Question of the Day

Hi! I’m racing in a 4+ this weekend at HOCR. I have rowed port for the past 2.5 years, but my coach wants to see if I can row starboard and be bow seat. Do you have any advice on making this transition effectively so quickly? Thank you!!

The main things to be aware of, especially if you’ve been rowing on the same side for a long time, are what side you’re leaning to, what hand your pulling with, and what hand you’re feathering with. Everything will be the opposite of what you’re used to so it might take a bit before you remember that you have to feather with your right hand instead of your left and lean into your rigger on the port side instead of leaning away from it towards where your “normal” rigger is. With knowing which hand to pull with, if you’ve been rowing the same side for awhile then you’ve likely developed a bit more strength in your outside arm by comparison so you might be more likely to initially pull with that hand instead of your “new” outside hand. That and leaning towards the wrong side can cause some issues with getting fully connected at the catch but once you get some time on your new side they go away pretty quickly, especially if you’re aware of the issues and actively working on them.

Seat racing coxswains

I’m not a fan of seat racing coxswains. There are just way too many variables and you can’t quantify it the same way you can with rowers but despite all that, there are still coaches out there that do it. It’s one of those things that you’ve always gotta be prepared for just in case it happens to you but if you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing, you’ll never be caught off guard if your coach decides that a coxswain seat race is needed.

Related: Can I just flat out ask my coach for a coxswain seat race? How do I go about asking such a question?

I was going through some of my saved posts on Reddit the other day and came across this year-old reply that I’d written to a coxswain who was asking for advice on how to deal with being seat-raced. They said that they felt like an underdog compared to the person they were up against (who was a year older than them) but that they felt capable of beating them and wanted to know how to get the coach to look past their age so they could have a shot at the eight.

Related: Words

For those of you that are going up against someone more experienced than you (hell, even if you’re going up against an someone who is equally experienced), I implore you to read this first paragraph down below and really take it to heart because a) you need to hear it and b) if I’ve learned anything through this blog it’s that it’s unlikely anyone else is going to say it to you and be as straightforward about it. Two and a half years into this, you guys should know by now I’m not going to sugarcoat things when I think there’s something that needs to be said and this is one of those times. We’re two weeks into racing season and SRAAs, Youth Nationals, conference championships, IRAs, and NCAAs is going to be here before you know it. You want that top boat? Go take it.

“Fuck age, seniority, being an “underdog”, etc. Do not use that an excuse. Those things only become factors if you pay too much attention to them and let them become factors. Cox your race and let the other coxswain(s) cox theirs. If you think you’re capable of beating them, do it.

The coxswain who is smart, confident, strategic, resourceful, commanding, authoritative, aggressive, and respectful of the competition will earn the seat in the 8+. Steer a smart course and know what you need to say to get the most out of your rowers. This requires you to interact with them in order to find out what makes them tick. Pick their brains off the water so you can get in their heads on the water.

Oh, and don’t assume that this seat race is the only thing your coaches are looking at. They’ve been watching you since Day 1, the first day you showed up to practice when you were a novice, to see how well you interact with your teammates, what your presence on and off the water is like, if you command the respect of your teammates through your actions, how well you understand the technical side of rowing, how effectively you communicate what you want/need to happen, etc. The seat race is only a piece of the final puzzle.

Saying you want it isn’t enough. I have to be able to look at you and feel how bad you want you want that top 8+. Give your rowers a reason to want to pull hard for you. Don’t half ass anything. Make your intentions known from the first day of practice that you want that top eight and you’re going to work as hard as you can to get it. Do this without being a cocky, over-confident douche. Seat racing isn’t just something you can get in a boat and do. You’ve gotta prep for it just like you do any other race. Put the effort into perfecting your steering, working on your calls, getting feedback from your rowers and coaches after practice, etc. and then go out and execute when it’s time for your race. Get off the water knowing and believing that you couldn’t have done any more or any better than you just did.

Do all of that and your coaches might give you a shot.”

Rule #1: never refer to yourself as the underdog. Let other people say that about you but know that the minute you say it about yourself you’ve already lost. It absolutely drives me nuts when I hear people talk down about themselves like that because if you aren’t even confident in yourself how is that supposed to inspire me to be confident in you?

Question of the Day

Why do coaches put out mixed crews for races? Don’t they want us to win? Your blog is AMAZING!! You have helped so much, thanks! 🙂

To be honest, I never really understood mixed lineups during races either but all in all I think it’s a pretty harmless thing to do. Mixed lineups during practice, especially at the beginning of the season, is great but I probably wouldn’t race those lineups at any point past the first race or two. I really don’t think it has anything at all to do with winning or losing though. If your coach races mixed lineups and you’re curious why, just ask him/her what their rationale is behind that. Once they explain it it might make more sense to you and seem less random/dumb.

In my experience it’s largely been a chance for the less experienced rowers to be in a boat that’s (hopefully) more stable which in turn lets them focus a bit more on their stroke and technique without having to worry about all the other distractions that would otherwise be present in a boat made up of entirely less experienced people. For the varsity rowers who might be/probably are pissed that they’re rowing that lineup, all I can say is … chill. You were in that position once too and there were probably varsity rowers that at the time felt the same way about you. Part of being able to call yourself a varsity athlete is knowing that there’s some responsibility on you to help the less-experienced rowers get up to speed. Just go with it and use that time to set a good example by having a good attitude and focusing on rowing well as an individual. The boat’s probably not going to feel perfect but again, you should look at that as an opportunity to figure out what adjustments you can make to your rowing so that when the boat feels similarly once you’re rowing in your regular lineups you’ll already know what changes to make before your coach or coxswain says something.

Question of the Day

So due to a bunch of injuries a girl from the boat below us got moved up to our boat for the time being. Well another girl in the boat above us is now injured, and so they need to pull someone from our boat for the next race, and our coach said it will be our other port, the girl from the boat below us who is only with us for the time being. I swear I literally harbor 0 bad feelings or jealously for her, I just have to wonder from a coaching standpoint why they would make this choice. Thanks!

We’ve had some similar issues lately too. Just going off of that I’d say your coach is looking at this one of two ways: either the girl he moved up is one of those rowers who fits in/meshes well with whatever boat she’s put in (versatility and flexibility are golden qualities for a rower to have from a coaching standpoint) or she’s literally his only option for one reason or another (it’s hard to guess the reasons because it can vary so much). In most cases though where I’ve seen a coach make a lineup switch like this it’s because of the first reason I listed.

Pro tip though, in late April/early May, don’t get injured and/or sick. Take care of yourselves! I know coaches might act like all they care about is their lineups (that’s probably how it’s come off to our team lately) or like they’re pissed at you because of something that’s (nine times out of ten) completely out of your control, but I promise neither of those are true. The vast majority of coaches out there really care about you guys and look at you as way more than just a body in a seat. From my perspective with having to deal with these same issues over the last couple of weeks, it’s way more frustrating on an administrative level than anything else. When we hear that someone is sick, injured, etc. we’re automatically thinking about if it’s even possible to make a lineup switch/change, how we’re going to re-configure those lineups to give each crew the best possible shot at winning, what the limitations are on how many events people can row in, how close one event is to another, etc.  and if that’s going to affect anything, and on top of all of that, the paperwork (with updated lineups) that has to be re-submitted to the regattas we’re going to that weekend. If it comes off like your coach is mad at you, think back to this post and know that their irritation is more than likely related to the things I just listed and not towards you.

Question of the Day

Hey! Lately, I haven’t been getting boated much during practices and have only been boated for one race. Some of our assistant coaches have claimed that I’m better than the other coxswain and that it’s become more of a matter of favorites. Any tips on how I can show the head coaches that I want to be boated for races, especially with one more race plus Pac-12s coming up? I don’t know what else to do other than prove myself each time I’m on the water (which isn’t often) and going over recordings with our coach once I’m back on the water.

As frustrating as this answer is, I think your best option is to keep doing what you’re doing. Take advantage of every opportunity to show your skills when you’re on the water, get constant feedback from your coach(es) and rowers, and continue going over audio with your coach(es). “Wanting” it only gets you so far – you’ve gotta put in the effort on and off the water. If you can make a case for yourself by doing all of that then I can’t see why your coach wouldn’t give you some consideration.

When you talk with the coach that makes the lineups ask him/her point blank why these other coxswains are being boated over you – what have they got that you could stand to improve on? I think this is a great question to ask and yes, it’s very possible to ask it without coming off as a whiny brat. If they’re free, ask one of the assistant coaches to come with you when you talk to your other coach too. This will give you the opportunity to bring up what the two of you have discussed in terms of areas where you’re excelling or could use some improvement so that you can get your coach’s feedback on how tweaking some of those skills could result in you potentially getting put in a racing lineup. If/when you do this though make sure you’re completely clear on the feedback they’ve been giving you and do not throw them under the bus by saying something like “well they said the only reason I’m not in the boat is because I’m not one of your favorites”. I’ve seen that happen and I’ve had that happen and from all assistant coaches everywhere, you’re a real asshole if you misrepresent our conversations like that in front of the head coach.

It may very well be that your coach has a favorite coxswain (sometimes it’s hard not to) that he wants with a certain boat but in my experience, favorites don’t just pop up randomly. The reason they’re a favorite is usually because the coach has found that they’re reliable, they communicate well, they’re trustworthy on and off the water, and they’ve got whatever special quality it is that your coach looks for. Not that you don’t have or do any of those things but it’s always worth asking (or thinking about on your own), in comparison to [the coxswain in the boat you want], where am I (potentially) falling short? Reflect on that and talk about it with your coaches. As a coxswain and a coach I really appreciate seeing a coxswain who comes into a meeting prepared to say “this is what I think I’m doing well, this is what I think I need to improve on to get into this boat … confirm or deny”. That shows me and the other coaches that you’re actively thinking about where you can make improvements rather than just expecting us to spoon feed you and give you what you want.

Question of the Day

Hi I was wondering if it was possible to merge boys and girls on a boat for some races? For example if we row a 4+, could we have 2 guys and 2 girls ?

As far as I know, you can only row a mixed gender crew in events that are specifically listed as “mixed” races. If they’re not listed as that then you have to follow the rules of the event you’re entering (i.e. “men’s varsity 8+” must be all men (minus the coxswain), “women’s junior quad” must be all women who aren’t seniors, etc.).

Question of the Day

Hi. So I am one of 4 coxswains on my team. We primarily have 3 boats: 1 V8+, 1 N8+ and 1 V4+. I have the second most experience coxing of the four of us, yet my coach is putting me with novices. Over the last few weeks I have only been coxing the V8+ and V4+. Our first race is on Sunday, and I have only been in the Novice boat one time since we got back on the water. The coxswain who has the least experience is practicing with varsity this week, but I feel like I should be there since I’ve been working with them the most, and we seem to have found a good rhythm. I want to talk to my coach about it, but I don’t want to sound like I think I’m entitled just because I’m older than the other coxswain. Thanks!

I’ve been in that exact same position before, as the novice coxswain and the experienced one. When I was a novice my coaches put the new coxswains with the 1V, 2V, and JV8s and the varsity coxswains with the N8+, F8+, and whatever fours we had. The purpose for doing that was to give the novice coxswains an opportunity to learn how to steer, practice the basic commands, etc. with people who already knew what they were doing. (Novice coxswains + novice rowers = the deaf and blind leading the deaf and blind, leading to verrrrry frustrated coaches). Learning to steer is infinitely easier if you can practice with people who can already row reasonably well and know how to maintain the set. Practicing the basic calls is easy too because if you make a mistake the coach doesn’t have to worry about everything going to hell as a result. In most cases, the stroke can talk the coxswain through the warm ups or drills and answer any questions they have, which is also really helpful. It also gives the coach peace of mind that if they somehow get in a bad situation (on the wrong side of the river, stuck in some branches on shore, coming into the dock wrong, etc.), the rowers can talk themselves out of it while the coxswain absorbs what is happening so they know in the future what they should do instead (alternatively, the stroke can tell the coxswain what needs to happen and the coxswain can repeat those calls to the crew, thus learning what they need to say and who they need to say it to).

As the varsity coxswain in the novice boat, this is really for the coach more than anything else because it gives them the chance to work directly with the rowers without having to worry about the coxswain not knowing what to do and/or steering them off a cliff. They can also have you go through the drills with the rowers without having to explain every detail of how it’s done first, which allows them to concentrate their focus on developing the rowers’ technique. Having really good communication skills and lots of patience are also qualities that would entice the coach to put you with the novices. My patience was never that high but I made up for it with my ability to explain what we were doing, how it was done, etc. in a way that new rowers could understand.

Since it seems like a couple of the coxswains are switched around and not just you, I would maybe wait until after this weekend to say something if your coach maintains these lineups through the end of the week. My assumption would be that he wants both the novice eight and the novice coxswain to get a race under their belts without being hindered by one another, meaning the novice eight can focus on rowing their race while being coxed by someone who knows what they’re doing and the novice coxswain can practice steering a straight course with a crew that has good enough technique to not get in the way of that. That way when they eventually get in the same boat, both will know roughly what to do thanks to having the opportunity to first work with people who actually do know what to do. This will also give you the opportunity to work on your communication skills and introducing the novice crew to what racing is really like, in addition to explaining some of the things that you learned as a novice that the coach might not be able to explain.

After this weekend if your coach doesn’t switch you back to your normal boats, then you can approach him and ask if the lineups you’re in now are permanent or if they’re just temporary. I feel like that’s a pretty normal thing to want to know so I don’t think posing that question makes you appear entitled at all. As long as you don’t come off all “WTF this is BS, I’ve been here longer, I deserve the top boat” and get all whiny about it, you should be fine. I asked my coaches the same question two years in a row and they answered it pretty casually both times.