Coxswain recordings, pt. 32

Before we get into today’s recordings, if you’re looking to squeeze in one last camp before the summer’s over, check out this camp being hosted by the Kent School in Connecticut. (One of the better recordings I’ve listened to in awhile was from a Kent coxswain – it’s the second one in this post.) The dates are August 6th – 12th, you get to stay in the dorms on campus, row out of their boathouse, etc. The camp is new this year so if you go, let me know what it’s like so I can be sure to include it in future camp posts.

Mount Baker V8+ Steady State

This is a quick clip of some steady state with Mt. Baker’s varsity eight from 2014 and is just another good example of how to cox your crew through low rate pieces like this. The tone of voice, calls, etc. are all solid and there’s a good mix of positive reinforcement, technical pointers, and calls for individual adjustments.

Penn AC Junior Men Practice Recording

Bart sent me this recording last year and I ended up sharing it with several other coxswains (including a couple at MIT) so they could see what I meant when I talked about being more engaging, active, assertive, etc. when calling the warmup and drills. Because we tend to do the same warmup and drills most days of the week it’s easy to kind of zone out and just go through the motions, which can translate to you sounding super monotonous and bored.

Here’s part of the reply I sent to Bart after I listened to this: “My one suggestion would be to slow down what you’re saying. I like the conversational tone you have (that’s how I cox too) but there are times when you’re saying so much and you’re saying it so quickly that it can hard to process it all, especially when you’re doing stuff that’s so technically focused like you were here. Everything you’re saying is good and exactly what you should be communicating to the crew, just try to slow down the pace of your speech so that the rowers can take the feedback you’re giving them and incorporate it without first having to redirect their focus to try and figure out what you said. Tone, annunciation, etc. were all excellent throughout though.”

Rather than write out every technical call he makes as a “call I like”, just take note of pretty much everything he’s saying. Between bladework, body positioning, timing, acceleration, picking the boat up, etc. there’s like, 50 easily discernible calls in here that you can take in the boat with you. Note how he says things too – tone and enunciation is key.

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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!

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.

Question of the Day

Hello, I am a junior in high school and I am a rower but I’m on the shorter side (5’4) and my erg scores aren’t anything to brag about. I actually started out as a coxswain in my freshman year but one day my coach had me sub in and I just never subbed out. The thing is that I don’t really enjoy rowing all that much (I still like it but it isn’t what I think I’m good at) but I was really passionate about coxing and I want to try and walk on as a coxswain at college. I don’t really know how to go about it though. Should I try to cox at my high school again? Also, should I reach out to college coaches and, if so, when should I consider doing that? Thanks.

Bring it up with your coach before the start of next season (or now, if you’re still practicing or see them around). Just be honest and say that you feel like you were making a stronger contribution to the team when you were coxing vs. when you’re rowing. Don’t be afraid to say that rowing’s not where you feel your strengths lie either. It’s one thing to be like, “I’m short and my erg scores are lame so I’m just gonna switch to coxing”. I hate when people take that route because it just screams laziness. You can get stronger and fitter and improve your erg times if you just put the work in. On the flip side though, if someone says “I genuinely don’t enjoy rowing as much I do coxing”, that’s a different story because, in my experience, the people that say that are the ones that worked their asses off to be good rowers (and most of the time were) but just didn’t have the same passion for moving the boat as they did driving it … and that’s OK.

Related: What it means to be a “walk on”

If you’re planning to walk on, especially as someone who already has experience, it’s always worth reaching out to the coach just to let them know you’re interested. It helps them get a good idea of what their numbers will be and they can lump you in with the rest of the freshmen when they send out compliance paperwork for you to fill out over the summer. The sooner you get that done the better because you’ll be able to get on the water faster once practice begins in the fall.

As far as when to reach out to them, just wait until you know where you’re going and then shoot them an email in the spring saying you were accepted, are interested in walking on to the team, etc. and include a bit of info about yourself (i.e. height, weight, what boats you’ve coxed, your intended major, etc.) to wrap it up. Doesn’t need to be more than a paragraph or so at most.

Tips for coxing a time trial

Between mid-May and this week I’ve gotten several questions from coxswains about time trials – it seems like there were more than a few regattas this year that did them in lieu of heats. Below are a couple excerpts from some email replies I sent that include tips I’ve picked up from fellow coxswains and coaches over the years. If you have any strategies that have worked for you, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Pacing into and off the line

The simple approach to a time trial is to just go off the line with your normal start (no need to do the 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full stuff, just do 5 to build as you approach the line and go straight into your high strokes as you cross – much like a head race) before lengthening out to your base pace. If you’re confident that you’ll make the top 12 or however many it is to advance, you can sometimes pace a little lower than normal (i.e. 33-34 instead of 35-36) but that’s something to discuss with your coach (and crew) well in advance of your race. I wouldn’t plan on racing at anything lower than your normal rate though but if your coach is confident and thinks it’s OK to conserve a bit of energy for the final, feel free to talk about it with them.

use the puddles to gauge if you’re on pace

Another point to remember (and this is important for all head races, not just time trials) is to not go out too hard. It’s easy to think you’re moving really well when there aren’t any other boats around to gauge your speed off of but you run the risk of burning out around 750m in and then it’s just a slow, painful crawl to the finish.

Practicing your start + the first 500 head-race style during practice is a good way to see how the crew feels, how the boat’s moving, etc. and gives you a chance to practice racing the splits vs. racing another crew (or five). If you’ve got a speed coach then obviously that makes it super easy but if you don’t have any splits to go off of, watch the puddles. Based on what I saw leading up to IRAs, when our varsity 8+ was running at top speed our stroke’s blade was entering the water just behind our bow seat’s puddle from the previous stroke. If the margins started to get smaller – i.e. stroke’s blade going in before the puddle reaches him) then I knew we were shortening up a bit and starting to fall off pace. You’ll have to watch your crews to know what the puddle margin usually is but that’s a good way to gauge your pace if you haven’t got a speed coach on board.

Don’t forget to start your clock

Last thing is to make sure you start your clock when you cross the start line. This is another thing you should be doing during practice so that it becomes second nature and not something you have to remember to do on race day. My coaches were always very intent on making sure we were cognizant of these easily overlooked details and after getting my ass verbally kicked by them for about two months, I came to really appreciate their constant reminders to not let stuff like this slip through the cracks. To them, the more little things like this you do, the more free speed you’re racking up and as cliche as “free speed” is, it’s also so, so true.

If you know your average 2k time (or 1500m, depending on what you race), this will help you gauge your speed and where you’re at on the course if it’s not clearly marked or there aren’t any landmarks to go off of. For example, if your boat’s average 2k time this season has been 6:00, you should be crossing 1500m around 4:30 in. If you’re coming through 1500m at 4:32 you know you’re a little off pace and should probably take a 10 to dig in at the start of the last 500m and really hit it with the legs before you build into the sprint.

This works as a great motivator too because if you’re on or ahead of your usual pace, that’s just gonna motivate the crew to keep pushing. Even if you’re off pace a little, hearing the time worked into a call can be the thing that helps them refocus and get back on track – i.e. “through 1000m we’re 3:03 in, that’s a 1.5 seconds off our time from last week; let’s commit to holding the finishes on this 10 and try to hit 1500m by 4:31 … ready … now.”

internal motivation is key (and not as hard as you think)

You do have to rely a lot on internal motivation to keep the crew going during time trials but you’ve likely got a lot more material to pull from than you think you do. Make sure you’ve got a good understanding of your crew’s technical strengths and weaknesses so you can make calls for that as necessary, and don’t underestimate the power of calling a move just for yourselves. I’ve done that before where I’ve called a ten for us … for the seniors, for the juniors … for [whatever team I’m coxing] … etc. and sometimes those are the most powerful tens in the whole piece. I usually save those for the 3rd 500 when I know they’re hurting and really wishing we had some crews around us for that visual confirmation of where we’re at on the field. 98% of the rest of my calls are almost exactly what I’d say during a normal race though.

Question of the Day

Hi! I’m a coxswain who just finished my second season (as in I’ll be varsity next season). My novice 8 did very well, placing at Midwest Youth Championships! I’m so proud of them, and I really love coxing, but as the season goes out, I’m wondering, is it the best thing for me? I feel a lot of pressure to be at the 110-pound minimum, and so when the Tuesday before the race I weighed in at 116, I was devastated. I spent the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week living only of multivitamins and one bottle of water a day. The Saturday and Sunday of racing, it was virtually the same, except I ate one clementine each day as well. I did meet minimum as I hoped I would, and was actually under, being sandbagged for 0.8 pounds, but I recognize this is incredibly unhealthy, and unfortunately, it falls in line with other unhealthy behaviors I’ve had a tendency to engage in for a few years now. I truly love coxing but I’m not so sure my mental health would do at all well if I continue. Thoughts/advice?

Eating Twix bars and pizza for a week is unhealthy. A single bottle of water and a multivitamin for five straight days is stupid and dangerous. I don’t say that to be an asshole either, I just really hope you recognize that there’s a big difference between the two.

The simplest and most straightforward piece of advice I can offer is that you’ve gotta do what’s best for you. And I get that that probably seems like a vague non-answer but it really is the only thing you have to consider here. If you notice yourself involuntarily (or even voluntarily) falling back into self-destructive habits then I think you need to take a step back and reevaluate what you’re taking away from the sport vs. what the sport is taking away from you.

Being around your friends and “having fun” is great and all but way too many people use that as an excuse to stick with sports when it’s clearly not a good thing for them as an individual. That’s my other piece of advice – forget your friends, teammates, coaches, parents, whoever you think will be pissed if you stop coxing. (They won’t be.) Whatever decision you come to has to be made for youby you and not influenced by what you think other people would want.

I don’t wanna get into all the reasons why you feel pressured to be at 110lbs (especially since you were coxing novices…) because it just makes me very rage-y but I will say this: if you stick with coxing and feel similar pressure going forward, the kind that makes you want to go on a water + multivitamin diet for a week, you really need to stop and ask what’s going to allow you to be the most effective coxswain on race day. Being 116lbs, clearheaded, and energetic or 109lbs, stressed, and lethargic? Don’t let the “boat servant” etymology get in your way here. Yea, you’re there to do XYZ for the team but you can’t do any of that if you’re not in the right frame of mind to begin with. Been there, done that and trust me, it’s hard as hell trying to focus on getting your boat out of racks, let alone down the race course, when you’re dehydrated, dizzy, and exhausted from not eating all week just for the sake of being able to say you’re under 110lbs.

If you haven’t, check out the video below. It’s from a camp I was at two years ago and there’s a good anecdote/wake up call at the end from Marcus about a coxswain who took similarly drastic measures to cut weight over the same period of time as you. Also check out this article from ESPNW that came out a few weeks ago. It’s no secret how much issues like this get under my skin so I was thankful they asked me to be a part of it. It’s a good read and an eye-opening one at that so definitely check it out when you’ve got a sec.