Pro tip: Advice from a former novice

Back in late June I got an email from a coxswain who had just finished her novice season and wanted to share some of what she’d learned and what she wish she’d learned throughout the spring. Here’s what she had to say (the italicized text is mine).

“Now that I’m no longer a novice, I can reflect on my time on the novice team and also add in all the new things I’m learning at a competitive camp. My hope is that I can help the novices that look at your blog with all my mishaps and experiences, so here are two lists:

Things I wish my coach told me while I was a novice:

When you’re rowing it up after your sprint race, if you see boats coming down the course about to pass you, weigh enough.

For those that don’t know, this is a sportsmanship thing and also so that the wake from you rowing doesn’t impact the crew in the lane closest to you. You’re not always required to stop (the officials will tell you if it’s something you must do but if they don’t, ask to confirm) but it’s just one of those things you should do regardless. It also gives the rowers a chance to grab a quick drink or make any needed adjustments, not to mention cheer on their teammates if a race your team is in is on the course.

When you have a bad day/bad row don’t let it stay in the boat with you. Let it go and be patient.

Don’t expect rowers to do what you say just because you’re their coxswain. You have to be their leader.

When steering, less is more.

Related: How to steer an eight or four, Oversteering, and “Small adjustments

If you need to clear your skeg of weeds in an eight, you need to turn all the way around, lean over the stern deck on your stomach, and get both hands down on the skeg.

Unless it’s 80 degrees out this is rarely an enjoyable activity but if you’ve got a lot of weeds/leaves wrapped around the rudder or a stick caught between the fin and the rudder (had that happen at HOCR two years ago) then reaching into the water and loosening it up manually is your best/fastest option. Just make sure that you’re pulled over to the side out of the way of other crews that are practicing or racing. 

Things I’m so glad my coach told me when I was a novice:

Your warmup is this, your race plan is this, and when I raced in college, it helped when my coxswain said this.

With regards to the first two, if these aren’t things your coaches tell you, ask them yourself. They might forget, they might think you already know, or they might think that one of the other coaches already filled you in. If you don’t know ASK. These are not dumb questions, these are critical parts of your race day preparation.

Don’t panic, and have fun.

This is how you stake boat. (She showed us a video and then the next day we practiced it on our dock.)

Related: Spring season pre-race prep (includes videos on how to get into a stake boat)

When coxing an eight, instead of staring at one oar at a time, stare at a point in the air in front of your stroke, and your peripherals will bring everything to you. (Tricky to do, but when practiced, super helpful.)

Being a few pounds over the limit is okay. It’s called the minimum for a reason.

So, as a message to all frustrated novice coxswains (and rowers!), here are my words of advice: Hang in there. You never stop learning but it does get better.”

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