down in, that way you’re not too close to the other crew in your lane. At IDR crews start 15 seconds apart so there’s a 30 second gap between you and the other crew in your lane. Occasionally the officials will create one wider-than-normal lane for crews to race in but with these you’re more likely to have to deal with trying to pass someone and doing that on a buoyed course, even when the lanes are wider, can be tricky (and unnecessarily annoying).

At the beginning during the build, you want to make sure that as the rowers are building the rate and pressure that your voice is also building to match what the rowers are doing. For a time trial I’m OK with having a calmer-than-normal tone but you’ve still gotta know when to throw a bit of aggressiveness in there. That just goes back to the whole “rowers feed off your energy” thing…

0:36 “Drop it down in two…” I donno about you guys but if/when I say something like “drop it down” I’m calling for something to change with the pressure, i.e. “let’s drop it down to a paddle” or something like that. I’m sure her crew knew what she meant but I don’t think “drop it down” is the best call to make when calling for a settle. I think it gives the impression that there’s going to be a major fall-off with the rate when all you’re doing is, well, settling it out. To put it visually, “settle”, “lengthen”, and the other common calls make me think of a gradual hill (i.e. you’re gradually bringing the rate down over a couple strokes) whereas “drop it down” makes me think of a cliff (i.e. there’s an immediate drop happening on this stroke.)

0:46, “34.5, right here…” –> 0:48, “32, bring it up…” When you’re doing time trials (or even head races) I think it’s OK to have a range to stick within rather than trying to adhere to a strict base rate. Obviously that’s gotta be something you work out and decide upon before you race but if the boat feels good at a 32 and you’re not getting aggressively walked on, I don’t think it’s a big deal. This series of calls though, I donno. I can’t really pin down why exactly it bothers me but it just seems … sloppy and disinterested. Like I said, I think it’s OK to be a little calmer during time trials because of the difference in atmosphere (you’re only racing the clock, not other crews) but you still have to be on the rowers in an aggressive way to make sure they’re doing what they need to do. I know you can’t predict if/when the rate is going to fall off but you can do your part to prevent it by making calls like “34, yea that’s it“, “35, hold it right here Matt”, or “33, feelin’ strong guys, let’s hold this rate”, etc. If the rate does fall off you’ve gotta be a little more into getting it back where it needs to be. Saying “bring it up” with no change in tone, calls, etc. just seems half-assed.

1:02, “let’s get a 10 for sitting up nice and tall…” You shouldn’t be calling 5s, 10s, 15s, or anything like that 60 seconds into race. Unless you’re in barn burner and it is an absolutely necessary, do-or-die situation (which is rare), you shouldn’t even be thinking about calling any kind of burst before 400m. Calling for 10 to sit up (let alone “nice and tall”) is also unnecessary. It should either be 5 for posture or one quick call. (More on that here.)

1:25, “fight the wind…” Where’s it coming from? How should they fight it? What should they do differently?

1:29, “catch, send…” These are called with about the same enthusiasm as someone calling to schedule a root canal.

1:32, “we’re gonna pass these people right in front of us, they’re about four lengths up…” Uh…four lengths up ≠ right in front of you. In situations like this you should also follow standard head-racing protocol and not say you’re passing someone unless you’re within a length of open and are actively walking on them. Time trials isn’t the time to be trying to pass people either. During head races, obviously yea, that’s a secondary goal (outside of having the fastest time) but during time trials your only goal should finishing in a time that advances you to semis or finals. Passing other crews is just a neat thing that may or may not happen.

2:06, “the lane next to us is about 2 boat lengths up, gimme a hard 15, we’re gonna pass them, build for 5…” Five to build into a 15 is overkill. You shouldn’t need to build into a burst like that but if you are it should be three strokes max. Also, any crew that can pass another boat that is two lengths of open in front of them (and presumably rowing at the same pace/pressure) in FIFTEEN strokes should probably sign up for Rio. In other words, be realistic about what you’re asking for.

2:20, there’s that intensity. There’s still a relative calmness to her tone but there’s an intensity behind all of it that makes what she’s saying more meaningful. This is what the entire piece should have sounded like.

2:51, “moved up half a boat length…” This is where it should hit you that what was said at 2:06 was blatantly unrealistic.

5:36, “last 500 before the wire…” If you’re calling that 500m before you hit the wire there’s still like, 800ish meters left in the race. A call like this isn’t necessary and is just going to make the race feel even longer.

5:51, “get it back…” A more effective way of calling this would have been “#169 moved up a full boat length on us, let’s show ’em they can’t take seats from us without a fight. Let’s take 20 to close the gap back up by half a length, ready to go in two…1 here we go, 2 NOW…”

6:14, “less than one boat length down from 168…” OK but right before this you took “5 to make them yield”. This isn’t even about being realistic, this is just being able to properly estimate the distance between you and another crew and the amount of strokes it’s going to take to cover that distance. A high school four is not going to cover an entire boat length of open water in five strokes (and the ones that can/do are anomalies). (And yes, per the rules when a crew is within a length of open the crew in front has to yield but any coach, coxswain, and ref out there will tell you that unless the crew that’s behind is actively walking on you, you don’t give up your line. It’s better to wait until the last second than to give it up too early.)

CRI W2V4+ Saratoga Invitational
This one is from the 10-lane circus that was the Saratoga Invitational this year. I think this crew was in Lane 2…

The start is called well in terms of the aggressiveness, the words that are used, etc. but a lot of the calls are unnecessarily drawn out. That applies to the majority of the race too. It’s like you know things are happening at a fast pace but the way you’re hearing it it’s coming off like it’s in slow motion. I honestly feel like it takes way more effort to call things like that too than it does to just … talk. I donno if that makes sense but I get the impression with a lot (A LOT) of coxswains that try to drastically change their voice when they’re coxing to make themselves seem more intimidating, in control, aggressive, etc. but ultimately it just comes off as … I don’t know if “fake” is the right word but something in the neighborhood of disingenuous would probably be right because you know that’s not what that person actually sounds like. Seriously, guys, listen to me on this: take your normal voice, bump up the volume a couple a notches (like, 2-3 at most; the mic takes care of the rest), speak like you do when you’re heated about something, use your core to help you project, and just be cool about it.

1:11, “place and go…” I like the sharpness of this call. It’s also a good alternative to “catch, send…”.

2:40, “they’re just sitting…” I’ll have to find the exact quote but I read somewhere recently about how just sitting on a crew is lazy. Yea, they might be holding you off but it also shows that you’re not doing anything extra to overcome that. I liked what the message was implying and after thinking about it for a bit I agree with it. You should never say “we’re sitting on them”, “they’re not gaining anything”, etc. Instead you should make a call that kicks the crew into another gear for 10-15 strokes so that they can either walk on or away from the other boat. Don’t let anyone sit on you and don’t you sit on anyone else.

2:57, “tied for fourth right here, let’s get us up…” This is a perfect spot to reference pretty much any of Connor’s recordings and to also reiterate how much listening to other coxswains’ audio can benefit you. At this point they’re probably, I donno, 700ish meters into the race. Being in 4th isn’t a bad position to be in right here, especially when you’re racing nine other crews. You’ve still got 800 meters left in the race and roughly 650m to work with in terms of making a significant position-changing move. If I were coxing this crew I’d think back to Connor’s recordings and how there were several times where they were down to another crew (or a couple of other crews) by roughly the same margins and all he said was “that’s OK” or “it’s alright, here’s what we’re gonna do”. You never hear him say “we’re down, we need to get up” when there’s still 750+ meters of water left til the finish line. Saying something like that just makes it seem frantic and like you’re getting left in the dust, especially when you’re coxing a crew of people who can’t see what’s happening with the crews sitting in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. For more on all that, read this post.

The biggest takeaway from this recording should be to make sure the majority of your calls are short and succinct. I spent a lot of time thinking “just get to the point” with a lot of them because they were drawn out so much when maybe only 5% of them actually needed to be called that way. The race also felt much longer than normal because the calls were really long. Overall the coxing was good but how the calls were presented is where the most work is needed.

Western Washington University WV4+ WIRA Heat
This is probably one of very few examples where a coxswain is abnormally quiet and yet still coxing very well. The intensity comes across even if the typical coxswain-volume isn’t there. There are a few times where it gets a little to yoga-instructor-trying-to-get-you-to-meditate but for the most part, this is pretty good.

1:36, “right with your pair partner…” I like this as an alternative to saying “right with stern pair”, “right with [stroke]”, “all together”, etc.

1:43, “let’s get a little more run…” How? Make sure when you make a call like this that you’re telling them what you want them to do to execute it. Long(er) on both ends, holding in the finishes, big acceleration on the drive, etc. all a couple of examples.

2:42, “that’s it, you’re right on your rhythm…” This is another call I like as a way to just let the crew know that the boat’s feelin’ good and moving well. I like where she used it too, right at the end of a ten. That’s a good place to call it because during bursts is where there’s a lot of potential for the rhythm to be lost if someone (or multiple someones) get a little frantic with the slides. Making a call about how the rhythm feels good at the end of a burst like that reiterates to the crew that they’re rowing well and because of that the boat is responding.

There’s a lot of great individual calls made too that do a great job of conveying what needs to happen without making it seem like it has to happen now now now. I also like the calls to the various pairs to accomplish different things.

4:55 – 5:00, I mean, how good was that? If my coxswain said that I can pretty much guarantee that my next stroke after that would probably be one of my best strokes of the race. The third 500 is the worst one (it’s the worst for coxswains too, don’t you think?) but reminding them that it’s all about mental toughness and that this is the part of the race that they’ve been working on so they can dominate it on race day is a great way to pull them back into the boat and refocus them on their race and their 500.

5:185:38, write that down. All of it. That is how you call a ten for mental toughness.

6:19, “I see the finish line…” Yea, don’t say that. They can see the finish line too from the starting platform if they turn around and look for it. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVERRR say this. EVER!!

The last 250m (last 60 seconds or so) is called really well. That coxswain-volume starts to come out, the intensity’s been bumped up, and you can just sense the confidence behind the calls. Overall this was a great coxing job and like I said at the beginning, probably one of very few examples of good coxing where the coxswain is very quiet and almost too calm for the majority of the race.

Station L Opening Day 2014 Men’s Masters 8+
Verbatim, the coxswain of this crew said that this was a “very, very bad race” for them and that I could post it “with the caveat that this is what you DO NOT do during a race. Bad examples I think are just as informative as good ones. As you posted the other day, ‘there’s something to learn and takeaway from every loss’.” Below is a copy/paste of the email I sent with my thoughts on everything…

“At the beginning when you were calling for a lot of easy strokes, if you find that you’re doing that a lot and calling for “light pressure” is still more than you need, try just having them row with arms and bodies. If you need more pressure then you can add in another pair but it tends to give you just the right amount of pressure without giving you too much.

When the official is calling for the crews to move, hold, etc., they’re always talking directly to the crews, meaning you don’t need to/shouldn’t repeat what they’re saying. It’s faster and more efficient for them to just talk to the rowers so you should let your stern pair know ahead of time that they should be listening to what the officials are saying and going right off their calls, not waiting for you to tell them to go. If you need to make any secondary adjustments to what the official is saying (i.e. getting your point or whatever) then you can do that but talk quietly into the mic so as to not distract or startle the stern pair.

With the high 15, try to throw in some short key words between each stroke, that way it’s not silent and doesn’t come off like you’re just being a metronome. One strategy is to think back to things you’ve been working on during practice and use calls that relate to that (for example, catches – call the stroke number at the finish rather than at the catch and say things like “sharp, 1, sharp 2, sharp 3, jump, send, kick, send, get ’em in, 6, direct, 7, …. etc.”. You can say anything you want really as long as whatever it is is short and quick. Interspersing the stroke in between strokes like you did is also good. For the “backsplash” call, usually something like “back ’em in” is a good call to use there. Just saying “backsplash” doesn’t tell you much – are you asking for it, is it already there, is it non-existent, does it need to be better, etc. are all things one could assume you’re trying to say when you just say the word but if you say something like “back ’em in” you’re giving them a direct command that they can then infer other things from.

On the final five of the 15, the last three strokes would be a good spot to start prepping the rowers for the shift, that way it doesn’t feel like it just crept up on them. Something like “get ready to shift in 3…in 2…in 1…shiiiiiiiiift HERE”. The way you said “shift” was perfect though – keep doing that. Immediately after you called the “shift here” you should be calling the stroke rate so they know where they’re at compared to where they should be (i.e. whatever your base rate is).

At 4:45 where you called “settle down” a couple times, another way to call that would be to call “lengthen”, “long”, control”, etc. on the recovery and really draw out the word to the length that you want the recovery to be. Something like “lengthennn, 36…lengthennn, 34.5, lengthennn, 33…”. Following your voice can/will help them establish the rhythm. Prepping them for the settle though in the last few strokes of the 15 also tends to help cut down the number of strokes after the fact that it takes them to actually get the cadence down to the rate you want. When you’re at practice, something to remind them is that on the very first stroke of the settle, their hands have to come away slower out of the bow – if the hands come away at the same speed that they came in, that’s setting you up to have a fast slide. Normally you do want the hands to come out at the same speed they came in but the beginning of the settle is the exception since you’re shifting the rate. Hands come away slower followed by a relaxed/slower slide, followed by a balls-to-the-wall catch and drive. I’ve always been taught that the first stroke of the settle has to be the hardest stroke you take of the entire race. I’ve never really asked why that is but my interpretation is that you want to ensure the rowers are letting the power fall off even though the rate is coming down. Speed and power are not the same thing so it’s important to maintain the power you had at the start as the rate settles down into something more manageable.

Between 4:45 and 5:15ish you didn’t say much – that would have been a good time to tell them where they were at on the other crews, how far into the race they were, etc.

When you took the five for swing, why did you take it? When you called it it sounded like you just wanted something to say and that was the first thing that came to mind so you called for it without really having a reason to or anything to say about it. If you’re gonna call a “focus” move like this, you want to be doing it for a reason (that goes for any move you take too). You also want to make sure you’re making relevant calls in between strokes to reiterate the point of the move. I would have said something like “let’s work the rhythm and try to take one seat on Pocock with our swing, on this one … swing back, swing up…swing back, swing up, 1/2 a seat down, squeeze, swing up, squeeze, swing up, 1/2 a seat up…”.

5:22, “boys”? This kinda made me laugh. It’s a masters eight with 40+ year old men, I don’t know if “boys” is what I would have gone with here.

You’re calling “pop” a lot … is that referring to the seats, as in staying light on the seats? I stole a call from Pete Cipollone that is similar so that’s why I thought that might be what it meant. He says “pop, make it light” at the catch that references (I’m assuming) staying light on the seat and not getting too heavy with the bodies. I try not to say calls like this more than two or three times in a row though because it makes what you’re saying lose it’s effectiveness if you repeat it too many times in a row. (That goes for any call, really…)

At 5:54 where you say you’re spinning your wheels, that’s usually a sign that you need to make a ratio shift. Call for that and immediately go into some rhythm calls to re-establish the flow. A call that I really liked from one of the recordings I posted last week or whenever I posted the last set is from the MV8+ coxswain at GW. All he said was “long, rhythm … long, rhythm” but it communicated what he wanted to get across which is long through the drive (i.e. getting the full length of the stroke, not popping it out early, laying back, finishing high, swinging, etc.) followed by hands coming down and away then the bodies coming over together. This more than anything is where the rhythm comes from. If you don’t have swing you most likely don’t have any rhythm.

6:03, “walking slightly on Lake Union”, eliminate the “slightly” – you’re either walking or you’re not.

Make sure you’re telling them what’s happening in the race. Don’t assume that just because you’re close to the crew(s) beside you that they’re aware or paying attention to what’s going on. That’s what they rely on you for. Also, don’t get so focused on the bodies (which you can’t really even see) that you don’t pay attention to the bladework. There are plenty of things you could be calling regarding catches, finishes, blade heights, the drive, puddles, etc. Obviously you don’t want to try to fix their technique during a race but you could/should still be calling for stuff like that.

6:40, when you said they were overstroking you, I’d double check your stroke rate to make sure you haven’t fallen off whatever pace your wanna be at and then decide if they’re overstroking because they’re rushing or because they’re just at a higher rate than you. Either way, if you’re going to tell your crew something like that you’ve gotta follow it up with something like a ten to move or … just something other than nothing. What’s the point of saying they’re overstroking you if that’s all you say? If I was one of the rowers I’d be thinking “OK…cool, I guess…how’s that relevant?”

Why do you say “my ten” when you call 10s? Just curious. What’s the purpose of each ten too? Are you taking them just to take them or are you taking them to walk…? This second ten you took would have been a good one to take to gain back some seats on Pocock. It seems like you just lost something in this stretch and let them walk away with you with little to no effort in terms of maintaining contact with them. Make sure you don’t get so caught up in what you crew is or isn’t doing that you’re letting other crews get away from you. You are racing after all so a good portion of your focus should be on what the other boats are doing and making calls to respond to their moves, walk on them, hold them off, etc.

7:50, if you’re going to take a focus move I think they should be limited to five strokes because after that it’s like “ok well that was fun I’m bored now”. If you’re calling for them to focus and recommit, get on their asses and make them fucking commit. Calls for leg drive, send, sharp/aggressive catches, acceleration, sending the puddles back, reeling in the other crews, etc. would all work here. Don’t make a call for focus and call it like you’re bored or not into it though. Remember, they’re feeding off your energy – if you sound out of it they’re gonna row like they’re out of it.

7:55, “please”…lol, that’s cute. Like, kittens and puppies cute. (Seriously though, who says please when they’re coxing let alone racing?!)

8:12, “sit up”…Another way to call that is to say something about supporting the body with the cores, stabilizing themselves on the seat, etc.

On another note, I think this might be the first video where I feel like I’m gonna get motion sickness – you bob your head a lot. 😛 I actually stopped watching the video for a few minutes and just listened to the audio because there was so much movement going on.

8:47, why is Alex the special guy who gets a 10? Normally if you’re gonna call individual bursts like this, you want to do it for pairs or stern four/bow four/middle four and do 5 strokes each before immediately moving on to the next stroke. The only time where I think it’s OK to call a burst for an individual is if they’re struggling with something (like, catches, for example), in which case I’d call it like this: “Alex, get that blade in. Let’s take five for catches together, on this one, sharp send, sharp send, sharp yea Alex, sharp finish the stroke, sharp send”.

9:36, last 500m, flat water, this is the perfect spot to call for them to recommit and GO as you come into the home stretch.

Telling them their location on the course isn’t limited to meter marks either. At this point I would have said “we’re approaching the bridge and [however many meters] to go, let’s sit up, take a deep breath, and get ready to take a big 15 into our sprint – first 10 for commitment on the legs, last 5 to build the rate up – ready to go in 3, in 2, in one, COMMITTTTTT….”.

10:44, when you’re inside 100m that’s where you gotta get fired up and get them going – you don’t ever want to cox the last 100m like you coxed the first 1900m (or 1400m, depending on the distance). If this is where you want the rowers to empty the tanks, you’ve gotta be ready to lead the charge and do the same thing.

Overall, I think you were way too focused on backsplash, swing, and the first inch and less focused on the fact that you were actually racing. It didn’t seem like you went into the race with a plan that you were prepared to execute, rather you just went into it and winged it. I don’t think you made any calls to make on move on the crews beside you or take any major moves through the body of the race even though there were plenty of good opportunities to do so. Coming through the cut where it looked like there were hundreds of people cheering would have been a great spot to really capitalize on the energy of the crowd and use that to get your crew amped up for the final sprint.

Then again, this is masters rowing. The hardest part for me when I was coxing masters was recognizing the fact that there’s a big difference between coxing junior/college rowers and people who could be my parents. The priorities are different, as are the strategies the different crews have when they go into races. You’ve gotta know what the priorities are for your crew (in addition to the make up of the rowers) and cox them accordingly. If they’re out there just to have a good row, enjoy themselves, etc. then you can get away with coxing them a little lighter than you otherwise would but if you’re out there to be competitive and race hard, you’ve got to stay on them and actually race them.”

Station L Rowing Club Men’s Masters 8+ 1000m Sprint
Here’s another recording with the same coxswain but from a different regatta. This one is pretty much the exact opposite of the last one – tons of energy (you can hear some of the rowers “woo-hoo”-ing a couple times…lol, masters rowers), intensity, and great calls. There’s also a  really good awareness of what the other crews are doing which ultimately helps them execute their own race plan. The only thing I’d suggest here is to make the calls a little crisper – similarly to the CRI W2V4+ coxswain, some of the calls are getting unnecessarily drawn out and the coxing itself is coming across more as straight up yelling rather than … whatever coxing normally comes across as. You know what I mean…

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