Coxswain recordings, pt. 30

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

Wellesley College WV8+ Final 2016 NCAA Championships

I posted the recording from Wellesley’s heat at NCAAs back in December (you can check it out here) and similar to that recording, the audio’s a little muffled here. This is actually a good thing to keep in mind too now that the spring season is getting closer – if you’re not using a GoPro, make sure you play around with different spots to put your recorder so you can find one that protects it from the water while still being able to capture a clear sound.

If you want to watch the NCAA’s footage of the race and listen to their commentary, you can check it out here – skip ahead to 3:23:00ish (the race starts about a minute after that). Wellesley is in Lane 2 with the black boat and blue and white oars. I’d also recommend muting the NCAA video and starting the recording when the race starts, that way you can listen to Ale call the race as you watch it.

From a coxing standpoint, this piece accomplishes three of the things that make up a good recording – there’s no screaming off the line, she gives consistent updates on their pace and position, and at the end of the race you have a pretty good idea of where most of the crews finished just based on the updates she was giving throughout the piece. All of that is rooted in communication so if you’re a sophomore or junior who is trying to put together audio to sent to the JNT or college coaches, I would highly recommend you make your communication skills a central focus during practice in the weeks leading up to your first race. Ale demonstrates really well how to do this effectively by keeping the information concise (aka saying only what needs to be said) and using her tone rather than volume to convey her message.

Related: What makes a good coxswain recording

One of the most well executed parts of the race was when they’re crossing 1000m between 3:16 and 3:42ish. Through the first 1000m there’s this focus of just chipping away at the field stroke by stroke in order to establish their lead and then as they come across 1000m it’s like OK, we’ve got now, if anyone else wants it, they’re gonna have to take it from us because we are not giving it up.

I think the best part of the NCAA commentary is near the end where Williams starts to take the rate up but Wellesley is still at like, a 33 or something, and the announcer says they have “plenty of stroke rate left to go up and not much water left to defend”. That’s probably the best position you could be in coming into the last 250m of a race.

Other calls I liked:

“Catches with her, shoulders with her…”

“Our confidence in two … one … two, our confidence. MOVE through that 1000 … MOVE through that 1000. Seize it now … seize it now, blue. We command this. Sit up, we’re across. Sit up, now this is our 500 because we’ve trained … LET’S GO!

George Washington University 1F vs. Georgetown University 1F

Right off the start, I like the “draw through” call on the first stroke. That’s an easy one to whiff, especially if your blade’s not all the way buried or you pull out of the catch instead of push, so having that call as a reminder is a good way to make sure everyone stays horizontal through the drive.

Out of the high strokes they make their shift down to base and at 1:47 you hear him say that he wants to shift down one more beat to a 35. His execution here (between 1:47 and 2:00ish) is really smooth, mainly because there’s no sense of urgency in his tone that the shift has to happen right freakin’ now like you sometimes hear in other recordings. He draws it out over a couple of strokes which allows him time to make very clear, direct calls about what he wants and most importantly (especially when it comes to rate shifts), when he wants it to happen. This is something you should regularly be practicing when you’re doing pyramid pieces or anything else involving rate shifts, that way you can establish a good flow in initiating it and the crew can get accustomed to the calls you’ll make when the rate needs to change.

Little goals are obviously a big part of any race plan and he does a good job here of (indirectly) tying those to the crew’s overall technique. You’ve gotta be careful about making too many technical calls during a race and becoming hyperfocused on that but I think he does a good job of balancing those calls with follow-up calls that say where they are now on Georgetown after taking a few strokes to get the blades in, swing through a headwind, keep the outside shoulder up, etc.

The only thing I’d suggest not doing from this recording really isn’t that egregious but there’s definitely better – or at least clearer – ways to call it. Rather than saying “200m ’til the 500m mark” just say “750 to go” or if you’re making a move at 500, “15 strokes ’til we make our move”.

Other calls I liked:

“At the 500, we’re gonna walk away. We’re gonna sting at the 5…”

“Stay loose, stay long … stay loose, stay long…”, said on the drive, recovery.

Coxswain skills: Coxing erg tests

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 || Evaluating races

If there’s one question that dominates my inbox between November and March (besides “what should I do during winter training”) it’s “how do I cox people on the erg?”. Steady state on the ergs is easy because you can mostly leave the rowers alone and just let them go at it but erg tests, like 2ks, usually require a bit more involvement on your part. With CRASH-Bs coming up, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

Related: 2k test strategy

The Golden rule of coxing rowers on the erg

Prior to the piece, ask if they want to be coxed. If they don’t, respect that and leave. them. alone. Don’t be that coxswain that gets all pissy and makes their decision all about you. It’s not and no one wants to waste their time doling out fake platitudes to make you feel better about yourself just because someone said “don’t cox me”.

Things to know

If you’re coxing people, you should know the following:

Their PR, previous time, and goal for this piece

What splits they’re trying to hold (either their overall average split or their split for each 500)

What calls resonate the best (some thrive on the heavily motivational stuff, others just need the occasional technical reminder)

When they want/need support (i.e. at 1200 because that’s where they tend to hit the wall, if you see their splits go above X, etc.)

We make this easy for our coxswains by having each guy send us their race plans that we then write on notecards and tape to their ergs (example below). By eliminating the need to memorize multiple individual race plans and requests, they can focus more on coxing and helping the guys hit their goals.

If they’re having a bad piece

It sucks watching your friends have a bad piece but rarely, if ever, does a half-hearted “you can do it!” (that you’re only saying because you don’t know what else to say) work here. If anything it just pisses them off so unless they specifically say to do that, focus more on giving them tangible, achievable goals to hit that will pull double-duty by serving as motivation to continue pushing to the end of the piece. Below are a couple examples but this is something you should directly ask them too – “if you start falling off pace, what can I do to help you get back on track?”.

If their splits are getting erratic, try to get them to hold a consistent pace for ten strokes. It doesn’t need to be their goal split, it just needs to be a split that they can commit to for an easily achievable amount of time. Focus on breathing and getting them re-dialed in to their race plan.

If they’re falling off pace and sitting at a 1:39 when they need to be at a 1:36 (and you know they’re capable of hitting it), get them to hit their splits for a couple strokes (twice max for 2-3 strokes each) before digging in and pushing the numbers back down. Super simple calls here like “there it is!” or “YEA that it’s, hit it again” just to get them to see that they can hit those numbers can be the kick of encouragement they need to recommit and get after it.

Similarly, you should know the rowers well enough to know when they’re having a bad piece because of something external (like they’ve got a cold, have a nagging injury, are dealing with academic stress, whatever…) or when they’re just feeling sorry for themselves and settling for whatever time they end up with. I can’t lay that out for you so just like our coxswains and I have done with our rowers, you’ve gotta do the same with yours – observe, observe, observe. Sometimes there will be a piece where it’s not about the time, it’s just about finishing it and other times, you just need to get behind them and say “stop feeling sorry for yourself, let’s go“. The better you know your athletes, the easier it’ll be for you to determine which one of those is appropriate.

How to: Avoid being repetitive

Lately I’ve been emailing with several coxswains who have been using their time indoors to work on their calls and eliminate some of the repetitiveness that comes with not knowing what to say. A question I got back in December (that encapsulates the general vibe of the other questions I’ve been asked) said “how do you suggest rephrasing things and not just spouting meaningless calls?”. Below is my response.

“As far as styles of calls, it’s different for every coxswain and varies between the crews they’re coxing. So, knowing your crew is step one. What do they respond best to? Are they the type of crew that needs a lot of positive reinforcement and motivation or are they the type that wants very blunt, straightforward, no bullshit-type of calls?

Step two is understanding technique and the style of rowing your coach is trying to teach. The more you understand the nuances of the rowing stroke, how the bodies connect to the blades, etc. the easier it will be for you to communicate what you’re seeing and feeling to what actually needs to happen. The winter is a good time to talk about all this with your coach and ask questions if you have them.

Step three is taking a copious amount of notes. If you’re ever in the launch you should be able to come off the water with at least a page or two of notes based on the things you hear your coach saying. Obviously it’s a little harder to do this on the water because you’re not going to remember everything but that’s why you use your recorder – most of the time you can pick up your coach’s voice on there so listen to what he’s saying to your crew and write down stuff from that that can be used as calls. I ride in the launch with our head coach nearly every day and I tend to write in shorthand the stuff he’s saying to each guy so I can pass it on to our coxswains for them to make calls with.

For example, (I’m just flipping open to a random page in my notebook), during a practice back in September he was talking to two of the guys about burying their blades too deep through the drive and how part of the reason why they were doing that was because they were opening their backs too early instead of hanging their weight off the handle. I actually remember us sitting in the basin as he explained this for about five minutes but of that five minute long technical explanation, what I wrote down was “don’t confuse hanging body w/ opening backs too early → why Charlie and Sam are going too deep w/ the blades”.

After practice I talked about that with our coxswains and they’ve been able to take that and turn it into a handful of different calls, all relating back to the same concept of suspension. Because this specific issue was originally aimed at those two guys in particular, they’ll occasionally incorporate them into their calls too – i.e. “let’s hang the bodies off the handles and suspend our weight through the drive – Charlie and Sam, stay horizontal here through the water”.

What I’m getting at is the majority of what you’ve gotta do to avoid becoming repetitive with your calls has to happen off the water. Creating a backlog of sorts of the things your coach says to the rowers is a great place to start though because from there you can incorporate that stuff into your calls and spin your own calls off of whatever technical thing he’s coaching the rowers on based on what you’re seeing.”

To that last point, I do this in Google Docs. Every couple of weeks I’ll take all the semi-legible notes I scribble on the launch and dump them into a Google Doc that houses, at this point, three years worth of technical and motivational calls and phrases. Trust me though, your notebook and recorder will be two of your biggest assets here so take advantage of them. You can check out the two posts linked below if you’re not sure how to keep a notebook or what the best type of recorder is to get.

Related: Keeping a notebook and The best recorders for coxswains

Most of what I said in that email has been said in a variety of posts over the years but now that it’s all in one place, I hope this will help you hone in on the steps you need to take if being less repetitive with your calls is something you’re working on too.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 29

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

2015 Henley Royal Regatta Thames vs. Barge, Thames Challenge Cup Semi-Final

This coxswain is #goals AF.  Listen and learn because she puts on a clinic here.

This is a great race from the 2015 regatta and a solid example of a style of coxing that most of us in the US aren’t accustomed to. The biggest difference is in how we call the starts. Our style is very regimented most of the time but this style is a little looser and focuses more on the technical side (“nice and loose off the back end”, “let’s start pushing that finish”, etc.) rather than calling out 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full, “complete, complete, lengthen, full” or whatever your traditional starting sequence is.

I’ve called starts like this and I do like it but it requires a lot of focus from the crew because they don’t have you in their ear calling the starting five, power 20, lengthen 5, etc. The coach I did it with always referred to it as a more “mature” way of racing because it forces everyone, coxswain included, to be that much more tuned in to the race plan and what’s happening on each stroke, even if/when it’s not directly being said out loud.

Also, note how at 1:40 she says “here comes the wind”? You can see the texture of the water is different in front of the boat in the subsequent few seconds after she makes that call (in comparison to the calmer water in front of them as they came off the line). If you’re new to coxing or are trying to get a grip on how to alert your crew of where the wind is, this gives you a good visual of what the water will look like as you encounter, in this instance, a headwind. Remember, if it’s blowing towards you, it’s a headwind, if it’s blowing with you it’s a tailwind, and if it’s hitting you at an angle it’s a crosswind.

Related: One of my coaches was a coxswain and I got switched out the last third of practice to be in the launch with her. OMG BEST TIME EVER. Every time I had a question she’d answer it so well! More coxes should become coaches! One thing she was talking about was watching the wind patterns – like the dark patches in the water to let the crew know. I understand the concept, but I’m not really understanding why. Like, I tell them that a wind/wake is coming to prepare them?

The 15 seconds between 2:25 and 2:40 show exactly how you should communicate with your crew during a race, particularly one where you’re down. Her tone is level, she’s calm, she makes calls that keep the crew focused, and she doesn’t give them any reason to worry when she says where they are relative to Barge. She makes the call for “our rhythm”, which is always a great go-to call, and follows it up with calls that emphasize what she wants, not just in their direct meaning but also in how she says and annunciates them. She ends it by saying “they’re just sitting there … let’s start trucking through … we knew we’d be down off the start”, which is a good way of saying we knew this was going to happen, it’s OK but now it’s time to buckle in and get moving. There’s no sense of concern or anything there, which can admittedly be tough to master as a younger coxswain but it’s a skill that can really elevate you from just being mediocre to being good.

That move between 2:50 and 4:10ish is flawless. THAT’S how you make up 2/3 of a length between you and another crew. You can bet too that when she said “half a meter off their stern and they have no idea what the hell happened here”, that’s exactly what they were thinking.

When she slaps the side of the boat as she calls “now” at 5:38, you can see and almost feel the energy in the boat pick up. I’ve seen lots of coxswains do this and have done it myself too but be careful if you do – slamming your wrist into the gunnel hurts like a bitch.

One of the (many) things she does well is giving them super specific position updates – i.e. “we’re a meter and a half off their cox”, “we’re a meter off their bow ball … we’re a foot off their bow ball … bow ballll!”, etc. Don’t underestimate how motivating this is to the crew, especially if you can count it down like she does as they’re coming up on bow to stern.

Crossing the line, “we’re gonna act like this means god damn nothing, they should never have come over here” … like, damn, could you make a more savage call at the end of a race? I aspire to have that much ice in my veins.

She makes a great point though, celebrating wins is fine and normal and whatever but you should have some decorum when doing it too. My coaches always told us to save it for the final. Heats and semis were the battles but the final was the war and you don’t want to look like a dick by shouting, slumping over, etc. just because you won something as inconsequential as a qualifier, no matter how good of a race it was.

Other calls I liked:

“Let’s cruise now, tap it along…”

“In two … next stroke … now…” I like how she calls this. It just sounds crisper than saying “in two, one … two…”.

“You’ve got momentum Thames, we’ve got to keep moving…”

“Gimme five strokes holding the back end through…” Super basic call but she said it so succinctly and didn’t waste any time getting it out – one breath to make a call that that helped them take a seat over those five strokes.

“Hang and send…”

“Keep squeezing me away…”

“Whole crew, sit up now…” Another basic call but I like how assertive she is in calling it and how she gives them direction on when to do it. Little, little details like this add up.

Australia Men’s 8+ training row

This is a long recording (22 minutes) and there’s not much specific that I want to point out, rather I think this is just another good example of how to execute a long row – occasional technical comments but largely letting the rowers feel out the piece and process the changes that need to be made while giving the coach(es) plenty of opportunities to jump in if they have feedback to offer.

This is something you can/should discuss with the crew and your coaches too. I’ve been in boats that hated this much silence between calls and I’ve been in others where this amount of coxing was just right. Similarly, some coaches are content to let you take control and do the majority of the talking/coaching, others want to use this time to provide as much feedback as possible. Both can be annoying for the coxswain because long rows like this require a bit of forethought so you’re not just winging it with your calls but at the same time, it’s really annoying when you get talked over or interrupted every time you go to say something.

Conversations like this will obviously do a lot for making practice more effective but my end game with having them was to just save myself as much hassle and frustration as possible. There’s nothing selfish about that so don’t think you’ll look bad if you bring this up, particularly if dealing with overly talkative coaches on the water is a problem you’ve encountered in the past.

Team USA 2012 M8+ 10 at base pace

This is a quick and simple video that shows the eight going through some strokes at base pace. I don’t think this is Zach Vlahos coxing them so if anyone does know who it is, let me know. (Update: Asked Zach, it’s Ned DelGuercio.)

One thing he does that everyone should do at the end of the piece is say “clean paddle”. Just because you took a few hard strokes doesn’t mean you can row like shit now just because you’re not at pressure. That goes for coming off of longer pieces too. A small dropoff in technique is fine but you should still be at like, 90% when it comes to how proficient your strokes look. Anything less is just lazy.

Also, check out that docking. Drops pairs out on the approach, tells them to watch their oars, when to lean, to watch out for the corner … seriously, if you guys do those four things as effortlessly as he did them, you’re docking will improve tenfold in one practice. None of that is hard either so don’t equate “effortlessly” with the fact that he’s a national team coxswain. If you have functioning eyes and common sense it’ll be just as easy for you as it was for him.

Other calls I liked:

“Stabilize here…” I use this one a lot as a full-stroke call (“stabilize” at the catch, “here” at the finish”) if/when the boat’s off set.

You can see all the recordings I’ve shared by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page listed on the front page of the blog.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 28

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

Over the next few weeks I’m going to start cleaning up the recordings posts, getting rid of ones that have been deleted, and making the posts more reader-friendly. Part of that will entail breaking up some of the longer posts with 5-6 recordings in them (tbh what was I thinking putting that many recordings in one post) and shortening them to around three recordings each (some might have two if they’re really long, others might have four if they’re really short). To avoid spamming you with email notifications whenever these “new” posts go up, there might be periods of time where the site will be inaccessible. If you see that, don’t worry – the blog’s not going anywhere, I’m just working to make it better.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON 3V PRACTICE

First thing you should take note of in this video is how good both the coxing and rowing is … and this is their 3V. Don’t take the attitude of “oh well it’s Washington, of course their 3V is good”. If you want to cox at most Division 1 programs – men or women – you’ve gotta be about this good, give or take, just to get into a lower boat. The youngest or “leftover” coxswain isn’t necessarily the default coxswain for these crews anymore, especially when you’re on a big team.

On your current team there might be competition for a single boat whereas for most teams competing in the grand and petite finals at IRAs or NCAAs, there will be competition for all the boats because there are more coxswains than there are crews. Whatever your “A-game” is now, this audio should be a wake up call that that ceases to be good enough the moment you join a collegiate team. I’m not saying that to freak you out either or make you question your ability to cox in college, I’m just putting it out there because it’s an expectation you need to be aware of and prepared for.

Back to the audio. One of the things I really like is how spaced out her words are. She’s not slowing her speech down or drawing anything out (on the contrary, she’s talking at a pretty normal pace and tone for the majority of the piece) but there’s a crispness and to each of the words that makes understanding her effortless.

I also liked the transition between the high strokes and the stride – the “press long” and “long stretch” calls were a good addition there as they brought the rate down. I say “breathe” a lot too because it’s an easy default call but it’s also easy to get repetitive with so the more alternatives you can come up with (in the vein of “press long and “long stretch“), the more effective you’ll be at initiating or maintaining that stride.

WELLESLEY COLLEGE WV8+ HEAT 2016 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

I coached with Ale this summer and she sent me several of her recordings from her time at Wellesley College where she coxed the 1V to an NCAA title this year. The audio’s a little muffled (I think she said it was in her bag or uni) so it might be a little hard to understand her – just turn the volume up and listen close.

This recording is from their heat and one of the things that immediately stood out was how calm her tone is while still being intense and assertive as fuck throughout the entire race. You can hear that at 1:08 where she says “one seat Amelia, NOW“. Preceding that she does an excellent job of telling them where they’re at (“35, 250 in, sitting on Bates’ 8-man”) and what they’re going to do (“we’re going to stride”) and part of what makes that “NOW” call so effective is how effectively she changes her tone between the two sets of calls. She increases her volume not by yelling but by inflecting the level of intensity she wants to see in the rowers. There’s a huge difference and if you can nail that skill, your worth as a coxswain is gonna go up a lot.

Related: The language of the first 500

Further on in the piece at 4:07, they’re coming off a counter-move and she says “totally neutralized their move, in two let’s swing it back…” to re-establish their pace and rhythm. Calls like this after a move are smart because it’s easy to get a little frantic when you’re countering someone’s move or making one of your own and coming into the last 500m of the race you want to make sure you’re moving as effectively as possible so there’s no unnecessary energy being expended.

Other calls I liked:

“Hook it, move it…”

“We go with our winning rhythm, taking 6-seat of Bates in two…”

“We trust our rhythm, we trust our speed…”

“Sit up across the thousand…”

“One press together, catches in sharper…”

GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MV8+ 2015 PRINCETON CHASE

If you’ve never been to the Princeton Chase, the 30-60 seconds of “light … light … light … pause … continuous, light … etc.” is pretty standard because there are so many boats corralled together in a U-shape along the end of the lake.

One of the things Connor consistently does well is incorporating individual rowers into his calls. You’ll hear him at 2:06 say “calm around the back, right Hugo?”, at 6:06 “Ben, you’re fuckin’ killin’ it…”, at 9:53 “Joey, I like the change man, good shit…”, etc. and that kind of engagement helps get the most out of each of those guys. If you’re just reciting your race plan during a race and only paying attention to stuff outside your gunnels, you’re leaving a lot of free speed on the table.

Related: (Connor swears a lot – I think it’s a non-issue but it is something to be mindful of, especially if you’re a junior coxswain.) I’m trying out for New Trier Novice Rowing in a couple days (go NT! I was super excited to see New Trier in the 8+ Midwest Championships recording!) and wanted to know what the real rules are on swearing in a race. I heard that you can get DQ’d but it is super rare and most coxswains swear anyway. What are your thoughts? 

Once they’ve got everything established, at 3:06 he starts to bring a bit more personality and energy into the piece and makes a call for five to bend the oars and swing back. As I’ve talked about before, primarily in the post linked below, this is how you can/should call a burst in order to get the most out of it. You can hear the energy in his voice before and he engages them by saying “let’s fuckin’ go ham today boys”, which is just way more effective than saying “power 10!” or simply “5 to bend the oars”.

Related: Race skills: All about Power 10s

One thing that I consistently get questions about from coxswains is how to avoid being repetitive and sometimes it’s hard to do, as you can hear at 7:24 when he says “guys, I’m gonna sound like a broken record but we’ve gotta get the blades in”. I love that and don’t see any problem with making a call like that. There’s good repetitiveness and bad repetitiveness and this is a perfect example of how to execute a string of calls in a “good repetitive” way. A big part of why this works is there’s no sense of pleading or franticness in his voice. He says what he sees, just with a more direct sense of urgency, and follows it up with five to sharpen the bladework. He ends it by telling them the changes they made worked and now it’s time to maintain it and move.

Other calls I liked:

“We’re gonna stride it out one beat with a big boom, ready, on … this one GO … BOOM, yea … BOOM, yea…”

“One leg drive, one swing…”

“Tall at both ends…”

“Remember the fundamentals…”

“It’s all us … it’s all us .. it’s gotta be all us…

You can see all the recordings I’ve shared by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page listed on the front page of the blog.

Question of the Day

Hi! Recently I’ve taken a bigger role on my team as a coxswain and have made some definite improvements with my confidence. But, I’m still struggling with how to handle frustration. When a boat feels really good and my rowers are being super responsive I feel as though I make really good calls, but when my rowers aren’t being as responsive to me or they’re tired, I feel like I never know how to motivate them without sounding mean. The other day a rower told me to work on saying more positive calls instead of negative calls, but I’m having trouble thinking of what would be considered a negative call. What do you think I should do to improve on this?

Good timing with this question – it’s something I’ll be talking about with one of our coxswains this week when we go over their evals, hence why this is a really long response since this is all fresh on my mind.

tl;dr The best way to turn practice around and get them to respond to you is to communicate throughout practice and keep everything you’re doing goal-oriented and the best way to pinpoint “negative” calls is to look at what you’re telling them not to do and then rephrase by telling them what you want them to do.

You should definitely ask that rower for clarification about the positive vs. negative call thing so you understand what calls they’re perceiving as negative and what alternatives they think would/could be more effective. A good rule of thumb if you’re trying to figure out what a “negative” call is is to think about what you’re telling the rowers not to do rather than what you’re telling them to do. Here’s the example that one of the guys gave on the evals:

“When [that coxswain] makes technical calls, they tend to be something like ‘Dan, don’t row it in’. This is so much less effective than saying ‘Dan, back it in’ or ‘Dan, get some backsplash’, or even ‘Dan, you’re rowing it in, you need to get some backsplash here’.”

So, it’s not that what you’re saying is inherently or traditionally negative, it’s just that when you say “don’t do X” they’re more likely to start thinking more about whatever you just said not to do instead of immediately thinking “OK this is the change I need to make”, which is what they’d do if you instead phrased it in one of the ways listed in the example above.

One example that Marcus McElhenney used with the coxswains last winter to make this point was he’d say “don’t think about a pink elephant … don’t think about a pink elephant … don’t think about a pink elephant” … and then he’d ask “OK what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about a normal elephant or are you thinking about a pink elephant?” and of course everyone said they were thinking about, visualizing, etc. a pink elephant, even though that’s what he said not to do. It’s a “the more you try not to think about it, the more you end up thinking about it” kind of thing so to combat that, you have to make sure that the words you’re using to communicate with the crew are as efficient as possible, which in this case means eliminating the negative word (“don’t”) and replacing it with something more effective/”positive”.

The first part of your question is similar to something I talked about with our freshman coxswain today. If practice isn’t going well or the crew isn’t responding to your calls, turning that around has literally – literally – nothing to do with motivation. Like pretty much everything else related to coxing, that should be your lowest priority. If they’re not as responsive today as they were yesterday, you’ve first gotta look at yourself and figure out a different/better way to communicate with them.

When I’ve been in that position I always talk to my stroke (with the mic turned off) between pieces and ask if there’s something I could/should be saying that I’m not or something they’re feeling that I’m not picking up on that I should address, etc. From there I’ll quickly say to the boat “Something’s not working … what’s going on, how can I help?” and usually someone in the boat will have an opinion on what I can say to get them to refocus. I’ve rarely ever been in a boat where the rowers don’t know what needs to be done to get back on track, it’s just that they need someone (aka me) to facilitate it and if I’m approaching it from a different angle or just not addressing it at all, it helps to just ask and have them say “this is what we need from you”. It also saves a ton of time, which took a while to accept because there was definitely a period where I didn’t want to ask them that because I felt like I should just know or be able to pick up on it without someone laying it out for me … but it’s not always that simple or easy so you’ve gotta have that back and forth communication otherwise you’re just gonna waste time going through six different things that aren’t working instead jumping straight into the one or two things that will work.

The second thing you’ve gotta do after evaluating how you’re communicating is just get over feeling like you’re sounding mean or being a bitch or whatever just because you’re asking for more or in some cases, the bare minimum.  Like, there’s obviously a fine line between pushing them to meet their potential during practice so you can get shit done and pushing too far to the point where they’re giving everything they’ve got and you’re just coming off as unsatisfied and making them think their efforts aren’t good enough … you definitely have to be aware of that. At the same time though, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to keep you on the right path, namely your Speedcoach that’s showing you your splits (you know where you’re at vs. where you need to be and from there you know how much harder you can push them … usually one or two splits is good as a “stretch” goal for pieces if things are going well) and your own goal-oriented practice plan that you’re ideally forming in your head as soon as you find out what the workout is.

This is another thing that we ask the guys about on the evals – how do the coxswains do at keeping practice on task, goal-oriented, etc. and if practice is going poorly, how good are they at turning that around. We definitely have days where the guys are similar to your rowers – not responsive, tired for whatever reason, and just not in it – but the consistent theme when I ask them what the coxswains could do better is that they just need to keep the crew focused on a goal. Sometimes the overarching goal of practice is too broad (i.e. if it’s a skill-and-drill day and we’re working on blade placement at the catch) so the coxswains will need to break it down even further and lay out some smaller goals that feed into that larger goal for this next piece or for the next 3-2-1 chunk of steady state or whatever.

That shouldn’t be something you always need to come up with on the fly either. Sometimes it is just based on what you’re seeing but in talking with your coach(es) before practice you should be able to extrapolate a couple of sub-goals based on whatever they say you’re gonna do that day. To use the blade placement example again, if that’s the main focus then the sub-goals/focuses should be on moving the hands away together, watching the shoulders of the guy in front of you, anticipating their movements and swinging out of bow together, starting the wheels together, making sure the bodies are fully set by the time the handle crosses the toes (that’s our style, yours might be different), and unweighting the hands in the last inch or two of the slide as you come into a fully compressed catch position.

On the surface sure, it doesn’t exactly read like how a “goal” normally reads because each of those is just a step in the process but each of those things has to happen if you want your catch to be on point and your blade to move through the longest arc possible in the water so they should naturally be a focus every time you take a stroke. You are the one with the power to take those inherent focuses and turn them into something more goal-oriented in order to get everyone back on the same page.

If we’re doing 3-2-1 at 18-20-24spm then something we might do is say “alright, let’s refocus and for the next minute here at an 18 let’s anticipate that movement out of bow together and match up the hands as they come away…”. Remind them to breathe and stay loose and then give them a few strokes to get it on their own. Make some calls throughout that first minute about tapping down, finish posture, matching the hands to the speed of the boat, etc. – all things that directly relate to getting the hands out together, that way you keep them singularly focused on matching up the hands. Give them feedback on how it’s going and then move on in the next minute to swinging the shoulders over together. Incorporate in a few calls about the hands but try to stay focused on swing, staying loose with the upper body, pivoting from the hips, anticipating the movements of the guy in front of you, etc.

From there you’re just progressively building on each step of the recovery until finally you’re at a 24 and can put it all together. Once we’ve gone through that 3-2-1 segment then the coxswains will take a step back and just let them row on their own for awhile to give them a more extended period of time to process what they just worked on.

That’s where that fine balance comes in of knowing when to push and ask for more and knowing when to take a step back and let them work it out on their own. If things are going poorly you’ve gotta be the first one to step up and say “alright, this is what we’re gonna do, this is how we’re gonna do it, let’s go…” and then once you’ve spent a few minutes on that, back off and let them focus on just feeling the boat and committing those changes to memory. A tendency with coxswains (myself included for sure) is to want to tackle every problem immediately or to just go radio silent and address nothing but if you are focused and you understand the stroke and how each movement feeds into another, it’s really easy to break things down into smaller parts that you can then use to get practice back on track.

Something to keep in mind too is that everything I listed above isn’t going to work 100% of the time. There will be days where nothing you try works and that’s OK as long as you’ve actually made the effort to find a solution. If you just sit back and do nothing then you’ve failed in your responsibility as the coxswain but if you’re actively trying different things and are finding that none of them are clicking, you’ve gotta keep an Edison-esque mindset about it and accept that you didn’t fail, you just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Those 10,000 ways that didn’t work are just as important to know as the one way you find that does work so spend some time post-practice reviewing what you did, what you tried, what wasn’t working, etc. and then … move on. You’ve now got a ton of info on hand for what to do and what not to do so just let it go and commit to doing something different tomorrow.

Question of the Day

Hi. I was hoping to get some explanation on how to call a power train. My guys said they like power trains but I’m not sure how to call them. Thanks!

Follow-up question – are you sure they’re not saying “power 10”? I’ve never heard of a “power train” before. Anyone else familiar with them?

Related: All about power 10s

Anyways, assuming they’re asking you to call a power ten, check out the above link. It talks about what power tens are, what they aren’t, how to call them, etc. Also check out this question that asks about a different take on power tens.

Related: Hi! In a race, when you call a power 10, do you call it two strokes ahead (Power 10 in two, that’s one, two,) or do you just call it?

When in doubt, the best (and fastest) thing to do is ask your crew to give you an example of what they want to hear. Presumably if they’re asking you to call something then they already have an idea of what it sounds like or how they want it to sound so getting their input first will give you something to work off of (and then fine tune from there once you’ve got a better understanding of what they’re looking for).