Question of the Day

Do you have any tips for dealing with confidence? I’ve been coxing our team’s 1V since fall and I’ve been praised as being our team’s “best” coxswain for quite a while, I was even selected from 20+ others as one of the best two coxswains in our division last spring, but I still get very anxious/nervous because I think I’m not very good. I always strive to put in my very best effort and always look for ways to improve but I just feel that I’m not good enough and should quit. There are also some teammates who favor their friends who are coxswains over me, which impacts my confidence a bit as well, which I know is silly but it hurts to be seen as less by some of my teammates despite constantly working my ass off to make the entire team improve. What can I do? I feel like this issue is making me want to quit because I don’t believe I’m helping our team.

I think we’ve all been there at some point – I definitely have. But here’s the thing, there’s a pretty good chance that you wouldn’t be in the 1V, be told you’re the “best” coxswain (numerous times), etc. if people didn’t think that you were doing something right. I know that sometimes it can be tough to believe that yourself but the blunt truth is that if you don’t accept what appear to be pretty objectively clear signs that you’re a good coxswain, eventually the praise is gonna stop (and you’ll actually be in the position you feel like you’re in now) because people are gonna get tired of doing what appears to be nothing more than feeding your ego.

Related: TED Talks, body language, and … coxing?

Having teammates who favor their friends as their coxswain isn’t something that’s ever gonna change. This was something that annoyed me when I was in high school but my coach explained it in a way that made me look at the situation differently and ultimately use it to my advantage. He said “do they prefer [the other coxswain] because she’s objectively better in certain areas than you or do they prefer her just because she’s friends with them and you’re not?” Both were valid questions because while I was friendly with the girls in that boat, we weren’t friends because we were in different grades so them preferring that coxswain over me wasn’t anything personal, it was simply them wanting someone they knew (and trusted) in the boat with them. If you fail to take the emotion out of the situation then yea, it might look like bitchy, unjustified favoritism but that wasn’t it at all.

Skill-wise, we were relatively equal but one area where she was definitely stronger than me was being able to call out individual things with each person’s stroke and make the right call that would have an immediate impact on the boat’s speed. I was still developing my “eye” so my coach pointed out that since I wanted the boat she was coxing (and was likely the first in line for it the following year), it would be in my best interest to ask her for advice on how to do the stuff that made her an asset to that boat … namely, making technical calls that instantly resulted in the boat running better, faster, smoother, etc. Getting her help with that stuff taught me a lot which had an obvious impact on my confidence since I was more sure of myself when I’d make those calls with my own boats.

People preferring other coxswains isn’t always about you. I think that’s a big lesson coxswains have gotta learn … some people just prefer other coxswains and sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not but how you let it affect you is entirely up to you.

Related: I’ve always been that insecure person but according to my rowers and coach, I’m a “good coxswain.” Problem is that I always find fault in whatever I’m doing. I’m positive towards my rowers but negative towards myself. Any tips on how to be more self confident?

As far as confidence in general goes, the best advice I have is to not let perfect get in the way of good. Put your best effort in, have achievable expectations for yourself, etc. but don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t 100% perfect all the time. I used to do that all. the. time. and that made it really hard to accept positive feedback from my coaches and teammates because I never felt like I genuinely deserved the compliment(s). Eventually one of my friends said what I said before, that if I didn’t stop with the perpetual pity party and accept that they thought I was doing a great job then they were just gonna stop saying anything at all and then I’d never know how I was doing (which, as most coxswains can probably attest to, is the worst).

Related: Notebook “hacks”: Post-practice affirmations

Like I’ve said on here a thousand times before, it’s way easier said than done to just believe you’re doing a good job. You do have to get in the habit though of recognizing when you made a good series of calls, had a good practice, coxed a great piece, etc. and not overanalyze it to the point where your pat on the back turns into you beating yourself up over something trivial. And if people are giving you positive feedback, trust that they’re giving it to you because you’ve truly earned it. Internalize it, build on it, and eventually the confidence will come. It’s a process so stick with it.

Pro tip: Advice from a former novice, pt. 2

Previously: Advice from a former novice || Maintaining the set while on the rudder || Get on the erg

This is an email I got at the end of the 2014 spring season from a (then) novice coxswain at a men’s program here on the East Coast. I’d included it within another post at the time but felt it warranted it’s own post, particularly since the first “advice from a former novice” post (linked above) got a lot of a positive feedback.

“Hi everyone! I wanted to share with you all a couple of things that I learned after I walked on to my team as a novice coxswain. No experience at all in anything crew related. All I knew how to do was compete (I had been a varsity athlete in high school). In fact, I didn’t even know how to say starboard or skeg properly. The point is, I learned a lot along the way and ended up in the third varsity boat of a silver medal winning crew for a division one program, so anything truly is possible.

For the novices (and more experienced coxswains) out there, I have a couple of things to say that I feel are sometimes overlooked or forgotten.

Your job is to steer

I think this always bear repeating and it is certainly something that my coach harped on many times. You can’t let your emotions or competitive spirit get in the way of your main priority. And, I would say to not worry too much about your calls until you can steer, because steering takes up most of your focus. Calls will always be secondary to steering straight in a race since snaking adds meters and time to your crew’s efforts. Guys know how to motivate themselves, so really the best thing you can do is give them the shortest course, which occurs when you steer straight.

Tone matters

This is something that I didn’t realize I was missing until I listened to a recording of myself (which is why you should record yourself). When my coach gave me feedback, he said that I at times sounded frantic or doubtful, which not what you want your crew to hear. If I don’t know something, I either don’t say anything at all, or I just make something up (not always the preferable thing to do, but sometimes necessary). But no matter what, I’ve learned to sound confident in the decisions that I am making on the water. Also, when you get into a race, it shows that guys that you are just as invested as they are in winning, which is important for their mentality. They also appreciate it when you care just as much as they do.

You win some, you lose some

Sometimes you put in a lot of hard work and come up short. Other times you win by a foot. Just know that when you have done the best job you can do, there might be times when another crew rowed better. The sport is about working hard and always improving. You should always appreciate the work that you do, and strive to improve so that you have no regrets. It goes for coxswains just as much as it goes for rowerscoxswains can always improve as well.

I know this sounds simple, and it might not mean much coming from a novice rower, but as a coxswain looking back on my first year, I feel like these three things come up in a lot of the races I was lucky to be a part of. Listen to your coaches, work with your rowers, and best wishes to all.”

Race plans: Making moves

What is a move? Or, rather, what is it not? A move isn’t some random burst of hard strokes that you take because you don’t know what else to say and you know you’ve gotta say/do something. Those arbitrary power tens you call with little to no context? That’s not a move. What a move is is a part of the larger overall strategy (aka … your race plan) that gets you from Point A to Point B, which means they’ve gotta be executed with intention and a bit of forethought.

In my race plans we’ve always included two planned moves – one around 1000m (the stereotypical “20 at 1000m”) and another towards the latter half of the 3rd 500m. We had a third ten or fifteen stroke burst in our back pockets for the first thousand if we needed it but we avoided using it unless absolutely necessary – i.e. we had the lead and needed to do something to fend off a charging crew or we were in a position to get even or take the lead and knew we’d have the psychological advantage in the second half if we did it before 1000m.

Another thing that moves accomplish is helping keep the crew committed to the larger goal of the piece at vulnerable points during the race. You should obviously be feeding them information throughout that keeps everyone on the same page but a secondary purpose of a move is to act as a rallying point for the rowers. This was our basis for that move in the 3rd 500 – we knew that if the race was competitive then we’d need to make a move here to set us up for the sprint but there were times when, based on what I was seeing and sensing, I’d call it for nothing more than pure commitment to the (wo)man in front of you, the team, yourself, etc. We almost always accomplished the goal of getting even, getting our bow ball in front, etc. but this is an example of how phrasing it can have a big impact on how effective it is. Don’t be all business all the time and forget about the people is what I’m getting at.

As you get more experienced (and your listening skills adapt to the noise of the race course) you’ll be able to start predicting and picking up on when the crews around you are making moves, which gives you the significant advantage of being able to counter it with one of your own. There are few things more satisfying than seeing a crew start a move, waiting a couple strokes, and then laying down a solid 20 of your own to put them back in their place. I say “seeing” too because you’re not always going to hear the move being called. Sometimes you might but you should rely on sight more than sound because silent moves are a thing and any coxswain worth their weight will know what a difference they can make if the other crew(s) don’t pick up on it.

An important point to remember is that the effort you’re putting into your move has to be maintained on that 11th stroke (or whatever stroke follows the last one in the burst). If you have a really effective move but follow it up with a couple mediocre strokes, whatever advantage you gained is gonna be lost and you’ll end up taxing your body even more in the process. I’ll try to make a call or two about this as we near the end of those strokes, usually something simple like “maintain it now” on the first stroke after the move, “no sag, sustain the effort…”, etc.

Related: All about Power 10s

Like I said earlier, we usually included at least two planned moves while keeping it in mind that we might do three total based on how the race evolved in the early part of the piece. That “unplanned” move wasn’t technically unplanned but I knew that if I needed to use it, it wasn’t gonna catch the crew off guard and create unnecessary chaos. That’s what can/will happen though if you start using power tens disguised as “moves” as a fallback when you’ve got nothing else to say. Unplanned moves tend to be reactionary in response to another crew’s increase in speed or like I said earlier, as a competitive tactic to get your bow ball in front or to reel the other crew back in and prevent them from increasing their lead.

There’s lots of good examples of moves in the recordings I’ve posted but a great example is the one below (starting at 1:50ish) from the recording I posted of UW vs. Cal’s duel in 2009 (the second recording in this post). I’ve included the original video below the recording too, where you can hear AND see Katelin calling this move and the impact it had on UW’s position relative to Cal.

Question of the Day

Hi! I am currently a junior in high school and it is my third year of coxing girls. As a junior I am looking into different colleges and I know that i want to continue coxing. In March, I am going to ID camp to try out for the Junior National Selection Team. Because of my birthday, I just miss the cutoff for trying out for HP, so having to trying out for the most competitive spot on the team is really nerve racking. Obviously I really want to make the team, so I wanted to know if there are any tips for becoming an even better coxswain and fully preparing myself for ID camp. I know that making this team can really help me be recruited into really good D1 colleges, and I have to grades for many highly competitive academic schools, so making this team is really important for me. Also, if you know anything that happens at ID Camp besides what they said on the website, please let me know because that would be much appreciated! Weight wise I am fine, luckily I was blessed with a good metabolism because I pretty much eat what I want and I float between 105-107lbs. Also, another thing that I am concerned about is my height. While I am 5’7″, as I mentioned before I am very tiny, but I’m scared they will discriminate against my height. Thank you so much!

Communication should be your biggest priority. You’re gonna be at a new boathouse, on a new body of water, with rowers, coxswains, and coaches that you’re unfamiliar with which means you’ve gotta figure out and internalize the plan and procedures ASAP. I assume the coaches will meet with the coxswains early in the day to go over stuff so you should look at it like any other coxswain’s meeting – if you have a question that isn’t answered, speak up and ask because it might have a big impact on how you do something later in the day. In situations like this I usually try to jot down a short list of questions that I know I’ll have, that way I can just tick them off as they get answered and then actually ask whatever’s leftover. (Did that for all my interviews with Columbia and it made things so much less stressful. Highly recommend doing it – it takes like, 5 minutes to do.)

A coach I worked with last summer who also coached with the HP/dev teams said that a big thing for the coaches was having the coxswains call everything “in two”, rather than “on this one”, just saying “weigh enough” on its own, etc. I’ve heard other coxswains mention that too so that’d be something to get clarified before you go on the water. It’s also a good reminder that you’ll probably need to adapt your normal way of doing things to fit their way of doing things. Your ability to do that without issue will most likely be something they look for, not only because adaptability is an important trait/skill for a coxswain but it’s also gonna indicate to them what your practice management skills are like. You’ll be out with a variety of people from a variety of programs who probably all do things a little differently – you’ve gotta be the one who standardizes it for everyone and says “OK guys, all my calls today are going to be preceded with “in two”…” so they

Obviously keep working on whatever you’ve been working on lately but don’t try to teach yourself new tricks before the camp. Do what works and do it well. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said this but moving up the ladder as a coxswain is all about excelling at executing the basics. The better you are at that, the more opportunities you’re gonna have.

Coxswains, feel free to leave a comment about what you did at the camp but as far as I know, it’s just helping collect times from the 2k and then going out on the water for a row. Depending on the number of coxswains there you might row the whole time or you might get switched in halfway if there’s someone in the launch.

As far as  your height, no one cares as long as you’re at racing weight (110lbs).

How to: Rotate through the Sixes

This regularly gets asked by new coxswains at the start of each season so hopefully this helps you learn the order of the switches, as well as who’s being switched in and out.

Related: Transitioning by fours in an 8+ always confuses me. I know you start with stern four, then stern pair out, then three four in, but what’s after that? Who goes in and out in what order? Thanks!

It’s not nearly as difficult as it looks but it does help to familiarize yourself with the transitions before you actually need to call them.

Coxswain Skills: Awareness

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel || How to handle a negative coxswain eval || How to cox steady state workouts || How to cox short, high intensity workouts || Race steering || Steering a buoyed course || Evaluating practices || Evaluating races || Coxing erg tests

If you’ve ever been asked what the most important skill is for coxswains, what was your answer? The common one for inexperienced coxswains is “motivation” (can’t even eye-roll it anymore, it’s that ubiquitous), whereas coxswains who have been at it for a few seasons will usually say “safety”, which is both right and wrong because you need this dynamic skill first if you want to be safe.

The title of today’s post should give it away – it’s awareness. 

The basic definition of awareness is being able to identify, process, and comprehend information about the situation you’re in. To get better at doing all three of those things, there’s a couple things you can do:

Learn to anticipate rather than react. Think ahead about how future actions (of yourself, other coxswains, the conditions, etc.) will affect the environment around you.

Go with your gut. If your gut says “don’t try to cross in front of that eight that is 200m away and rowing at full pressure”, don’t do it.

Avoid situational overload. This can be tough when you’re just starting out but educating yourself on what you don’t know/understand and learning how to prioritize information so you’re not going on a needle-in-a-haystack search through your brain to figure out what needs to happen will make your life a lot easier.

Don’t get complacent. The times I’ve screwed up the most during practice have been on slow days where it’s easy to just go through the routine motions rather than deliberately execute each action. Cockiness also plays a big part here. If you start assuming that everything is under control it becomes easy to stop paying attention to anything that isn’t right in front of your face.

Be alert. You know how they say don’t drive when you’re tired because it impairs your reaction time? Same goes with steering a 53 foot long shell. It’s your responsibility to minimize how fatigued you are by managing your time outside the boathouse well enough that you’re able to get an adequate amount of sleep in order to be rested and ready for practice. College freshmen with early morning practices tend to learn this in “trial by fire” fashion (guilty).

If you’ve ever asked me what you need to do to make it at “the next level” you know that I’ve said that being a good JNT coxswain, a good college coxswain, a good U23 coxswain, or a good national team coxswain is all about getting incrementally better at executing the basics. That starts with doing each of the things listed above. You’d be amazed at how drastically more competent and skilled you can become just by being aware of the little things and doing each of them well.

With all that said, what do you need to be aware of on any given day? Have you ever actually thought about it? Here’s a short, minimally detailed, and not even remotely comprehensive list to get you started.

Bridge arches (which ones can you use/not use and when)

Obstacles or obstructions on the dock

Other crews (on land and on the water)

Your surroundings

Traffic

Conditions

Noise levels of your environment (since this will impact your communication with your coach, other coxswains, and maybe your own crew)

Expectations and goals for practice/the race

Your language (what you’re saying and how you’re saying it)

Health of yourself and the athletes

The practice/race plan

Practice management

Coaching styles and the terminology used (different coaches do/say things in different ways, which is important when you’re at summer camps and with coaches you’re not familiar with)

Matching your tone with practice (not coxing steady state the same way you cox drills)

The purpose of drills, practice, pieces, etc.

Equipment

Steering (boat responds slower with less people rowing, will be affected by conditions, current, skill level of yourself and rowers, etc.)

Your level of understanding/comprehension of your coach’s instructions (if you recognize you don’t know what’s going on, say something)

Bladework, balance, timing, and general technique of the crew

Nearly every skill you could possibly want to work on this season – whether it’s steering, identifying technical issues, etc. – starts with awareness. It encompasses everything we do. If you still haven’t identified any specific areas for improvement for this spring, start here. When you do come up with your list of things to work on, you’ll have a leg up if you’ve already spent a few practices doing everything listed above.

Video of the Week: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

This week’s video isn’t embeddable so you’ll have to click over to the Olympic channel to watch it. It’s a quick 5 minute interview with Pete Cipollone where he reflects on his two Olympic games and the USA’s “third time’s the charm” shot at getting a gold medal after falling short in 1996 and 2000.

Coxswains especially, there’s a lot for us to relate to in this video so I encourage you to check it out. If you take away one thing, make it be what he says about not changing the race plan – “don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything you don’t have to do”. If you’re up on the field and something is clearly going right, keep doing whatever you’re doing. Solid words of wisdom as we gear up for the spring season.