Coxswain recordings, pt. 22

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 11 || Part 12 || Part 13 || Part 14 || Part 15 ||Part 16 || Part 17 || Part 18 || Part 19 || Part 20 || Part 21

University of Delaware V8+ Dad Vail Petite Finals (2015)
Jake, the coxswain of Delaware’s heavyweight 8+, sent me this recording after Dad Vails and it really blew me away. Easily one of the best recordings I heard all season – actually, I think this is the best I heard all season. Here’s what I said in my email to him with a few additional bullet points below that.

Hey Jake! Congrats on winning the petite! This is really good – your intensity, tone, calls, etc. are on point. I feel like I’m nitpicking just trying to find stuff to critique. The one piece of advice I have is when you make a call like “walk away, walk away”, “it’s time to go”, “time to break off UNC” (great call btw), etc., immediately follow that up with a 5 or 10-stroke push just to carry over the momentum from your call. When I make a call like that I want the rowers to immediately think “yea, let’s go!” and since I know they tend to get a burst of energy from that I want to capitalize on it by immediately following up with a 5 or 10-stroke move to do whatever I just said to do, be that to walk away from the field, put away another crew, etc. If you say “it’s time to go” and then there’s crickets after that then it’s like “OK … I’m ready to go … tell me what to do …” and you kinda lose the opportunity to make something happen. You also run the risk of another coxswain hearing you say “walk away!” and them thinking you’re calling a 10 so they call their own 10 to counter the move they think you’re making. That can backfire on you if they end up getting a seat or two out of it. (The only reason why I say that is because I’ve done this to other coxswains before and if you’re down a seat or two and do it at just the right point in the race you can pretty much kill their momentum and take the race from them.)

In addition to everything I said up above, I really like the simple “assault” calls he makes throughout the race. This is something I think a lot of younger coxswains have to learn/remember – every call you make doesn’t need to be a full sentence long and every call doesn’t have to be “a call”. More often times than not you can easily get away with saying something simple like “assault” and that will convey the same exact message as “OK guys, this is where we get after it and start taking back some seats”.

Another thing I really liked was the build up into the sprint starting with the “10 at base” at 4:55. I like how he calls the first five of that ten, says “assault”, then starts the next five with “next five, bow ball”. THAT is what I mean when I say to simplify your calls and cut out all the excess. You know exactly what he wants and how many strokes you have to do it and it only took four words to communicate that. Now, what I really liked about the sprint was how he transitioned into it. At 5:12 he says “shifting up to a 38 over two … shift one, shift two …” and then they hit it. I like the simplicity. If you’re trying to figure out how to get your crew to shift up at the end without doing a big build or anything (or alternatively, you’re only going up two beats and don’t need five to build into it) then I’d definitely suggest trying the shift over two and seeing how that works. (Related: If you haven’t read this post on “in” vs. “over” vs. “on” check it out so you understand the difference between all three and make sure you explain it to your crew too. In, on, and over do not mean the same things!!)

So yea. This is my pick for best collegiate recording of the 2015 season. If you’ve got any other contenders feel free to send them my way!

Kent School Boat Club Women vs. St. Andrews
Colette sent me this one of her boat’s race against St. Andrew’s and it’s also on my list as one of the top recordings from this past season. Here’s some of the feedback I sent her:

Tone, volume, intensity, calls, etc. throughout the entire race were solid. I wouldn’t change a thing. You got a little repetitive with the “twist” call but I think you had a good enough variety otherwise that it doesn’t matter too much. In the future you might consider incorporating in some alternatives to “twist” (“rotate” is one that I use a lot), that way you’re still communicating the same thing just with a different word so as to not get too monotonous or repetitive.

Another thing is it seemed like you stuttered over the names of the crews a couple times when you were giving the girls your position – if you’re not 110% sure of who is in each lane then just say their lane number. When I race I only call the name of the top one or two crews that we consider our biggest competition and everyone else I just refer to by their lane #s, that way I don’t risk tripping myself up in the middle of a call if I can’t remember who is where. I feel like when you’re in a groove of coxing and then you stutter over something like a crew’s name it can throw off the momentum a bit (or at the very least knock you our of your zone) so that’s always something I try to avoid.

A couple other calls I liked –

– “I just lit the fuse” call at 2:32. I love the way she said it and I love the call.
– “No mercy one, no mercy two…” at 2:56. The intensity is great (there’s nothing like a good “no mercy” call to really stick the knife in) but I like that she sandwiched them between counting out the ten. Making simple but occasionally deadly (for the other crews…) calls like this are a great way to get just a liiiiittle bit of extra punch on each stroke.
– “You don’t mess with us ’cause we’re the best” at 3:45 (Cocky? Hell yes. A great call? Oh hell yes.)
– “They’re coming, let’s sprint in two, this is it – one … and two, no fucking mercy! One back it in, two back it in, three YEAAA, four, five don’t let ’em touch us, six breeeathe, seven, eight, nine, ten…”

Henley Royal Regatta 2014 Temple Challenge Cup – Oxford Brookes vs. Brown University
Henley is next weekend (if you’re racing, record yourself!) so I figured it was only appropriate to post Rory Copus’s follow up to the epic Abingdon – Belmont Hill recording of 2009.

I actually got an email about this a couple weeks ago asking my thoughts and it said: “Both my crew and coach love the coxing here, but the other cox at my club, who’s very experienced and has coxed the [redacted the very prominent team name] eight, doesn’t think the coxing is great – he reckoned they would have won regardless. I wondered what your take on it is?” This was my reply:

Personally I do like this recording. I think Rory’s other one (the Abingdon – BH one) is better but this is still in the upper echelon of recordings that are out there. Something I’ve heard a lot of people say is that he was a little over the top and should’ve acted like he’d been there before, which I can definitely see and agree with (to an extent). At this level I think having a coxswain like him can only add speed to your boat so regardless of whether they would have won or not, I don’t think that should really change how he’s coxing them. The only real thing that I didn’t like was he was a little repetitive for me, although I think that’s just a general difference in style between the UK and the US.

Now, make no mistake, I love this recording. Our V8+ coxswain even borrowed some calls from it this season. The main thing I hear people have spirited discussions about is how over the top he gets and like I said, I get that and can see how it might annoy people but to me it’s not the kind of “over the top” that is offensive or asshole-ish. There are PLENTY of recordings I’ve posted on here where you can argue that the coxswain is being “over the top” during the race but sometimes that’s just part of coxing. As long as you’re not being unsportsmanlike, does it really matter how into it you are as long as you’re still steering straight and communicating clearly?

The takeaway for coxswains from this recording is the Beyonce levels of flawlessness in the execution of the race plan. They grab the lead right from the very beginning and just pile it on from there. The bladework at the start is excellent and the gradual build in volume he has as he’s calling “legs loose” really sets the tone early. You can tell they have a plan going into this because the moves and his calls just flow really well throughout the race. It doesn’t feel like anything he’s saying is being come up with on the spot, which is rare since you’re not usually in a position (at this level, let alone at this regatta) where you’re far enough ahead of the other crew(s) that you don’t have to worry about deviating from your race plan.

Some calls I liked:

– “Legs loose…”
– “Stay relaxed as we hit the gust … stay loose … stay loose …” If you can see the ripples in the water up ahead of you, always prepare your crew and let them know it’s coming.
– He makes a lot of rhythm calls (and announces them too…), in addition to encouraging the rhythm by the way he makes the calls so if that’s something you’re looking to work on definitely listen to this. There are lots of spots throughout the recording where he does this and they’re very easy to identify. (Plus, you should be able to pick this stuff out on your own anyways without someone else pointing it out to you.)
– “Keep moving in this rhythm, in your rhythm…”
– “10 months, every erg, every session, together, for this one fucking moment…” This is the kind of call that I’d pull my ass off for. I don’t care if I”m blacking out, this is the kind of call that would force me to dig deeper and find some way to give more.
– “Drop the knees” – good alternative to most “legs” calls.
– “Take it all in, feed off of it…” This is a great call for those regattas where you can feel the energy from the spectators and you can hear them screaming as you approach them. Never underestimate the power of the crowd to give your crew an extra surge at the end. Bring that energy into the boat and make it work for you.
– “End them now.” I love this but what really seals the deal is the finger point he does as he says it. I did this once and my coach told me it was the most demoralizing thing he’d ever seen a coxswain do to the rest of the field so I’ve always had an affinity for psychological fuckery like this. (Fun story, Wisco’s V8+ coxswain did this to our eight when we raced them back in May and when they came up to collect their shirts I told him in front of our coxswain how much I respect coxswains that have the balls to make moves like that. Luckily our cox knows me well enough to know that it wasn’t a dig against him so it was cool. Laughs were had later.) To me, stuff like this is the ultimate sign of confidence. Some people probably/definitely think it’s cocky but I don’t think it is. Being cocky is fine (and necessary) to an extent but at some point it crosses the line from being legit to being compensatory and it’s always obvious when you’re compensating for something (usually a lack of confidence more than anything else). No coxswain would ever do the “shut them the fuck down now” finger point if they weren’t 1000% sure that their crew was executing everything exactly the way it needed to be done and that their position in the race was unquestionably secure. This isn’t one of those things that you can do every race though. This is one of the ones that you do once, maybe twice in your career. The moment’s gotta be right otherwise you do just look like an asshole.

(Also, can anyone confirm that that is Neville Longbottom circa Order of the Phoenix rowing in seven?)

MIT Men’s Rowing V4+ 2015 IRAs Repechage
I don’t think I’ve posted any of our recordings on here (they’re all on YouTube if you wanna listen to them) but I wanted to post this one because I think it’s our varsity coxswain’s best recording of the season and I’m really damn proud of that for more reasons that I can count. I wish I could remember everything I pointed out to him when we initially watched this after the race but that was a month ago so below is a brief-ish (OK maybe not…) synopsis of what I assume I told him.

The whole starting sequence – start, high 20, transition to base – was really well executed. He started off the year/season drawing his calls out to really annoying and unnecessary lengths so to finish the season really crisp like this is a huge improvement. I also really like how we started doing the shifts down to base. I honestly don’t remember if this is something we talked about or if he just started doing it on his own but adding in that second shift really helped clean up that transition and make it a lot smoother.

It still annoys me (in the most minor of ways) that he calls a “ten to establish (the rhythm)” right after the start but if you’re going to take a ten for something at that spot, calling it for rhythm isn’t the worst thing to choose. (As long as it’s not for power – you have no idea how much this makes me rage.) One of the things we/I really harped on this season was not relying on 5s and 10s to get across whatever you wanted them to do. Instead of calling numerous 5s for catches, finishes, legs, etc. just make the call for a few strokes and then move on. You don’t need to take a burst just to get them to do something. My point there is that instead of calling a 10 to establish the rhythm I would have just gone straight into “legs long, legs loose” for five to eight strokes. Just counting out the strokes doesn’t establish the rhythm, you’ve gotta back it up with legit calls.

As I said on Rory’s recording, prepping the crew for an oncoming wind gust is always smart so I like that he saw the gust coming at 1:16 and said “wind gust on this one”. This is probably the best footage I’ll be able to get from a coxswain’s POV of what the wind looks like so if you’re still trying to figure out how to read the wind, look at the ripples in the water immediately before, during, and after he makes that call. The wind had been picking up throughout the reps (there were three total) but it stayed pretty much a cross-head the entire time. You can tell it’s a headwind because the boat is going into it (vs. a tailwind where you’re going with it) and the diagonal pattern of the ripples indicates that it’s a slight crosswind, meaning that the wind is going perpendicular-ish to the course instead of straight with the lanes (in which case it’d just be a direct head or tailwind).

A couple strokes later you can hear BU’s coxswain say “I’ve got bow ball”, which could easily have been disastrous for us (and if it was earlier in the season it probably would have been). I like how he handled it though. He’ll probably say that he didn’t hear her or wasn’t paying attention, thus what I’m about to say is totally irrelevant but I like that he just said where they were on BU, that they were walking, and to stay relaxed and poised. From there he makes the call to get the boat set (the crosswind wasn’t helping us there) and they immediately took a seat back on BU. The calmness in his voice throughout that segment is not something I would have thought was possible a few months ago, or at least not something that could be executed that well, so I’m really, really proud of how he handled that. (But like I said, he’ll probably say he had no idea what BU’s coxswain was doing so I’ll just pretend that what I said was his plan all along.)

As they come into 750m and he says “let’s walk up and pass, I’m on 2-seat, get me bow man…”, that’s a perfect way to call that and is another good example of what I mean by simplifying your calls. All you’ve gotta do is tell them where you are and where you wanna be and that’s it. The only thing I wish he would have done after that five was to tell them whether the move worked or not (by either saying “got the bow man” or “they held their margin” or something easy like that).

At 1000m I like the shift in his tone. I was getting a little worried initially when I listened to this that his usual fire during the body of the race wasn’t going to be there but it came out here and stuck for the rest of the race, which was good. All his calls through this section are great, especially the “now keep the attack” that he finished off with. I also, obviously, love the “that’s BOW BALLL” call. That 20 plus the small moves for each pair that he followed up with are, I’m convinced, what secured our position for the rest of the race. Couldn’t have asked for better execution here.

The “five for each pair” move is something we’d been working on throughout the season and it was getting to the point where I was so frustrated with it that I almost told him to just stop doing it because he could just not go from pair to pair without freaking monologuing between each one. It was driving me nuts. (You can hear this in the Sprints recording I think.) He did a great job calling it here though. I love the transition from stern pair into all four with the “establish dominance, 5 strokes for open” call. (400ish meters ago we were down two seats and now we’re going for open … can’t ask for much more than that.)

The ten for length at the 500 was kinda the only thing that I wasn’t super happy with, only because his calls didn’t match up with what he was asking for. Taking a ten for length there is a great idea and something we definitely needed but if you’re gonna call it for length your calls have to match that and his were a little all over the place. I liked his tone and everything, just not the words themselves.

5:31, “drop them” … this aggression was what I was waiting for and he brought it out at just the right time.

The end of the race always makes me a little nervous because he’s not the most reliable at calling the finish – sometimes he nails it, other times he’s way off (ahem … Princeton) – but he did fine here. In any other situation casually calling the extra two like that probably wouldn’t have worked, especially if the race was close, but we were ahead by enough that it didn’t make a difference. We were in a position to advance so whatever. Not something I’d recommend though – if you’re gonna call last five or last ten, make sure it’s actually the last five or last ten. Practice this whenever you do pieces so you can get used to gauging the distance between when you make the call and when you cross the line, that way there’s no question on race day that you’re calling the correct number of strokes to the line.

Like I said, I’m really, really happy with this race (as was everyone) and being able to see the culmination of all the tweaks and improvements in Alex’s (he has a name!) coxing made me really proud. It’s no secret how much I love this team and a HUGE part of it is because I got to work with some amazing coxswains this year. Every coxswain on all four of our teams is good but I’m adamant that even on their worst days, which we definitely had a few of, the heavyweight coxswains were still the best ones in the boathouse.

Alex, I couldn’t have asked for a better sparring partner this year. You challenged me, stuck to your guns (even when you were wrong 😉 ), and finished the year as the coxswain I knew you could be (and told you you could be) all along.

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End of the season calls + motivation

This is an email I sent over the weekend to our varsity coxswain who will be driving the four we’re taking to IRAs this weekend. As I’ve said in the past, being in the launch every day has its perks and while it may be boring at times it can be a useful tool once the end of the season rolls around. I tend to take a lot of notes when we’re out, either in a notebook or on my phone, and it’s nice to be able to pull them out now and get a few ideas for calls or new things to say that we haven’t talked about in awhile. Even though you could take a lot of what I said down below into the boat with you verbatim, there’s really only a few explicitly laid out calls in here. There’s a lot to be inferred though so coming up with calls on your own shouldn’t be hard.

“Here’s some of my notes on the guys from the last few months. The whole not being able to see them thing means you’ve gotta rely on what you know they have a tendency to do and these are their tendencies. Incorporate these into your calls this week (throughout the entire practice, not just the 500s and 250s we’ll be doing) so you can pull them out on Fri/Sat/Sun without having to think about it.

STROKE

No wind up

No up and down movement with the shoulders at the catch – lock the blade in then hang on it (“suspend send” for three is a good call here…don’t say “for the next three” or anything, just call it…)

Keep the hands moving out of the finish – he’s got to be a metronome if he’s gonna stroke this four and it’s on you to not let up for a single stroke if you see the rate fall off.

Release clean, feel the boat send away followed by smooth, relaxed hands out of the finish

Lean into the rigger

THREE

Keep the shoulders low

Patient with hands out of the finish

Don’t lunge at the catch

Hold the finishes, has a tendency to wash out at higher rates/pressures

TWO

Sit up/posture in general, particularly through the back end

Stay loose in the shoulders (tends to get tense when told to sit up)

Don’t get grabby at the catch

Back it in, don’t miss water at the catch

Hands down and away – specifically say “[his name]” when you make this call so he knows you’re talking to him

Stay connected with the feet at the finish

BOW

Hold the finishes in

Don’t cut off the lay back, get all the swing through the finish – especially important since he’s in bow now

General stuff

Suspend the weight, feet light on the stretchers

Accelerate with the hips

No lift out of the catch

Find speed through the legs

Smooth turnaround at the finish, keep the hands and seat moving (important for [STROKE], he adds the tiniest pause over the knees and that’s where [THREE] + [TWO] get ahead of him)

Build together through the water, don’t force it via rushing the hands out of bow ([THREE] + [TWO] in particular but applies to the whole boat)

Stay relaxed and long

During the “10 to relax” after the start, focus on actually getting them to relax and swing rather than just calling another 10. You shouldn’t need to count this out, instead remind them that every stroke needs to be relaxed but intentional, free of tension, etc. and then make repetitive swing-related calls for several strokes as you begin to establish your rhythm. Keep your voice calm but focused here.

Third 500 – the focus has to re-shift back to their form as fatigue sets in. Catches sharp, posture tall, cores solid, chins up, hanging on the handle, sequencing, mind over matter, etc. – all of it has to be on point. Every single thing you say, more so in this 500 than any other 500 during the race, has to have a purpose otherwise all you’re doing is taking speed away instead of adding it.

During the last 500 when you build for the sprint you have to be unrelenting when it comes to those rates. I know we’ve talked about not getting picky when it falls off by a beat but during the sprint that can’t happen. As the rate goes up remind them to sustain their rhythm and speed by picking it up together and staying light on the seats. As [THREE] said, the organization during this chunk needs to be better. There can’t be any second-guessing, tripping over your calls, periods of silence, etc. especially if you’re tight with another crew.

Be prepared. Eliminate all distractions. Be relentless. That’s your only job this week.”

Reverse pick drill progression + what “bob drills” look like

The reason I posted this was mainly to show you what the reverse pick drill looks like if you’re unfamiliar with it, what bob drills look like, and to give an example of what one of our warmup drills are.

Related: What are stationary drills? How can there be drills if the rowers aren’t rowing? What are some examples?

We did this by stern 6, bow 6 (who the video features), and finished up with all eight, which is typical of all of the drills we do.

This was from Thursday morning of our spring break trip (check out that sunrise in the background and the gorgeous flat water…) and we had a different lineup than we’d had the rest of the week because two guys were rowing on opposite sides and two guys who row in the V4+ were subbed in to give two other guys a break.

Related: How to call a pick drill (and reverse pick drill)

One of those guys had to sit out because a cut on one of his fingers got infected, causing that finger to swell up to roughly double the size of his other fingers. Pro tip kids, keep your wounds clean. So, if you’re wondering why the rowing looks … sloppy … that’s a large reason why.