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.

Question of the Day

How do you avoid being repetitive if your boat keeps falling off the goal stroke rate? The boat I cox sometimes struggles to keep it up and I don’t want to constantly be calling “up two in two,” as I feel like it’s either not working (which is why we keep coming back down) or it gets annoying. Once we get up to rate I try to sometimes call for a “focus 5” to really focus on what the rate feels like and maybe help with building muscle memory of what the slide speed and drive speed should feel like and I think it helps a bit, but sometimes we fall back down anyway.

Also, how do you call a double pause drill (e.g., pause at arms over and at half slide)? Do you say “row” after the first pause, even though they’re not actually rowing but rather moving to a second pause? Or do you not call the pauses/”row”s at all and just let stroke seat take control? (I’m in a bowloader, if that makes a difference)

Thanks!

Good question about the pause drills. Check out the “relevant calls” section, specifically the first and second paragraphs, in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below. That addresses exactly what you asked.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Pause drills

If for whatever reason you aren’t calling something, whoever’s in bow takes over making the calls, not stroke (and that’s rare too that they’d need to take over doing that). Being in a bowloader though is irrelevant. You don’t need to see them to feel when they get to the first pause and from there you just need to wait 2-3 seconds before calling them to half slide. Wash, rinse, repeat.

With the stroke rate issues, first thing you should do is talk to your coach. Explain that you’re having trouble maintaining the stroke rate and see if they can take some video of the crew that they can then go over with everyone later. This should help you narrow down what technical things you can narrow in on with your calls to help them hold the rate.

There’s plenty of things you could focus on but here’s three to start with..

Get the hands moving out of bow at a speed that matches whatever rate you’re at. You’re not gonna hit a 32 if your hands are coming away at a 26. Hand speed’s gotta match the boat speed. Get the body set before the legs come up too, that way you’re not dumping all your weight into the front end as you try to change direction.

Change direction at both ends in one fluid motion. When the slide/handle stops moving in one direction it should immediately start moving in the other. If you’re hanging at the front end or pausing at the back end the boat’s gonna lose momentum and whatever energy you could be putting into maintaining the rate is gonna have to go into picking it back up again (which is gonna feel super heavy and cause you to fatigue sooner which will also contribute to the rate falling off).

Get the rate on the drive. You’ve gotta build the pressure before the rate so as you’re building between the “off” strokes and the “on” strokes, don’t make it all about slide speed. Make sure the blades are fully buried and that they’re squeezing the legs the catch and getting a solid push off the stretchers that is then followed up by accelerating the handle through the second half of the stroke. If you can get the boat running well that’s gonna make it feel lighter at the catch which in turn will make it easier to pick up and turn around.

Focus fives lose their meaning really fast if you constantly call them without any sort of positive outcome. All you’re basically saying is that they just have to focus on X for five strokes and then they can go back to … not focusing on it. If something feels good, just say that. If you want them to do something, just say it.

I’m assuming you’re coxing a younger crew, in which case there’s not usually enough stability or consistency over five strokes to get a good idea of what good ratio feels like or how (for example) a 22 feels compared to an 18. Instead of doing a focus five, lengthen it out to 60-90 seconds … and be quiet during that time so they can actually feel the boat, process it, and commit it to muscle memory. This is a good thing to do during steady state and you can preface it by saying “the ratio here at the 22 feels pretty good so for the next 90 seconds, let’s maintain this by doing XYZ” … and then let them go.

Question of the Day

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.

What can I do for them? I love the 2V; it has a special place in my heart and I’ve had some of my best races and practices in that boat. I really want them to do well this spring, because we were amazing last year, but they don’t seem to be on that track now. Several rowers have talked to our coaches about how those coxswains are negatively affecting their boat but our coaches don’t seem to be very concerned and haven’t done anything to help. They’ve also talked to these coxswains but they get offended and defensive when the rowers ask them to change things. I really want to see the 2V do well this year but I don’t know what to do at this point for them.

I have a lot of thoughts on this so it’s gonna be kinda long.

First, this obviously doesn’t have anything to do with you but to any coaches who are reading, if you’re seriously that lazy or unbothered by your athletes coming to you and saying “this is a problem … help“, you really shouldn’t have to think too hard at the end of the season about why certain crews underperformed. You’re part of the problem.

I agree with the point you’re getting at, that the coxswains play a  role in how good (or not good) the rowers technique is, but I do think a line’s gotta be drawn somewhere. The rowers regressing in their technique can’t totally be put on the shoulders of the coxswains, regardless of how inept they are. There’s a lot of personal responsibility that has to be factored in there and if they’re not making some kind of effort off the water to work on whatever technical issues they’re having, then their own inaction is just as much to blame as the coxswains not taking their jobs seriously in pointing this stuff out.

As far as wanting the 2V to do well – I get that. I respect the fact that you want to help them but keep in mind that they’re not your primary boat anymore, even if you are occasionally switching between them and the 1V. I’ve been in that position before too, as I’m sure plenty of other coxswains have, and all that willing your old boat to do well does is distract you from coxing the boat you’re actually in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t help them but it should be less about the 2V specifically and more about helping the other coxswains get their shit together. You can’t complain about other people’s ignorance and then contribute to it by not sharing what you know. You’re in the 1V, presumably you know what your team’s top 3-5 technical focuses are, how to compare and contrast what you’re seeing and feeling vs. what you should be seeing and feeling, how to call a piece, how to get the crew on rate, how to earn your crew’s trust, and most importantly, how to check your ego and learn the difference between critiques and criticisms. So … share that.

And yea, I get that you and half the coxswains reading are probably thinking “…but if they have shitty attitudes and aren’t even gonna try, then what do I do?”, to which I say nothing. You do nothing. I say this to our coxswains all the time: if it gets to the point where I’m putting in more effort than you are to help you get better, I’m walking away and you’re on your own. I actually did that with one of our coxswains this past spring and it sucked and I felt like a dick but the  point was made pretty quickly that they needed to get over themselves and actually take the advice and feedback that was being given otherwise they were gonna continue to be perpetually disappointed with their standing on the team. It’s my job to share my experiences, explain stuff, and give you the “tools” to figure it out on your own. It’s not my job to will you to care, tell you what you want to hear, or spoon feed you so you can avoid having to do any actual work.

Before you approach them, go to your coaches and get them on board with you working with the other coxswains. Don’t ask if it’s OK or if they mind or whatever, just put on your assertive varsity coxswain adult pants and say “hey, I wanna meet with all the coxswains at X time on Y date at Z location to go over some of the technical stuff we’ve been working on this week, can you make that announcement at the end of practice?”. That’s literally – literally – all you need to say. Hopefully having them say something will get the coxswains’ attention and add an air of legitimacy to what you’re trying to do (since that can sometimes get lost when you try to organize it on your own).

Whenever you meet with them, rather than trying to do a deep dive right off the bat, just talk to them. Sure, there’s a chance that they actually are as apathetic and pissy as the rowers imply but in my experience, at least a third of them are that way because no one’s ever bothered to sit down and explain anything to them. So, start by figuring out where they’re at. I usually try to do this by asking what 2-3 things they’re struggling the most with and then follow up by asking what I can do for them, rather than asking what they need help with. That’s what works best for me personally because it feels less burdensome on the other person than if I were to just ask for help outright. Plus, if you ask me what I need help with, more than likely I’m not gonna have any idea how to respond because I’m too frustrated to have any coherent idea of the stuff I don’t know … I just know that I don’t know it.

Once you’ve got an idea of where their weaknesses lie, parse it down into more manageable chunks (i.e. the basics of bladework, body positioning, etc. instead of just “technique”) and find a time that works for everyone so you can meet to talk about it. This doesn’t need to be some super formal thing either – when I do this with our coxswains we either hang out in the boathouse lounge during practice while the guys are doing steady state or we’ll grab breakfast afterwards and talk while we eat. You should make it clear though that you want to help them get better, not just for their own sake but for the team’s as well, and that you’re happy to be a resource but the onus is on them to actually apply the stuff you’re helping them with. Like I said before, if you start putting more work in than they are, walk away.

If after all that nothing changes, go back to your coaches and have a serious sit-down conversation with them. Explain the issues the rowers have with the coxswains and that you attempted a solution without much luck so now it’s their turn to address the problem. Obviously you can rephrase the latter part of that to whatever you think will make your point the best. At some point though they’ve gotta take the hint that they need say something to the coxswains directly about their performance and it needs to go beyond the same half-assed, immediately written off “you need to do better” platitudes that tend to get thrown out in situations like this.

Question of the Day

Any suggestions for how to handle differences in rower-coxswain experience levels, i.e. when the coxswain is more experienced than the rowers or the rowers are much more experienced than the coxswain? I’m a rower in a boat in the latter situation currently and want to be able to give the coxswain suggestions on what to do specifically but because all the rowers are new to the team (and because I’ve never coxed), it’s a little hard.

I’ve touched a bit on this previously in the post linked below. That question wasn’t exactly the same but it’s similar enough that I think most of what I said there can apply here too.

Related: Thoughts on stroke seats yelling at coxswains and telling them to do things during pieces?

If you’re an experienced rower in a crew with a novice coxswain or one who is inexperienced by comparison, I do think that you should feel a sense of responsibility to help get them up to speed. Obviously it’s not solely your responsibility (let alone a primary one) and you shouldn’t interpret it as such but if you want them and by extension, the boat/team to get better, taking the initiative to help them out will go a long ways. (That being said, this is a lot easier to do when you’re the stroke vs. if you’re like, 3 seat because you can talk about this stuff in real-time on the water vs. having to wait to talk about it off the water to avoid yelling from one end of the boat to the other.)

Think of it like a wide receiver and somebody who just started at quarterback. The WR might not be able to help much with some of the more nuanced QB skills, like moving inside the pocket, scrambling to escape a blitz, or the proper hand placement to ensure a clean ball transfer from the center but they can help with the broader foundational stuff, like running through passing drills to help them work on their accuracy and spending time talking through the playbook so they can learn the plays, coverages, etc.

The same thing applies here – you might not be able to help them with coxswain-specific stuff like how to steer but you can help them understand the purpose of the drills you’re doing (and how to execute them) and the basics of the rowing stroke and general technique. Even if you’ve only been rowing for a year, you should have a decent enough understanding of those three foundational things that you can communicate the bare minimum of each one.

This is what my coaches in high school did with us and I still credit it as being a big part of why I and the other coxswains were always able to pick up coxing so quickly. Novice coxswains went in varsity boats and the experienced strokes would guide us through how to call a drill or explain how on that last piece they felt X which translates to Y so on this next piece, try to look for Z with the blades and see if you can make the connection between what you’re feeling and seeing. It wasn’t like they were holding our hands either, the majority of the responsibility was still on us to make the effort (and make mistakes) in an attempt to learn how to do stuff but on the water they were our biggest resource if/when we needed it and the ones we relied on to hold us accountable if we screwed up (without being dicks about it).

If you have trouble doing that, for whatever reason, then talk with the experienced coxswains and explain to them whatever it was that you wanted to say and see if they can bring it up with your coxswain. I wouldn’t get in the habit of doing this because you’re the one in the boat with them so you should get comfortable communicating with them (and it gets super frustrating having to be the middle man for a boat you’re not even in) but if there’s something that you can’t figure out how to explain that they might be better able to do, by all means ask for their help.

Best advice I can offer to you or anyone in a similar situation though is to get over feeling like you can’t say something because of some arbitrary reason like “I’ve never coxed”. Don’t get me wrong, I fully get where you’re coming from when you say that and I can see how that might make you apprehensive about speaking up but you don’t need to be a coxswain to explain why certain tones of voices are more effective in different situations or that if the boat is falling to starboard, XYZ needs to happen. Be humble enough to know when something is out of your “area of expertise” and what’s best left to other coxswains to explain but don’t be so concerned about stepping on toes that you inadvertently hold them (and your boat) back just because you don’t think you’re qualified enough to offer up a suggestion.

Question of the Day

G’day! Just an upfront thanks for the help this blog has been to me so far – it is really a god send!

Recently our coach took us on a road trip to a ‘still’ body of water to do our time trials, however the weather was absolutely horrendous that day (strong winds and rain). This left us with quite the time trial. In regards to the steering, however, I found it very difficult. Generally in practice, I’d look over my shoulder (bow loaded quad) to try and see how the blade work was doing and on top of the glances at the SpeedCoach and calls, it’s generally a handful. When we were doing pieces that day, I’d made the mistake of not prioritising the steering (I just kept the rudder straight) ended up a good 5 or so meters to bow side after the 2K (~ish) piece. On the latter pieces, my line was much better, but required my to be on the rudder a lot of the time.

My question is how do you deal with rough weather? Mainly in regards to cross winds, head winds, tail winds. Should I be constantly on the rudder to maintain my line? Or should I point my line in the direction of the wind in hopes that it pushes the boat back to a straight course? A fellow cox mentioned that they did something similar to this in Rio this year but I’m not a hundred percent sure. Thanks in advance!

When we do seat races or time trials we usually tell the coxswains what arches on the bridge to go through and what they should be pointing at so we can ensure they’re setting themselves up to steer a straight course. If their lines are off and they go through the wrong arch or are clearly not pointed correctly then we have to factor that in to the results because they most likely went over 1000, or 2000m (our standard seat race/time trial distances when we do them by length), which could (and sometimes has) cost a guy his seat.

In my experience rowers tend to get way more pissed about coxswains drifting off course and adding unnecessary extra meters than making small steering adjustments to maintain their original course. It also helps to preface the piece by saying “hey guys, there’s a crosswind coming from the starboard side so I might need to steer a bit if I get pushed off my line”.

Related: How to: Cox a seat race

Usually I’ll point slightly into the wind (like, an arms-only or arms and body-stroke’s worth) at the start if there’s a particularly strong and consistent cross or headwind, that way, like you said, it pushes me back on course. My priority though is to do whatever’s necessary to maintain the straightest course without adding any additional meters. Tailwinds haven’t ever presented much of a problem for me unless it’s a tail-cross but even then it’s negligible so I don’t think my strategy for steering changes much in those conditions.

In a cross or headwind I’ll make as much of an adjustment as necessary and say “on the rudder”/”off the rudder” so the crew knows that I’m paying attention to how the conditions are affecting the piece and taking the necessary steps to ensure we’re impacted as little as possible by them. Once we’re done I’ll tell the coach where/when I had to steer (i.e. about 250m in, 2min into a 5min piece, etc.) and for how long (i.e. a stroke, three strokes, etc.) so they can make a note of it and decide if it had any effect on the outcome of the race.