Question of the Day

Hello! I’m a huge fan of your blog and was wondering if you had any tips on this: my coach (who is also a coxswain) forces us to cox rowers during their erg pieces. She said that even if they say “don’t cox me” we should ignore them and keep coxing them. I’d ignore this except she watches us to make sure we do it. She told us (me and the other coxswains) that whether or not we cox the ergs will help determine what boat we’re put in. I really want to stay in the first eight (the boat I have currently) but I also feel bad when rowers tell me not to cox them and I have to. I’ve had multiple rower friends tell me they hate that they’re coxed for erg pieces. Thank you!!

I don’t normally say this so bluntly (or ever, really) but your coach is kind of awful. That’s unbelievable (to me, at least) that a coach who’s also a coxswain would say that. The number one rule of coxing rowers on the erg is respect those who don’t want you to cox them (and if that’s not the number one rule, it is now…) so to stand guard to make sure you do it under threat of potentially not being in the boat you deserve irritates me on a borderline irrational level.

I genuinely just don’t understand the thought process there. I guess if I tried really hard then maybe I could explain it as her wanting to see how you cox the rowers in high-pressure situations but that seems like it might be stretching it. Have you ever asked her one-on-one why she says to ignore the rowers and cox them anyways, even after they’ve said to you that they don’t like it, or asked her what she thinks is gained by doing it (either by you or the rowers)? If you haven’t I would do that, at the very least to see what her answer is. Maybe have one of the rowers go with you so she an hear their side as well.

If I was in your position, this is one of those situations where I’d choose my relationship with my friends/teammates over a spot in a boat. If I had the first eight you’re damn right I’d want to keep it but not at the expense of losing the respect of the people in that boat. I think in your case they probably understand the difficult position you all are in (or I would at least hope they do) but if I was one of the rowers I would want to see you stick up for us rather than make a decision based on personal gain … if that makes sense.

Basically I’m saying that as the coxswains and, presumably, some of the leaders on the team as well, the rowers want to know that you’re gonna stick up for them and have their backs and this is one of those situations where I think it’s important to stick up for the people saying “don’t cox me” even if that means you might get taken out of the boat you want to be in. It’s a trust thing if you want to give it a label. They want to know you’re not going to throw them under the bus just to get the boat you want. If that isn’t something that your coach can understand then … that’s pretty unfortunate.


Question of the Day

All of the 4s on my team are bow loaders. We have 2 boats that we use mostly for lightweight lineups because they’re a bit smaller so I fit pretty well in the coxswain seat. But lately I’ve been in one of the other shells and I’ll probably be racing in it for most of this year. The bow is longer than in the other boats. The headrest is all the way up but there’s there’s still a lot of room between my feet and the end of my seat. To keep myself from sliding around I realized my entire body ends up getting really tense (which is probably not good). I’ve also noticed that for a few days after being in a 4+ both my hips hurt every time I take a step or try to lift my leg. Do you have any tips for fixing that problem?

Ugh, yes, this is a huge part of why I hate bow loaders so much. They are just not at all friendly to short people. One of the things I’ve found that helps – marginally, but at least it’s something – is to stick a soccer ball or a slightly deflated beach ball in the bow to put your feet against. It helps keep you propped up and your muscles don’t need to be in “death grip” mode to keep you from sliding around.

People will tell you to stuff life jackets down there but a) that’s stupid, don’t do that and b) they’ve clearly never done it otherwise they’d know that it does absolutely nothing since there’s a giant HOLE in the middle of them, they constantly shift around, and your feet can get tangled in them (probably dangerous if you flip). I seriously don’t know a single coxswain who’s found this to be a viable option.

Question of the Day

I coxed a race last weekend and was told that while my coxing was good, it sounded more like a piece than an actual race. Can you give some tips on how to really up the intensity while coxing a race? I thought I was communicating a sense of urgency pretty well through my tone, but I’m not sure if it came across as well as I had hoped. Thanks! Your blog has been an absolute godsend since this is my first year coxing.

I’ve done that too, mainly during scrimmages or heats if we’re comfortably beating the other crew or already sitting in a qualifying position. I don’t think there’s anything wrong necessarily with coxing races like that but it obviously depends on the race and your crew. For me, I always talked to my crews and established that for any race but the final, if we were ahead by a large enough margin that we could afford to back off a bit, I was going to tone down my coxing to a steady state level and they would follow suit with their rowing. There’s obviously a lot of other things that go into this but the goal was to make sure we were leaving enough in the tanks for the finals so we could go hard for the entire piece, regardless of the margins. One of the things that I’ve worked hard on over the years is getting my crews to match the intensity of their strokes to the intensity of my voice (…or vice versa, I never really have figured out which one it is).

In this post from a couple weeks ago I talked about the “coxing intensity scale” (which is now officially a real thing…) and where I usually fall on it depending on what we’re doing. “On the coxing intensity scale where 1 is your warmup and 10 is a race, I’m usually around a 6 (relaxed but focused tone) for the majority of each piece. I’ll bring it up to a 7.5-8 when calling 5s, 10s, and 20s though so that the rowers stay engaged and alert (and I don’t die of boredom) and then when it comes down to the last 6k, 2k, or whatever I’ll try to cox it like an actual race (somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9).” Think back to your most recent steady state piece during practice and rate yourself – where would you fall on that scale? Now think about your race. Rate yourself and then ask your crew to rate you. See how your numbers and their numbers compare to how you rated yourself during a steady state piece. This should give you a good comparison so you can get an idea of how the crew viewed your coxing during the race. I’ve definitely had races before where I thought I was coxing them really well and then we got off the water and they’ve said “you could have pushed us harder”. Talking to them though and getting feedback on how they interpreted my calls, my tone of voice, what they want/need, etc. was always the first step for me in the “do something different” process. Your first year or so of coxing is always a big test of your communication skills – the best thing you can do for yourself if you think your coxing didn’t come across as intended is to find out why.

When you put all of that stuff together, that’s what will help increase the intensity of your pieces. Intensity isn’t just about being loud or being aggressive. If “intensity” were a tangible object, like an onion or something, your volume and tone would only be the two outermost layers. Underneath all of that are the calls you’ve created, the “insider knowledge” on each of your rowers, what you know about technique, strategy, etc., in addition to all the other skills you’ve been practicing. When you combine all of that with a more-aggressive-and-at-times-louder-than-usual tone, that is what creates a sense of intensity in the boat. For more on that, definitely check out all of the posts (there’s like, five…) in the “tone of voice” tag. Also check out this post. Although the question that was being asked is the opposite of what you’re asking, what I said in my reply definitely applies here. Another thing that really helps with the intensity during races (or any hard piece) is making sure you’re projecting your voice rather than just yelling. Listen to some recordings too – there are some great examples of what “good” intensity in the majority of the ones I’ve posted.

Oh, and next time you go out for a practice or a race, if you can, record yourself and email it to me. I’d be happy to listen to it and give you some feedback.

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh. First of all I’d like to say how much I love love love your blog! It has been such a valuable resource, thank you for devoting so much time to it. My question is: I’ve been coxing for about 18 months now and I’m feeling comfortable with steering and basic calls. My coach has asked me to start judging each rower’s technique from what his blade is doing and I’m finding this really hard. Other than looking for timing issues and comparing length against other blades, I’m at a bit of a loss. Do you have any tips? Or any other gifs of how things should look, like in your ‘Bend and Snap’ post? Thanks!

Hi! Technique is the hardest thing to talk about when I haven’t got a visual of some kind right in front of me so apologies if this is kinda vague. The easiest and best way to point out how things should look vs. why something doesn’t look right is to just find a video online – almost any video (within reason) of people rowing will work – and email it to me. Then I can sit down, analyze it, and share what I see. I wish there were gifs like that one I posted in the Bend & Snap post but I haven’t been able to find anything. I got lucky with that one because I just happened to scroll past it on Tumblr while I was procrastinating on writing that post.

I’ll try to write a longer post on this soon but for now, other than what you’ve already said here are five things to watch for with the rower’s blades…

  • Pausing at any point during the stroke, particularly at the finish (usually leads to rush and check in the boat)
  • Rowing it in (the legs start before the blade is in the water, resulting in a stroke that’s half or 3/4 as long as it should be)
  • Excessive amounts of water being thrown up at the finish (this means they’re feathering before their blade is out of the water). It’ll probably look something like this (seriously).
  • Where the blades are in relation to the water on the recovery (this will tell you what their hands are doing)
  • Blades “bobbing” while they’re in the water (which means they’re not applying the force evenly and smoothly throughout the drive with the push of their feet and the pull with their hands)

Question of the Day

My boat qualified for Nationals! Yay! Now what? I’ve never coxed in such a big event. Any tips?

One thing that I learned from gong to nationals that I also learned with HOCR (probably more so with HOCR…) is that there is no such thing as a “big race”. A race is a race is a race. The regatta is “big” because there are tons of people there and people build up the hype around it but in the end, the racing is the same. The goal isn’t to do anything differently – you’ve reached this point because you’ve been doing the same stuff all season only you’ve been doing it better week after week.

So, tips:

Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Clearly it’s working.

Keep your nerves to a minimum. Don’t be any more nervous for this race than you are for a scrimmage against a local team.

Research the location and course ahead of time. Ask other teammates, people on Twitter/Tumblr, etc. if they’ve raced here before and get as much information as you can.

Start coming up with your race plan as early as possible.

Practice said race plan at least two or three times before you leave for Nationals. (Remember, the race plan is not just what you do between the starting and finish lines. The race plan begins when you call hands on, your warm-up, backing into stake boats, the actual race, and your cool down.)

Don’t pack the night before. Do it at least two days ahead of time so you have the day before to grab anything you missed the first time around.

Don’t forget the charger to your cox box.

Make sure your cox box and it’s case are labeled with your name, your team’s name, and the event you’re racing in.

Go to the coaches and coxswains meeting and ask questions. Any question you have I guarantee five other people have as well. Just ask it. Make sure you understand everything the regatta officials go over and don’t leave until you do.

Most importantly though, have fun. It’s a good experience and you don’t want to miss out on it by being hyper-focused on unimportant stuff.

Question of the Day

I consider my crew to be very lucky. We possibly have one of the best coxswains around. She can steer like a BOSS and has the patience and the nature of a saint. However I think we pushed her to her limits at one point and I don’t think I have ever seen her that angry. I often read this blog and I always read tips on what makes a great coxswain, how to deal with your rowers, and things not to do however I would like to hear from a coxie’s point of view is what are the things that rowers do that really sets you off edge and how we can avoid those things. I know coxies are all different (…and I have had some interesting ones at times) but it would really help if you could give some pointers from a coxswain. As rowers our biceps are sometimes bigger than our brains so it would help if you could give us some insight. Thanks…oh, and great blog!

This is the best question ever. It’s great that you recognize how lucky you are to have a such a skillful, knowledgeable, and personable coxswain. Out of curiosity, how did you push her to her limits? Were there any repercussions? How did you apologize? (You did apologize, right?)

Things that rower’s do that irritate coxswains:

Talk or screw around in the boat, especially if you’re in bow pair.

This drives me nuts. There’s a time and a place for it and 99% of the time, while you’re on the water is not it. The reason it annoys me is not because I think that the boat should be some kind of rigid, military-like atmosphere while we’re out but because if I’m trying to get you to do something and you’re not doing it because you’re talking or screwing around with someone else, time is being wasted. If we say “bow six, row” we mean bow six, not bow, 2, and 5. Me telling you to take two strokes so I can get my point should not be something I have to repeat three times, especially when my already-loud voice is amplified through a microphone. Plus, my number one job is to maintain the safety of the crew. If I see something that could potentially be or is a dangerous situation, it’s my responsibility to get us away from it as quickly as possible. I can’t do that if no one is paying attention.

To avoid pissing off your coxswain in situations like this, don’t start a conversation with the four people around you as soon as you’re told to weigh enough, always be listening for your coxswain’s instructions (especially if you’re in bow pair), and in general, use your common sense. If the conversation can be had off the water, don’t have it on the water. Also, regarding safety, If we’re rowing and you start yelling things out, please know that I have no clue what you’re saying and I’m basically going to assume that a shark just jumped into the boat and ate your face off or we’re about to hit someone or something. I will stop the boat, ask you what you said, and then get royally pissed at you when you say you were saying something stupid like “set the boat”, “pull harder”, or whatever. Do. Not. Do. This.

Not carrying your own water bottle.

If you can see that your coxswain’s hands, basket, etc. is full or looking particularly heavy, don’t walk over and toss your full water bottle in it just as she’s about to pick it up. Stick your water bottle in your spandex and carry it yourself.

Assuming we know everything the coach is thinking and then getting pissed at us when we don’t.

To quote the person that sent this, “”Will I be rowing today? Will today be hard? What erg piece is he going to make us do next? Will I be in the boat this weekend? What are his plans for ‘X’ boat? Who’s he considering?” While some of these things are stuff coxswains SHOULD know, there is a lack communication, and/or coaches can change their minds in a heart beat if the need be.” Feel free to ask your coxswain these questions but know more often times than not that they are just as clueless as you.

Assuming you’re not doing something your coxswain (and/or coach) says you are and/or not making a change when it’s called for.

If your coach tells you to make an adjustment or points out something you’re doing, it’s our job to remind you to do it and then reinforce it as we row. Don’t assume that you’re not doing something that two people are making an effort to point out to you that you are and please don’t actually say out loud to us that you aren’t doing it. We’re looking directly at your blades so if we say that you’re skying, digging it in, late to the catch, washing out at the finish, etc. you can bet that you’re doing it.

Don’t be that guy in the boat that has such an ego that he refuses to make any changes either. If we say your name or seat number or “bow 4” or “stern 4” or “starboards” or whatever part of the boat you’re a part of, make. an. effort. to make the change we’re calling for. We can see and feel when people make those changes and as you get more experienced you can tell who specifically did and didn’t do it. I haven’t had this happen too often to me when I’ve coxed but the few times it has it’s made me feel a little disrespected and like you don’t think I actually know what I’m talking about. I understand “getting in the zone” and tuning other things out but your coxswain should not be one of those things.

Unnecessarily taking control of the boat/backseat coxing.

There are only two reasons that I can think of (as a coach and coxswain) of why it would be acceptable for a rower to take control of the boat. One is if the the coxswain is legitimately unable to cox (99.9% of the time due to a medical reason – I’ve seen this happen once) and the other is if they’re a novice and genuinely don’t know the right things to say and/or are inadvertently putting the crew in a dangerous situation. At that point the only person in the boat who should be saying anything is the stroke.

If you are shouting at your coxswain or the rest of the crew to do something, you’re undermining the coxswain’s authority. If they’re a novice, this can really hurt them in terms of trying to gain the respect of the crew. If they’re experienced it can actually make the rowers lose respect for them because it comes off as them not knowing what to do or what’s going on or more importantly, not being strong-willed enough to stand up to the rowers (who, by the power vested in them by the coach, they are technically in charge of while on the water).

Yelling at your coxswain after the fact.

Sometimes coxswains do things that piss the rowers off and you are well within your right to call them out on that. Waiting until you’re off the water and the boat and oars are put away to lose your shit on them though accomplishes absolutely nothing and only makes you look like an ass. Instead of screaming at them about whatever happened, ask them when you get off the water if you can talk to them after practice and then go down on the dock away from the rest of the team and have a conversation with them. I’m not saying the conversation has to be friendly or anything because emotions happen and I get that, but at the very least it does have to be civil. Explain what the issue is, why it’s an issue, and what you’d hope they could do differently in the future.

If the issue is really serious, talk to your coach and let them do the yelling. That’s their job. (Well, not really but you know what I mean.) If you’re more experienced than your coxswain (i.e. varsity vs. novice), you have a responsibility and a duty to help teach them and yelling is not how you go about doing that, even if at times that seems to be the quick, go-to, natural reaction. Don’t shatter their confidence before they’ve had a chance to even build any.

Bringing up a past bad race, piece, or loss to your coxswain.

That shit isn’t funny. I promise you – promise you – with absolute certainty that coxswains take these things way harder than any rower. For me, I feel a personal sense of responsibility whenever something goes wrong because it’s my boat. I’m in charge. Regardless of whether whatever made it bad was my/our fault or something completely out of our control, it eats at me and takes a while to move past, even if it seems like I’ve gotten over it pretty quickly. If we’re in a similar situation or about to do another piece or racing the same crews, I guarantee that I was already thinking about that “last time” 20 minutes before the thought even crossed your mind. I’m going over everything that happened previously so I can make sure we/I do things better this time. I don’t need you putting on your “snarky rower” hat and saying “don’t fuck up!” because I’ve been saying that to myself since I first got in the boat.

Trying to get them to be a clone of your old, last, or favorite coxswain.

I hate when coaches switch lineups and who’s coxing who each week because it causes issues for everyone. What makes things especially awkward though is when you get in a boat with a new coxswain and ask them to do everything the exact same as another coxswain on the team. The person who sent me this said that asking a coxswain to call, say, or do things the same way as another coxswain feels disrespectful and like you’re just putting up with them being in the boat because the coach put them there and not because you actually want them to be there.

I’m a big proponent of collaborative coxing while still maintaining your own individual style and way of doing things. If you had a coxswain that had this one call that you really responded to, by all means, absolutely  talk to your new coxswain about it and ask if he/she would mind trying to incorporate it into their calls. Explain why so they can get a bit of background on why it works and why you like it. If they’re smart though they’ll have already talked with the previous coxswain of their new boat to see what works and what doesn’t when coxing them, what they respond to, what they like, etc.

I hope that helps. Coxswains, feel free to leave a comment and elaborate on something I’ve said or add something I didn’t mention.