Question of the Day

Hi! Do you have any resources (or can point to any resources) for practicing how to spot problems that rowers are having/how to identify what corrections to call for while coxing? In my head, I’m imagining videos from the coxswain’s point of view (in an 8) and you have a clip during which you take some time to try to notice what needs to be fixed on your own, and then can look up the “answers” after to see what you missed or if you misinterpreted what was going on and got it wrong. So for example if there’s a clip that demonstrates late catches from bow pair and rowing it in from 5 and 6 seats, someone could watch the clip and write down what they see and then after can look at what a more experienced coxswain would say the problems are and compare them, i.e. see if you saw the catch and rowing it in issues yourself.

Does this kind of thing exist somewhere (and did my description make any sense at all)? It would just be nice to get a visual of what the different issues look like from the coxswain’s seat and be able to practice recognizing them, especially because I cox very good rowers and sometimes the issues are nuanced and I just don’t have the experience to notice them yet.

I definitely get what you’re saying. An exact resource like the one you described doesn’t exist as far as I know but there are plenty of ways to achieve the same effect.  I usually try to do something similar with the coxswains during the winter when we’re bored and there’s nothing else to do while the guys are doing steady state. We’ll pull up a race, listen/watch, slow a few clips down to watch it in slow-mo, and just talk through it. What we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, stuff like that and usually we’ll end up doing the same thing that you described.

This was actually a big part of what I did with the coxswains at the camps I coached at last year too (as well as with a few coxswains I’ve worked one-on-one with) – we’d watch a race, they’d take notes, and then afterwards point out what they saw, ask questions on it, etc. and I’d answer them while also pointing out anything they might have missed, interpreted incorrectly, or weren’t sure of a fix (or appropriate call) for.

Point being I guess is that what you described is a good idea but the benefit (in my opinion) from doing something like that comes in talking through it with other people, whether it’s another coxswain, your coach, etc. Every coach I’ve ever had or worked with has taken tons of video of their crews and they’ll usually spend a couple minutes going over it with the team or individual boats, again basically doing close to what you described. It’s up to you in that instance to take the opportunity to pay close attention to what you’re seeing and then compare that to whatever your coach points out.

I always did that whenever we’d go over video at MIT and every time there was something I’d miss that I’d not realize until one of the other coaches pointed it out. This helped me help the coxswains too because I took notes on whatever we’d go over during video review and then make a point to pay attention to that stuff when we were on the water. From there I could spot the nuances more clearly and give the coxswains further details or clarifications on calls that might help fix the problem, reiterate a particular point, etc.

This is also why I encourage coxswains to use GoPros. I get that they’re not the cheapest things but they’re such an invaluable tool in your development because it lets you re-watch your own rowers again and again rather than someone else’s crew who might not have the same problems that yours does (or the same problems in the same way). At the very least, have your coach get video of the crew and then spend a couple minutes going over it with them after practice once or twice a week. A good app to do this with and one I like to use  is called “Coach’s Eye” but you could of course always just use your phone’s camera and play it back like that.

“All fast crews have three things in common…”

If you’ve been to Northeast Rowing Center and had Coach Lindberg (BU heavyweight men’s assistant) as your coach, then you’ll remember him asking his boats if they can list the three things that all fast crews have in common. Do you know what they are?

Blades go in before the drive begins

While the feet are still light (aka there’s no pressure being applied to the stretchers), the blade touches the water and gets heavy. This has to happen before the wheels change direction.

Hang your bodyweight off the handle all the way through the drive

From catch to finish, suspension is the key to prying and accelerating. You can read more about it in the “Top 20 terms” post linked below.

Related: Top 20 terms coxswains should know: Suspension

Spacing at the back end

Every coach coaches the finish a little differently but regardless of whether you keep the hands moving around the finish or do that weird pause-y thing, the hands and elbows have to be out and away before the body rocks over.

This stuff is so simple you’ll probably read it and think “…duh” but if your crew is trying to gain more speed or figure out what’s holding them back, don’t default to just thinking about pulling harder – go back to the basics and ensure you’re doing all three of these things first. You can make calls for this stuff for at any point during practice too – it all falls under the umbrella of “just one (or three) of those things” that you should always be looking for, correcting, and perfecting.

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)


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.