Notebook “hacks”: Post-practice affirmations

I’m only calling this a “hack” because I couldn’t think of a better title.

I think I’ve talked about this before but it’s come up a few times over email lately so I thought I’d write a quick post going into a bit more detail about a trick I used in high school to keep me from being too hard on myself if/when my confidence was taking a hit.

When my coach initially suggested this to us, I thought it was so cheesy. Rather than seeing it as a practical tool, it just seemed like a way to put yourself in a bubble and make it easier to block out any sort of criticism and ignore the mistakes you were making. If you have the wrong attitude it can absolutely be both of those things but if you use it the right way, it’s a great way to help you figure out processes that work and develop your confidence, objectivity, and self-awareness (all of which are, obviously, critical traits for a coxswain).

Related: Tracking progress in your notebook

My approach to this exercise admittedly started off pretty weak. I’d occasionally write down “steered a good line today” or “were the fastest ones to launch after getting hands on” but things like that never actually made me feel better after a bad practice. I told my coach this and he basically said “well yea, no shit” (very nicely though, as was always his style). Everything I’d written down was stuff that I was expected to be doing anyways … so why should I get credit or be patting myself on the back for that? This was one of those critical points in my coxing career because it was when my coach pressed me to start asking “why” and “how”.

Why were we the first ones to launch? Because I’d spent time before practice figuring out what the plan was (drills, workout, were we going upstream or downstream, etc.) so I wouldn’t have to do it at the same time as the other coxswains after the warmup or while we were on the dock. Because I’d used my time better during the warmup to get my tools together and talk with the other coxswains about what order we wanted to launch in. Because I got over thinking that the rowers would think I was being a bitch if I more assertively said “let’s get hands on” instead of just waiting for everyone to make their way over to the boat.

How did I steer a good line today? I trial-and-error’ed the most effective way to hold the cables to minimize unnecessary movements of the rudder and put into practice the one I felt worked best. I held myself to a higher standard because we went out with the 1V and 2V and I was the middle crew when going three across. I was assertive and confident (and didn’t have to fake it!) when communicating with the varsity coxswains about our points.

Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering

The how’s and why’s were always the most labor-intensive because they made me think, which admittedly is sometimes the last thing you want to be doing after a long practice or a bad row. More times than not I’d keep it super simple (sometimes all you wanna say is “got a high five from the men’s V8 stroke after subbing in for them today” and leave it at that) but I know unequivocally that the few minutes I’d spend doing this after practice made me a stronger coxswain and helped me keep in perspective that even if I had a slip-up, I was still on the right track and doing a lot of things right.

To keep myself accountable and out of that bubble I mentioned earlier, I always acknowledged the less than stellar days when practice didn’t go well or I screwed up because, as I’ve talked about plenty of times before, there’s a lot to be gained from that, even if it’s just being self-aware enough to admit that you handled this situation completely wrong and now you know for the future that XYZ is a better approach.

Related: Keeping a notebook

This was always the messiest part of my notebook because it was just a season-long haphazard list of all the little things that I felt were tangible representations of the fact that I was getting better. When I started feeling like I’d hit a plateau or like my shortcomings were outweighing my strengths, I’d look through what I’d written and use that as a confidence boost to remind myself that I’m actually turning into a pretty good coxswain and one shitty practice isn’t the end of the world or as a kick in the ass to come up with the plan to do better. It also made assessing my progress at the end of the season with my coaches a little easier because I’d already subtly been keeping track of it over the past few months.

Like pretty much everything else on this blog, everything I’m telling you works … it just might not work for you. If you like the idea but not the method, by all means adapt it to whatever works for you. One of my friends had a very rigid approach to doing this (his was kind of bullet journal-y, if you’re familiar with them) whereas I recognized that if I wanted this to work for me, it needed to just be a simple, not over-analyzed list with the occasional expansion on topics when it was warranted. If you find yourself looking for ways to get better or feeling like you’re burning out or plateauing, don’t overlook little things like this as a way to help you through (or out of) those situations.

Reviewing the Cox Orb

Game. Changer.

That’s the best way I can describe the Cox Orb. It’s one thing to “ooh” and “ahh” over it on Instagram or at the regatta booths but I’m telling you guys, if/when your team is in need of new cox boxes I really hope you alert your coaches to the existence of the Cox Orbs because they are a much more worthwhile investment than NK’s original model. Don’t get me wrong either, I love NK’s cox box – I’ve been using them for 14 years now with minimal issues – but I can’t deny that a competitor in the cox box market as well as an update to what’s currently available is long overdue.

In today’s post I’m going to briefly talk about my experience with the Cox Orb so far and highlight some pros and cons that I and the MIT coxswains have come across as we’ve used it throughout the last several months. To start though I wanna point out the different models that are available, as well as do a price comparison between each one and the standard NK model.

Below is a Google Sheet that includes the price of each model (the price links to that model’s page on the Active Tools website) as well as the key features of each one (in separate tabs at the bottom). To view the full spreadsheet in a separate tab, click here.

Some notes:

High school clubs/teams don’t need the fancy features that come with the Platinum. Although the GPS would be great to have, the Steel, Cobalt, or Tungsten will accomplish everything you need at this stage in the game.

College programs should consider the Tungsten or Platinum simply because the data you can collect will go farther here than it would at the high school level (and if you coach/cox a bunch of data driven nerds like I do, they’ll appreciate having something else to look at other than whatever data you collect from the ergs).

The full package is, in my opinion, a better deal than just getting the unit, mic, and charger because the full package comes with the carrying case (which is $40 on its own). I’m obsessed with this case because it’s small, lightweight, and has a shoulder strap so I definitely recommend using it over NK’s cases (which should fit these cox boxes, although I haven’t tried to see if it does yet – I’ll update you on that in a later post).

I’ve had the Platinum model since September and I love it. I raced with it at Head of the Charles and used it regularly throughout the fall while I was coxing. Here’s my pro/con list thus far.

PRO The microphone is loads better than NK’s in nearly every capacity. The sound comes across clearer and even on a low setting it’s still pretty loud. The head strap gets a huge thumbs up from me because, as someone who hates wearing the mic, NK’s drives me crazy. Even their new head straps seem flimsy at best and I always felt like no matter how tight I made it, it never stayed in place, even with a hat on. The Orb’s strap is wider, thicker (I think … or at very least, more durable), and just more comfortable in general so once it’s on I don’t have to think about it again until I take it off.

CON My only con with the microphone is that it doesn’t seem to fare well in strong winds. For as good as the sound is, it seemed to get easily drowned out when the wind was hitting the mic, despite my attempts to shield it with my hand, turn my head a little, etc.

PRO Real time splits and check factor. Speed coaches are great but it’s just one more thing to have to remember and carry whereas with the Orb, the splits are already built in. I never tried it with the impeller but when I compared the splits I had with my Speedcoach they were very similar. Not quite exact but the margin of difference between the splits was consistent and never more than 1-2 splits total. I didn’t play with the check factor very much (this was mainly due to the level of boat I was coxing, I don’t think the data would have been that useful for us) but the fact that it exists is a huge plus (and again would definitely be data that college coaches would appreciate having).

CON There’s kind of a steep learning curve that comes with the more advanced models. The Steel and Cobalt are very similar to NK’s (they’re basically idiot proof) but the added features on the Tungsten and Platinum (particularly the Platinum) mean that you’ve gotta spend quite a bit of time reading through the instruction manual and playing with it before taking it on the water if you want to actually be able to use them to their fullest capacity. It took me a few practices before I felt comfortable just using the basic features and remembering which buttons did what. I didn’t expect to “get it” right away but I also didn’t anticipate how much time I’d need to spend familiarizing myself with it before I practiced with it. I guess this isn’t so much a “con” as it is a friendly warning that this isn’t a piece of tech that you’re gonna want to figure out how to use as you’re trying to use it during practice … speaking from experience, you’ll just frustrate and distract yourself if you try to do that.

PRO In the Tungsten and Platinum, the need for an external voice recorder is eliminated because the Orb automatically starts recording your voice as soon as you press “start” to do a piece. To get it off the unit (along with all the other data) all you’ve gotta do is plug it into your laptop via the included USB connector.

CON This may be a user-error issue but I had some trouble with the Orb staying in the holder while I was racing with it during HOCR, as well as when it was cold out. I noticed that the colder it was the less likely it was to stay in place, I assume because the plastic on the holder was less malleable than it is when it’s warm. When I was practicing this wasn’t that big of a deal but it did distract me while I was racing at HOCR. I didn’t have issues with this when we were in Florida though (where it was substantially warmer) so I’m attributing it to either me just not using enough muscle to get it into the holder properly or, like I said, the cold affecting the malleability of the plastic.

(Keep in mind that the Orbs don’t fit perfectly into the standard holders, which is by design. The rounded bottom (hence, “orb“) lets you position it however you want, that way you don’t have to lean forward or adjust your body in any way in order to clearly see the screen.)

PRO You can program workouts which means, for example, you don’t have to remember each individual chunk of time for your interval workouts because you can just program them straight into the cox box. I used this a couple times when I coxed the guys in Florida over winter break and it was a life saver. When you’re on a busy waterway with giant channel markers scattered all over the place (that you need to pay extra attention to since one of the coxswains already hit one, broke an oar, and ejected the bow seat…) all the while actually trying to cox a piece, the last thing you want to be doing is distracting yourself by trying to remember how much time is left in this interval. Programming it and letting the cox box do the work is a god send.

PRO The customer service is A+. I’ve had minimal dealings with NK’s customer service myself but we’ve all heard the stories so … yea. The guys at Active Tools are awesome and I strongly encourage you to talk with them if you come across one of their booths. They are fully committed to creating a product that fits our needs and is something we’ll want to use, not just something we have to use.

PRO My favorite feature – GPS! Unfortunately it’s only available on the Platinum but this alone makes that model worth getting, at least in my opinion. I used it a lot in the fall to track my HOCR course (although I failed at recording it during the actual race so that was a bust) and I used it in the spring to judge/observe the courses our coxswains took during some of our races. Once you connect the Orb to your computer all you’ve gotta do is open the associated GPS data in Google Earth and you’ll be able to zoom in and see every touch of the rudder along your course. In the case of our coxswains it was a huge reality check because looking at it zoomed out you’ll think “that looks like a pretty straight course, yay, go me!” and then you’ll zoom in and be like “… oh”. It’s a great tool to have though and kinda the only one out there that actually holds you accountable for your steering by actually putting in front of your face the exact course that you steered.

Below are some screenshots of the course our varsity eight coxswain steered during practice on a day when we were doing 4x2ks. The blue line is the course he took and the red line is the ruler feature on Google Earth that I used to compare how straight his course actually was. Given that this was a fairly windy practice day, overall I’d say this isn’t too bad. You can see though that it really captures every single time you hit the rudder so there’s no escaping the accountability here.

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Throughout winter training in Florida and the spring season I lent the Orb to a couple of the coxswains in the boathouse to get their thoughts on it. For the most part we all had similar pros/cons but below are some that one of our lightweight coxswains shared after using it for a few weeks.

PRO Being able to track the course is huge. If I remember correctly, the GPS it captures has an error margin of +/- 2-3 meters, which, when zooming in on Google Earth lets you see which coxswain had the straightest/most correct course.

CON There is a lot of information of the screen, which is good, but sometimes distracting (and a little bit too informative, if that’s possible).

PRO The ability to position the box is super nice and it won’t move around no matter how soaked it is – see “adventure row”, hahaha. (For context, when we’re in Florida the lightweights do a marathon row around the island we row off of and this year the wind and chop was pretty epic so it was basically like sailing the high seas for them. Below is a screenshot of the course they took this year.)

CON There’s a very harsh/difficult learning curve. A lot of the features are super useful if you know how to use them (i.e. timing pieces). My main issue was not knowing how to set up pieces – if you don’t know how to do this fast (or can’t remember how to do it) you’ll never want to do it while you’re on the water and then you lose the functionality of being able to match up and break down data according to which piece the boat was doing.

PRO It’s loud and can handle being loud. Like, significantly better than the NK boxes can, which was huge for us because my bow pair were having problems hearing me with the cox box. The Orb had no issues at all. At one point, they actually asked me to turn it down (haha).

(Biggest) CON When you turn it on, theres a good chunk of time where you can’t see the time. This is huge if you need to restart the box in the middle of practice for some reason (basically turn on and off because you’re stuck on a screen because you don’t know how to use it, which happened to me, or to test connections because a speaker isn’t working) and need to be able to see the time immediately after.

PRO The battery life is incredible. I didn’t charge this nearly as often as I should have and I never had any issues.

All in all, it’s definitely a well-liked tool in our boathouse. We’ve also affectionately nicknamed it “the Borb” because its faster and more fun to say than “Cox Orb”. The other heavyweight coaches dig it too and have already given me some ideas for how to better integrate it into our practices next year so we can better use the data it’s collecting (for the coxswains specifically, we’re gonna abuse the hell out of the GPS feature … fair warning guys!).

Looking back, I can recall specific conversations I’ve had in the past with my dad (5+ years ago when I was in college) where we talked about what should be included in a cox box, what would make them more effective tools, etc., so to now actually see and have a tangible piece of equipment that embodies everything you could possibly need … like I said, it’s a game changer.

I’d love to hear any questions you have so leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll do a follow-up post sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’ll also be bringing it with me to the camps I’ll be coaching at this summer so if you’ll be at either of the Sparks Middletown camps or at Northeast Rowing Center you’ll get a chance to try it out firsthand and see how it works.

Tracking progress in your notebook

Now that our season is officially over and presumably yours will be too by the end of this weekend, it’s time to start thinking ahead to next year. Specifically, what can we as coxswains do to make sure we’re holding ourselves accountable and contributing in the most positive ways to our teams. What I’ve linked to below should help with that.

Related: Keeping a notebook

Last summer one of our seniors was rowing at Riverside and put me in touch with his coxswain who was one of the Harvard heavyweight men’s incoming freshmen. While we were talking she showed me her notebook and it was so well put together that I knew I had to share part of it on the blog. Calling it a notebook doesn’t really do it justice either – it was a full on three-ring binder filled with notes on her rowers, practice, self-evaluations, etc. Her self-evals are what I’m sharing today – I’ve typed them up in a two-page Google Doc that you can find linked below.

Related: Coxswain notebook: Post-practice ratings and review

The first page allows you to rate your performance on a 1-5 scale based on a variety of skills, responsibilities, etc. that you’re expected to be able to execute (examples include focus on the day’s technical objective, carrying out practice plan/drills, professionalism, collaboration with other coxswains, and facilitating improvement/progression of practice). The second page goes into a bit more detail and asks more introspective questions such as what you didn’t do well during practice, what specific things you noticed about the boat, what the objective of practice was, and what your short/long term focuses are.

What I like about these post-practice evals is that they force you to look at your performance objectively, which we all know can be tough to do … particularly if you’re not used to being held accountable for your actions, at least in the way that our job demands. A huge part of making improvements as a coxswain is doing some regular self-reflection and examining the areas where you’re doing well and the ones where you need to do better. That can be hard though without some kind of framework in place. Coxswain evaluations are, obviously, the best thing for this but those can be a hassle if your coaches/team aren’t fully invested in the idea of doing (or creating) them. With these self-evals though the only person you’ve gotta convince to do them is yourself.

Related: Coxswain evaluations part 1 and part 2

If you’re coxing this summer, particularly if you’re at dev camp or somewhere similar, that would be a great opportunity to start implementing something like this. You don’t need to use exactly what I’ve typed up either – if there are certain things you’ve been working on that you want to track your performance with or there are questions that fit your situation better, download the Google Doc and make whatever changes you want in order to make these work for you. That’s the key (#majorkeyalert) to making this a regular post-practice ritual and something that you can actually use to help you improve throughout the season.

(Another reason) Why you need a working cox box

Below is an email I received from a coxswain who wanted to share her experience of coxing without a working cox box. I will never understand programs that look at cox boxes as an option rather than a necessity or say that sending them in to be repaired, serviced, whatever is too much effort, too expensive, etc. Cox boxes are expensive, yes, but so are boats and oars and riggers and you rarely, if ever, see programs so flippantly write off issues that arise with them. So … why are cox boxes any different?

“I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I have seen several stories and questions about not having a cox box. I just wanted to share my story about not having one.

My freshman year of high school I decided that I wanted to try out for crew. I was put as the coxswain because I was one of the smaller girls. At the start of the season, our team had 4 varsity 4s (coxed) and the novice team had an 8 and 2 extras. Between the time the season started and when we really started to learn how to row effectively, more girls had joined which gave the novice team an 8, a 4 (coxed), and an extra. The eight was the worst boat and I was given that boat because the other coxswain was better than I. I didn’t have any problem with that because I wanted our team to be fast.

Since our freshman year (I am now a sophomore) both the other coxswain and I did crew in the fall and spring of freshman year and fall of sophomore year. This spring season however, she decided that she wanted to do lacrosse. Now I am going to get to cox the second boat – in the fall I was in fourth boat because there are only 2 experienced coxswains. But my story really starts with the eight novice year.

Our school has a total of 8 boxes. Box “A” is the newest and the best. Box “B” is the next best. Box “C” is third best (and mine for this fall season). Box “D” is fourth best. Those are the four varsity boxes. The novice boxes aren’t named because they change hands ever year. One of the boxes that we have really does not work at all but another one works fairly well. The last box, my box for my novice season, did not work in the eight or the novice four and was just really staticky in the varsity boats. I brought this up to the coach and he said that there was nothing that we could do so I should just try and yell. IN AN EIGHT. I some how managed to make my self heard and when the other coxswain and I switched halfway through the year we kept our boxes because at this point I was pretty good at projecting my voice so my rowers could hear me. Now though I was in a bow loader four.

At some point along this path I had developed a cough that sounded uncannily like a goose. Like not even kidding, the geese on the dock would honk back at me. Now this cough didn’t really bother me, it was just part of who I was and it didn’t hurt. My rowers though told me to go to the doctor. Being a silly fourteen year-old, I did not connect the cough to the coxing so I continued as normal. Fast forward through the winter (during which I play ice hockey) and the spring season (when I decided that I wanted to try rowing for some unknown reason). My cough continued but was less noticeable. Spring season ended. At our school spring sports end before finals start and at the end of the two week finals I get a cold (right before my oral Chinese final…). Of course along with a cold comes a cough. At first they were just normal coughs but towards the end of my cold they turned in to the dry deep coughs I refer to as my “goose cough”.

I took the first two weeks of summer off from doing anything and my cough continued. Soon though my summer job started up. At my summer job I biked 7 miles to a pool and then helped with swim lessons for the morning. I also knew that I was going to take the life guarding course at the end of the summer so I started swimming laps. I used to be able to swim laps with pretty good stamina but now I started getting out of breath after one lap. This shortness of breath continued throughout the summer and continued getting worse. Eventually at the end of the summer I had to go to the doctors for my regular physical. I mentioned my breathing problem and my doctor said it will probably pass and not to worry about it so I didn’t. Well a couple weeks later I’m back for some reason and I mention that it had gotten worse and she was able to hear me cough because I had been slightly sick. Without running any tests she “diagnosed” asthma and prescribed an inhaler, which didn’t really help. I went back to tell her that and she put me on another inhaler that was every morning and night rather than as needed like the other one was and yeah, it really didn’t help. It made me dizzy, tired, and was such a hassle.

Now school starts again and my breathing gets to the point were I am out of breath when walking down the hallway and I simply can’t do stairs. The crew team decides to go run Harvard stadium for a workout and the coxswains decided as a group that we would do this workout with the team, so I took along my inhaler. To warm up we run once around the stadium. I used my inhaler and tried to jog with them. I managed to get around but it was a very big struggle. We start to run the stairs and I do the first section with lots of problems. By section 3 I have to take the inhaler again because I physically can not get air in. I made the decision to stupidly do at least half of all the sections because … I was stupid. I took probably 8 puffs by the time we were done with 30 of the sections. Cut to the car ride home and the entire way I could not breathe. My mother was close to turning around and bringing me to the emergency room. She didn’t but made an appointment for me with a pulmonologist (lung doctor). He had me do a bunch of tests and when they gave me the asthma medication they normally used, my breathing capacity went down. So they gave me the proper tool to use the inhaler with and sent me on my way with a follow up appointment in 6 weeks.

I go back in six weeks and – surprise surprise – the medications are not working. They take me off them and suggest a possibility that had not previously been discussed. They asked me if I had ever misused my voice for extended periods of time and I was like “yeah try the whole fall season my freshman year.” They said I most likely had something called vocal chord dysfunction where the vocal chords actually close when you try and breathe, making it feel like you can’t get any breaths in. This perfectly described my situation and they put me on a different medication that mostly worked for the first couple of weeks (as in I no longer get out of breath walking down the hall) but I am still not completely well. I go back in two weeks and they will probably change my meds to better fit my needs (probably a stronger dose or something). And who knows, I might not ever be completely better. My breathing problems at one point made it so I was afraid I was going to faint while walking to chemistry class.

DO NOT LET ANYONE COX WITH OUT A BOX BECAUSE IT MIGHT CAUSE PERMANENT DAMAGE. I shared this story because I wanted to tell someone how dangerous coxing without a box is. By the way, love the blog, it has definitely helped me improve. Thanks for reading.”

I know I’ve talked to several of you recently via email about similar breathing/coughing issues so if this isn’t something you’ve already explored as the cause, I’d talk with your parents about it and make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you’re able.

Thanks to the coxswain who I sent this in, I appreciate it and I’m sure other coxswains (and their parents) will too.

Coxswain Evaluations 2.0

Previously: Coxswain evaluations + my system for organizing them

Last spring when we were in Florida for spring break the coxswains decided they wanted to update the evals we’d been using with questions that were more specific and kinda forced the guys to think deeper about what they wanted in a coxswain and how our current group measured up to that. We spent about two hours in my hotel room tossing around ideas for what to change, add, etc. and came up with Eval 2.0, which I’ve linked below.

Related: Coxswain evaluations 2.0

With the exception of one or two questions we didn’t really eliminate that much from the original eval but there were a lot of changes and additions made. Here’s what we added:

More specificity to most of the questions

Sometimes having open-ended questions is necessary but there’s a thin line between open-ended and vague so we tried to make the questions as direct as possible in order to get more targeted feedback that we/I could more easily translate into actionable goals.

Added a section on communication

This was an area where we struggled last year (to the point where the rowers noticed, which was a wake up call for the coxswains over spring break) and after strategizing on ways we could improve (individually and collectively) they wanted feedback on whether or not the changes were coming across. (We also added a section for calls – previously it was tacked onto motivation but there weren’t any specific questions for it so we separated it and made it it’s own section.)

Added several new questions

Many of the questions carried over from the first eval but we also added a couple new ones to address specific areas of concern/interest. For example, under “execution” there weren’t any questions that directly addressed the coxswains’ knowledge. It’s one thing to say you know what you’re doing or talking about but when it comes time to call drills, make technical corrections to an individual’s stroke, etc. can you actually do that or no? (This has consistently been one of the questions that gets the best responses too.)

Execution

Knowledge and communication of technique issues – do the coxswains appear to have a good understanding of the rowing stroke, as well as the ability to pick out technical problems during practice and provide the appropriate feedback?

How well do you feel the coxswains manage practice in terms of running warm-ups, understanding what the coaches are looking for, what the goal of the practice/pieces are, etc.?

Motivation

How would you describe the energy the coxswain brings to the boat? Are they someone that can lift the boat when they’re having a bad practice and maintain a positive atmosphere when things are going well?

Calls

Conciseness of calls – are the calls too wordy (5), just right (3), or too vague/ambiguous (1)?

Clarity of calls – how clear is the coxswain when making a call and how well do you understand the calls that are being made? (This question has two meanings – are they clear as in (1) not mumbling and (2) do their calls make sense and can the rowers easily process and translate them into actions.)

What calls do you like, what calls do you think aren’t effective, and/or what calls do you not understand?

Communication

Do you feel the coxswains communicate effectively and work well with each other, the coaches, and the crew during practice? Are there any areas in which you think they can/should improve?

Expanded on which coxswains are best in racing + practice situations

Asking which coxswains they prefer for races and practice is helpful for the coaches but it never really did much for the coxswains other than create animosity. Adding in an open-ended “why” component helped them see why the rowers chose who they did and where they could make improvements. There was also some … ok, a lot of … debate on what makes a good varsity coxswain last year so to settle that we came up with two questions that addressed not just the specific qualities the rowers want in their coxswains but also asking who they felt could get in the boat and maximize the crew’s potential.

Both questions were initially a little self-serving (one of the coxswains definitely thought their point was going to be made and the responses would lean in their favor … which didn’t end up happening) but the underlying thought behind the latter question was that it’s not just about being a good coxswain because not all good coxswains can get in a boat and make it faster (which happened last year too). The question about maximizing potential looks past all the “surface aesthetics”, their weight, etc. and focuses solely on who can pull something out of the boat when its needed the most.

In the fall I go over the evals individually with the coxswains but in the winter/spring I like to go over them as a group. This winter we did a combination of both (at their request) and started off by going over them individually (three coxswains = three practices to go over them, roughly an hour each) before meeting as a group to discuss everything and address some particular points that came up. (We spent about two hours doing this during one of the team’s steady state days.) Instead of doing individual sheets like I do in the fall (you can see an example of those in the original evals post linked at the top) I just put all the comments on one page and color-coded them for each person.

This was then shared with them the night before the first one-on-one so they could see not just the comments they got but what was said about everyone else as well. I have my reasons for letting them see each other’s comments so use your best judgement since that approach obviously won’t work for everyone.

Related: How to handle a negative coxswain evaluation…

So, what do the guys think of these new evals? Surprisingly, they like them. They’re obviously a lot more labor-intensive than the original ones are (those usually took 15-20 minutes to fill out whereas the guys tend to spend 45-60+ minutes filling these ones out – seriously) but the quality of the feedback also matches the amount of time they spend on them so the trade-off is worth it. Naturally they all complain about how long they are but I think they recognize that the coxswains really look forward to the feedback they get so it’s mostly in jest at this point.

If you don’t have a ton of time to spare then definitely stick with the original ones but if you do, I’d consider doing a longer eval like this at least once a year. I’m mulling the idea of making these into a Google Form for next time and having the guys fill them out that way but the downside to that is they don’t get donuts if we aren’t doing them at the boathouse sooo … there’s that.

Pro tip: bring the rowers donuts and they’ll do whatever you ask. FACT.

Question of the Day

Hi! Do you know where to buy spacers? Also, do you happen to know the size of the wing nuts that are used on foot stretchers? Thank you.

Check out the manufacturer’s website for whoever makes your boats. In their online stores you should be able to find spare washers for pretty cheap.

Here’s what I found: Vespoli, Hudson (here and here), Resolute

The wing nuts are all M5s as far as I know, at least with Resolutes. (What that equates to in imperial units (i.e. for Vespolis) I have no clue. It’s easily Google-able though … is Google-able even a word? Whatever, just Google it.) Anyways, I wouldn’t buy those on your own, just ask your coach if he can find you a spare set or two so you can have them if you need them. There’s always some lying around the boathouse so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some. (Same goes for the spacers too, to be honest.) The priority though regarding parts you should carry with you lies with the riggers – spacers, washers, nuts, and bolts … and more spacers.

Coxswain evaluations + how I organize them

I get a lot of emails asking about coxswain evaluations. Coaches want to know what they should say, how long they should be, are they even necessary (why would you ask me, of all people, this question), etc. and coxswains want to know how to interpret everything, what they should take seriously, and how much of what the rowers wrote is based on their level of like/dislike for person they’re writing about. Additionally, if you have a coxswain who is new to the team (like us – we have one freshman and two upperclassmen) it can be hard for them to know what to take away from the evaluations since they likely won’t have coxed many of the rowers if you do these early on in the season and the feedback can be scarce and occasionally harsh.

Coxswain evaluations are important and coaches should make it a priority to do them at least two or three times during the year. The problem though is what I said above – coaches don’t know how to make them and coxswains don’t know how to interpret them which renders the time you put into them all but wasted. Coaches also have to realize that part of doing evals is spending 20-30ish minutes going over them with your coxswains, explaining some of the more ambiguous comments, giving them specific things to work on based off the feedback, etc. Done right, yes, it does amount to a few hours of work but at the end of the day it’s a few hours well spent and your coxswains will be that much better for it. And, to be honest, it’s quite literally the least you can do for them in terms of helping them get better.

Related: Thoughts on coxswain evaluations? How should they be approached as a coach? And as a coxswain? What is the most effective method you have seen?

Sometime in October-ish we did our first round of evaluations for our three coxswains. I was excited but a little apprehensive at the same time because every coxswain evaluation I’ve seen before this has been borderline awful and/or useless. Thankfully the one they’ve been using is actually pretty good and manages to cover all the bases pretty well. (I’ll go into detail a bit more down below.)

Once the rowers had filled them out (this took maybe 10-15 minutes total) I collected them and asked the other coaches if they were going to go over them with the coxswains. They said “nah, we usually just give them the sheets to read on their own” to which I responded with this exact expression (I’m completely serious). Now, let’s think about this for a second. If you were given 20+ evaluations containing a lot of comments but no real indication of which of the three coxswains the feedback was directed towards, how much would you get out reading them? Probably not a lot. So … here’s what I did to make it easier for the coxswains to actually use the feedback they were being given.

To preface this, I’ve made templates of my “system” for you to use with your coxswains if you’d like. Everything is explained down below and can be found in this Google Doc.

First things first – the evaluation itself. MIT’s used this one for awhile so I can’t take credit for making it but I do like it so at the very least I’m endorsing it. It’s simple and to the point but open-ended enough for the rowers to elaborate if they have any specific comments (which, obviously, the goal is for them to do that with each section).

Once you have your evaluations and they’re filled out the next thing you’ve gotta do is figure out what to do with all that information. The first thing that I did was take all the numerical ratings and average them into one number so that instead of having 20+ ratings for each of the nine sub-sections, they’d only have one number each. (The sheet for this is under “Overall Evaluation” in the second tab at the bottom.) This allows them to get a better idea of where they fall on the 1-5 scale. It’s just like what your teachers do with your grades – instead of giving you a million individual grades at the end of the semester they just give you one that you can then compare to the pre-defined scale in order to determine how you did.

I tend to spend a lot of time on this section because averaging 20 numbers for nine sections times three people is rather time-consuming. Luckily the day that I crunched all the winter numbers last week was when everyone was either biking or out on a long run so this ended up being a good way for me to pass the time until they got back. I have a pretty good system that works well for me so it only took me about an hour, or maybe a little less than, to get everything averaged out.

The next part is the most time-consuming. I’ve done this twice now and each time I’ve spent about 2.5 – 3hrs total putting these spreadsheets together (so about 45-60min per coxswain). How long it takes you will depend on how many coxswains you have, how many comments your rowers have left/how detailed they are, how diligent you are about dividing them up amongst the coxswains they apply to, and whether or not you boil down the comments to two to four bullet points of specific things to work on (hint: you should).

Each coxswain has their own sheet for each season that we’ve conducted the evals. We just did our second set last week so as you can see, each coxswain has two sheets so far for the year. Each individual sheet is broken down into four main sections, just like the evaluation itself. There’s a “pros”, “cons”, and “general comments” section where I’ve taken all the comments the rowers have left and divided them up to fit into one of those three categories. Most of the time the rowers will specify if their comments are directed towards a particular coxswain but if they don’t then I just consider it a general comment that’s directed towards everyone and I’ll include it on each person’s sheet.

As you can see, some of the comments are a bit repetitive but I think it’s important to write them all down regardless so that the coxswains can see what the rowers are noticing and how they feel about certain aspects of their coxing. If one person says “steers a great course” it’s not nearly as much of a confidence boost as four people saying it is. Same goes for the negative comments – they might not take “doesn’t steer competitive courses” that seriously when it comes from one person but if six of their teammates say it then it holds a bit more weight.

The “things to work on” section should be two (minimum) to four (maximum) bullet points based on all the pro/con/general comments. These really don’t take that much effort to come up with either. As you read through the comments you should easily be able to get a sense for what areas the rowers think they can or want them to improve on.

After putting all that together then you can go over it with your coxswains. When I sat down with ours I printed out their individual sheets so they could read the comments for themselves as we went over them and essentially just read through everything, pointed out anything that I thought was worth discussing and/or elaborating on, and got their thoughts on how they felt about the comments (did they agree/disagree with anything, have questions, etc.). We did this individually the first time but when we go over the most recent ones I think I’m going to do it as a group just because there’s only three of them and not as many individual nuances to discuss this time around.

The takeaway here is that coxswain evaluations should be a regular thing that you do at least twice per season (for comparison’s sake) and in order to maximize their effectiveness you, the coach, need to spend a few hours organizing them so that you can go directly to each coxswain and say “Here’s what your teammates said, here’s what we’d like to see you work on based on the feedback they’ve provided, let’s discuss…”. Don’t just give them a pile of papers and expect them to sort through all that themselves because they won’t do it (and I don’t blame them). Hell, you can outsource all your evals to me and I’ll organize them for you if it means you’ll actually do evals for your coxswains (…totally serious, by the way).

Related: Hey! So I’m a coxswain in high school and we (all the coxswains) want a coxswain evaluation/ranking from the rowers. Some coxswains feel like they should be in a different boat and we all want feedback from the rowers. How do we go about asking our coach about it?

After the first round of evals that we did all three of us (the coaches) noticed some major improvements in our coxswains so if you want proof that spending the time doing these and providing them with real information actually pays off, just look at the fall vs. winter averages in the first picture. I was a little skeptical initially because I didn’t think there was going to be much of a difference (mainly because I didn’t think the rowers would notice anything, not that I didn’t think our coxswains had improved) but I was really excited to see actual numerical data that backed up what we were seeing on the water.

Anyways, I hope all of this is helpful and encourages everyone to make coxswain evaluations a regular part of your seasonal plans. Coxswains, if your team hasn’t done evaluations before you should pose the idea to your coach(es) and show them the first tab of the Google Doc. If you have done evaluations but want to discuss some of the comments or get some additional feedback/insight, feel free to get in touch.