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.

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The Language of the First 500

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

Related: Getting off the line with world class speed

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

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

If you’ve been to Northeast Rowing Center and had Coach Lindberg (BU heavyweight men’s assistant) as your coach, then you’ll remember him asking his boats if they can list the three things that all fast crews have in common. Do you know what they are?

Blades go in before the drive begins

While the feet are still light (aka there’s no pressure being applied to the stretchers), the blade touches the water and gets heavy. This has to happen before the wheels change direction.

Hang your bodyweight off the handle all the way through the drive

From catch to finish, suspension is the key to prying and accelerating. You can read more about it in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

Spacing at the back end

Every coach coaches the finish a little differently but regardless of whether you keep the hands moving around the finish or do that weird pause-y thing, the hands and elbows have to be out and away before the body rocks over.

This stuff is so simple you’ll probably read it and think “…duh” but if your crew is trying to gain more speed or figure out what’s holding them back, don’t default to just thinking about pulling harder – go back to the basics and ensure you’re doing all three of these things first. You can make calls for this stuff for at any point during practice too – it all falls under the umbrella of “just one (or three) of those things” that you should always be looking for, correcting, and perfecting.

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.

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.