Question of the Day

Hi there – I’ve just come out of my first racing season and after talking to my crew and coaches, my weakness still lies within steering; more specifically oversteering.

My racing season consisted of Sykes bow-loaded fours (so steering is done with the rod). The steering system is an AEROWFIN. From the other fours I’ve coxed with the traditional square fin, this one is obviously more touchy and responsive (which has its pros and cons). The problem is that at the tip of the fin, (the point on the rudder that is furthest away from the hull) there is a small crease/slight bend in the rudder. I’m not sure whether this may contribute to some of the steering issues I’ve had.

In the eight that I’ve raced once, we have stuck an oversized fin for the Head of the Yarra we do every year and left it on for the whole season. The rudder does not, however line up dead straight with the fin, it is 1-2mm wide of it. At the beginning of the season, I tried lining up the rudder to be dead straight but moving the rod (while on slings) and looking from the stern down towards the bow at the rudder in order to gauge its “straightness”. I’d then mark the point in my seat to which the position of the rod/string corresponds to a straight rudder. However, I struggle to think of a time when leaving the rudder at that point does not stop the bow ball drifting to either side.

The possible factors I see which might be the cause of my oversteering.
– Power Imbalance
– Current/Wind (Although I’ve steered in near flat conditions and it still occurs)
– Rudder Defect(s)

Often when we train, I’m autopiloting the steering aspect because the river is very simple with gradual turns. But come race day on a buoyed course, it becomes pretty awful. Talking to my stroke, he said that it wasn’t like I was changing the direction of the rudder every three strokes, but it was more of a gradual snaking which was costing us metres. The four I cox have spent a lot of time in the 4- and tbh can steer straighter than I can (although this is an example of a different occasion, with different conditions and a different body of water).

The fact is that I’d like to rectify my steering issues, the next few months will be primarily Winter Training or Head Racing. How do I do it? Do I start from scratch and focus all my attention on steering? What is a good way to know that you’re steering straight (because it seems like I’m steering straight on home territory however as soon as we hit the buoyed course it becomes awful)? Some coxes have the liberty of training on rivers/lakes with buoys all year around whereas the river we row on doesn’t have this, how can I practise? Thank You Very Much!

I love the Aerowfin. We switched it on to one of our Empachers in the fall and it made taking the tight turns on the Charles so much simpler.

Related: Taking the Weeks turn with the Carl Douglas “Aerowfin”

I was texting with one of the MIT coxswains last week about similar steering issues and my first question was whether or not she’d checked the equipment. Not to shirk responsibility or anything like that but because even though 99% of the time the problem is us, that 1% where it’s the equipment can be really validating if you feel like you’d been doing everything you were supposed to in order to steer a good line. (Her problem ended up being an issue with the cables.) It sounds like you’ve already done the leg work in that area so I’d bring that info to your coach and/or boatman and have them look at to confirm if that’s the problem. Very rarely, borderline on never, do I suggest looking at the equipment first instead of yourself as being the problem but the fin having a bend in it and the rudder being a few millimeters out of alignment makes me think that it’s the problem, not you.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

I don’t think you need to start from scratch but maybe talk to your coach about taking out a different four to see if you have similar issues in that boat as you do in this one. If you do then the problem is clearly you and you’re gonna have to spend some time at the drawing board evaluating how you’re steering now and what adjustments you need to make. If you don’t have any of the same issues then that most likely will confirm that the other boat is the problem.

Not having a buoyed course or unobstructed straight water to practice on is the most played out excuse for why coxswains can’t steer straight. It is highly unlikely that whatever body of water you’re on doesn’t have at least 100m of water with no curves that you can practice “steering straight” on. Those are opportunities that you’ve gotta open your eyes to and be aware of so that as you’re coming up to them you can say to yourself “OK, this is the only time today I’m gonna have to practice my race steering…” and then do whatever you need to do to work on that. Tell the rowers too that you’re coming up on the part of the river where you want to practice your race steering and then afterwards, ask your stroke seat how your point looked – did it seem from their vantage point like you were snaking around or did it look relatively straight?

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

Autopilot is fine when you’re warming up, executing drills, etc. but every so often you’ve gotta snap out of that habit (especially during steady state or pieces) and pay attention to every single aspect of your steering, from your hand placement to if you’re reacting to the boat’s movement and knocking the rudder, etc. All those things add up and are super easy to ignore if you’re not making a conscious effort to pay attention to them.

Related: Coxswains skills: Race steering

You’ve gotta use every practice as an opportunity to work on your steering. If you only decide to work on your steering when you notice there’s a problem (or worse, a rower or coach points it out) then it’s basically too late because now you’re hyperaware of it and that tends to exacerbate the problem. Steering is not that hard. It just isn’t. We overthink it and make it hard, which is what tends to be our downfall 99% of the time.

Question of the Day

Hi! So I’m a collegiate coxswain with about 8 years of experience and I’ve been struggling with fours for a while now. I’m pretty good in eights and have great boat feel, but as soon as I hop in a four everything goes south. I struggle to diagnose problems, stumble over my words, become repetitive, steer poorly, etc. etc. It also doesn’t help that I’m in eights most of the time, so it’s near impossible to fix problems for next practice as the next fours practice might be 8-10 practices away. Do you have any advice?

This is how I feel whenever I get into a four too. The ratio of time I’ve spent in eights vs. fours is pretty lopsided and even now (especially now) whenever I hop in a four, whether it’s filling in for one of the coxswains or actually racing, it feels like it takes forever for me to get in a groove with feeling what’s going on, making calls, etc.

When I was just learning to cox in fours my coach’s advice, which I still rely on today, was to not look at it like you’re starting from scratch anytime you go from an eight to a four, especially since we were also in them infrequently. In my experience that’s what tends to trip coxswains up and cause them to get overwhelmed – that was definitely the case for me. I’d get in the boat and immediately overwhelm myself by thinking about not being able to see anyone instead of just slowing down and using everything I knew about the rowers from being in the eight to guide whatever I was saying or interpreting via boat feel.

That’s why whenever I’m in fours I talk a lot less than I do when I’m in eights. Rowers (at every level I’ve coxed) have pointed it out too and my response is always that it’s not because I’m zoning out or not paying attention, rather it’s the exact opposite – it’s a different environment so I’m trying to focus, feel, process, etc. more and I can’t do that if I’m talking all the time. If I’m talking the same amount in a four that I am in an eight, that’s a pretty clear sign that I’m just completely bullshitting my way through practice.

When it comes to diagnosing problems, I heavily rely on whatever’s been going on in the eight to act as my “baseline” for the four. Before going out or while we’re warming up I’ll usually say something like “We’ve been working on ABC in the eight so now that there’s just four of you, let’s really hone in on XYZ today – the less time we spend worrying about setting the boat the more time we can spend on just moving it.” and then quickly run through one or two individual things that I want them to focus on. By this point in the season  you know what’s going well, what’s not, etc. which makes it a lot easier to narrow the scope of practice vs. “starting from scratch” where it seems like every technical issue known to man could be the problem. Plus, the smaller the boat you’re in the more noticeable technical issues are going to be. If you know what to look/feel for based on the stuff you’ve already been working on, that makes things a lot easier for you.

If I knew we were gonna go out in fours I’d talk to my coaches about the lineups, anything in particular I should focus on (i.e. 3-seat in the eight isn’t used to being in stern pair so now that he’s 3-seat in the four, making calls about syncing up with the stroke would be beneficial in the first half of practice), stuff they’ve seen from the launch, etc. – pretty much the same stuff I’d talk about with them normally anyways. Taking the feedback I got from those conversations and meshing it up with my own observations from the eight made getting into the fours a lot less stressful because, like I said earlier, it helped narrow my focus.

Stumbling over your words and getting repetitive is usually a sign that you need to take a step back and (re)focus. You also just need to be honest with the boat. If I know something feels off but can’t figure out what the problem is then I’ll just say that and ask them what they’re feeling. I know a lot of coxswains are kinda timid about doing this because they think it’ll make them look bad but it really doesn’t. Making useless calls and being ineffective in general makes you look bad … admitting you’re off your game today and can’t figure out if what’s throwing the boat off is X or Y demonstrates a level of self-awareness that far too many coxswains lack.

Steering poorly, you can’t really justify or make any excuses for that. You’ve got an unobstructed view and technically that should be your primary focus anyways. If you’re steering is bad/unsafe then that’s a pretty clear sign that you need to slow down, stop talking, and get that sorted out before trying to do anything else. It also baffles me when coxswains come off the water complaining about how practice didn’t go well because the boat was unset all morning and nothing they said fixed it … did you ever consider maybe not touching the rudder every three seconds? That’d probably help.

Anyways, my advice is to talk less (way less), incorporate in your observations, the rowers’ known tendencies, etc. from the eight rather than starting from zero every time, and when in doubt, crowdsource ideas from the boat if you’re stuck on something. Last piece of advice is to talk with the other coxswains regularly enough that you at least have a basic idea of the strengths/weaknesses of the rowers in their boats, that way if you end up coxing them in a four instead of the people who are usually in your boat, you won’t be in the dark about what they’ve been doing or where they’re at technically. This will benefit you regardless of the boat you’re in and it helps make you a more versatile coxswain.

Question of the Day

Hi! Do you have any suggestions for what my boat can do about our struggles coming out of a start? We’ll usually do a start 6 and a high 20/25, but when we need to lengthen out to get to  race pace (because we can’t hold a 42 SR for the whole 2000m) we seem to lose a lot of energy and ground on other boats. What can we do to come out of a start more smoothly? My boat is fairly strong and it’s not that we’re dropping from a 1:35 to a 1:50 because we can’t hold a lower split, but we just don’t know how to lengthen out/get a ratio shift that’s more smooth and even. Calling a lengthen 10 doesn’t help. Thanks!

Unless the ratio is actually that out of whack off the start, a ratio shift is the wrong approach.

Related: How do you call a ratio shift to control and stop the rush without lowering the SR? Is it even possible?

Have you tried doing a sub-settle and then settling again to your base pace? This has always worked well for my boats (both coxing and coaching) when we’ve had similar issues. If we’re starting high (in the 40s) and trying to get to a 34-35, more often times than not it’d feel like we were putting the brakes on in order to hit the 34, causing us to lose ground and momentum, rather than just gradually lengthening out to it while still maintaining the power we had in the high strokes. Once we tried doing a sub-shift to a 38ish and then 5-7 strokes later shifting again to base, that seemed to alleviate a lot of the issues.

Related: The Language of the First 500

Even before we started incorporating the sub-shifts, we’d spend a lot of time on the transition during practice, not just on the strokes themselves but on the calls too. For me the focus was always on the last three strokes of the high strokes and the first stroke out of the shift, just making sure my calls were clear and on point so that first stroke was smooth but still deliberate and powerful. If I was sloppy here I could feel the drop in energy over the next few strokes. Another point of emphasis was on staying loose – if you’re tense then you’re not going to be able to flow in sync with the boat, which was one of the things that contributed to that “hitting the brakes” feeling for my crews.

Related: Getting off the line with world class speed

Talk with your coach and try to make this a point of practice each week. One of my coaches always had us do starts at the end of practice when we were tired and more likely to row with not-the-greatest technique, which actually helped a lot because it made us focus more on staying loose and taking clean strokes. I think making that snap transition between fatigued from AT pieces to clear-headed and calm before doing a start also helped us manage our adrenaline better during races, which played into that shift down to base pace being smoother and less frantic.

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.

Question of the Day

Hi! How would you recommend handling other coxswains that believe in “dictatorship”? I’m in my 3rd year of coxing and have always had the thought process that I am not a dictator or boss, or that the rowers work for me, but that I work for the rowers so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. As long as we are working hard and accomplishing our goals, I see no reason as to why we can’t have fun. My boat last year had this mindset and we always did extremely well and had good attitudes most of the time. However, this year the coxswains who have been with our team for a shorter time than myself (I am the oldest cox) believe that they can be dictators and that it’s alright for them to force the rowers to perform workouts the way that they want them done, rather than what works best for the rowers. How can I handle this? I’ve already talked to the other coxes but they don’t care. 

It would probably also be helpful to add that our coaches don’t really care about this situation either. I know that it bothers several of the rowers but I don’t know what I can do at this point.

If you’ve pointed out the problem, explained why that approach doesn’t work and how it ultimately hurts the team (and themselves), given suggestions on how to act/lead in a more effective manner, etc., all while getting zero support from the coaches … I don’t really know what else you can (be expected to) do. I’ve been in similar positions, both while coaching our coxswains right now and when I was on my own teams, and it’s frustrating as hell to be in a leadership position and know that there’s this expectation that you’ll take the initiative to address the problem but then see absolutely nothing come of it when you do. It’s like the personification of the “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” saying.

I can’t even get into the coaches not caring. Like … seriously? I said this to someone else a few weeks ago (linked below – a lot of the advice in there I’d give to you too) but if the coaches aren’t going to do the bare minimum in addressing shit like this then they really have no room to be annoyed when certain crews underperform as the season gets underway.

Related: Hi! I’m in my third year of coxing in college. I coxed the 2V my first two years but this fall I was moved up to the 1V. There are a few other coxswains on our team but honestly, most of them don’t know what they’re doing and won’t put in effort to improve. I’ve noticed that when I’m occasionally put back into the 2V (which is mainly made up of the same rowers as last year’s 2V) for practice, the rowers have lost a lot of technique. Stroke seat (who was my stroke in the 2V last year) has told me that the other coxswains don’t know how to correct technique and will either ignore it or tell them to do the wrong thing. She has also said that the coxswains don’t know how to call pieces and aren’t helping them get to the stroke rate or split they need to be at. I also found out that several of 2V rowers no longer trust coxswains because the other coxswains have constantly lied to them about stroke rate, split, distance, time, etc.

I don’t think it’s your responsibility to handle this. I think it’s your responsibility as the oldest coxswain on the team to address it, which it sounds like you have, but you can’t be the only person trying to get them to adjust their approach. The rowers need to speak up too and let them know that their way of communicating isn’t working. It’s really easy to bitch about stuff like this behind their backs but nothing’s going to change unless you address it head on and part of the responsibility for doing that lies with them.

A good way to go about that is to have the rowers direct their feedback towards one of the older rowers (even better if they’re a team captain) and then you and that rower can talk to the coxswains on your own after practice one day. In this situation you can let the rower lead the discussion so that they can explain why their attitudes are a problem and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. From there you can offer yourself up as a resource if they want help in figuring out better ways to communicate with the team but I also think you need to take a hard stance here and let them know that all they’re doing is undermining themselves by acting like this. If/when they get pissed because they suddenly realized no one on the team respects them, they’ll only have themselves to blame and that sucks but that’s the hole they dug themselves into.

I know that seems like a harsh thing to say too (it really isn’t though) but I honestly feel like if more people (coaches, captains, whoever…) made points like that to coxswains early on, situations like this would way occur less often. It obviously won’t prevent everyone from getting drunk with (perceived) power but if they realize it’ll take twice as long and five times as much effort to overcome this than if they’d just acted like a normal person to begin with, they might make a bit more of an effort to be self-aware with regards to their actions and interactions with the team.

 

Question of the Day

Hey! I am a high school senior interested in rowing in college. I have committed to attending a school, but I did not go through the recruiting process. Before committing to the school, I was in contact with one of the assistant coaches, and met with and spoke with him. How do I go about getting in contact with the coach again about joining the team in the fall? Thanks!

Also, (unrelated) do you have any tips for rowing a single? I know the stroke, but keep having trouble with one of my oars getting caught under the water. (One day it was port, another it was starboard). Thanks again!

Just email them, re-introduce yourself, say you’ll be attending that school in the fall, and you’re still interested in joining the team. Assuming you’re already an experienced rower, they’ll probably just lump you in with the rest of the recruits once you get all the compliance paperwork done. (I talked about this a bit in the post linked below.)

Related: What it means to be a “walk-on”

Whenever that would happen with our walk-ons (getting the oars caught) (literally, without fail, every. single. time.) it would be because one (or both) of the oarlocks were backwards. So, out of habit, my first suggestion is to make sure you’re got everything set up correctly and facing the right way. Also make sure your hands are always left over right.

The main thing I’d keep in mind though is to make sure you’re drawing through level with both hands and keeping both elbows up at the finish. Really focus on squeezing the lats through the finish and maintaining pressure on the blades all the way through the drive so you give yourself the best chance to get a good, clean release. Also make sure that your posture is on point and you’re not shifting your weight all over the place. Relaxed upper body, engaged core, etc. This will help you maintain your balance and give you a more stable platform to work off of, which should make it easier to maintain an even blade depth with both oars.

My experience with sculling is (obviously) pretty limited so if anyone else has any suggestions, feel free to leave ’em in the comments.

Question of the Day

I am a freshman in high school cox and I am friends with an 8th grade cox. She isn’t done growing but is worried that she will be over the weight limit (aka minimum) when she is so she is trying to lose weight. She claims to just want to eat healthier but she does not eat lunch, has mentioned cutting sodium and fat significantly, and is tracking her calories. I think she has an eating disorder, which I have had before and don’t want her to go through. What should I do? I want her to be safe. 😦

I touched on this in a similar question a few months ago (linked below) but I think you’ve gotta be careful about assuming someone has an eating disorder just because they’re changing their eating habits. I get what you’re saying and can see why you might be concerned, especially since she’s only in 8th grade, but I wouldn’t jump to the worst possible conclusion just yet.

Related: Hello! I’m a collegiate rower currently at a D3 school. Recently I’ve noticed that my team’s top coxswain has seemed to have lost a lot of weight in the past few months. By this, I mean she seems to have lost 10 to 15lbs, which is a lot considering she’s 5’4″ and wasn’t over the 110lb minimum by more than 7 or 8lbs last season. I don’t believe she eats very often but when I do see her eat she doesn’t seem to have an eating disorder. I’m not sure whether or not I should be concerned about her weight loss and if I should bring it up with someone?

If you’ve dealt with an eating disorder and can see her starting to fall into the same habits you did, point that out (without being accusatory). There’s nothing wrong with tracking what you’re eating or cutting back on unhealthy stuff but there’s always the risk of taking it too far, sometimes without even realizing it, and having someone else point out that they can see you doing the same things they did can be the wake up call that gets them to reassess their approach. Point is, I’d be much more responsive to someone that said “hey, I’ve dealt with disordered eating, it started off as just wanting to lose a few pounds but I got really caught up in counting calories, it spiraled out of control pretty fast, etc. and I’m concerned because I see you doing some of the same things I did, which I now realize was doing more harm than good…” than someone who said “you stopped eating lunch, you stopped eating salt, you must have an eating disorder”.

The response there will either be “I’m good” or “…hmm”, in which case you should drop it if it’s the former (I mean, keep an eye on it if you’re really that concerned but don’t hover or keep belaboring the point) or offer her some advice if it’s the latter. If you’ve since recovered or are recovering from your eating disorder, talk with her about what you’re doing now to be healthy and maintain a good diet. If talking with a nutritionist, one of your coaches, etc. helped you, recommend it to her as an option if she finds she wants or needs help.

Also point out that as a freshman (presumably novice) coxswain, no one gives a fuck what you weigh. It’s literally the least important thing when you’re just learning how to cox. None of you are competitive enough at that stage for your coxswain’s weight to make any sort of difference in your speed. As long as you’re under like, 135 max (there’s gotta be a line somewhere), you should be perfectly fine.

Look, you’re closer to this situation than I am so you have to use your best judgment based on whatever you’re seeing. There is no perfect, step-by-step way to handle stuff like this. If you’re afraid to confront her directly, maybe ask your coach if they can address coxswain weight in general to all the coxswains (that way she’s not being singled out) and dispel the myth that they must weigh 110lbs or 120lbs on the dot every day of their entire high school career or else they’ll never get boated ever. Maybe hearing that will alleviate some of her worries.