Coxswain Recordings, pt. 16

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 || Part 14 || Part 15

Two of this week’s recordings are from Marist’s senior coxswain, Chris Leonard. One of his teammates had posted their spring training trip video on Reddit back in March that included some great POV footage from the GoPro that Chris was wearing so I sent him a message and asked him if he could possibly send me the unedited footage to post on here. It’s pretty good so I definitely recommend watching both videos all the way through.

Marist Spring Training, pt. 1
There are a lot of really positive things to point out in this video, the first of which is his overall voice and tone. For those that have asked for good examples of that “coxswain voice”, this would be a great one. Remember though, that “voice” doesn’t really have anything to do with your actual voice, your volume, or anything like that – it’s more about what you say and how you say it (assertively, confidently, etc.). One of the things I like in particular is that, similar to Connor, there’s a clear difference between his “calm” voice and his “get the fuck after it” voice. I think that’s an important thing to establish early on and definitely something that should be cemented by at least your third year or so of coxing.

0:25, I like this “hang and send” call right at the catch. It’s a nice alternative to “kick, send” or “jump, send” if you’re like me and like to use those ones a lot.

0:37, so I asked what happened there and this is what he told me: “The comment was directed at a fishing boat that was out of the picture. We had been getting waked out all week by fishing boats and this guy thought it was funny to try to wake us as we went past.” People like that are the worst and for some reason they do think it’s really funny to wake out the people in the funny boats but it’s always best, especially for junior crews, to just not engage them.

0:57, “Right on 28, take it with relaxation and composure…” This is one of the things I’ve been working on over the last week with my eight and that we’ve been working on at MIT so I’m definitely going to steal this call and use the next time I’m out. If you try to muscle the blade through the water and yank on it every stroke you’re not going to accomplish anything outside of slowing down the boat’s speed so it’s important for the coxswains to make little reminder calls like this, particularly during rate changes, to reinforce staying loose and getting the power through the drive with the legs.

1:12, this is something I tend to do when I’m doing pieces like this. Even though they might not technically be competitive pieces … let’s be honest, they kind of are. I like to take advantage of being able to see the other boat and make calls like this to my crews, either to give them a bit of a boost or to keep the momentum going that we’ve already built up.

1:16, don’t be afraid to say this. I’ve encountered way too many coxswains lately that don’t or won’t speak up in situations like this and it’s driving me crazy. If they want you to steer straight then they have to row in a manner that allows you to stay off the rudder as much as possible and that’s something you need to communicate to them if you find that you’re constantly having to make steering adjustments to compensate for some less-than-stellar rowing.

2:09, “…big back ends…” This is a good call for the finish to reinforce the draw through with the arms and having a smooth transition between the legs and upper body as you complete the stroke. It’d also be a good alternative to the “squeeze” call.

3:01 – 3:05, this is just good, smart strategy.

3:31, “don’t hack…” A couple of you have asked what “hacking” means and in the simplest terms it’s basically the same as not going directly to the water and instead rowing it in, except in a slightly more aggressive manner than normal since you’re probably rowing at some kind of high rate and/or pressure. You’ll definitely know it when you see it if you get a chance to see a side-view of a crew. It can be tough to see from where we’re sitting but if you know someone is doing it or hear your coach say something, make some calls about staying light on the seats, being direct to the water, anticipating the catch, etc.

5:15, I love this. In our email I asked Chris what the rationale was for taking three strokes instead of say, five per pair and this is what he said: “The 3 strokes down the boat was something that the guys in my boat and I talked about my freshman year. Not really sure what started it or how it came up in the boat meeting but it has been something that has stuck around with me since then. The guys really like it and it’s just a quick way to get everyone focused and helps us hit that next gear. One thing that we had talked about off the water is that when that one specific pair is “on” for those 3 strokes, the other 6 guys have to back them up because they know it’s their turn soon and they know their teammates will do the same for them. That’s sort of the reason why it’s 3 instead of 5, keeps it quick and simple and doesn’t gas anyone too much. We do it in races sometimes if I think it’s necessary or want to switch things up (mostly when we are even with a crew and the guys start to focus on the other crew and not what is going on in our boat).”

6:22, this is a great alternative to a “focus 5” because it accomplishes the same thing in fewer strokes, which means there’s (hopefully) less of a chance for the rowers to zone out while you’re calling it.

Marist Spring Training, pt. 2
0:54, when he says “hold it up” I asked if he made that call for the set, stroke rate, pressure, or something else and he said: “The “hold it up” call was, again, something we had been working on all week. Our 4 seat had just switched to port after rowing starboard his whole rowing career. He was having a lot of trouble holding his finish through and the boat would crash to port around the back end. It was just a little personal reminder to him to stay connected throughout and not lose hold of the back end.”

1:57, I like this call just as a reminder to everyone that the rate’s only going to come up if the entire crew goes after it and, as he said, backs each other up. I’ve made similar calls in the past as a nod to my stroke to let them know that I got their back and that getting the rate up is a collective thing, not just one person’s responsibility.

Last thing, did anyone else notice the tape under the stroke seat’s inside hand? I asked about that too and Chris said: “The tape is actually raised in the middle and he puts his pinky just on the outside of the bump. His grip tends to slide wide throughout the piece so he marks it to make sure his grip stays where he wants it. It is also a bit superstitious, as most of us are. He actually rows with all of the oars and whichever one he has the best piece with is then “his” oar for the spring season.” I thought that was a pretty good idea and a neat hack to try if you’re having similar issues with your grip.

7k row to the basin
A high school coxswain emailed me this recording a couple weeks ago so below is the email I sent her with some feedback. In her initial email she also included her own comments on what she thought of her coxing (PS I love when you guys do that because it helps me narrow in on what you think you need to work on), which included things like “my coxing started very calm but in the middle it was similar to how I would have coxed a sprint race”, “I never mentioned the time and pointed out only some of the landmarks I should have”, “I have lots and lots of calls about the legs”, “”we got more muscle”…than who? 15:30ish”, “Some of the focus 10s were not for anything in particular and were just moves”, “10 in 2 would be more effective than 10 here in some (most) cases”, etc.

“I agree that your intensity level did rise throughout the piece but I think that’s fairly natural. I do the same thing when I’m coxing long pieces like this, as do other coxswains that I know. I think as long as you’re not super obnoxious about the changes in your tone or volume it’s not a big deal. I thought this was fine though.

I like the “reel ’em in” call too. It’s a good way to say “get after these guys” without actually saying that. Regarding the “10 in 2 vs. 10 here”, I agree that it’s more effective, especially in long pieces like this where it’s easier for them to zone out, to give them a bit of a warning and either say “on this one”, “in two”, or whatever so that at the very least they’ve got one stroke or so to get ready to execute whatever you’re calling for.

If you notice the intensity starting to fall off, at the very least make sure they’re still rowing well. Focus purely on their technique for 20-30 strokes if you have to but make sure that even if the pressure is falling a bit that they’re still rowing at a high level. Sometimes I notice that when I back off the typical power calls and just focus on technique, the power gradually starts to come up a bit on its own … not necessarily to where it was before but enough that I notice it and can then say “Yea, there we go! You see how we’re starting to push those puddles away again? That’s just from adjusting our posture and making sure our body prep is set early. Let’s take five now to really emphasize the swing and get the shoulders set. Ready … go!

I like doing 5s for each pair or 5s for each four during longer pieces like this. It’s something different and gives you a chance to focus on the individuals a little more than you otherwise would. Plus it gives them a little bit of personal responsibility for those five strokes. You executed this very though so good job. I liked your tone, the calls you made, etc. I’d do it exactly like that during a race if you decide to incorporate that as a move of some kind.

I also noticed that you made a lot of leg calls but I think as long as you’re diversifying them and not making the same leg call over and over then it’s OK. One thing I would practice the next time you’re out though is making calls for other parts of the stroke. To kinda force yourself into doing this, I would try something like this: for one entire practice, anytime you want to make a call for the legs, pause for a second and come up with a call for something else. The calls could be for puddles, sharp catches, smooth finishes, posture, body prep, long recoveries, bending the oars, blade height, getting max reach, etc. The goal is to not make ANY calls for the legs and instead make calls for everything else. The legs are a really easy thing to make calls for and are what a lot of coxswains default to (myself included) so every so often you’ve gotta take yourself out of that comfort zone and force yourself to do something different so that on race day you’ve got a wealth of calls built up that you can pull from. You actually already do a great job of calling for a variety of things so just consider this as a new challenge to continue building your skills in that area…

When you call for focus 10s, I would instead call for focus 5s. 10 strokes is too long to “focus”, especially during hard pieces like this, and 5 usually ends up being more effective anyways.

You do a great job of consistently giving the rowers information (and you already know what you need to give them more of – i.e. time, landmarks, etc.) and your overall tone is fantastic. Like I said earlier, don’t worry too much if there’s a gradual shift in intensity as the piece progresses. Something else that I really appreciate as a fellow coxswain is your self-awareness. I like that you listed out your own comments on your audio because that shows that you’re actually invested in what you’re doing and are keeping yourself accountable. Another thing I liked was how you clearly and concisely yelled at the other coxswains to tell them where you were as you got close to them. That’ll come in verrrrrrry handy if you’re racing at HOCR.”

Brookline Scrimmage BV1 4+
This was another recording that was sent to me recently so below is that email. If you’re coxing bow loaders, take note of the first paragraph. Like I said, it’s a one-in-a-million chance but keep in mind that for the work you’re doing, your body isn’t necessarily in the most efficient position and forcing it to do even more unnatural stuff (such as making your voice way deeper than it needs to be) can lead to less-than-pleasant outcomes for you.

“I like the way you called your start and the intensity that you had. The only thing I’d recommend here is to be a little more natural with it and try not to force your voice to be super deep, particularly if you’re in a bow loader. I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago who said that while he was coxing his masters crew earlier in the summer he actually cracked his rib from tensing up his torso too much and trying to force out a voice that wasn’t natural for him. It was so bizarre but I can see how it’s possible – you’re laying down and essentially doing a crunch every time you force the air out to make your voice deep like that, which puts a lot of strain on the muscles around your rib cage. Something like that happening is probably one in a million but it’s definitely something to be aware of. Doing that also wastes a ton of oxygen and energy which just ends up causing you to become tired and out of breath early on in the race.

At 2:05 when you say “bow pair, what are you doing for our boat right now…”, I would caution against calls like that because it comes off like you’re saying you don’t think they’re doing anything or that they’re not pulling as hard as the stern pair. Even if that’s true, you don’t want to make it seem like you’ve lost confidence in literally half your crew. Instead, I would eliminate that part entirely and just say something like “bow pair, I wanna feel you channel your power into the next five finishes, really squeeze it through and send the boat…on this one“. That way you’re getting them to think about harnessing their power, you’re giving them a specific part of the stroke to target, and you’re putting a bit of responsibility on them for the next few strokes to really make the boat move. Ideally you’d follow that up with some positive calls during the five (“yea bow pair…”, “that’s it…”, etc.) to maintain the momentum and motivation too.

You’re doing a great job of telling the crew where they are on the other crews. This is where a lot of coxswains fall short and you’re nailing it. Great job.

At 2:39 when you tell Kyle to get his seat ahead of another crew “before this bridge”, in the future I’d just throw in how many strokes there are until you reach the bridge since that’s obviously something you can see but they can’t. I’d say something like “Alright Kyle, we’re 15 strokes out of the bridge, I want you sitting on their bow ball by the time we exit it – you’re leading this 10, ready, GO…”. Again, it gives that person a bit of personal responsibility while letting them know exactly what you want and how many strokes they have to do it in.

If you find that the splits are starting to creep up towards the end, instead of saying “get them back down” or something similar, relax your voice and just talk to the crew. Take all the tension out of the air and get them to relax. They’re tired, they’re in pain, they can’t breathe, and they just want this to be over but you’ve still got 400m left … what are you gonna do? Take 5 to breathe, 5 to relax the shoulders, 5 to refocus, and 5 to recommit and reestablish the ratio. Focus your calls specifically on only those things when you’re calling for them. When you’re calling that last five, remind them to lengthen the recovery, power through on the drive, swing together, and feel the rhythm. From here you should be able to go right into the build for your sprint.

Last thing, when you’re calling for them to get the rate up, remind them to get it with power on the drive, that way everyone is going after that higher rate the same way at the same time.”

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