Flashback Friday: June 18th – July 1st

ONE YEAR AGO
Coxswain recordings, pt. 25 Three UW recordings from the San Diego Crew Classic

Qualities of a varsity coxswain

How to cox (and coach) novices Especially worth reading if you’re coaching learn-to-row camps this summer.

VOTW: The history of the Harvard-Yale race

Question of the Day: Hey! I have a couple questions.

1. I’m not very good at taking criticism. Mentally I don’t mind it and I try to use it and everything, but for some reason emotionally I seem to take it as an attack and always feel close to crying. I’m not sure why this is and I was wondering if you have any tips.

2. We just got a new coach and he’s doing a summer rowing program, which is great, but he’s trying to completely change my style of coxing. I understand that repetitiveness is something I need to work on, but he’s telling me that while I was coxing the rowers on the ergs that I was “singing” to them. He expects me to be much louder (which I can be when I choose to be- I prefer to save it and use it as a “wake up” call kinda thing to change the pace of the race) and also be more direct and short (which I understand that part of and agree with). How should I deal with this? Should I try to explain my ways (I did a bit) or just go with what he says? And how do you work on being less repetitive ?

TWO YEARS AGO
VOTW: Adjusting the tracks

Coxswain recordings, pt. 22 Henley, Dad Vails, and Kent vs. St. Andrews

QOTD: I’m the senior girl’s cox for my school club and my crew is really struggling with having a slow recovery then accelerating to the finish and putting in pressure. When I call to go slow up the slide they might slow down 1 or 2 points or not even at all. And the pressure dies when the rating slows. Then the rating goes up when I call pressure. Do you have any ideas about how I can help them get into a slow steady rhythm but still put in pressure?

Words.

THREE YEARS AGO
Words.

“Weigh enough” vs. “Let it run” Again, not the same thing.

QOTD: Can you explain the term “rowing it in”?

Coxswain recordings, pt. 13 

QOTD: I am going to be a senior and I have been looking at this one school that I could potentially row for. I have spoken with the coaches via email and I really love the school. The head coach seems to be interested in me but the thing is, I am not the tallest or strongest rower on my team and I am worried that I won’t be able to live up to the expectations of the college coach or college rowing in general.

FOUR YEARS AGO
QOTD: What is Radcliffe? Is that another rowing team? I’ve heard they also row under Harvard’s team?

QOTD: I used to cox women for all four years I was in high school. I’m in college now and on a men’s team. In an eight or a stern loader four I have a hard time seeing things in front of me since my rowers are so much taller than women I’m used to coxing. This had led to close calls with logs floating in the water and other obstructions. HELP!

QOTD: Hi today was my first day coxing and my coach told me I had to talk the whole time. I tried but I felt really silly and I had nothing to say. I would really appreciate just some things to say! Thanks!

Training: Carbohydrate loading and rowing

VOTW: The Social Network

Coxswain recordings, pt. 31

Previously: Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 10b || Part 11 || Part 12 || Part 13 || Part 14 || Part 15 || Part 16 || Part 17 || Part 18 || Part 19 || Part 20 || Part 21 || Part 22 || Part 23 || Part 24 || Part 25 || Part 26 || Part 27 || Part 28 || Part 29 || Part 30

George Washington University 2015 V8+ IRA C/D Semi-final

I’ve posted quite a few of GW’s recordings over the years, not just because they’re good but because I think they are easily some of the best examples out there of how to cleanly and assertively execute a race plan. Of all the audio I’ve posted, when you listen to Connor’s specifically, that should be one of the main takeaways as far as “what is this coxswain doing well that I can/should try to emulate”.

Other calls I liked:

“Keep tappin’ it along…” This is such a universal call because it works for literally any situation – racing, steady state, drills, etc. The biggest thing it conveys is to maintain consistency. In the past I’ve used it as reassurance if it feels like the crew’s starting to second guess how well the boat’s moving – you know, like when it’s felt too good for too long and you’re like “is this a fluke or…?”. Most of the time this’ll happen after we’ve had a few questionable rows or pieces and we’ve finally started hitting our stride again and reestablishing our confidence. Similarly, nearly every coach I’ve ever had or worked with has said this during drills, especially when doing the pick drill or reverse pick drill when you’re working with a shorter slide and the propensity for having wonky a wonky set or slide control is a bit higher.

2015 Henley Royal Regatta Green Lake Crew vs. Tideway Scullers, Thames Challenge Cup Heat

This is a decent recording (tone and intensity throughout are pretty good) but the primary takeaway should be to put some daylight between your calls and not have your race sound like a seven minute long run-on sentence. You’re just not as effective if it sounds like you’re running out of breath every few seconds and rushing to get out what you want to say before you have to replenish your oxygen stash. Slow down, breathe, and speak clearly.

This is probably dependent on your crew but saying whatever split you’re at isn’t gonna cut it when you’re a length or more up on the other crew (aka you’ve clearly been doing something right) is probably not the most effective way to get them to hold off a charge or keep increasing their lead. Obviously you should always be on alert and not too comfortable with whatever lead you have but phrasing can make a big difference. “1:46, we’re a length up, let’s keep moving out and pushing that split back down to 1:45…” or “Three seats of open, sitting at 1:46, 1000m to go … let’s not get comfortable, we’re gonna take five to press together and hit that 1:45 with the legs, ready … now” says pretty much the exact same thing but in a more focused, unified (and positive) way. Granted, there are definitely situations where you need to get in their faces and be like “this is not good enough, we need to do better now” but having a couple seats of open water on the field typically isn’t one of them.

Also, I’ve beaten this horse to death multiple times but stahhhp with the “I need”, “you guys”, etc. Once in awhile is whatever, fine but not every single call. It’s not “I” and “you”, it’s “us”, “let’s”, “we”, etc. You’re part of the engine moving the boat so stop making calls that make it seem like you’re sitting behind some invisible barrier that separates you from the work.

Other calls I liked:

“Take us to Thursday…” When you’re in a multi-day race situation like Henley, Youth Nats, IRAs, etc., a call like this is a solid one to start a move off with. It’s one I’d probably save for the latter half of the race, especially if it’s close, but I like how she used it here.

Question of the Day

I was talking to my coach about what boats I was in consideration for going into the following year, and I got some really great news – he’s looking at me for our V8+ (top boat at my club)! The only bad thing is what came after that. Basically he said, “you could be coxing the V8+ … if you get your anxiety under control.” At first, I thought that was way out of line, but honestly, the havoc my anxiety wreaks on my overall mental health and well being is debilitating, and there’s really no way improving that could hurt in any capacity, so I’m realizing he’s probably got a point. How do you suggest dealing with overall rational requests of a coach when they entail changing something a bit more personal than technique like this?

This is a great question. I definitely see how your first impression was that it was out of line but if you’ve got a good (or at least cordial) relationship with your coach and they didn’t say it with any biting undertones then I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. I’ve said pretty much the exact same thing (with varying tones of empathy and frustration depending on the situation) to one of the MIT coxswains but we’ve had a great relationship for the last three years so even when she’d get pissed at me for saying it, she knew it was coming from a friend who genuinely had her best interests in mind.

I deal with anxiety too and agree that it wrecks havoc on pretty much everything … and the fallout from that just creates even more stress. When it comes to managing it in the context of coxing for example, it seems like a common mistake (that I’ve definitely made too, numerous times) is finding ways to deal with it only in the context of coxing rather than trying to identify and address the actual underlying causes/issues. Like, you can get better at steering or whatever if that’s something you’ve struggled with but if you still suffer sudden and intense bouts of anxiety when you’re on the water, basically all you did was the equivalent of putting a band aid on a bullet wound.

Here’s a couple suggestions – some traditional, some anecdotal – that you might consider.

The first approach is to talk to someone. Not just anyone either, someone who ‘s trained in dealing with stuff like this. If you’re in college, reach out to student health or whatever your version of student support services is and make an appointment. You typically get a certain number of free appointments each semester or year before your insurance takes over so take advantage of it. Similarly, most athletic departments will have a sport psychologist on staff or they’ll have a relationship with one in the local community that they can set you up with.

If you’re still in high school, on your parent’s insurance, etc. … basically if you’re in a situation where you can’t seek treatment without their consent/approval … that’s obviously tough. And yea, it’s probably tempting to not say anything at all because you think it’s embarrassing or whatever but you’ve gotta gauge your personal situation and make that call. Some parents are cool about working with you on stuff like this (and not making a big deal out of it, which is key), others not so much. I think most parents are decent enough though that they’ll get you the help you need if you talk to them about it (as frustrating or awkward as that conversation might initially be).

The second approach ties into the first but in terms of managing your anxiety, behavioral therapy or medication are two options. I know people who utilize CBT, others take medication, some do both, and a couple do neither. One of those friends was a coxswain and he took medication to manage the day-to-day symptoms while also working with a sport psychologist and doing CBT during the school year to help him develop strategies to deal with the rowing-specific symptoms.

Another friend (who didn’t row but did track & field for four years in college) takes a very #millennial approach and uses two apps – Headspace and Pacifica – to help her keep things under control. She said she’s been using Headspace since her senior year but just started using Pacifica after her anxiety got worse while studying for the bar exam two years ago. She didn’t have time to make regular appointments with a doctor or deal with any potential side effects from medication (on top of not having health insurance) so that’s why this approach made the most sense for her.

The bottom line is that stuff like this is just as much of a normal medical problem as any other illness we encounter and we should treat it as such. Have you ever gotten a cold and ignored it because “it’s not like I have pneumonia, it’s not that serious” but you were miserable as fuck for the duration of it, even though you could have knocked it out in two or three days if you’d just gone to the doctor? Whatever preconceived notions you might have about whether people will take you seriously, judge you for asking for help, or think you’re “just not tough enough”, you’ve gotta put that out of your head and not let that keep you from doing what’s best for you. Coxing only lasts for a short period of time but you’ve gotta live with yourself forever so, like you said, it’s not like taking steps to improve your overall wellbeing can hurt.

Below is an email I got from a college coxswain about her experience with anxiety, how she handles it, and how having less-than-supportive coaches can undermine your efforts to get better. There’s a whole “devil’s advocate” discussion to be had about taking someone out of the boat for a short period of time vs. actually kicking them out of it permanently that I won’t get into right now but for the coaches that are reading, seriously, don’t be dicks about shit like this. If your athletes are confiding in you, especially on the recommendation of their doctor, maybe work with them instead of kicking them while they’re down. I can’t believe that’s something that even needs to be said.

“I’ve been coxing at the collegiate level for over two years now..and I’ve had my current coach for two years. I was encouraged by the sports psychologist at school to tell my coach, as she said he couldn’t use it against me. Despite my better judgement, I went ahead and told him. Things were great at first, but I went from being with the top two boats to not having a boat.  He brings up my anxiety every time we talk, and I have come to feel as though he’s put me in a corner as a result. My psychologist at school is actually going to be talking to him about this because the fact that he always brings it up, makes me anxious. It sucks and it’s not fair.

I have really bad anxiety and have played sports competitively my entire life. I’ve always managed to “face my fear” and have learned that by doing so, it makes my anxiety a little more tolerable. It’s not something that goes away(even though I take medication for it and use various techniques as well), but rather something I’ve come to accept and make the most of. I try to remember that they’re only feelings, although easier said than done.

I don’t recommend telling teammates, as they have never been able to understand and basically have just used it against me and underestimate my ability to cox. Especially when it comes to racing, which is one of the times I know how to handle my anxiety best(from experience and sports background). I kick ass when it comes to racing, but it’s more so practices that are a bit of an issue. I tend to second guess myself a lot because of my anxiety, and don’t allow myself to take as much credit as I should. For example, I am notorious for my ability to steer a great course, however if I think about it too much, I start worrying and begin to snake.

Anxiety is a real bitch, but I’m learning to “stay in the present” which has been really helpful. There’s a super short and helpful book that I recommend to just about everyone (those who have anxiety as well as those who don’t) called “F*CK Anxiety; Hardcore Self-Help” by Robert Duff. He’s so funny and down to earth, yet helps you better understand your anxiety regardless of the type. He provides helpful tips for what to do when you are anxious and how to essentially prevent your anxiety from taking the joy out of things. For those looking to understand anxiety a little better, I highly recommend it. This book has changed my ability to cox and has helped me better cope with my shitty anxiety.

But as far as whether to tell coaches and teammates, that depends. Just know there’s a big risk in doing so, as I have learned the hard way. My last coach used it against me as well. I have one year of coxing left, and I’m determined to get a good boat. I wish someone had been able to provide me with this info back when I started, which is why I felt so compelled to share my experiences.”

A couple other coxswains (four collegiate, two junior – two guys, four girls) also emailed to say that they deal with varying levels of anxiety that have at one point or another kept them out of a boat they were in competition for. Even though the situations differed (coxing people they were unfamiliar with, feeling underprepared and overwhelmed, not feeling confident in a given skill (steering and technique being the main ones), etc.), the common symptom, side-effect, whatever you want to call it … was that they’d just shut down and not talk for the majority of practice. Two of them said they were actively taking medication and the others said they weren’t doing anything for it (either because they aren’t sure what to do, don’t want to bring it up to their coaches/parents, etc.).

So … you’re not alone in this. I think we all experience anxiety to some extent during our careers but not all of us know how to get help or handle it so hearing the perspectives of our peers can make a huge difference. Like you said, your coach’s request was a rational one that can only benefit you in the long run so I hope there’s something up there that helps. Feel free to shoot me an email though if you wanna talk more about this and if anyone else has any other advice they wanna share, please leave it in the comments!

Music to erg to, pt. 150

Sorry if you got notifications for this post twice … WordPress is, per usual, being finicky this morning. On that note, if anyone’s got experience with building websites (especially on WP platforms), transferring content, etc. hit me up because I’ve got questions and can’t find the answers I’m looking for online.

Last night I posted a couple questions on switching (back to) coxing, walking on in college, and dealing with a coaching transition so if you haven’t checked those out yet you can do so here and here. I also posted on Tuesday some tips for coxing a time trial since those seemed to be more prevalent this year than in seasons past.

Lastly, today is the 45th anniversary of Title IX which is why this week’s “Words” is this quote. For whatever points of contention Title IX sparks, try not to overlook or diminish the good it’s done in giving women and girls the opportunity to participate, compete, and be seen as equals to the men who were afforded those opportunities by default simply due to luck of the draw at birth. We’ve come a long way in 45 years but there’s still a long way to go. Women in rowing played a huge role in elevating the conversation in the first place and it’s our responsibility to keep it going and continue pushing for more progress.

I’ve got one question left to answer but I’m saving it for next week because I want to get some input from you guys. For those of you who have anxiety – either that you take medication for or that you manage on your own through other methods – how has/does it affect your coxing, have your coaches/teammates ever brought it up to you, have coaches ever said that it’s been a factor for keeping you out of a boat you were in contention for, and how have you dealt with all of that? Feel free to comment or shoot me an email.

Question of the Day

Hi! Over the last year I have become very close with my coach. He has helped me improve into the coxswain I am today. I coxed our V8 and V4 all year and my team just got back from nationals. The reasons I was in these boats is because he believed in me all year and helped to improve. Today however, at our end of season wrap up practice, he dropped the news that he would not be coaching next year. I still have two more years on the team and we don’t know who the new coach will be. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with losing a coach? And how to adapt to a new one? I’m afraid they won’t understand the fun loving environment my team is and it will be hard for me to create that good coach and coxswain relationship like I had with my previous coach. Any helpful tips would be great.

Why would you assume they wouldn’t understand the team culture/environment? That’s kind of an unfair judgement/assumption to put out there. Just because your current coach was dope and you had a good relationship with him doesn’t mean that the same can’t be true with whoever’s taking over for him.

I luckily only had to deal with one major coaching transition while I was in school and the best advice our team got came from our assistant coach – “accept that the change is happening and keep an open mind”. I’d say the same to you too. It’s happening so you kinda just have to deal with it but the important thing is to keep an open mind and not automatically resign yourself to being anti-whatever new things he/she brings to the team just because they’re different than what you’re used to.

Whatever you did to cultivate the relationship you have with your current coach … do that with the new one. The new coach isn’t going to be a carbon copy of your old one (nor should you expect that) so obviously you might have to tweak a few things here and there but it’s not like you’re starting back at square one. You already know what made your current coach-coxswain relationship great so make time to have a one-on-one with the new coach so you can communicate that stuff to them. This applies to pretty much everything you’ll ever do but the more up front you are about how you work/communicate best, the easier it’ll be for everyone in the long run.

That was actually one of the questions I was asked when I was interviewing for my current job and having worked with some incredible coaches at MIT the last three years, I had a pretty rock solid idea of what I needed to feel confident and empowered in executing whatever I was doing. I specifically used the example of how they gave me a pretty unprecedented amount of freedom to work with our coxswains and really integrate my philosophy on all that into the broader team culture. I could have stopped there (and if I was less experienced in the interview game I probably would have) but what “sold” it was following it up with specific examples of how that helped me grow as a coach (in terms of building my confidence, refining my communication skills, and developing relationships with everyone on the team) and why that kind of “management style” is what I respond best to. Out of all the back and forth we did, I think the conversation we had around that one question was one of the main things that eased some of the doubt I had about joining a new coaching staff.

I get where you’re coming from because I honestly felt the same exact way when I left MIT for Columbia. I’d grown (and thrived) so much in that environment with those specific people and I was worried that it wouldn’t be the same here and I’d be miserable but, like I said earlier, while that can be a valid concern, it’s also an unfair assumption to make. Keep an open mind, be (even more) flexible in your approach to whatever situations you encounter (new and old), and communicate early and honestly about what you need from them to help you continue developing as a coxswain (with, I assume, the goal of staying in the V8 and V4).

As for everything else … just go with the flow and trust that whoever the new person is has the team’s best interest in mind. Most coaches do.