Question of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Question of the Day

Hey! I am a high school senior interested in rowing in college. I have committed to attending a school, but I did not go through the recruiting process. Before committing to the school, I was in contact with one of the assistant coaches, and met with and spoke with him. How do I go about getting in contact with the coach again about joining the team in the fall? Thanks!

Also, (unrelated) do you have any tips for rowing a single? I know the stroke, but keep having trouble with one of my oars getting caught under the water. (One day it was port, another it was starboard). Thanks again!

Just email them, re-introduce yourself, say you’ll be attending that school in the fall, and you’re still interested in joining the team. Assuming you’re already an experienced rower, they’ll probably just lump you in with the rest of the recruits once you get all the compliance paperwork done. (I talked about this a bit in the post linked below.)

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

Whenever that would happen with our walk-ons (getting the oars caught) (literally, without fail, every. single. time.) it would be because one (or both) of the oarlocks were backwards. So, out of habit, my first suggestion is to make sure you’re got everything set up correctly and facing the right way. Also make sure your hands are always left over right.

The main thing I’d keep in mind though is to make sure you’re drawing through level with both hands and keeping both elbows up at the finish. Really focus on squeezing the lats through the finish and maintaining pressure on the blades all the way through the drive so you give yourself the best chance to get a good, clean release. Also make sure that your posture is on point and you’re not shifting your weight all over the place. Relaxed upper body, engaged core, etc. This will help you maintain your balance and give you a more stable platform to work off of, which should make it easier to maintain an even blade depth with both oars.

My experience with sculling is (obviously) pretty limited so if anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to leave ’em in the comments.

Question of the Day

Hi! I’m in my third year of coxing in college. I coxed the 2V my first two years but this fall I was moved up to the 1V. There are a few other coxswains on our team but honestly, most of them don’t know what they’re doing and won’t put in effort to improve. I’ve noticed that when I’m occasionally put back into the 2V (which is mainly made up of the same rowers as last year’s 2V) for practice, the rowers have lost a lot of technique. Stroke seat (who was my stroke in the 2V last year) has told me that the other coxswains don’t know how to correct technique and will either ignore it or tell them to do the wrong thing. She has also said that the coxswains don’t know how to call pieces and aren’t helping them get to the stroke rate or split they need to be at. I also found out that several of 2V rowers no longer trust coxswains because the other coxswains have constantly lied to them about stroke rate, split, distance, time, etc.

What can I do for them? I love the 2V; it has a special place in my heart and I’ve had some of my best races and practices in that boat. I really want them to do well this spring, because we were amazing last year, but they don’t seem to be on that track now. Several rowers have talked to our coaches about how those coxswains are negatively affecting their boat but our coaches don’t seem to be very concerned and haven’t done anything to help. They’ve also talked to these coxswains but they get offended and defensive when the rowers ask them to change things. I really want to see the 2V do well this year but I don’t know what to do at this point for them.

I have a lot of thoughts on this so it’s gonna be kinda long.

First, this obviously doesn’t have anything to do with you but to any coaches who are reading, if you’re seriously that lazy or unbothered by your athletes coming to you and saying “this is a problem … help“, you really shouldn’t have to think too hard at the end of the season about why certain crews underperformed. You’re part of the problem.

I agree with the point you’re getting at, that the coxswains play a  role in how good (or not good) the rowers technique is, but I do think a line’s gotta be drawn somewhere. The rowers regressing in their technique can’t totally be put on the shoulders of the coxswains, regardless of how inept they are. There’s a lot of personal responsibility that has to be factored in there and if they’re not making some kind of effort off the water to work on whatever technical issues they’re having, then their own inaction is just as much to blame as the coxswains not taking their jobs seriously in pointing this stuff out.

As far as wanting the 2V to do well – I get that. I respect the fact that you want to help them but keep in mind that they’re not your primary boat anymore, even if you are occasionally switching between them and the 1V. I’ve been in that position before too, as I’m sure plenty of other coxswains have, and all that willing your old boat to do well does is distract you from coxing the boat you’re actually in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t help them but it should be less about the 2V specifically and more about helping the other coxswains get their shit together. You can’t complain about other people’s ignorance and then contribute to it by not sharing what you know. You’re in the 1V, presumably you know what your team’s top 3-5 technical focuses are, how to compare and contrast what you’re seeing and feeling vs. what you should be seeing and feeling, how to call a piece, how to get the crew on rate, how to earn your crew’s trust, and most importantly, how to check your ego and learn the difference between critiques and criticisms. So … share that.

And yea, I get that you and half the coxswains reading are probably thinking “…but if they have shitty attitudes and aren’t even gonna try, then what do I do?”, to which I say nothing. You do nothing. I say this to our coxswains all the time: if it gets to the point where I’m putting in more effort than you are to help you get better, I’m walking away and you’re on your own. I actually did that with one of our coxswains this past spring and it sucked and I felt like a dick but the  point was made pretty quickly that they needed to get over themselves and actually take the advice and feedback that was being given otherwise they were gonna continue to be perpetually disappointed with their standing on the team. It’s my job to share my experiences, explain stuff, and give you the “tools” to figure it out on your own. It’s not my job to will you to care, tell you what you want to hear, or spoon feed you so you can avoid having to do any actual work.

Before you approach them, go to your coaches and get them on board with you working with the other coxswains. Don’t ask if it’s OK or if they mind or whatever, just put on your assertive varsity coxswain adult pants and say “hey, I wanna meet with all the coxswains at X time on Y date at Z location to go over some of the technical stuff we’ve been working on this week, can you make that announcement at the end of practice?”. That’s literally – literally – all you need to say. Hopefully having them say something will get the coxswains’ attention and add an air of legitimacy to what you’re trying to do (since that can sometimes get lost when you try to organize it on your own).

Whenever you meet with them, rather than trying to do a deep dive right off the bat, just talk to them. Sure, there’s a chance that they actually are as apathetic and pissy as the rowers imply but in my experience, at least a third of them are that way because no one’s ever bothered to sit down and explain anything to them. So, start by figuring out where they’re at. I usually try to do this by asking what 2-3 things they’re struggling the most with and then follow up by asking what I can do for them, rather than asking what they need help with. That’s what works best for me personally because it feels less burdensome on the other person than if I were to just ask for help outright. Plus, if you ask me what I need help with, more than likely I’m not gonna have any idea how to respond because I’m too frustrated to have any coherent idea of the stuff I don’t know … I just know that I don’t know it.

Once you’ve got an idea of where their weaknesses lie, parse it down into more manageable chunks (i.e. the basics of bladework, body positioning, etc. instead of just “technique”) and find a time that works for everyone so you can meet to talk about it. This doesn’t need to be some super formal thing either – when I do this with our coxswains we either hang out in the boathouse lounge during practice while the guys are doing steady state or we’ll grab breakfast afterwards and talk while we eat. You should make it clear though that you want to help them get better, not just for their own sake but for the team’s as well, and that you’re happy to be a resource but the onus is on them to actually apply the stuff you’re helping them with. Like I said before, if you start putting more work in than they are, walk away.

If after all that nothing changes, go back to your coaches and have a serious sit-down conversation with them. Explain the issues the rowers have with the coxswains and that you attempted a solution without much luck so now it’s their turn to address the problem. Obviously you can rephrase the latter part of that to whatever you think will make your point the best. At some point though they’ve gotta take the hint that they need say something to the coxswains directly about their performance and it needs to go beyond the same half-assed, immediately written off “you need to do better” platitudes that tend to get thrown out in situations like this.

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! I’m getting pretty nostalgic as I’ve been following you since my high school days! But in a few weeks I begin my final season as a competitive rower. I started back in 2009 and instantly fell in love and haven’t looked back. I know that I can coach and row masters, but it’s just not the same. My heart is already breaking thinking about how this is the end of the line for me unless by some miracle I get accepted into a U23 program and can further delay said retirement. Do you have any tips on coming to terms with my impending retirement and coping with “post competition depression”? (I believe that’s what Google called it)

Totally feel ya on this. I felt the same way, that being on the water coaching was the next logical step but it wouldn’t fill the void of not coxing on a regular basis. I tried coxing a few masters crews and … it sucked, honestly. I knew it wouldn’t be the same as coxing people my own age who have similar levels of competitive fire but I thought that as long as I was coxing and doing something I loved it wouldn’t matter. That wasn’t the case so I stopped and threw myself into coaching. The fact that it was something new motivated me in a lot of the same ways that coxing did, which helped me not miss it as much since I wasn’t coxing much outside of HOCR and whenever whoever I was coaching needed me to hop in a boat.

Once I started the blog and definitely once I got to MIT though, that urge to regularly go out and cox has dwindled a lot. I’ll still jump at the chance to get in a boat and I love when I get to go out and cox our guys but being given the opportunity to coach our coxswains and do all the stuff I do on here and behind the scenes with the blog fulfills me just as much, if not more, than actually coxing does. That’s something I’ve really struggled with too because it’s like, if you really love coxing (or rowing) isn’t that what you’d want to be doing instead of this tangential stuff like coaching, blogging, etc.

I don’t know if it’s different for rowers but one of the things I love most about my role is that feeling of being useful and making an impact and those were some of the things that I thought I’d miss the most, outside of the obvious stuff like racing. I knew that if I was going to try to stay involved with the sport without regularly being in a boat myself I’d have to find other ways of experiencing those same feelings if pursuing coaching as a career was going to be worth it. That’s probably the biggest suggestion I can offer, regardless of whether you think you might want to try coaching or move on completely to something new – think of the top two or three qualities, feelings, whatever that you love most about rowing and see if you can get involved in something that fulfills those same things.

You’re lucky in that you know now that you’re down to your last few months as a collegiate athlete. You can say right now that this is going to be your best season – “last one, fast one”, as they say – so that when you get out of the boat for the last time you have absolutely no regrets. Having that closure will, I promise you, make the transition easier. Well, maybe not easier necessarily but less emotional because you’ll know that you left everything you had on the water, every stroke you took throughout the season was the best one you could have taken, and the people you did it with made you better in every way imaginable.

If you’ve already got a job lined up (or even if you don’t), see if there are any local universities nearby where you can be a volunteer assistant. I could go on for days about how great of an experience the last three years have been for me and even though there are definitely some downsides, you get to experience the sport from an entirely new perspective which, like I said earlier, fills the void of not being in a boat as regularly as you once were. Plus, I know several rowers who are volunteer assistants who continue to train out of the boathouses they’re at and are still competitive and making plans to try out for the national team in the coming year. It can be done.

Once the season ends, take some time off – like, some real time off – and let your body and mind decompress. It’s easy to think now that there’s no possible way you can live without rowing but even though it might feel like that’s coming from a rational and relatively unemotional place, it probably isn’t. Once you’ve had time to clear your head and relax, you might look at it differently and realize that having all this “free time” is actually pretty awesome, which means you can try new things or pursue something that you didn’t have time for before. Bottom line, one door is closing and another is opening … and that’s OK. Enjoy your final season and don’t let stuff that’s 5-6 months away get in the way of that.