Race plans: Making moves

What is a move? Or, rather, what is it not? A move isn’t some random burst of hard strokes that you take because you don’t know what else to say and you know you’ve gotta say/do something. Those arbitrary power tens you call with little to no context? That’s not a move. What a move is is a part of the larger overall strategy (aka … your race plan) that gets you from Point A to Point B, which means they’ve gotta be executed with intention and a bit of forethought.

In my race plans we’ve always included two planned moves – one around 1000m (the stereotypical “20 at 1000m”) and another towards the latter half of the 3rd 500m. We had a third ten or fifteen stroke burst in our back pockets for the first thousand if we needed it but we avoided using it unless absolutely necessary – i.e. we had the lead and needed to do something to fend off a charging crew or we were in a position to get even or take the lead and knew we’d have the psychological advantage in the second half if we did it before 1000m.

Another thing that moves accomplish is helping keep the crew committed to the larger goal of the piece at vulnerable points during the race. You should obviously be feeding them information throughout that keeps everyone on the same page but a secondary purpose of a move is to act as a rallying point for the rowers. This was our basis for that move in the 3rd 500 – we knew that if the race was competitive then we’d need to make a move here to set us up for the sprint but there were times when, based on what I was seeing and sensing, I’d call it for nothing more than pure commitment to the (wo)man in front of you, the team, yourself, etc. We almost always accomplished the goal of getting even, getting our bow ball in front, etc. but this is an example of how phrasing it can have a big impact on how effective it is. Don’t be all business all the time and forget about the people is what I’m getting at.

As you get more experienced (and your listening skills adapt to the noise of the race course) you’ll be able to start predicting and picking up on when the crews around you are making moves, which gives you the significant advantage of being able to counter it with one of your own. There are few things more satisfying than seeing a crew start a move, waiting a couple strokes, and then laying down a solid 20 of your own to put them back in their place. I say “seeing” too because you’re not always going to hear the move being called. Sometimes you might but you should rely on sight more than sound because silent moves are a thing and any coxswain worth their weight will know what a difference they can make if the other crew(s) don’t pick up on it.

An important point to remember is that the effort you’re putting into your move has to be maintained on that 11th stroke (or whatever stroke follows the last one in the burst). If you have a really effective move but follow it up with a couple mediocre strokes, whatever advantage you gained is gonna be lost and you’ll end up taxing your body even more in the process. I’ll try to make a call or two about this as we near the end of those strokes, usually something simple like “maintain it now” on the first stroke after the move, “no sag, sustain the effort…”, etc.

Related: All about Power 10s

Like I said earlier, we usually included at least two planned moves while keeping it in mind that we might do three total based on how the race evolved in the early part of the piece. That “unplanned” move wasn’t technically unplanned but I knew that if I needed to use it, it wasn’t gonna catch the crew off guard and create unnecessary chaos. That’s what can/will happen though if you start using power tens disguised as “moves” as a fallback when you’ve got nothing else to say. Unplanned moves tend to be reactionary in response to another crew’s increase in speed or like I said earlier, as a competitive tactic to get your bow ball in front or to reel the other crew back in and prevent them from increasing their lead.

There’s lots of good examples of moves in the recordings I’ve posted but a great example is the one below (starting at 1:50ish) from the recording I posted of UW vs. Cal’s duel in 2009 (the second recording in this post). I’ve included the original video below the recording too, where you can hear AND see Katelin calling this move and the impact it had on UW’s position relative to Cal.

Flashback Friday: February 26th – March 11th

Pro tip: Advice from a former novice

Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Hanging the blade

VOTW: Novice boat handling skills


Coxswain skills: Coxing steady state workouts

Some things to know as a novice coxswain

QOTD: What are some items and pieces of clothing that you think all coxes should have at indoor practices (normal ones and tanks) as well as in the boat once we are on the water again? I’m trying out for a new team (switching from rowing to coxing) and I want to be prepared and give a good impression of that to the coach.

QOTD: Hey there, I am going into my second year as a coxswain (I cox boys novice). I feel like I could be more enjoyable in the boat. Don’t get me wrong, the boys and I have fun all the time but I also don’t want to upset my coach by talking to the guys and having in with them and stuff. I feel like there is no way I can have fun and be an enjoyable coxswain for the guys while still getting my job done. Also I have started a note book to write things down in for practice and regattas, any tips about what to write in it and good calls to make?


Coxswain skills: Dusting off the cobwebs

QOTD: Hey! So during races, do you think it’s acceptable to yell to your own crew that “the other coxswain is swerving and looking nervous” or something like that? Is that abusive to the other lanes? And also to say for instance “lane 1 is gone, they are dying”. Are those decent calls? Thank you!

QOTD: I’m a 3rd year coxswain and last week I made a pretty big statement about wanting to go to Nationals to my coach. He said he’d try me out in the 2nd boat and he did for 2 days, but he took me out even though my boat was doing well and he gave to the girl who’s always on the launch. This week though, the boat I’ve been in has had an attitude problem and I tried to stay positive and encouraging but the negativity kinda got to me. I talked to the coaches today but they said they’d talk to the girl and then my head coach said I’m part of the problem, which OK, I can see that I was frustrated because I was unsure where I was and why he just took me out of the boat, but saying that just felt a little unfair. He said I had to make the boat I’m in go, which I also get, but I feel like I’ve shown him throughout this season and last season that I can make boats better. I drove the JV8 last year and we got 3rd at WIRAs, when our coaches thought we’d do shit. I’m just so close to quitting, because I just don’t feel like anything I do makes any difference. I’m conflicted though, because this is the start of regatta season and I just don’t want to make it seem like I’ve abandoned the team when “I’m needed”, though I suspect they won’t need me. What should I do? I feel like crew really affects me mentally and I just have so much on my plate that the last few weeks I’ve been a wreck. When I talk to the coach it just feels like a brick wall. It seems like he doesn’t see that he plays favorites and I’m just over busting myself for something that doesn’t enrich my life anymore.

VOTW: I seek failure

QOTD: I want to try to get this straight [no pun intended]: When boats are racing, if our bow ball is on the other boat’s stern deck, you call that or say like “riding their stern?” and when it’s cox to cox it’s “lined up?” And if the cox is next to the other boat’s 6 seat or is it when our bow ball takes their 6 seat? Thanks!

National eating disorders awareness week: Coxswains You can see all the posts in this series by clicking on the #neda tag at the bottom of that post.

QOTD: Question (especially for a novice boat): What defines a winning/champion boat and one that comes up short?

An introduction to rigging: How to rig and de-rig a boat

VOTW: Holy smokes

Question of the Day

Hi! I am currently a junior in high school and it is my third year of coxing girls. As a junior I am looking into different colleges and I know that i want to continue coxing. In March, I am going to ID camp to try out for the Junior National Selection Team. Because of my birthday, I just miss the cutoff for trying out for HP, so having to trying out for the most competitive spot on the team is really nerve racking. Obviously I really want to make the team, so I wanted to know if there are any tips for becoming an even better coxswain and fully preparing myself for ID camp. I know that making this team can really help me be recruited into really good D1 colleges, and I have to grades for many highly competitive academic schools, so making this team is really important for me. Also, if you know anything that happens at ID Camp besides what they said on the website, please let me know because that would be much appreciated! Weight wise I am fine, luckily I was blessed with a good metabolism because I pretty much eat what I want and I float between 105-107lbs. Also, another thing that I am concerned about is my height. While I am 5’7″, as I mentioned before I am very tiny, but I’m scared they will discriminate against my height. Thank you so much!

Communication should be your biggest priority. You’re gonna be at a new boathouse, on a new body of water, with rowers, coxswains, and coaches that you’re unfamiliar with which means you’ve gotta figure out and internalize the plan and procedures ASAP. I assume the coaches will meet with the coxswains early in the day to go over stuff so you should look at it like any other coxswain’s meeting – if you have a question that isn’t answered, speak up and ask because it might have a big impact on how you do something later in the day. In situations like this I usually try to jot down a short list of questions that I know I’ll have, that way I can just tick them off as they get answered and then actually ask whatever’s leftover. (Did that for all my interviews with Columbia and it made things so much less stressful. Highly recommend doing it – it takes like, 5 minutes to do.)

A coach I worked with last summer who also coached with the HP/dev teams said that a big thing for the coaches was having the coxswains call everything “in two”, rather than “on this one”, just saying “weigh enough” on its own, etc. I’ve heard other coxswains mention that too so that’d be something to get clarified before you go on the water. It’s also a good reminder that you’ll probably need to adapt your normal way of doing things to fit their way of doing things. Your ability to do that without issue will most likely be something they look for, not only because adaptability is an important trait/skill for a coxswain but it’s also gonna indicate to them what your practice management skills are like. You’ll be out with a variety of people from a variety of programs who probably all do things a little differently – you’ve gotta be the one who standardizes it for everyone and says “OK guys, all my calls today are going to be preceded with “in two”…” so they

Obviously keep working on whatever you’ve been working on lately but don’t try to teach yourself new tricks before the camp. Do what works and do it well. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said this but moving up the ladder as a coxswain is all about excelling at executing the basics. The better you are at that, the more opportunities you’re gonna have.

Coxswains, feel free to leave a comment about what you did at the camp but as far as I know, it’s just helping collect times from the 2k and then going out on the water for a row. Depending on the number of coxswains there you might row the whole time or you might get switched in halfway if there’s someone in the launch.

As far as  your height, no one cares as long as you’re at racing weight (110lbs).


Being an Oarsman is bigger than just getting in a boat and rowing. It’s how you carry yourself outside the boat. It’s how you treat your teammates and it’s how you treat your competition. There’s a level of respect there and a level of perspective where you fit in the sport, and the history of the sport, and everything that’s happened before you, sort of being a part of that.

How to: Rotate through the Sixes

This regularly gets asked by new coxswains at the start of each season so hopefully this helps you learn the order of the switches, as well as who’s being switched in and out.

Related: Transitioning by fours in an 8+ always confuses me. I know you start with stern four, then stern pair out, then three four in, but what’s after that? Who goes in and out in what order? Thanks!

It’s not nearly as difficult as it looks but it does help to familiarize yourself with the transitions before you actually need to call them.