Coxswain Recordings, pt. 14

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 11 || Part 12 || Part 13

Washington-Lee Men’s Junior 8+ Stotesbury Finals
When this coxswain emailed his audio back in May he also sent along a list of things that he felt he did “wrong” during the race. It included the following:

  • Didn’t give my rowers specifics on where we were on the course
  • Numerous times, I said stuff like “We’re walking St Joes! They can’t do anything!” But I didn’t tell them how much we were walking/how much we needed/what I wanted them to do.
  • I told them to “Bring up the stroke rating” but once or twice I didn’t tell them how (specifically, quicken the hands out of the finish).
  • At the starting line I made two major mistakes. Firstly, I sounded extremely frantic, which is never good. Secondly, I wasn’t assertive enough on establishing my position in the floating start, and because of it, we started almost 3/4 of a boatlength down on the 1st and second crews (total bullshit). Instead of racing, I should’ve protested the start.

Self-awareness like that is good because it shows you’re actually thinking about how you did and where you can improve. Below is the reply I sent him with my feedback:

“Your self-awareness is spot on and that’s something that is going to be a HUGE asset for you as you progress through your coxing career. I agree 100% with everything you already pointed out so I won’t go into too much detail with those parts.

So, when you’re at the start the boat looks really off set while you’re trying to get your point. If the boat’s not set while bow or two is trying to row, it’s going to negate whatever they do to turn the boat. The easiest way to fix that is to have everyone sit at half slide (or wherever your first stroke is from) with their blades flat on the water. REMIND THEM at practice, going to the start, at the start, etc. that you need them to keep the boat set so that you can QUICKLY get your point. Also remind everyone that when you or the officials tell them to tap it up they need to do it NOW, not in five seconds. This is definitely something worth practicing during the week so they know how to respond on race day. You were a pretty frantic, which I agree isn’t how you want to be, but just from watching the video it looked like that was partially caused by your crew’s slow reaction time to what you were saying.

Regarding being 3/4 of a boat length down, there was a thread on Reddit talking about the MJ8+ predictions for SRAAs and we all somehow got on the topic of Stotes and crews starting way down at the start. Someone said that the problem occurred beforehand on the paddle down to the start. This was what I said in reply to that: “While the officials are definitely responsible for making sure the crews are coming down together, I’d say the coxswains are partially to blame in situations like this because they need to be telling their crew to bump up the pressure or ease off if they find they’re getting too far up/down on the other crews.” You’ve gotta make sure as you’re coming down to the line that you tell the rowers to adjust the pressure as necessary so you aren’t that far down when you start. I don’t know what protesting would have done because with USRowing’s new rule of not recognizing hands, it’s likely they would have just said “sorry” and that’s it.

The beginning of your starting sequence sounded … off. Like, you forgot what you were supposed to do or something. Plus, your stroke had to remind you it was a high 20, not 10.

At the end of the first ten/start of the second, that would have been a good time to throw in a “2 seats down”, “1/2 a length up” call in between calling the strokes just to give them a quick idea of where they’re at. I like to do that in between the 10s if/when possible because if they know they’re a couple seats up or down, then they’ve got at least 7-8 high, hard strokes left to either increase the lead or get even with the crew out front. If you call it right before the settle then I feel like it makes the settle less effective and more frantic because they’re like “Oh crap, we’re down two seats, we’re about to slow down the rate, we’re gonna keep falling behind, gotta make up that distance, ASDFJKL;!!!” I don’t know if that’s true across all crews but I’ve noticed it sometimes with mine so it’s just something I personally try to avoid.

I like how you called the start of the settle. Good calls and aggression.

1:22, “they started far ahead…” Maybe not the best thing to tell them during the race. They probably noticed it at the start but what if they didn’t? Now you’ve planted it in their head that they’re fighting an uphill battle for 1500m because you weren’t even at the start. And you know who they’re gonna blame for that? YOU. A better way to say the same thing would be something like “they got a good jump right off the start but we’re walking on ’em now…”. Also avoid saying it’s gonna take something big to catch them or whatever so early in the race. That’s just depressing to think about as a rower if you hear your coxswain say that when you’re only like 400m in.

1:28, “calm down…” I would have taken 5 to relax/stay loose/regain the composure instead of just saying “calm down”.

1:34, “OC, etc. is trying to walk back…” This would have been a great spot to take a 10 to push them back, hold them down, counter their move, etc. I tend to tell coxswains that if you tell your crew that someone is trying to make a move on you or anything similar that you better follow it up with a 5 or 10 to counter it. Don’t just let it happen and then have to try to come back from it later on it the race.

When you told them to bring the rating up two around 1:40, that shouldn’t be an “in two” call, that should just be “on this one”. You can easily bring the rate up two beats in one stroke so don’t draw it out longer than you have to. Also, the rate doesn’t come on the recovery, it comes on the drive. The hands follow the legs, not the other way around. I’d call it like “we’re at a 34, let’s take it to a 36 with the legs on this one, LEEEGGGSSS send, LEEEGGGSSS send…”

At 1:55 when you say “calm down”…listen to that and think if you were in a different position and you heard someone say “calm down” in a really rushed, frantic, not calm voice. Would that help/make you calm down? Probably not. When you tell the rowers something like that you’ve gotta make sure your tone matches the call.

At 2:02, I would have taken a 20 with 3 to build to get at least a seat or two up on whoever was to your left and regain a few seats on whoever was on your right. By this point you’re probably 750ish meters into the race so this would have been a great spot for your big move, especially considering how tight it was between the crews. The first ten I would have called for sharp, direct catches, long strokes, maximum length at both ends of the slide, etc. The first three of the second ten would have been all legs, followed by “get ready to attack it/them … stay sharp on this one, ATTACK [your position on the crew on your left], ATTACK [position on the crew on your right], ATTACK [location on the course], ATTACK [walking! (or whatever)], ATTACK YEA BOYS…” followed by a call to maintain this momentum through the next 250m.

During that 10, try to avoid the “me” calls. I’m OK with coxswains saying “gimme a big 10 right here” or “lemme feel that leg drive” but I’m really anti-calls that say “get me to their ____” or “walk ME up” because it just makes it sound like they’re your horses or something (and not in a good way). Remember, you’re one crew, not eight individuals and their slave driver. A good way to call stuff like this is to say something like “we’re walking on LaSalle, let’s get our bow ball up there” or even better, “we’re sitting two seats down, we’re going after that bow seat [name of the bow man in your boat]. We’re going for your seat – let’s take 5, I wanna feel that leg drive [name of your bow man]…”.

3:03, “We can get 2nd, I donno about 3rd…” Oh, come on. I really hope you know what I’m gonna say about this so I DON’T have to say it…

3:38, I like the “unleash hell” call but I think an even better way to say that would have been to wait until right before your sprint and then during your build say “they’re not gonna know what hit ’em, get ready to unleash hell … on … this one, now, GO!!” in a slow, steady, controlled, intense as hell tone.

3:49, “let me tell you something…” Not gonna lie, I was expecting a really rousing last minute speech right here. πŸ˜›

4:06, when you say “they can’t do anything”, that’s not a bad call per se, but I don’t know how effective it is. I think something like “they’re struggling against your move”, “they don’t know how to counter us”, etc. would do more for the rowers psychologically in terms of helping/making them think that they’re accomplishing something … if that makes sense.

Nice job with that final sprint – you guys went for a nice little walk there in the last 100m or so.

Overall, I think this is a good recording. You’ve got a lot of potential that I don’t think you’ve tapped into yet though. The BIGGEST thing that I think you need to work on is reigning in your voice and being less frantic overall with the calls you’re making, that way you can focus more clearly on what’s going on around you, what’s going on in your boat, etc. and make more effective calls to the crew.”

GWU Varsity 8+ 2014 IRA C Final
51spm. 51. strokes. per. minute. (Maybe the theory that mustaches make you go faster actually does have some merit…) Overall these guys finished 2nd which put them at 14th place overall – a program best finish! The link up there is to Connor’s SoundCloud but you can listen to his audio overlaid on the race footage here.

1:58 “Five to open to the angles…” Good call to remind the rowers to get all their length at both ends of the stroke.

3:28, “Get ready to take our move…” That’s the kind of aggression you need when you’re in the thick of it and have to do something to separate yourself from the pack.

3:46, “We’re movin’, half a length up OSU, half a length up FIT…” After you call for a move this is exactly what you want to do – let them know if they’re walking and if so, by how much.

4:13, “Move away from FIT, fucking put ’em in their place…” I mean, if that doesn’t make you want to pull hard, what will?

4:18, I like how he goes down the boat here and calls out certain individuals then calls out the seniors. That’s a great way to get just a little more out of the rowers when you already know they’re giving you all they’ve got. It’s that sense-of-personal-responsibility thing…

5:54, that build though… Tone/volume = perfect.

UCSB 4 minute piece
I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume everyone in the boat is a novice, including the coxswain. I’ll be honest, I had to start and stop listening to this about five times (the video’s only four minutes long) because I was getting so annoyed with how long and drawn outΒ every single word was. You’re not petting cats or soothing toddlers, guys – you can talk like a normal person and still communicate whatever it is you’re trying to say.

There’s not much to say about the coxing other than that but if you’re a novice coxswain and you’re doing short pieces like this, here’s a rough example of how you should manage it:

  • First, make sure all the blades are buried before you start. It’s a habit that the rowers need to develop early on and it’s something that you should always be on the look out for when you start any kind of piece. Blades that are half-buried (or less) at the start are going to contribute to the boat being off-set from the very beginning, in addition to just not being very strong in general. The first stroke sets the tone for the rest of the piece so you might as well spend a few seconds making sure the blades are all the way covered. Call out individuals as well too if necessary. Sometimes that’s the only way for them to realize they’re part of the problem.
  • Give them something to focus on if your coach hasn’t already done so. Something like this would be good if you’re just doing basic pieces but if you’re doing race-pace pieces, trying to simulate an actual race situation is always a great idea.
  • If you find yourself converging with the other boat, give the rowers specific instructions (“ports more pressure, starboards back off for three on this one“) to get you back on track. Don’t write your name in the water, it makes you look like a n00b.
  • Instead of saying what sounds good or what you think you should be saying, pay attention to the stroke. Not stroke-the-person, stroke-the-actual-stroke. At least 85-ish% of your focus should be on what the blades are doing and what’s contributing to what they’re doing (That’s not just for pieces like this, that’s in general really…) For this particular crew I would have made calls for getting the timing down (throughout the whole stroke, not at one particular spot), keeping the blades buried throughout the stroke, getting and feeling the connection with the feet right off the front end, getting length at both ends of the slide, etc. Each one of those things has several “tangents” that go off of them so as long as you’re paying attention, there should be an endless number of things for you to say to the crew (that’s more effective than what was said in the video).

Temple WV4+ Dad Vail Semi-final
The audio’s a little choppy on this one (it’s mainly the background noise) but otherwise this is a really great recording from Temple’s V4+ coxswain. Below is what I wrote in my email reply:

“This recording is great – my favorite ones to listen to are the ones where I don’t have to pause it every five seconds to make a note of something. You do a really fantastic job of being right in the moment and communicating to your crew what they need to know about what’s happening inside the boat as well as outside the boat. Far too often a lot of coxswains will get too focused on just spitting out the race plan and end up not making calls for anything else. I really liked your buildup into your 20 when you a couple of the girls if they were ready to go – that’s a great way to keep the boat engaged in what you’re doing and keep them focused. I LOVE the 10 that your bowman calls – that is a really creative and SMART strategic move.

I have two quick suggestions for you. One, maybe not count as much at the start throughout the high strokes and the settle. It can get monotonous after awhile so don’t be afraid to change it up and replace the numbers with catch or finish-related calls. You called it really well though – tone, intonation, intensity were all perfect. Don’t change any of that. Two, make sure you don’t let the aggressiveness of your coxing fall off throughout the race. There was one ten you called (maybe around 500ish to go?) that sounded bored and not as into it as your other ones. The goal is to nail sounding/being calm without it coming off like you’re tired, bored, etc.”

Marin Rowing Alumni 8+Boats that are this set are so much fun to row in. Once you get up to speed it literally feels like you’re flying and it is so damn cool.

This is just a short little snippet of what I assume was a practice row or something but I wanted to share it for two reasons. The first is how he calls the crew back down a beat at 0:14. Instead of saying “bring it down” or some other annoying phrase like that, he says “let’s relax together one beat…”. I like this because it just sounds more effective than “bring it down” but also because when you’re only trying to come down one beat, you don’t really need to change that much with the slides or speed through the water – all you’ve gotta do is relax a little.

The second reason is for how he calls the crew up two beats to a 32 (0:33) and 34 (0:54), especially the 34 one. I like how he calls “legs down boom” and “pump it” (or whatever he says … initially I thought he said “bop it” which made me think of that toy from the 90s) as they bring the rate up and then “sustain it” once they’ve hit it.

Capital Crew Junior 8+ Crew Classic
Right off the bat, I really like how he calls the first few strokes of the start. It’s very rhythmic which is great because it helps the crew establish the boat’s rhythm almost immediately (vs. the start just being an all out clusterfuck and theΒ  crew not getting into any kind of sustainable rhythm until 20-30 strokes in).

0:20, you shouldn’t be saying anything about the other crews yet. Focus on your own boat and tell them where the other boats are once you’ve finished your entire starting sequence (start and settle). Telling them anything before that means nothing because it’s all moving so quick that who’s up and who’s down can literally change every other stroke. Give it at least 200m before you say anything.

1:18, “sitting in 6th place right now…” Not that sitting in sixth in the grand final is bad or anything but it’s always good to try and spin it positively so the rowers don’t get discouraged or whatever. If you’ve got contact on all the boats a call like “sitting in sixth, you’re in this…” is always a reliable go-to. Similarly, one like this also works well: “Sitting in sixth right now, [position on crews X, Y, and Z], we got plenty of water to work with, plenty of time to walk into these guys. Let’s relax and focus on getting our catches in one stroke at a time…”

1:27, “gimme 5 together … smile … and light ’em up…” At first I was thinking “where’s he going with this” but I actually really like that call. Keeps the atmosphere light (which it should be, regardless of the race) while also pushing them to dig in and go.

2:20, I assume he’s talking to his stroke here which is something I really love doing in situations like this. Whenever you want to start something, be it a 5/10/20, getting a little more snap at the release, etc. I always like to pick someone out and say “you lead this”, particularly if it’s something that I know that person has been working on during practice. When it comes to straight power stuff though, I like to go with my stroke or stern pair and have them lead the charge since they’re at the front of the boat and usually looked to as another leader/set of leaders in the boat.

3:05, “get hungry boys…” This is such a simple call and really easy to look over but I think it’s a really good motivating call, especially when you’ve got a goal you’re working towards (i.e. walking through the pack, walking away from the pack, building into the last 250m, etc.).

Overall this is a really good piece. I like how he uses his voice, mainly by smoothly changing his volume and/or tone to fit the situation, and how he uses the rowers and almost gets them to work off of each other by saying “you lead this”, “X, pass it up to Y”, etc. He also does a really good job of keeping the crew informed of their position on the course and against the other crews. I can’t say this enough guys,Β do not underestimate the importance of your crew knowing their location at any given point during the race. It’s like free motivation, so you might as well take it and use it.

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14 thoughts on “Coxswain Recordings, pt. 14

  1. VB says:

    Washington-Lee: Can I weigh in from an official’s point of view? I really liked the W-L cox’s comment that he should have protested at the start if the boats weren’t aligned. It’s our job to ensure safety and fairness in every race, and if the boats aren’t aligned, that’s just not fair, and it needs to be fixed.

    “Hands aren’t recognized” IS the new rule, but if a cox raises a hand because of a safety or fairness issue the starter can certainly stop the start sequence and address the problem. If that doesn’t happen, though, the 100% effective way to protest the start is to NOT ROW. (I’m a rower, too, and an occasional cox, and I know this is way easier said than done.) When a boat doesn’t go, the race is stopped, and someone comes to find out why you didn’t start. What follows is either a plain do-over, or a do-over with a warning to the crew that didn’t start if the ref doesn’t agree that the reason was a big enough deal to warrant the protest. (I personally agree with the cox that 3/4 of a length is worth the protest, though the particular ref on the water at the time may see it differently, based on the particular conditions of that race.) The warning only becomes a big deal if you get a second warning, which is not a big risk for most crews, and in any case, fairness is restored.

    I mostly ref high school regattas, and we routinely tell coxswains that the rule means the starter doesn’t HAVE to recognize their hands after polling has commenced, but if they have a problem at the line, at any time, they should throw that hand up while simultaneously taking action to fix it, with the last resort being to simply not row, if they feel something’s not right when the starter says “go”.

    • beantownkmd says:

      Ah, perfect! I know a couple officials follow the blog so I was hoping someone would see this and comment from their perspective.

      The problem I’ve seen this year with not rowing at the start as a form of protest is that the officials can/will decide right then that that’s not a legit reason and will tell you to row on. Essentially it’s like being in the breakage zone but you don’t actually have breakage (or what the officials deem to be breakage) so you’ve just gotta row and try to catch up. I had maybe three or four coxswains email me this past season after experiencing situations like that. I just chalked it up to poor officiating because refusing to re-start the race just sounded off to me…

      The conditions at Stotes was *terrible* this year so I can understand why the officials wouldn’t re-start the race in this case. There were a lot of issues with many events not starting properly aligned from what I read and heard so I think anything he might have protested would have just been tossed aside in the name of keeping the regatta running to avoid any run-ins with the weather. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair but I still stand by what I said in that it’s just as much the responsibility of the coxswain(s) as it is the officials to ensure you’re properly aligned at the start.

      This is all good stuff to know though so thanks for commenting!! πŸ™‚

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