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

Do you have any advice on dealing with a coach pressuring you to continue practicing through injury?

Three things:

1. Communicate with your coach. (I just talked about this too in the QOTD I posted earlier.) Most just want to make sure you’re not confusing discomfort with actual pain (which happens fairly often, hence the cautious skepticism on their part) so you have to actually explain what you’re feeling, how long it’s felt like that, when you notice it the most, etc. instead of just saying “my back hurts”. The more details you put out there the more likely your coaches are to understand that this is something serious and not just some lingering soreness.

2. Go to your doctor or trainer and get some professional feedback on what’s going on. Tell your coaches too that you’ve got an appointment set up so they see that you’re actively working on a solution to the problem. Most trainers on campus will directly communicate with the coaches to let them know that you came in, this is what they saw, etc. but you should still ask them if they can pass along the info to the coaches and then follow up a day or so later. They see a lot of athletes so do your due diligence and take the appropriate steps to ensure everyone that needs to be in the loop is actually in the loop.

3. Advocate for yourself. No one’s holding a gun to your head and making you erg, row, run, etc. If you’re injured and the trainer/doctor has said to take it easy for a few days then that’s what you’ve gotta do. I’m not blind to the fact that people want to keep their seat in the boat they’re in or they don’t want to sabotage their chances of competing for a seat in a higher boat but you seriously have to take a step back from that and look at the bigger picture. Is it really worth causing more damage, being out longer, getting sicker, etc. just to go out and half-ass your way through practice because you’re not feeling 100%? There are absolutely times when you should push through stuff but if you’ve got even a modicum of common sense you know the difference between those times and the times when you need to say (to your coach, not just in your head) “no, I need to take today off” or “I need to take it easy today”.

I know it can be hard to push back when your coach is pushing for you to keep practicing, (especially when you’re like, 15 years old) but if you don’t, especially after doing all the stuff I listed up above, then I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Like I said, no one’s holding a gun to your head and making you practice so if you know that rowing, erging, etc. isn’t the best course of action based on where your injury’s at right now, you’ve gotta stick to your guns and not be talked or guilt-tripped into doing something that’s gonna prolong the recovery process.

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: The process of being recruited as a coxswain, pt. 1

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

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Most of you have probably been wondering if/when I was ever going to talk specifically about coxswains and that’s what this week and next week’s posts are about.

One of the counselors at Northeast this past summer is currently a coxswain on the women’s team at Brown (who I also met three years ago at Penn AC) and she talked a bit about what the process was like for her, with the biggest point of emphasis being that being recruited as a coxswain is about letting coaches know who you are as a person. Obviously things are a bit different for us than they are for rowers because we don’t have an objective 2k time on our resumes but having accomplishments within your team (being named captain, most improved, etc.), having won races (actual races, not duals and scrimmages), the boats you’ve coxed, etc. … that’s about as objective as it gets for us.

Reading that, a lot of you are probably thinking that that puts you at an automatic disadvantage because your team isn’t very competitive or by the time you start looking into recruiting you’ve only coxed the novice and JV crews and … yea, obviously, that is going to put you at a bit of a disadvantage compared with other coxswains who might have the 1V or 2V and won Youth Nats, HOCR, etc. but as discussed previously, coaches take that kind of stuff into consideration when looking at where you’re coming from. (You should still be working hard from Day 1 though to work your way up the ladder so you can compete for the strongest boats on your team.)

Related: College recruiting: Interest from coaches + coming from a small program

So where do recordings come into the picture? They’re a lot more subjective than any of the things I just mentioned because every coach has different preferences in what they like and look for but they’re still an important factor when it comes to getting noticed. I’ll talk about this next week though so check back for more on that.

Related: What would you want to hear in a coxswain recording? Is there something that really makes a good recording?

Another important part of the coxswain recruiting process was being aware of the intangibles – things like being on top of completing paperwork (i.e. your applications, NCAA Clearinghouse stuff, etc.), responding to emails, submitting test scores, etc. Those things are huge for coxswains because tiny details like that are our bread and butter. It’s automatically expected of us to be meticulous and detail-oriented so if you’re lazy when it comes to communicating with coaches or you miss deadlines (or cut it unnecessarily close), coaches notice that and it can hurt you. Maybe not a lot but at the very least, it certainly doesn’t make the best impression or give the coaches confidence in your ability to stay on top of tasks (a skill that’s obviously very important when we’re on the water). The intangibles let the coaches see your personality, your ability to execute, etc. so don’t overlook this opportunity.

If you’re a junior or senior who attended the Sparks camp then you’ll probably remember Marcus’s talk on recruiting. He made mention of the fact that coxswains typically need to email coaches twice because some use that initial email as a test to see how interested you really are (i.e. are you interested enough in that school/program to reach out again if you don’t hear back from them). Granted, that’s kind of frustrating and personally I hate games like that but if it didn’t help coaches weed out those who are just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, they wouldn’t do it.

Related: Let’s say I want to be recruited onto a D1 college team. I just emailed the coaches, how long should I expect to wait until I get a response back? Will they email everyone back the first time or only the ones they’re interested in?

Coach Lindberg made the point that developing a relationship early on with the coach(es) is a critical part of the process for coxswains. They’re who you’ll be communicating with on a daily basis and both parties have to feel like you can work together. This is why it’s especially important for coxswains to ask questions (both to the coach and the athletes on the team) about their communication style, are weekly check-ins a thing/something that’s encouraged, how is feedback exchanged, etc.

To use current events as an example too (without delving too deep into the drama), asking how they tackle the issue of weight would also be very beneficial to know, regardless of whether you’re male or female or where you currently are in relation to the minimums. Weight fluctuates, as most college freshmen can attest to, so while it’s something you obviously need to be aware of before it’s brought up by someone else, you should also know how and in what style it’s handled if the coaches feel it needs to be addressed.

Related: Coxswains + weight management

Anyways, going back to developing relationships, on the coach’s end they’ll learn about your communication style through their interactions with you but also through letters of recommendations from and conversations with your high school coaches. More so than with rowers, college coaches rely heavily on insight from your high school coaches because they were the ones (theoretically) working the closest with you and can speak to your abilities the best. As tough as it may be sometimes, this is another reason why having a good working relationship with your coach is important … college coaches can and do ask how well you work with the coaching staff and you don’t want your high school coach to give a “meh” response when asked about how well you worked together.

One last thing – if you’re a girl who is 115lbs or under, you should first and foremost be looking at coxing women’s programs because there are way more scholarships and opportunities for you there than there are on the men’s side. This was mentioned by Marcus during his recruiting talk but also echoed by several of the coaches at NRC so even if you coxed men in high school, don’t automatically rule out coxing women’s programs in the future.

Next week: Audio vs. GoPro

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

What the hell do I, as a stroke seat, do to calm outrageous rush?

If you’re already setting a reasonable pace and they’re not following you, it’s unlikely that things will improve if you try to forcefully resist the rush because that’s just going to result in the timing getting way off, which will cause other problems (obviously).  I’ve occasionally had strokes that will try to hold their finishes a little longer but that’ll tend to only work for a few strokes before it gets out of control again (and their backs start to hurt).

If you haven’t already, talk to your coxswain and coach about it. When you’re on the water you should consistently be communicating with your coxswain whenever it feels like you’re getting pushed up the slide. During water breaks or on land, you should bring it up to your coach so they can observe the crew to try to determine what/who is causing it and/or so they can adjust their practice plan, if necessary, to focus on slide control for a bit. Fixing the rush tends to be a collaborative task, at least in my experience, and really requires you and your coxswain to be on the same page whenever you’re on the water. Off the water, you have to communicate what you’re feeling to the coach. The coxswain can explain how it feels to them but we don’t feel the rush the same way you do in stroke seat so it’s important that you tell the coach where you feel it the most during the stroke, if it only happens at specific rates or if it’s a regular and consistent problem, if you notice it more when a certain pair comes in (i.e. if you’re rowing by 6s and you only feel rushed when 3 + 4 are rotated in), etc.

One thing that I’ve consistently heard from my stroke seats over the years is that they’re not going to take the rate above what feels comfortable for them. If we’re doing pieces at a 28 but they feel like shit because of the rush, they’ll row at a 26. If it still feels like shit, they’ll go down to a 24. This obviously requires communication between you, your coxswain, and your coach so it’s something I’d definitely try to discuss before going out on the water but there are other times when you just need to make a game-time decision and tell your coxswain “this feels awful, we’re taking the rate down two beats”. You’re the one responsible for dictating the pace so … assert yourself and do that (without being an ass about it). One of the things that rowers need to understand in general is that there’s no point rowing at a certain rate if it feels terrible just to say you did your piece at a 28 or a 32 or whatever. Find a stroke rate that feels good (even if it’s really low), row at that rate for awhile, then bump the rate up and try to get that same feeling. Emphasizing slow recoveries and making sure your coxswain is calling out the people who are early at the catch are going to be two of the best things for your crew right now. It’s also going to be important for you to tell the coxswain when something changes, either positively or negatively, so they can assess it and make the appropriate call to either reinforce what the crew did well or to continue trying to elicit a change from them.

Another thing you can do is ask your coach/coxswain to do pause drills during the warmup. I’ve talked about this before (scroll down to #3 and check out the other links in that section too) but pause drills are great for getting everyone on the same page and really thinking about what they’re doing. I like to break it down into pairs and fours when I can, just because it puts a little more responsibility on the individuals, and because it helps me (as a coach or the coxswain) pinpoint the specifics of what that rower is doing that is contributing to the problem. Obviously that has nothing to really do with you but it’s something you can suggest if they aren’t already part of your warmup or the drills you do.

Also, make sure you talk to your 7-seat (off the water). Their main job is to back you up and maintain the pace you’re setting. That obviously puts a little more pressure on them to resist the rush but at the same time, they can’t be part of the problem by contributing to it. They probably feel it just as much as you do if it’s really that bad so just remind them that you need them to back you up and help set the rhythm.

Bottom line, what it comes down to as far as what you can do to calm the rush is to make sure you’re aggressively and consistently communicating what you’re feeling to the people around you. Effective communication will be your biggest asset here. Let your coxswain (first) and coach (second) be the one to communicate what you’re saying/feeling to the crew as a whole but make sure you’re also talking with your 7-seat off the water or quietly during breaks about how things are going.