Music to erg to, pt. 146

Keep an eye on your inboxes next Wednesday because I’ll be sending out a link to a quick survey that I would be super grateful if you took two minutes to complete. Lots more info to come but it relates to an idea I’ve been sitting on for the better part of a year. I think you’ll dig it but I’m interested in your feedback to see if it’s worth fully pursuing.

This weekend is the last regular season of racing before Sprints, which is crazy because … didn’t the season just start?? Time flies, man. Time flies.

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Question of the Day

Hi there – I’ve just come out of my first racing season and after talking to my crew and coaches, my weakness still lies within steering; more specifically oversteering.

My racing season consisted of Sykes bow-loaded fours (so steering is done with the rod). The steering system is an AEROWFIN. From the other fours I’ve coxed with the traditional square fin, this one is obviously more touchy and responsive (which has its pros and cons). The problem is that at the tip of the fin, (the point on the rudder that is furthest away from the hull) there is a small crease/slight bend in the rudder. I’m not sure whether this may contribute to some of the steering issues I’ve had.

In the eight that I’ve raced once, we have stuck an oversized fin for the Head of the Yarra we do every year and left it on for the whole season. The rudder does not, however line up dead straight with the fin, it is 1-2mm wide of it. At the beginning of the season, I tried lining up the rudder to be dead straight but moving the rod (while on slings) and looking from the stern down towards the bow at the rudder in order to gauge its “straightness”. I’d then mark the point in my seat to which the position of the rod/string corresponds to a straight rudder. However, I struggle to think of a time when leaving the rudder at that point does not stop the bow ball drifting to either side.

The possible factors I see which might be the cause of my oversteering.
– Power Imbalance
– Current/Wind (Although I’ve steered in near flat conditions and it still occurs)
– Rudder Defect(s)

Often when we train, I’m autopiloting the steering aspect because the river is very simple with gradual turns. But come race day on a buoyed course, it becomes pretty awful. Talking to my stroke, he said that it wasn’t like I was changing the direction of the rudder every three strokes, but it was more of a gradual snaking which was costing us metres. The four I cox have spent a lot of time in the 4- and tbh can steer straighter than I can (although this is an example of a different occasion, with different conditions and a different body of water).

The fact is that I’d like to rectify my steering issues, the next few months will be primarily Winter Training or Head Racing. How do I do it? Do I start from scratch and focus all my attention on steering? What is a good way to know that you’re steering straight (because it seems like I’m steering straight on home territory however as soon as we hit the buoyed course it becomes awful)? Some coxes have the liberty of training on rivers/lakes with buoys all year around whereas the river we row on doesn’t have this, how can I practise? Thank You Very Much!

I love the Aerowfin. We switched it on to one of our Empachers in the fall and it made taking the tight turns on the Charles so much simpler.

Related: Taking the Weeks turn with the Carl Douglas “Aerowfin”

I was texting with one of the MIT coxswains last week about similar steering issues and my first question was whether or not she’d checked the equipment. Not to shirk responsibility or anything like that but because even though 99% of the time the problem is us, that 1% where it’s the equipment can be really validating if you feel like you’d been doing everything you were supposed to in order to steer a good line. (Her problem ended up being an issue with the cables.) It sounds like you’ve already done the leg work in that area so I’d bring that info to your coach and/or boatman and have them look at to confirm if that’s the problem. Very rarely, borderline on never, do I suggest looking at the equipment first instead of yourself as being the problem but the fin having a bend in it and the rudder being a few millimeters out of alignment makes me think that it’s the problem, not you.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

I don’t think you need to start from scratch but maybe talk to your coach about taking out a different four to see if you have similar issues in that boat as you do in this one. If you do then the problem is clearly you and you’re gonna have to spend some time at the drawing board evaluating how you’re steering now and what adjustments you need to make. If you don’t have any of the same issues then that most likely will confirm that the other boat is the problem.

Not having a buoyed course or unobstructed straight water to practice on is the most played out excuse for why coxswains can’t steer straight. It is highly unlikely that whatever body of water you’re on doesn’t have at least 100m of water with no curves that you can practice “steering straight” on. Those are opportunities that you’ve gotta open your eyes to and be aware of so that as you’re coming up to them you can say to yourself “OK, this is the only time today I’m gonna have to practice my race steering…” and then do whatever you need to do to work on that. Tell the rowers too that you’re coming up on the part of the river where you want to practice your race steering and then afterwards, ask your stroke seat how your point looked – did it seem from their vantage point like you were snaking around or did it look relatively straight?

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

Autopilot is fine when you’re warming up, executing drills, etc. but every so often you’ve gotta snap out of that habit (especially during steady state or pieces) and pay attention to every single aspect of your steering, from your hand placement to if you’re reacting to the boat’s movement and knocking the rudder, etc. All those things add up and are super easy to ignore if you’re not making a conscious effort to pay attention to them.

Related: Coxswains skills: Race steering

You’ve gotta use every practice as an opportunity to work on your steering. If you only decide to work on your steering when you notice there’s a problem (or worse, a rower or coach points it out) then it’s basically too late because now you’re hyperaware of it and that tends to exacerbate the problem. Steering is not that hard. It just isn’t. We overthink it and make it hard, which is what tends to be our downfall 99% of the time.

Question of the Day

Hi! So I’m a collegiate coxswain with about 8 years of experience and I’ve been struggling with fours for a while now. I’m pretty good in eights and have great boat feel, but as soon as I hop in a four everything goes south. I struggle to diagnose problems, stumble over my words, become repetitive, steer poorly, etc. etc. It also doesn’t help that I’m in eights most of the time, so it’s near impossible to fix problems for next practice as the next fours practice might be 8-10 practices away. Do you have any advice?

This is how I feel whenever I get into a four too. The ratio of time I’ve spent in eights vs. fours is pretty lopsided and even now (especially now) whenever I hop in a four, whether it’s filling in for one of the coxswains or actually racing, it feels like it takes forever for me to get in a groove with feeling what’s going on, making calls, etc.

When I was just learning to cox in fours my coach’s advice, which I still rely on today, was to not look at it like you’re starting from scratch anytime you go from an eight to a four, especially since we were also in them infrequently. In my experience that’s what tends to trip coxswains up and cause them to get overwhelmed – that was definitely the case for me. I’d get in the boat and immediately overwhelm myself by thinking about not being able to see anyone instead of just slowing down and using everything I knew about the rowers from being in the eight to guide whatever I was saying or interpreting via boat feel.

That’s why whenever I’m in fours I talk a lot less than I do when I’m in eights. Rowers (at every level I’ve coxed) have pointed it out too and my response is always that it’s not because I’m zoning out or not paying attention, rather it’s the exact opposite – it’s a different environment so I’m trying to focus, feel, process, etc. more and I can’t do that if I’m talking all the time. If I’m talking the same amount in a four that I am in an eight, that’s a pretty clear sign that I’m just completely bullshitting my way through practice.

When it comes to diagnosing problems, I heavily rely on whatever’s been going on in the eight to act as my “baseline” for the four. Before going out or while we’re warming up I’ll usually say something like “We’ve been working on ABC in the eight so now that there’s just four of you, let’s really hone in on XYZ today – the less time we spend worrying about setting the boat the more time we can spend on just moving it.” and then quickly run through one or two individual things that I want them to focus on. By this point in the season  you know what’s going well, what’s not, etc. which makes it a lot easier to narrow the scope of practice vs. “starting from scratch” where it seems like every technical issue known to man could be the problem. Plus, the smaller the boat you’re in the more noticeable technical issues are going to be. If you know what to look/feel for based on the stuff you’ve already been working on, that makes things a lot easier for you.

If I knew we were gonna go out in fours I’d talk to my coaches about the lineups, anything in particular I should focus on (i.e. 3-seat in the eight isn’t used to being in stern pair so now that he’s 3-seat in the four, making calls about syncing up with the stroke would be beneficial in the first half of practice), stuff they’ve seen from the launch, etc. – pretty much the same stuff I’d talk about with them normally anyways. Taking the feedback I got from those conversations and meshing it up with my own observations from the eight made getting into the fours a lot less stressful because, like I said earlier, it helped narrow my focus.

Stumbling over your words and getting repetitive is usually a sign that you need to take a step back and (re)focus. You also just need to be honest with the boat. If I know something feels off but can’t figure out what the problem is then I’ll just say that and ask them what they’re feeling. I know a lot of coxswains are kinda timid about doing this because they think it’ll make them look bad but it really doesn’t. Making useless calls and being ineffective in general makes you look bad … admitting you’re off your game today and can’t figure out if what’s throwing the boat off is X or Y demonstrates a level of self-awareness that far too many coxswains lack.

Steering poorly, you can’t really justify or make any excuses for that. You’ve got an unobstructed view and technically that should be your primary focus anyways. If you’re steering is bad/unsafe then that’s a pretty clear sign that you need to slow down, stop talking, and get that sorted out before trying to do anything else. It also baffles me when coxswains come off the water complaining about how practice didn’t go well because the boat was unset all morning and nothing they said fixed it … did you ever consider maybe not touching the rudder every three seconds? That’d probably help.

Anyways, my advice is to talk less (way less), incorporate in your observations, the rowers’ known tendencies, etc. from the eight rather than starting from zero every time, and when in doubt, crowdsource ideas from the boat if you’re stuck on something. Last piece of advice is to talk with the other coxswains regularly enough that you at least have a basic idea of the strengths/weaknesses of the rowers in their boats, that way if you end up coxing them in a four instead of the people who are usually in your boat, you won’t be in the dark about what they’ve been doing or where they’re at technically. This will benefit you regardless of the boat you’re in and it helps make you a more versatile coxswain.

Flashback Friday: April 9th – 22nd

ONE YEAR AGO
VOTW: Technology + Rowing

Coxswain skills: Working with a bad coach

QOTD: Hi!! So what should you do if you think a teammate doesn’t like you? All I’ve been getting is bad vibes, and whenever I try to be nice and talkative she just like doesn’t even listen. I really don’t wanna start something, but all I have been is nice to her! I can deal if she doesn’t like me, but man I don’t want that to affect the boat you know? And it hasn’t except for sorta today maybe? Not exactly sure but just wanted tips on how to deal/work your way around if someone may not like you for no reason at all. I might be viewed as competition but I have NEVER said anything hateful, rude, or bad to her at all. I keep my mouth shut at the right times and I am a very laughable, comfortable, relaxed person to talk too. In the conversations we have had (only a few), she’s barely said anything and I just end up not getting an answer. And she gives off really, really dirty looks to me. She seems like thats her face, but she likes some other girls on the team real well so I’m not sure … I don’t wanna push it because I got bigger, better problems to attend too but just kinda putting this out there.

Race skills: Race warmups

Pro tip: Maintaining the set when you’re on the rudder

TWO YEARS AGO
Seat racing coxswains

Reverse pick drill progression + what “bob drills” look like

VOTW: Inside the minds of champion athletes

How to: Scull your bow around

Words.

THREE YEARS AGO
Words.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 11

QOTD: Hey! Lately, I haven’t been getting boated much during practices and have only been boated for one race. Some of our assistant coaches have claimed that I’m better than the other coxswain and that it’s become more of a matter of favorites. Any tips on how I can show the head coaches that I want to be boated for races, especially with one more race plus Pac-12s coming up? I don’t know what else to do other than prove myself each time I’m on the water (which isn’t often) and going over recordings with our coach once I’m back on the water.

FOUR YEARS AGO
QOTD: How does a cox/rower know when/if it’s time to quit crew? Especially as a collegiate walk on. I want to make it the four years, but…

QOTD: I’m a collegiate rower. I have excellent technique except for one thing – I don’t catch quickly enough. I am in time with the rest of the boat, but it’s the issue of going straight to the water and burying my blade completely before driving with my legs. Most of our boat has this issue. I’ve tried asking coaches how to remedy my issue, but they haven’t given me anything very effective yet. Do you have any advice? Please and thank you! I appreciate it.

What to wear: Coxing in the rain

QOTD: I honestly have no idea how to know how many strokes until we finish a race, piece, etc. Like, do I just guess?

QOTD: I keep overly saying “sorry” in the boat, even when I don’t need to. Any tips on how to stop?

Question of the Day

Hi! Do you have any suggestions for what my boat can do about our struggles coming out of a start? We’ll usually do a start 6 and a high 20/25, but when we need to lengthen out to get to  race pace (because we can’t hold a 42 SR for the whole 2000m) we seem to lose a lot of energy and ground on other boats. What can we do to come out of a start more smoothly? My boat is fairly strong and it’s not that we’re dropping from a 1:35 to a 1:50 because we can’t hold a lower split, but we just don’t know how to lengthen out/get a ratio shift that’s more smooth and even. Calling a lengthen 10 doesn’t help. Thanks!

Unless the ratio is actually that out of whack off the start, a ratio shift is the wrong approach.

Related: How do you call a ratio shift to control and stop the rush without lowering the SR? Is it even possible?

Have you tried doing a sub-settle and then settling again to your base pace? This has always worked well for my boats (both coxing and coaching) when we’ve had similar issues. If we’re starting high (in the 40s) and trying to get to a 34-35, more often times than not it’d feel like we were putting the brakes on in order to hit the 34, causing us to lose ground and momentum, rather than just gradually lengthening out to it while still maintaining the power we had in the high strokes. Once we tried doing a sub-shift to a 38ish and then 5-7 strokes later shifting again to base, that seemed to alleviate a lot of the issues.

Related: The Language of the First 500

Even before we started incorporating the sub-shifts, we’d spend a lot of time on the transition during practice, not just on the strokes themselves but on the calls too. For me the focus was always on the last three strokes of the high strokes and the first stroke out of the shift, just making sure my calls were clear and on point so that first stroke was smooth but still deliberate and powerful. If I was sloppy here I could feel the drop in energy over the next few strokes. Another point of emphasis was on staying loose – if you’re tense then you’re not going to be able to flow in sync with the boat, which was one of the things that contributed to that “hitting the brakes” feeling for my crews.

Related: Getting off the line with world class speed

Talk with your coach and try to make this a point of practice each week. One of my coaches always had us do starts at the end of practice when we were tired and more likely to row with not-the-greatest technique, which actually helped a lot because it made us focus more on staying loose and taking clean strokes. I think making that snap transition between fatigued from AT pieces to clear-headed and calm before doing a start also helped us manage our adrenaline better during races, which played into that shift down to base pace being smoother and less frantic.