Coxswain skills: Evaluating races

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts || How to cox short, high intensity workouts || Race steering || Steering a buoyed course || Evaluating practices

Following up on September’s post on evaluating practices, today’s post is gonna talk about evaluating your race performance. Given that the biggest race of the fall season for most of us is now over and the hangover (either from racing or Ned Devine’s) has worn off, today seems like a good day to reflect back on how we did.

Similarly to when you’re looking back on practice, there’s a lot of different variables you can look at to determine if your performance was up to par (and no, winning is not one of them – you can win and cox like shit just like you can lose and still cox a good race). There’s some carryover between the two but below are the ones I fall back on the most when talking with our coxswains, regardless of whether we’re talking about sprint or head races.

Did you execute the race plan effectively and if you had to deviate from it, did you do so in a way that was easily understood by the crew?

I’ve extolled the virtues of race plans enough times that you should know by now that there’s no excuse for not having one. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C … gotta have ’em all because you never know when you’re gonna need to make the switch because the race is developing differently than you’d originally planned. The better acquainted you and your crew are with the plan before launching for your race, the smoother the transition will be if you need to make that jump. Having to do this during a race is a good test of your composure, your ability to stay focused, and your awareness of how the race is developing around you and how you need to adapt to it.

Did you work towards and/or achieve your personal goals for that day?

Usually with our coxswains this involves something related to race management, steering, and/or communication with the crew. This is a big one for us because we’re always talking about what we did well during this race that we want to carry over to next week (and continue to improve on, implement more frequently, etc.), as well as what we didn’t do well that we need to work on throughout the week so that it’s done better during the next race. We discuss their goals before the race, immediately after, and then more in depth when we go over the video and having that conversation consistently throughout the week is one of the things that helps keep them on track.

Did you make technical corrections that contributed to an increase in boat speed?

This is a question that carries over from the previous post where I talked in more detail about how to determine if your technical calls are effective. Obviously during a race it’s too late to be coaching a rower or crew’s technique but you can/should still make simple, targeted calls that address issues if/when they pop up (i.e. “shape the finishes” if the blades aren’t coming out cleanly, particularly in rough water like we had all weekend). This is crucial during a race because if your technique is off just enough to slow you down 0.001 seconds per stroke, that’s 2 seconds over the course of 2000 meters, which at this level (collegiate men) can equate to nearly a boat length.

These post-race reflections are easily done without audio or GoPro but they’re so much more effective if you’ve got a recording on hand that you can go through, analyze, and get feedback on. GoPro is even better but the caveat, for you at least, is that your performance and execution skills will get scrutinized and critiqued a lot more because you can see your course, the bladework, etc. and how well you’re doing relative to each of those things.

The Wisco race from this past spring is good example of this. If we’d just had the audio I think we’d all agree that it was a solid performance by our coxswain but because we had the GoPro video too, there were a lot of things that stood out where if he’d executed XYZ better, attacked certain areas of the course with a little more fire, etc. that race could/would have been closer. And yea, I agree that it’s absolutely nitpicky as fuck but that’s also the nature of the game.

Related: MIT Men’s Rowing V8+ vs. Wisconsin (Spring 2016)

The great thing about going over that video with our coxswain (who was a freshman at the time) was that all the stuff I wanted to point out and say “we need to do this better”, he said first. I remember leaving that meeting and being so impressed because all I really had to do was help refine whatever plan he’d come up with to work on each of the areas where he felt he needed to improve. The one or two things that I pointed out that he hadn’t already mentioned, we discussed so that it made sense to him and then he  followed up with “OK, how would you do it?” or “What should I do/say next time?”. That’s a HUGE sign of maturity in a coxswain and ultimately plays a big part in how effective these post-race (or post-practice) self-evaluations are.

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