Question of the Day

Hi, I was wondering about coxing brand new novices. I’m in boats right now where most, if not all, people are still learning how to row and working on figuring out technique so I haven’t been making very many calls other than if the balance is terrible or if people aren’t rowing together because my coach is talking individually to people to work on body form and things I can’t see. I feel bad about not saying very much, but I don’t want to interrupt the coach or focus on things not important right now. Other than steering straight and paying attention to explanations for correcting form, what should I be doing to improve my coxing?

This is a great question and one I know plenty of novices (and occasionally experienced coxswains) have at the start of each new season. It was also one of those “hard lessons” that took me awhile to learn, understand, and fully appreciate when I first started coxing. Truthfully, as long as you take advantage of what you’re already doing (steering, etc.), even though it might not seem like much, you’ll go a long ways in improving your coxing in a very short period of time.

Gonna go off on a tangent here for a sec. I don’t know if it’s a “just me” thing or if it’s because coxing can be really boring sometimes but I’d always think that I was listening to what my coaches were saying and then I’d get off the water not being able to remember a single thing that we’d done for the last 90 minutes. When I was a freshman in high school, I learned one thing from my math teacher and it’s stuck with me ever since. She was kind of an asshole and always made me feel like an idiot for not understanding what was going on but I reluctantly went to her for help because I was having a lot of trouble grasping what we were doing. She said, in response to me saying in an exasperated voice “yes, I’m listening (when you explain things)”, “Are you listening to me or are you just hearing the words I’m saying?”.

This really made me think and start to approach things a little differently, not just with my math class(es) but with crew too. When I’d come off the water not remembering anything we’d done, I’d think “had I actually been listening to my coach or was I just hearing him”? This was when I started teaching myself to be objective when it came to evaluating my own coxing. It’s really easy (like, really easy) to make excuses for yourself when you fall short of your goals and/or expectations because they’re not always as tangible or out in the open the way a rower’s are but you’re really only going to improve when you can objectively look at the situation and say “this is where I can do better”.

Once I realized that I was taking advantage (in the wrong way) of that very small window where you’re new and not being held accountable for anything yet, I started to challenge myself to be better at holding myself accountable. This meant listening to my coach’s explanations, mulling them over in my head to make sure I understood what he was saying, and then applying what he was saying to what I was seeing. Obviously after only a few weeks on the water I didn’t know very much about technique yet so after practice while the rowers were putting stuff away I’d try to run one or two things (be it a drill we did, something my coach said, something a rower asked me, etc.) past either our varsity coxswains or our coaches if they weren’t busy. I’m a huge proponent of the whole “you don’t understand something if you can’t explain it to someone else” so to make sure I understand how X related to Y or why A caused B to happen I’d explain it to someone else and have them help me fill in the holes or provide more context/details. Outside of doing what I talked about in the post linked below, this was one of the ways that I took my “coxing education” in my own hands (which I think we can all agree is pretty imperative).

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?

Circling back around to your question, the biggest thing I can recommend is to make sure you’re actually listening to your coach when he’s talking to the rowers and not just hearing the words he’s saying. Try to relate what you’re seeing to what he’s saying and the effect that implementing a change has on an individual’s bladework, how the boat moves/feels, etc. After practice pick the thing that you least understood from practice and have someone explain it to you. Also pick the thing you felt you understood the best and run it by a varsity coxswain or a coach to make sure you actually understand it. (If you only have time to ask one of those questions, go with the thing you understood the least.)

As you get more comfortable with the basics of technique, start trying to make the connections between the blades and the bodies; if X is happening with the blades what does that say about what the bodies are doing? Don’t let your inability to see the bodies act as an excuse to not think about or understand how they work in the context of rowing. If the coach tells 5-seat to do A with his body, what kind of effect will that have on his bladework? Or, alternatively, if the coach is saying 5-seat is doing A with his body which is causing B to happen, how does that actually work? What about A is causing B … and why/how? For example, sinking into your hips at the finish. First of all, what does that mean? Can you visualize what it looks like (rounded low back instead of a long and supported core)? Poor posture is causing the rower to pull down into his lap … why? Pulling down into his lap is causing him to wash out with his blade at the finish … why? The effect that washing out is having on the boat’s speed and balance is … what? Once you understand all of that (which will take some time – there’s nothing wrong with spending a couple practices thinking about all that) start thinking about what the corrections should be (with regards to posture, body position at the finish, where the hands should be, etc.) and how they will in turn effect the bladework, balance, and speed.

Another thing to do that will really help your coxing, albeit in a slightly different way, is to give yourself at least one practice a week to just do … nothing. If you’re spending four or five practices doing everything I suggested up above then by the end of the week you’re probably going to feel a little overwhelmed. Give yourself a day to not pay attention to anything other than your steering. For me that day was always Wednesday (for four straight years with very few exceptions) but you can pick whichever day you want. Think about how your coach schedules practices, what you tend to do each day during the week, and then pick one of those days to be your “just go out and steer” day.

Consistency was key for me because once you start really getting in the grind of things, combined with whatever you’ve got going on with school, work, and life, you really need a day to just unwind and relax and having it always be whichever day you choose gives you something to look forward to. Wednesday was my day because it was the middle of the week and if you’re already having a shitty week then Wednesday is kind of that make-or-break point. Ending the day with two hours of “no talking, just steering” was how I cleared my head of everything that had happened during the week up to that point and got myself in a positive (or at the very least, not negative) mindset to tackle Thursday and Friday. It sounds silly and you might not appreciate it right off the bat but trust me, there’s always at least one or two days during the season where you show up to practice and you’re like “thank god it’s Wednesday and I can just steer and not think for two hours”.


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