Coxswain recordings, pt. 28

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

Over the next few weeks I’m going to start cleaning up the recordings posts, getting rid of ones that have been deleted, and making the posts more reader-friendly. Part of that will entail breaking up some of the longer posts with 5-6 recordings in them (tbh what was I thinking putting that many recordings in one post) and shortening them to around three recordings each (some might have two if they’re really long, others might have four if they’re really short). To avoid spamming you with email notifications whenever these “new” posts go up, there might be periods of time where the site will be inaccessible. If you see that, don’t worry – the blog’s not going anywhere, I’m just working to make it better.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON 3V PRACTICE

First thing you should take note of in this video is how good both the coxing and rowing is … and this is their 3V. Don’t take the attitude of “oh well it’s Washington, of course their 3V is good”. If you want to cox at most Division 1 programs – men or women – you’ve gotta be about this good, give or take, just to get into a lower boat. The youngest or “leftover” coxswain isn’t necessarily the default coxswain for these crews anymore, especially when you’re on a big team.

On your current team there might be competition for a single boat whereas for most teams competing in the grand and petite finals at IRAs or NCAAs, there will be competition for all the boats because there are more coxswains than there are crews. Whatever your “A-game” is now, this audio should be a wake up call that that ceases to be good enough the moment you join a collegiate team. I’m not saying that to freak you out either or make you question your ability to cox in college, I’m just putting it out there because it’s an expectation you need to be aware of and prepared for.

Back to the audio. One of the things I really like is how spaced out her words are. She’s not slowing her speech down or drawing anything out (on the contrary, she’s talking at a pretty normal pace and tone for the majority of the piece) but there’s a crispness and to each of the words that makes understanding her effortless.

I also liked the transition between the high strokes and the stride – the “press long” and “long stretch” calls were a good addition there as they brought the rate down. I say “breathe” a lot too because it’s an easy default call but it’s also easy to get repetitive with so the more alternatives you can come up with (in the vein of “press long and “long stretch“), the more effective you’ll be at initiating or maintaining that stride.

WELLESLEY COLLEGE WV8+ HEAT 2016 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

I coached with Ale this summer and she sent me several of her recordings from her time at Wellesley College where she coxed the 1V to an NCAA title this year. The audio’s a little muffled (I think she said it was in her bag or uni) so it might be a little hard to understand her – just turn the volume up and listen close.

This recording is from their heat and one of the things that immediately stood out was how calm her tone is while still being intense and assertive as fuck throughout the entire race. You can hear that at 1:08 where she says “one seat Amelia, NOW“. Preceding that she does an excellent job of telling them where they’re at (“35, 250 in, sitting on Bates’ 8-man”) and what they’re going to do (“we’re going to stride”) and part of what makes that “NOW” call so effective is how effectively she changes her tone between the two sets of calls. She increases her volume not by yelling but by inflecting the level of intensity she wants to see in the rowers. There’s a huge difference and if you can nail that skill, your worth as a coxswain is gonna go up a lot.

Related: The language of the first 500

Further on in the piece at 4:07, they’re coming off a counter-move and she says “totally neutralized their move, in two let’s swing it back…” to re-establish their pace and rhythm. Calls like this after a move are smart because it’s easy to get a little frantic when you’re countering someone’s move or making one of your own and coming into the last 500m of the race you want to make sure you’re moving as effectively as possible so there’s no unnecessary energy being expended.

Other calls I liked:

“Hook it, move it…”

“We go with our winning rhythm, taking 6-seat of Bates in two…”

“We trust our rhythm, we trust our speed…”

“Sit up across the thousand…”

“One press together, catches in sharper…”

GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MV8+ 2015 PRINCETON CHASE

If you’ve never been to the Princeton Chase, the 30-60 seconds of “light … light … light … pause … continuous, light … etc.” is pretty standard because there are so many boats corralled together in a U-shape along the end of the lake.

One of the things Connor consistently does well is incorporating individual rowers into his calls. You’ll hear him at 2:06 say “calm around the back, right Hugo?”, at 6:06 “Ben, you’re fuckin’ killin’ it…”, at 9:53 “Joey, I like the change man, good shit…”, etc. and that kind of engagement helps get the most out of each of those guys. If you’re just reciting your race plan during a race and only paying attention to stuff outside your gunnels, you’re leaving a lot of free speed on the table.

Related: (Connor swears a lot – I think it’s a non-issue but it is something to be mindful of, especially if you’re a junior coxswain.) I’m trying out for New Trier Novice Rowing in a couple days (go NT! I was super excited to see New Trier in the 8+ Midwest Championships recording!) and wanted to know what the real rules are on swearing in a race. I heard that you can get DQ’d but it is super rare and most coxswains swear anyway. What are your thoughts? 

Once they’ve got everything established, at 3:06 he starts to bring a bit more personality and energy into the piece and makes a call for five to bend the oars and swing back. As I’ve talked about before, primarily in the post linked below, this is how you can/should call a burst in order to get the most out of it. You can hear the energy in his voice before and he engages them by saying “let’s fuckin’ go ham today boys”, which is just way more effective than saying “power 10!” or simply “5 to bend the oars”.

Related: Race skills: All about Power 10s

One thing that I consistently get questions about from coxswains is how to avoid being repetitive and sometimes it’s hard to do, as you can hear at 7:24 when he says “guys, I’m gonna sound like a broken record but we’ve gotta get the blades in”. I love that and don’t see any problem with making a call like that. There’s good repetitiveness and bad repetitiveness and this is a perfect example of how to execute a string of calls in a “good repetitive” way. A big part of why this works is there’s no sense of pleading or franticness in his voice. He says what he sees, just with a more direct sense of urgency, and follows it up with five to sharpen the bladework. He ends it by telling them the changes they made worked and now it’s time to maintain it and move.

Other calls I liked:

“We’re gonna stride it out one beat with a big boom, ready, on … this one GO … BOOM, yea … BOOM, yea…”

“One leg drive, one swing…”

“Tall at both ends…”

“Remember the fundamentals…”

“It’s all us … it’s all us .. it’s gotta be all us…

You can see all the recordings I’ve shared by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page listed on the front page of the blog.

Race skills: Calling a head race

Previously: Race warmups || Coxing from behind || Calls for when you’re behind || Managing the nuances of a head race

To follow up on last week’s post on managing a head race, I wanted to share an excerpt from one of my articles that’s in Issue #2 of Coxing Magazine. This one is on “calling a head race”, which you can read in full, as well as my other article on executing your race warmup, by subscribing to the magazine. Don’t forget too that you can use 2016LAUNCH to get 50% off your subscription if you sign up before the end of the year.

(Note: What’s below is my writing as it appeared when it was sent to the publisher. It may be worded differently in the magazine.)

Develop a list of internal calls. These calls are occasionally technical but largely motivational and ones that resonate for a specific reason with the boat or a rower. (A great example of this is the “baseball bat” story I posted in 2013 – it’s worth searching for if you haven’t read it.) I like to have 3-4 of these in my back pocket to be used at just the right moment. That could be when we’re sitting on another crew or when I sense the boat starting to get heavy and the fatigue setting in. You can’t plan necessarily when to use them but having them ready to go ensures you won’t waste precious seconds (and meters) searching for the right words.

Related: HOCR: Race plans and Race calls

From there, the rest of my calls are the usual “stock calls” that don’t take any extra effort to come up with. It’s what I’m saying every day during practice combined with what I see happening around us. Having my calls loosely outlined in my race plan (which has been crafted with the help of my rowers and coaches) means that instead of relying on the same handful of stock calls throughout the race, all I have to do is interject the relevant ones based on what I’m seeing and feeling in between the pre-planned stuff where my calls are a little more directly focused.

Race skills: Managing the nuances of a head race

Previously: Race warmups || Coxing from behind || Calls for when you’re behind

Now that the fall season is well underway and we’re a little less than a month away from Head of the Charles, I wanted to share some tips for head racing for those of you that are new to coxing or new to head racing.

Look at the course before you arrive. With Google Maps being, ya know, a thing, there’s no excuse to not have a general idea of what the river looks like before you get to the race site. Race maps are obviously ideal but they’re not always available so the next best alternative is looking the course up on Google. This will give you just as good of a look at the turns, bridges, possible landmarks, geography (i.e. how much room is there to navigate), etc. and will help you plot out a rough idea of where you might want to execute (or avoid executing) certain moves.

Don’t count on being able to do your usual water warmup. Making your way to the starting line, especially at big regattas like HOCR, tends to be a crowded affair. You can rarely row above half pressure or by anything less than all eight, which makes getting the crew properly warmed up tough. To combat this, do a land warmup (7-10 minutes of dynamic stretching plus a light jog … or something similar) 20ish minutes or so before you launch so that when you’re on the water, you can focus on getting from Point A to Point B without the distraction of having to actually call the warmup and the crew can focus on getting into their rhythm, establishing their swing early, and keeping their focus internal.

Establish your rhythm early. Your first priority coming out of your high strokes should be on lengthening to a sustainable pace and immediately finding your rhythm. This is where you can really work your tone of voice and use your calls to help facilitate that. The sooner the crew gets into their rhythm, the better – you don’t want to still be trying to figure this out when you’re eight minutes in to a 3.5 mile long race.

Related: What are some “rhythmic calls” you use? I know ones such as hook, send and catch, send but I was wondering what others are used. and Hello! Sorry if this is a dumb question but I was wondering, what does it mean when coxswains say “cha”? Thank you!

Plan ahead. This is where knowing the course and having studied it ahead of time will really help you. In a head race you’ve always gotta be thinking one bridge or turn ahead of where you’re currently at, which means knowing where the buoy line is (and when to follow it closely vs. when to stray off of it) and whether you need to be on the outside or inside of this turn in order to get the better/faster/more effective line on the next turn. You’ve probably heard (or will hear) numerous times that the inside line is the fastest but that isn’t always the case. The best example of this is the stretch between Weeks and Eliot on the Charles – Eliot is a bigger/more important turn than Anderson so coming out of Weeks (a turn to port) you should line yourself up on the outside of Anderson (a turn to starboard) so that coming out of that one you’re automatically lined up on the inside of Eliot (a turn to port). This minimizes the number of crews you have to tousle with to get that inside line and has been my go-to strategy for nailing the Eliot turn for the last four years.

Steer competitively and aggressively. Those two things are not synonymous with “a lot” or “recklessly”. You have to be smart here because your steering, per usual, can make or break you. Patience and forethought is key and will help you avoid or navigate through at least 50% of the situations you’ll encounter. It all starts with holding the strings correctly though. You know the phrase “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”? Look at steering the same way – your hand position on the strings and the gunnels is the “single step” in that analogy. I talked about this in the “race steering” post linked below so check that out to see how I hold the strings when I’m coxing and how it helps me avoid oversteering.

Related: Race steering, oversteering, and “steering a lot vs. never steering”

Communicate with your bow/strokeSaying it again for the people in the back that didn’t hear this the first 8,023 times it’s been said – not yielding during a race because you didn’t see the other crew, didn’t know they were there, didn’t hear their coxswain yelling at you to yield, etc. is not an excuse and you deserve every second of the penalty/penalties you incur. I get that you’re looking forward and you can’t see what’s behind you blah blah blah but your stroke/bow can and they should know (either through their own common sense or because you’ve discussed this with them beforehand … preferably both but definitely the latter) that they need to communicate to you in some way that a crew is behind you, walking on you, etc. and you need to yield.

Maximize your time in the straightaways. When you’re in long straight stretches, this is your best opportunity to pass a crew or make up time by steering laser-straight. Way too many coxswains fail to take advantage of this because they’re focused on unimportant stuff (i.e. that crew that’s four and a half lengths of open in front of you) or just completely lacking in awareness of where they’re at and what’s happening around them.

Work the crowds. If you’re neck and neck with another crew and you’re near a heavily populated spot on the course, bring all that energy from the crowd into your boat.  Use it to reignite your crew if the boat’s starting to feel a little heavy or to add some extra fire to the start of a move. Make your crew think that all that cheering is for them and then harness that to help you move through the other crew(s), even if that means only taking a seat or two. Sometimes that’s all it takes to change the tone of a race.

Know what logistics need to be handled … and then handle them. Heel ties, bow numbers, top nuts, knowing the subtle differences in rules at each regatta, etc. … all the little things that might trip up an unprepared coxswain, figure out what they are ahead of time and take the initiative in handling it. Discuss this with your coach ahead of time (because they’ll definitely have a list of little things that you can do so they don’t have to) so you know beforehand what your priorities need to be once you get to the course.

Better safe than sorry ALWAYS. Your most important job as a coxswain is to keep the crew safe. Everything else you do outside of that is a bonus. Whether it’s on the water, walking to/from the launch site, or loading/unloading the trailer, your main focus has to be on executing the safest course of action followed by the fastest/most efficient, etc. There’s obviously a risk-reward aspect to it when you’re racing but there’s a very fine line between taking a calculated risk to move ahead of a crew or take a sharper turn and straight up putting your crew (and potentially others) in a dangerous situation. Erring on the side of safety isn’t always a popular decision in the moment but you’ve gotta be able to deal with a few people being annoyed at you for a small amount of time and recognize that the alternative (a lot of people being furious with you for an extended period of time) will tarnish your status/position on the team a lot more in the long run.

If you guys have any other pieces of advice, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Coxswain Recordings, pt. 27

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

Michigan Men’s V8+ Head of the Charles 2014
Something I noticed in this recording was a distinct lack of decisive calls/moves. There was a lot of “get me XYZ”, “we need to XYZ”, “I need you to XYZ”, etc. but there was never a follow up that actually said what needed to happen in order to accomplish whatever the coxswain was saying needed to be done.

One thing this coxswain does in contrast to some of the other head race recordings I’ve posted is she stays very chill throughout most of the race. There’s obviously a benefit to this style of coxing but I think you end up walking a fine line between “composed” and “low-energy”, and for me it came off as more low-energy than not for most of the race. There were times where she’d put a bit more emphasis on her calls (she did better with this towards the end) and others where she’d try to rush through them – several times when she’d say “one … two, on this one” it felt like she was saying both numbers on the same stroke because she’d say them so quickly. You might as well just say “on this one” and skip counting the strokes. Point being, I wish there was a bit more energy and more targeted calls since a lot of it came off as just filler.

She did do a great job steering though and ultimately I think that’s the big takeaway from this piece. Her turns were good, she was right on the buoy lines, and did a good job of managing the water when she was coming around the first turn with Drexel at the beginning.

Hobart Rowing at the Cornell Invite
This coxswain has good energy but there are times where she’s trying to say a lot of things in a short span of time and that ends up making most of her calls (many of which are pretty good) rushed and, presumably, hard for the rowers to process. There were some things that I think maybe weren’t that important that they needed to be said but for the most part she was passing along good information so my only suggestion here would be to slow down the train of thought and space out the calls a little bit more.

I like her tone and that she’s regularly giving the crew updates on where Cornell, Syracuse, etc. are amongst all the technical calls she’s making. One of the calls she made as they’re coming past the Ithaca and Cornell boathouses was “we’ve gotta get the blades in a little bit quicker if we’re gonna fly” – I like that because it’s a simple way to say what they need to do and what the outcome will be if/when they do it. Another thing she communicates well is her line vs. the coxswain behind her’s line and how in order to stay on the course she’s currently got, the crew’s gotta get a bit more send off the finishes in order to open up some water between them and the other boat. Rowers might not understand all the nuances of coxing but if there’s one thing they do get (most of the time), it’s the importance of maintaining the fastest course and holding your line. Everybody has to work in tandem to make that happen and how she communicated that was really effective.

Radcliffe 1V HOCR 2014
This is just a short 40-second long clip from the start of Radcliffe’s turn around Magazine Beach but I wanted to share it because I like this coxswain’s energy as they move through the crew on their port side. She starts off saying she wants to take them out early before calling a ten that begins with her saying “here we go, on this one NOW … we go NOW” in a really intense, clear, direct voice that sets up the rest of the move really well.

Question of the Day

Hello! I was wondering if you had any advice for not panicking during a head race? I’m a novice rower who usually rows stroke in doubles. During practices everything is fine. Mock races are great, good start, ratio, and pressure … but during the last two actual regattas I started panicking when the head race started and my rate was too fast with no pressure and I felt like it was endless and I couldn’t push … it almost felt like I had to give up! Do you had any advice?

Here’s a similar question I answered a few years ago that might help.

If things are good during practice then the issue is more likely you just letting your nerves get to you rather than you getting to the starting line and panicking because you feel unprepared (which is another reason why people freak out at the start). I used to always get really nervous before the start of a race too so before our boat would meet to start our land warmup I’d find a quiet spot well away from the boats, other people, etc. and just sit for 10-15 minutes to try and relax. Sometimes I’d go lay in our trailer if it was a short walk away and other times I’d go into the boathouse and find a stairwell to sit in. I totally sabotaged myself during one of my first races as a novice by letting my nerves get to me and it was a total shitshow (at least on my end) so I learned quickly that I needed to take a few minutes to get out of my own head before we launched. During the row up to the start I’d always try to focus on my breathing too (long, slow, deep breaths), that way I’d always have something to focus on even when I wasn’t making calls to the boat.

Related: I’m a novice rower and I’m racing in my 1st head race this weekend, any tips? I’m freaking out!

The more experienced I got the less nervous I’d be by the time we got to the starting line but even now the buildup of adrenaline still makes me antsy. Once I catch myself drumming my fingers on the gunnels I know I need to close my eyes and take a couple deep breaths to get back to that relaxed baseline feeling I had on the row up. I talk to myself a lot while we’re sitting there too (in my head, not out loud … that’d be weird), usually just to remind myself to chill out, the crew trusts me and has my back, etc. Each of my stroke seats and I (or bow seats if I’m in a four) have always had our own little thing we’d do too (fist bumps, “secret handshakes”, things we’d say to one another, etc.) and that’s kinda the last little thing I need to get me 100% dialed in. At that point there’s no time left to be panicked or antsy because I’ve got a job to do so whatever nervous energy I have left just has to be channeled into calling the race.

I’d recommend doing something similar before your next race – find somewhere quiet to collect your thoughts before you launch, subtly focus on your breathing on the row up, and dial yourself in at the line so your start is as controlled and powerful as possible. What works for everyone is a little different so you’ll probably have to tweak all that to make it work for you but eventually you’ll get into a pre-race routine that leaves no room for nerves to take over.

Question of the Day

Hello, I’m going to be coxing a mixed four later on in this month and I wondered if you could help me with some head racing phrases as I’m usually a rower.

Talk to the people you’ll be coxing first and ask them what things they want/need to hear throughout the race. Time, rate, distance, and landmarks should be your default calls so make sure you check out a course map before the race so you can pinpoint some of the important spots along the course and get an idea for where halfway, the last 500m, etc. are.

For other calls, the first third of the race should be focused on establishing a rhythm and making sure you’re technically “on”. The middle third is generally a continuation of the rhythmic/technical calls with some motivational stuff getting thrown in as you pass the halfway point in the race. The last third should be all about power and pushing through to the finish, as well as making any last efforts to walk on or away from any crews around you. A lot of those calls you can pick up just from what you like to hear from your coxswains, what the rowers tell you they want/need to hear, and what the coaches say during practice. If you’re worried about remembering everything, use Post-It notes to help you remember the key parts of your race plan and the important calls you know you’ll want to make. (You can see examples of what I mean here, here, and here.)

Other posts to check out:

Race plans for head races – This was written with HOCR in mind but it applies to any head race.

QOTD: How do you deal with running out of things to say in a long head race (4000m+)?

Race plans for practice pieces – This is based off long 7k pieces we do on the Charles but the general idea is similar to what’s talked about in the first link and should give you an idea of things to say to your crew.

Video of the Week: River tour of the Head of the Schuylkill course

If you’re new to the Schuylkill, check out this video that goes through the course and points out all the relevant landmarks and points along the race.

Related: Navigating the Schuylkill River (Philadelphia, PA)

Also check out the post linked above that I did last year that gives some additional insight into the river, bridges, etc.