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.

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Question of the Day

Hi!! I have a plica in my knee, I got the okay from our AT to row but it hurts a lot when I do. We’re in an erging stint right now and I don’t want to be seen as a slacker but I also don’t know if I can effectively do the workouts on the erg. I have no clue how to go about handling the situation.

If your coaches and/or teammates think you’re a slacker because you’re trying to figure out how to come back from or manage an injury, you’ve got bigger problems to deal with.

In my experience, both as an athlete and since I’ve been coaching, the people that think they’re going to be seen as slackers or whatever when they’re dealing with an injury (or academic/personal issues) are the ones that do literally everything but communicate with their coach(es). If your coaches don’t know that something’s going on and they see you pulling splits that aren’t where they’re supposed to be then yea, they’re probably gonna be thinking you need to get your shit together. After a few days or weeks of this when they finally ask you what the deal is and you casually say “well I’ve been dealing with an injury for the past month” they’re just gonna be frustrated and annoyed that you never said anything to them and just let them assume that you were slacking off. That’s entirely on you too so you can’t get pissed at them if and when they verbalize their frustration at your lack of communication. The vast majority of coaches will be willing to work with you to help you stay healthy, recover properly, etc. but it’s your job to speak up and advocate for yourself when something is going on.

Related: Hey! At the end of the spring season I was one of the best rowers on my team. I had some of the strongest erg scores and was stroking the 1V8+. However I was rowing through an injury, it was a plica so there was no structural damage, and after receiving a cortisone shot, the pain went down a lot, so I was cleared to row though they said to go see another dr. over the summer for potential surgery. The Dr. I saw over the summer took an MRI and decided to try PT and an anti-inflammatory. She also said to limit my exercise to non-impact workouts, which pretty much meant no erging/rowing, running, or biking. I did do some swimming this summer and focused on building core strength. Now I’m back at school in pre-season, it definitely helped, and my knee is better. However my erg scores (obviously) haven’t been where they were and it’s been discouraging. I’ve been going to every practice to gain an advantage, before mandatory practice starts, but it’s so hard motivating myself to go when I know I’ll be in the middle of the pack, even though I know the only way to get better is by going. What’s worse is that my coach ignores me. This sucks because I’ve picked up that that’s what he does to the girls who maybe aren’t the top rowers on the team. Do you have any advice on how I can boost my moral?

The best and first thing you should do is meet with your coaches before your next practice and update them on what’s going on. Let them know that you’ve been cleared by the trainer (you can probably ask the trainer to email them too to let them know what they’ve seen and done with you so far) but that you’re still experiencing a lot of pain when you’re on the erg. This past winter we had two or three guys working through knee issues and they would typically bike during practice or if we were doing something like 7 x 10 minutes, they’d start on the ergs, do 3-4 pieces, and then get on the bike for the last few. Another guy would go to the pool on campus and swim for 90 minutes. Try proposing one of those options and/or get some recommendations from the trainer for alternate workouts and then let your coaches know where things stand.

Regardless of how off-putting your coach might be, which I fully get is why some people are hesitant to tell them they’re injured, it’s still in your best interest to tell them stuff like this sooner rather than later.

Question of the Day

Hey! I have a couple questions. 

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

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

Thanks!! (Sorry if the second one is kind of a loaded question. Today was the first day with the new coach and tomorrow is the first day on the water)

So this is always a question that I genuinely don’t know how to answer and always struggle with when people ask for advice on how to work through it. I think my initial thoughts on it tend to come off kind of flippant (unintentionally) which makes it hard to give legit feedback without sounding like an ass. My take on it though is that if you can acknowledge the value in what’s being said and are able to use it … I don’t see how at the same time it can be construed as an attack. You’ve gotta be able to separate you the coxswain from you the person, which I talked about in the post linked below. If someone says “you’re a bitch” then yea, that’s clearly a personal attack but if they say “you need to work on your steering”, that has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person. One of the things I learned early on in coxing is that you have to – have to – look at everything objectively. As soon as you start letting emotions cloud your judgement or how you interpret situations you’re shooting yourself in the foot and limiting your growth potential.

Related: Coxswain skills: How to handle a negative coxswain evaluation

Anyways, moving on. It kinda seems like you’re contradicting yourself a bit here by saying your coach wants to completely change how you cox … but you acknowledge that you could do XYZ better. Normally in situations where a coach is at odds with a coxswain’s style I’d advocate for them to, at the very least, explain their approach so the coach can better understand why they do things a certain way. In most cases I think that as long as your approach isn’t completely ass-backwards to the way things should be done (which some coxswains try to pass off as “their style”) and you’re able to clearly communicate how/why coxing this way works for your crew, most coaches will take a step back and let you do your thing. I’ve had to do that before (not even with new coaches either, with my coaches that I’d worked with for 3-4 years) and one of my coaches who was a coxswain said that even though he didn’t necessarily agree with how I was doing it, I presented it in a way that at least made sense and he could see that the crew responded well to it.

In your case though, I think you should just go with what he says for the time being (give it a trial period of a week or two) and see how it goes. Tell him that you’re going to be working on XYZ and ask if he can give you some feedback over the next few days about how you’re doing. After your trial period is up, compare and contrast the changes you made with how you were coxing before. What improved, what stayed the same, etc. Whatever improves, based on his and the rowers feedback, incorporate it and do it from now on. With whatever stays the same, explain that you tried doing [whatever] the way he suggested and the rowers didn’t really respond to it or felt kinda “meh” about it so you’re probably just gonna stick with how you were doing it before, at least for now.

With whatever suggestions you don’t use or incorporate, I’d at least keep them in your back pocket to use if/when you need to try something new. There have definitely been times where a coach has suggested something to me and I’m just like “lol no” because I know it won’t work or sounds ridiculous but other times, even if their suggestion doesn’t work at the time with whatever boat I’m coxing, I’ll try to remember it so if a time comes when I’m feeling burnt out or the crew I’m with is hitting a mental plateau, I’ve got something on hand that I can try. Why create extra work/stress for myself by trying to come up with new calls/strategies when I can just re-try or re-purpose ones that have already been suggested to me?

Related: Hi! I just started coxing this fall, and towards the end of the season my rowers told me that the calls I was making during our race pieces were good but that I should work on being more controlled with my voice. I think it’s because I’m nervous about being silent for too long so I rush everything out but then I also run out of things to say. I also think I need to work on being less repetitive and have a little more intensity to my calls. However, we went off the water right after that. Is there any way I can work on this over the winter? I really want to work on these things and I’m bummed I won’t really have a good opportunity the whole winter. I cox the guys on the ergs but it’s very different than being in the boat. Right now I’m just listening to tapes when I have spare time and taking notes, but is there any way to actually practice this before spring?

As far as how to work on being less repetitive, check out the post linked above. A good place to start would be to listen to your recordings and identify which calls you use most frequently, that way you can then think about what you’re actually trying to say and come up with more specific calls from there. If you’re one of those coxswains that says “let’s go” or “now” every 5 strokes during a race then working on creating a basic race plan would probably go a long way in helping cut down on the repetitiveness. The less room you give yourself to make seemingly random calls like that (outside of where they can/should be used), the better you’ll be at communicating effectively with the boat.

College Recruiting: (More) Questions to Ask Coaches

Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1 ||  Contacting coaches, pt. 2 || Contacting coaches, pt. 3 || Contacting coaches, pt. 4 || Highlight videos + the worst recruiting emails || Official/unofficial visits + recruiting rules recap || When scholarships aren’t an option || Managing your time as a student-athlete + narrowing down your list of schools || Interest from coaches + coming from a small program || How much weight do coaches have with admissions + what to do if there are no spots left || Being recruited as a coxswain, pt. 1 || Being recruited as a coxswain, pt. 2 || Technique + erg scores

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This list of questions was compiled by Jim Dietz (current women’s coach at UMass and pretty notable guy within the rowing community) and includes two things – questions you should ask and questions you can figure the answers to out on your own (aka questions you shouldn’t ask because if you do it just shows a) your lack of initiative and preparation and b) that you’re not really interested in that school/program).

I’ll start with the latter, questions you shouldn’t ask…

Are they club or varsity? (Know the difference.)

Are they D1, D2, or D3? (Know the difference.)

What conference do they compete in?

Who do they compete against? (Just look at their racing schedule to figure this out.)

How often to they race? (Look at their schedule.)

Those things you can find out very easily via Google so don’t waste the coaches time by asking them during the limited period of time that you speak on the phone or through email. Now, questions you should ask…

What kind of academic support is available to the athletes?

Is the team limited to rowing eights and fours or is pairs rowing/sculling also an option?

How are the facilities and what are the conditions normally like where you row?

Do you recruit coxswains? (Obviously an especially important question if you’re a coxswain.)

How are coxswains evaluated?

What is the team atmosphere like in general and how are things handled when the environment is tense (i.e. during selection, the dead of winter training, etc.)?

Another great question to ask is what the freshmen → sophomore retention rate is, as well as what’s the number of four-year athletes that graduate compared to the number of people who were in that class as a freshmen (aka how many athletes make it all four years?). Athletes who quit during or after their freshman year usually do it for one of two reasons, culture or academics. (Both of those played a factor in my decision when I stopped coxing.) Athletes that quit later in their careers (juniors + seniors) tend to do so purely for academic reasons.

With freshmen, culture tends to be the bigger of the two unless you’re at a very academically intensive school (like MIT, for example) where balancing athletics and academics can be a challenge from the get-go. All of the freshmen that we’ve lost the last two years (which was … four or five rowers, I think) left for academic reasons, not necessarily because they were falling behind or anything but because they wanted to be able to devote more time to school and other activities (Greek life is huge here so that’s one of them) and they felt like it wouldn’t be possible to do that while balancing 20+ hours a week as an athlete.

Related: What questions should you ask coaches during the recruiting process?

I think I’ve mentioned this before but you should also ask if there are any rowers on the team currently majoring in whatever it is you want to major in. (This is also a good question/topic for conversation when you go on your official visits and have some time to interact with the athletes outside of practice.) This is especially important if you’re interested in pre-med/pre-law, engineering, architecture, chem/bio/physics … basically anything that is lab or project-intensive.

Related: College recruiting: Official/unofficial visits + recruiting rules recap

One of the main reasons why you should ask this is because it just might not be feasible to do that major due to scheduled lab times and practice times. My major was very lab-intensive since it was a research-based science major and more than once I had classes and/or labs that were only offered at one specific time once a year or once every other year. It’s also good to learn how athletes in those majors manage their schedules with crew and all their other commitments (i.e. clubs, research, study groups, etc.).

Another question that is important to ask is how committed the coach is to their program, particularly if one of the reasons why you’re looking at the program is because you want to row for that coach. Barring getting fired or other unforeseen circumstances, are they planning on sticking around for (at least) the next five years? Most coaches that I personally know would be totally cool with being asked this question, mainly because if they’re asking you to commit four years to them it’s only fair that you ask the same in return. If they have young kids who might be starting school in two years, are they going to stay in their tiny condo in the big city or are they planning on moving to an area with better schools where they can buy a house with a yard and actually settle down? What about if you want to row for a legendary coach like Steve Gladstone, for example? He’s been in the rowing game for decades … it’s not unreasonable to think that maybe he’s eyeing retirement within the next three years. (That’s not to say he is, it’s just an example.) If rowing for a particular coach is one of the reasons you’re drawn to that program, asking these questions should be part of the conversation you have with them.

Related: What questions should you ask coaches during the recruiting process?

The last thing is questions that can/will be asked by the coach to you that you can/should also ask them.

How the season went (Obviously you can look up their results but specifically, what was the biggest lesson learned from … I donno, Washington’s loss to Cal in the spring, or what was the most meaningful experience from this past year?)

What are your/the team’s goals within/outside rowing? (Our team, like I assume most teams do, has two meetings each year – one at the end of the fall and one before the start of the spring season – to lay out our goals and then discuss our progress towards them.)

Why are you interested in this school or if you’re asking the coach this, what attracted you to this school and why have you stayed there for 3, 5, 12, 40 years? (This is one of my favorite questions to ask when I’m interviewing with coaches.)

That’s it, the last recruiting post in this series. I hope the last seventeen weeks worth of posts have been helpful for you guys and have answered some of your questions about the whole process (or ones you didn’t know you had) and everything that goes into it. If you want to check out previous posts in this series you can check out the “college recruiting 101” tag. All other recruiting posts can be found in the “recruiting” tag.

Question of the Day

Hi, I love your blog! I just started coxing this year and it has been so helpful and informative so far. My question: for my team’s first regatta this fall, I coxed the 3V which I was pretty proud of considering I’m a novice cox and the 1V and 2V are coxed by upperclassmen. However, for the next regatta, I found out I got moved down to the 4V. I want to know why and how I can get back in the 3V, but don’t want to annoy my coaches or seem like I’m resentful or overly focused on myself instead of the team as a whole. I’m not super upset by the switch but I’d really like to be back in the 3V for the spring. Also, I was told to be more “bitchy” in the boat, but I want to make sure I’m constructively assertive and not mean or unnecessarily aggressive. Do you have any suggestions for how to talk to my coaches about this or to get back into a higher boat, or tips for being “bitchy” in a helpful way? Sorry if this question has already been answered!
Thanks so much!

Just talk to your coaches. Approach it casually and maturely and say “I didn’t mind being in the 4V but my goal for the spring is to cox the 3V. Is there anything that prompted the switch when we raced and if so, what can I do to work on that so I can have a better shot at the 3V?” Trust me, it really is that simple. As long as you don’t come off entitled or anything like that when you ask, they’re not going to care that you brought it up. If anything they’ll probably appreciate the fact that you’re talking with them about it because it shows your commitment to getting better.

As far as “being bitchy in a helpful way”, I think you first have to narrow it down to what’s actually being referenced. Are they saying you need to be more assertive with your execution in general or something smaller, like your calls just need a bit more “punch” behind them? I’ve heard people say “be more of a bitch” in reference to so many different aspects of coxing that I honestly don’t even know what they mean anymore (and truthfully, it’s really starting to aggravate me). If your rowers are speaking in a general sense, I tend to interpret that as them saying they want you to be more on top of them about the little details – aka hold them accountable for the changes they need to make, the rate/splits they’re supposed to be at, etc. I was just talking about this with our coxswains yesterday when we went over their coxswain evals and what I told them was that they need to know not just the standards and expectations that we (the coaches) have for each crew but they also need to know the standards and expectations that the rowers have for themselves and then aggressively hold them to that. That combined with knowing the appropriate technical calls to make (and when) and understanding the focus and purpose of each drill/workout so you can cox them accordingly is how you present yourself as a “constructively assertive” coxswain.

Question of the Day

I am a girl and I recently joined a new club team that has a very small group of girls and a very large group of guys. I started out coxing the novice guys so I know them pretty well and we work well together but recently I was switched to coxing the for girls. I feel like I work better with the guys and would like to go back to coxing for them. How do I approach my coach about this without sounding like I am complaining or being a team player?

I would first talk with the guys coach to see if there’s even a spot available for another coxswain on the team before you talk with your coach. (Even if you think there is, don’t assume anything until you’ve heard confirmation from the coach.) It’s like looking for a job – you shouldn’t quit your original job until you’ve landed another one otherwise you’re probably gonna get screwed. Same general principle applies here … at least in my opinion. You don’t have to go into all the details but I’d say something along the lines of you enjoyed being on the guys team, felt you worked well with him (the coach) and the rowers, and wanted to know if you were to switch back to the men’s team in the spring season (not mid-season, because that’s a shitty thing to do and not indicative of a “team player”), would there be a spot open for you and would you be able to compete right away for whatever boat it is you want. I’d let them know that you haven’t talked to your coach about this yet either but plan to do so within the next few days, just so they don’t end up saying something to them that puts you in an awkward position by giving your coach the impression that you’re going behind his/your team’s back.

If the men’s coach says there’d be a spot for you then the next step is talking with your coach. I would ask to meet with them one-on-one before or after practice and just lay out that when you started with the club you coxed with the men’s team and really enjoyed it because of XYZ. Explain to them your reasons for wanting to switch back to coxing them and try to avoid throwing anyone on your current team under the bus or saying something that implies you just like the other people better. Doing that is just going to come off wrong and won’t do you any favors. You don’t want to burn any bridges in the process of switching teams so you have to be as professional as possible about it and frame everything so that your reasons are about how/why you’ll thrive and have the kind of success you want with the other team and not about just liking a certain group of people more than another.

If the men’s coach says there isn’t a spot for you, accept that and figure out a way to work with your current teammates. Try talking with some of the varsity coxswains to see if they have any advice or if there’s something more serious going on, talk about it with your coach and ask them what advice they have for developing a better working relationship with the girls in your boat. Figuring out how to work well with people that you don’t necessarily get along or see eye-to-eye with is a solid life skill and this is a good opportunity to figure out some strategies for how to do that. (I always felt it came in handy in high school and college when working on group projects since group projects, you know, suck…)

I’ve always been of the opinion that a coach can’t tell you that you’re not allowed to switch teams – I just don’t think it’s within their power to do that – so talking with them is more of a courtesy thing to let them know what’s going on more than anything else. I do think they have the right to be a little annoyed though but that shouldn’t really stop you from doing what you think is best for you/your rowing career. Like I said,  you don’t want to burn any bridges but I also think you need to stick to your guns in situations like this. Coaches have a tendency to guilt trip people into staying on their current team and I personally don’t think that’s fair, for coxswains in particular since how well we work with the people in our boat can literally be the make-or-break factor in determining how well that crew does. Whatever you decide to do, be mature about how you approach things and you should be fine.

Question of the Day

This was an email I got two weeks ago that I wanted to share because it’s a pretty good question and something I know I haven’t talked about on here. The school this coxswain attends as well as their coach’s name were mentioned in here so those have been [removed] for privacy.

I’m not sure if you remember me but my name is [removed] and I cox at [an Ivy League program]. I was fortunate enough to find a team to practice with this summer and a couple weeks ago, I went to a regatta with them. During my race, I made a recording that I want to send to my head coach to show that I have improved and that I really want to be on this team. That being said, the recording had some flaws that I felt were out of my control (cox box fell out of holder so I couldn’t get a rate last two minutes of the three minute race and we caught a crab and went into another team’s lane because only 3/4 were rowing so I was like “let me get out of their lane”).

In my email to [the head coach], I’m not sure how to approach this… I have a couple of different questions:

1- Should I send an email like, “Can you do me a favor and listen?” and see if he says yes first? Or should I just send the recording to him with my commentary?

2- Should I send my commentary at all? I know in one of your blog posts you said you like when people send commentary but part of me feels like some of the stuff I’m saying might come off as making excuses. For example, I said “One of the weak points was not calling out rate” but go on to explain why I didn’t do it. My intention in explaining these things is to make sure I get “new” feedback.

3- How long is too long for my own commentary? I have three paragraphs built into the email but I’m wondering if I should put it in a separate word document. Thoughts?

I know I’m probably overthinking it too much, and I’m wondering if, with all the problems, I should send the recording at all. I don’t think [the head coach] has ever seen/ heard me cox before so I feel like I need to give him some baseline to know where I’m at but at the same time I don’t want to make myself look bad.

If I were in a similar situation this is what I’d say:

“Hi [Coach]! I had the opportunity to race at ______ a few weeks ago with ______ and was able to get a recording of myself coxing our [heat, semi, final, etc.]. I wanted to see if you could listen to it when you have some time available and possibly give me two or three pieces of feedback based on what you hear. I know I still have things to work on but I’d love to hear your thoughts so I can prioritize what I should focus on as we get closer to the start of the season. Thanks!”

That’s LITERALLY all I’d say. I personally like when coxswains send their commentary simply because I find it interesting/insightful and because I judge them on it, mainly on whether or not they’re self-aware enough to know what they did well and what they need to work on before I or someone else points it out to them. Coaches though (who have never coxed and more importantly have a limited amount of time available) tend to get turned off by that because that’s just another long string of words that they have to read in addition to all the other shit they’ve gotta do. When emailing coaches always keep it short and sweet unless they specifically ask for something more. If he emails you back and says “here’s what I thought, what did YOU think…” then you can email him two or three of your critiques. Again though, keep it short and to the point. I wouldn’t say more than two sentences per critique – one saying what you did and the other saying how you’ll tweak that action to be more effective or what you’ll do instead.

As far as feeling like you’re making excuses, that’s something I struggle with ALL the time, not just within rowing but in general too. The things I say/do are almost always very deliberate so I have to tread lightly when explaining myself in order to not come off as defensive or like I’m making an excuse. I still haven’t figured out the perfect way to do this but my advice for this situation would be to just make note of all the things you feel you need to work on, why you did them the way you did, and what changes you could make in the future in order to have a better outcome. That isn’t something that needs to be shared necessarily either. If your coach does ask “why did you do this” though then you can say “my goal was to have X happen but looking back I don’t think I executed it properly so next time I’m going to try Y and see if that works better”. This shows self-awareness in your actions without being defensive of how things played out.