Question of the Day

Hey! I cox a HS women’s bow loader 4+ and after looking over some footage from our past regattas, my coach noticed that many rowers are “missing water” and not getting the oars enough behind them enough at the catch to produce a maximum length and power stroke every time. She asked me to try to make calls and to focus on things that will help get the length behind them, and also to have them think about rotating out towards their rigger at the catch. Would you be able to clear what she means up for me, and possibly demonstrate the way something like this would be called? Thanks!

Normally whenever I get questions I’ll read through it and automatically think “Oh OK, all you’ve gotta do is X, Y, and Z”. First thing I thought when I read this was “your coach only realized after watching race footage of multiple regattas that the rowers weren’t getting a long enough stroke?” … l donno, I guess that just seems like a pretty obvious thing that you’d be working on during practice vs. only recognizing it after the fact.

Anyways, to break down what she’s saying, “missing water” as we know means that they’re not getting the blades locked on to the water before they start the leg drive. This is also sometimes referred to as “rowing it in” although you’re not always necessarily rowing it in when you’re missing water. In this case it sounds like the biggest issue contributing to the missed water is not getting enough length, which is actually a pretty simple thing to fix. Being in a bow loader makes it really hard/nearly impossible for you to see this though because unless you’re sitting up and actually turning around to look at the blades (and offsetting the boat in the process), you’ve really only got the bow man’s blade (seen mostly from your peripheral vision) to go off of in terms of seeing whether or not they’re making the necessary changes. You can make all the calls you want but it’s really up to your coach(es) to address the root issue and work on it during practice. I’ve found while coxing that a lot of coaches don’t get that for some reason and I’m really not sure why… (and, to be honest, it really contributes to how much of a bitch it is to cox bow loaders).

The best analogy I’ve heard when it comes to explaining rotating out towards the rigger came from Holly Metcalf, who’s the head women’s coach at MIT. (She coxed my masters 8+ for a bit when I first started coxing them and, more impressively, was 2-seat in the first women’s 8+ to win gold at the Olympics at the ’84 games in Los Angeles. She’s a total badass and so much fun to work with.) The way to think about it is to think of what your upper body is doing when you’re throwing a frisbee. The way to get the flattest and longest throw is to keep your arm flat and rotate ever so slightly from the core. The same applies to rowing. To get the longest stroke possible you don’t want to dip your hands or raise them up because that’s going to mess with the trajectory, so to speak, of the blade, which is going to result in a shorter and less powerful stroke. It’s definitely something that’s much easier to understand if you can demonstrate it vs. just saying it but if you do understand what I’m saying then by all means, show ’em how it’s done.

If I were in your position I’d do three main things:

Start adding pause drills to your daily warm-up.

The goal is to emphasize getting the body prep early so you want the pause to be at bodies over. You also want to reiterate that by the time they get to this point, they should have their bodies as far forward as they’re gonna go in order to get as long of a stroke as possible. I usually like to remind them that they should be feeling a bit of a stretch in the hamstrings, in addition to telling them to keep in mind that they shouldn’t be lunging, rather they should be pivoting from the hips while keeping the back flat and the core tight. If you can, I’d recommend going over this on the erg with them before you go on the water so you can show them the difference between how they look vs. how you/your coach wants them to look. Do this for 10-15 strokes per pair (stern pair, bow pair, middle pair, outside pair) and then if your crew can handle it (you be the judge) for 10-15 strokes by all four. Remind them that it should feel different than what they’re used to doing and make sure that your coach is watching you so she can give them feedback on what it all looks like. That’s kind of crucial…

Make a list of all the “length” related calls you can think of and carry it in the boat with you.

I can’t remember what I did this for but I did something similar in college for whatever technical thing we’d been working on that week and it was great because not only did it give me 20-some different ways of saying the same exact thing but also because I had it right in front of me for an entire week of practice so I didn’t have to wrack my brain for things to say. (It also gave me an excuse to not write whatever paper I was supposed to be writing for my philosophy class.)

Get the footage from your coach and go over it.

Take notes on what you’re seeing – what looks right that you can use for positive reinforcement and what doesn’t (individually, as pairs, as a crew, etc.). With the stuff that looks right, why does it look right – what are they doing well here? Even though you know they’re not getting their full length, how do their catches look? What about their posture? Are they finishing clean? Stuff like that. Same goes for what doesn’t look right. You already know length is an issue but why? Can you see specifically where they’re doing something that would contribute to that? Go through the stroke, look at each part of it, and take notes on what you see. You really can’t be too specific here but try to avoid writing something down just for the sake of saying something. If possible, try to do this with your coach so you know exactly what she’s looking at with respect to the length issue and so you can take her exact words in the boat with you and use them. (If you can get the video on your laptop but can’t go over it with your coach, feel free to email to me and I’ll take a look at it.)

As far as how I’d call something like this, I’d mainly try to focus on incorporating basic “reminder” calls into your regular coxing (“remember to get the bodies set before the knees come up”, “45 degree angles between the blades and the boat”, etc.) and then whenever you’re doing short pieces, if you’re not given something specific to do, make the majority of your calls about finding that length. When I do this I like to focus on the technique that leads to the rowers getting long so that I’m not harping on one thing over and over but the general idea of what we’re going for is still obvious.

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4 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. Ellie says:

    I hadn’t spent much time in a bow loader 4 until this spring, but I was fortunate enough to have an awesome technical coach to work with. I started to get a feel for the technique by seeing if I could match what my coach was saying with a particular sensation in the boat (i.e. was I feeling any check/rush/dip in the boat etc). Also, as you make calls, see if you feel a change after any of them in particular. If you do, remember that that call is more effective and it can be used as a good reminder during pieces.

    As far as calls for length…make sure that your girls are sitting up tall because bad posture is the quickest way to cut length. When I ask my rowers to rotate, I remind them to relax their inside elbow and keep their outside arm extended because this provides some natural rotation without making them think about it too much. Also, you can make calls for them to back the blades in on the recovery. Of course this is an exaggeration, but the catch IS part of the recovery and this reminder can be helpful if they are rowing it in. If they’re getting their blades locked into the water before the leg drive, you should be able to feel it especially at low rates.

    Also, ask your rowers after practice! This is a huge help to make sure that they understand what you’re saying and asking them to do. If you’re not super clear on it, have your coach there to talk about the changes that need to be made and then you can talk about the calls you’ll use to remind them. Being in a bow loader can be fun once you get more comfortable with the feel!

  2. Jake says:

    I don’t like bow loaders but unfortunately I’m in them a lot as well. I always listen for what my coach says, and if he says something more than once or twice on the water, I make a note that we are struggling with what the coach said. This is the only way I can really tell whats going on with some smaller technical errors in a bow loader…

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