Talk by Penn ’15 Coxswain Lou Lombardi

Today’s post is some audio of a talk that former Penn coxswain Lou Lombardi gave during the Sparks camp that Penn hosted back in August. He talked about his experience as a coxswain, his lowest point in the sport, what he took away from that experience (namely that he didn’t set himself up to succeed and the changes he made as a result), and what he learned as part of the coxed pair that placed 5th at this year’s world championships . He offers up a lot of great advice in here, especially for coxswains, so definitely give it a listen. It’s a little over 11 minutes long.

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Coxswain Recordings, pt. 20

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 11 || Part 12 || Part 13 || Part 14 || Part 15 || Part 16 || Part 17 || Part 18 || Part 19

I’ve had a ton of requests to post practice recordings that show drill work so that’s what most of this month’s recordings are. There’s a lot less coxing going on because the emphasis is on executing the drill but there’s still a lot to be taken away from these.

University of Pennsylvania 10 at 40spm
I came across a couple of these UPenn practice pieces awhile ago and debated whether to post them or not but came to the conclusion that even super basic stuff can still be useful to people. In this video I like when he says “and hold” when they hit the rate they want. I haven’t heard a coxswain say that before but I like it as an alternative to “on rate”. I also like how on the first stroke he tells them to “get after it” to try and hit 40spm instead of saying something not helpful/encouraging, which more often than not tends to be the case.

University of Pennsylvania Drills
I wanted to share this one not so much for the coxing but to point out two quick things with the bladework that you guys could/should be looking for, regardless of whether you’re rowing continuously or doing some kind of drills.

  • If you watch 7-seat’s oar (the shaft of the oar, not the blade itself) then you can see how on the recovery it remains relatively horizontal once he taps down and comes out over his legs. This means that he’s holding his hands level throughout the recovery and keeping enough weight on the end of the handle with his outside hand to prevent the weight of the blade itself from counteracting that balance (insert lots of science-y stuff about fulcrums, loads, etc.). Comparatively, you can see 5-seat’s handle do a little wave-like movement as he moves through the recovery. Sometimes it’s more noticeable than others but from this point-of-view (the coxswain’s), it’s definitely something you can see and fix. What this is an indication of is that he’s not holding his hands in a level plane as he moves through the recovery. Instead it looks like he taps down a little too much at the finish (which pushes the blade up), lifts his hands slightly over his knees (an indication that his sequencing is a little off), and then pushes his hands down again as he comes up to the catch. In the grand scheme of things this is a relatively minor issue but if you see it happening it’s always best to say something.
  • When the camera switches to show the port side the most obvious thing is 4 and 6-seat aren’t squaring up at the same time. It’s tough to tell who’s off here since we can’t see stroke’s blade (I’m inclined to think it’s 4-seat) but regardless, you (and they) should know the kind of roll-up you do (slow, quick, etc.) and how square the blade should be by the time you get to half-slide (halfway, fully, etc.). If you don’t know then that’s something you should find out from your coach so that you can get everyone on the same page. One of the spots where this is most obvious is around 3:09 when they pause and 2-seat and 6-seat are about half-squared and 4-seat is still totally feathered. The whole point of doing pause drills is to get everyone synced up at wherever in the stroke you’re pausing and that refers to not just to the slide but to the bladework as well. The devil is in the details…

University of Pennsylvania Drills #2
This last UPenn one is more for the younger, less-experienced coxswains as example of how to call a pause drill, the length that each pause should be, and how to transition out of it and back into continuous rowing since “how to cox pause drills” is something I’ve gotten a lot of emails about in the past.

Dartmouth drills
This is a long video – almost 15 minutes – but if you’re looking to improve your technique-spotting skills then I’d definitely spend some time watching this one, listening to what the coach and coxswain are saying, and matching that up with what you’re seeing with the blades.

Regarding the actual drills, coxing pause drills isn’t that tough (as you can tell, it’s mostly just you saying “go” a lot) but similar to what I said on the last recording, I tend to get a lot of questions about how to transition between pairs while you’re pausing and the beginning here is a good example of how to do that.

Another reason why I like having my recorder on me as much as possible is so I can go back later and listen to everything the coach is saying and actually absorb the things he’s pointing out so I can incorporate it into my own calls later on. Examples from this recording include:

  • Change direction at the front end without the bodies collapsing down
  • Take your time from the finish through the pivot
  • Establish your length through the pause

All basic, all things we already know but as I’ve said before, it’s good to take the things your coach is saying and include them verbatim (or close to it) within your own calls to reiterate what they’re trying to teach and to show that you’re actually engaged with what’s going on and not just zoning out when you’re not the one making the calls.

Dartmouth drills #2
This would be a great drill for anyone but particularly for novice/less experienced crews since doing starts with them tends to evoke images of an octopus having a seizure.

Video of the Week: Harvard, Penn, and Navy

This week’s video is a good opportunity for coxswains to learn what to do when there’s two separate pieces happening within one race. You’ll notice that after Mass Ave. Harvard’s got a solid length’s lead on the other two crews. If you’re the Navy or Penn coxswain, what do you do? You obviously don’t want to keep telling your crew that you’re a length or more down on Harvard and continue the increasingly futile attempts at chasing them down, so at that point you have to, in a sense, concede that race and focus on the one you can still win, which in this case would be the one between Navy and Penn.

Basically what I’m saying is that you have to recognize when you’re racing for first and when you’re racing for second. First place was established about 500m into the race but 2nd is still up for grabs, so the focus should shift towards the crew you still have a chance at beating. There’s some psychology behind this that you’ve got to wrestle with but ultimately you’ve got to recognize the situation and understand that you lost this battle but you can still win this other one, and then in the midst of all of the racing you’ve got to get your crew to buy into that within the span of 3-5 strokes.

In that same vein, if you’re the Harvard coxswain, what do you do? You’re not racing anyone anymore, so how do you keep your crew from getting complacent? Just as you have to work hard to keep them engaged when you’re a boat length down, you also have to work hard to keep them engaged when you’re a length up.

In one situation, you’re behind and you’ve got to claw your way back to the top. The rowers can’t see anyone behind you so they know they’re behind and that creeping feeling of “shit, we’re losing” is taking over. The bodies aren’t quitting yet but the minds are. You as the coxswain have to shut that voice up, eight, sometimes nine, times over. In the other situation, you’re ahead and the rowers can clearly see they’re ahead. This gives them an opportunity to think “well, we’re ahead, we clearly have the lead … let’s back off a bit, save some energy, and coast through the finish line”.

At regattas where you’re part of a progression and you’ve got to go through heats and semis before reaching the finals and you’ve established a solid lead during your heat, yea, you can back off a little. That’s on your call though, not theirs. Make sure that is established ahead of time. You want to save your energy and your best rowing for the final so backing off a bit in the heat once you’ve secured a spot in the semis or finals is fine. When you’re in a finals-only race like this one between Harvard, Penn, and Navy though, you should be going all out from start to finish. At the very least, it’s good practice.

If mid-race you find yourselves in a one-crew race you’ve got to assess the situation and figure out what you can do to still make the piece worth something. Yea you might win but what else did you get out of it? If you race all the way across the line instead of coasting across it, that gives you the opportunity to push your bodies so that when you are racing all the way to the end your bodies don’t prematurely give out with 200m to go because you haven’t been tested all season.

Video of the Week: “Knuckleheads”

People in the comments here were saying the announcer was way too harsh on this crew – they are novices after all. Um, no. No, no, no. Being a novice does not exclude you from being shit on for making straight up illogical decisions. Novice or not, you should know via common sense to NOT go onto the race course before a race has passed you. Why? Because these guys are barreling down the course and novices move at the rate of an elderly turtle.

Related: Part of coxswain selections are how safe you are and if you can keep the boat safe in different situations. How would coaches determine your safety-ness?

If you can see three crews coming at you and/or you can hear people yelling “MOVE OFF THE COURSE”, get your ass in gear and move. I understand the “deer in the headlights” moment because I’ve been there but you’ve got to get over it and get out of the way. Not only are you in a position to impact someone else’s race but you could cause a serious collision that could result in very serious injuries.

So, in a situation like this what should you do?

For starters, on’t put yourself in a situation like this. Ever.

Know the traffic pattern before you launch. When in doubt draw it out on a piece of paper and take it in the boat with you. Also make sure you are actually supposed to cross the course at any given point. If you are there will likely be an official waiting in a launch to tell you when it’s safe to do so.

If a race is coming down the course, stop and wait for them to pass you before crossing to the other side. NEVER cross in front of a race. If the race is at the starting line and hasn’t gone off yet, do. not. go. unless a race official has specifically told you to cross. They’ll usually say something like “Belmont Hill, you’re clear to cross. Row it over all eight.” If something like this is necessary the officials will have told you about it in the coaches and coxswains meeting. If they didn’t bring it up, don’t do it.

Assuming you ignore everything I just said and you find yourself in the middle of the course with some heavyweight men’s 8s coming straight toward you, do. not. stop. rowing. Also do not row by pairs if you’re in a four or 4s if you’re in an eight. Row by all four or all eight and get out of the way. Row as far over as you can get to ensure that you are completely off the course. If for some reason you need to turn the boat, turn with everyone on whatever side you have rowing, not just one or two people. The goal is to move quickly.

Give clear, concise, and direct instructions. This is not the time to lose your head and be stammering, stuttering, and fumbling with your words.

Rowers: shut UP. You talking, yelling, etc. does not help and only makes things worse. I hesitate to say what to do if your coxswain isn’t giving you instructions because I don’t want to be responsible for widespread mutinies against coxswains but I can tell you that you should not be doing what the other three rowers are doing from 1:50-1:57 (i.e. just sitting there like it’s a totally normal day at practice and letting one person turn the entire damn boat).

When someone tells you to row, don’t all just start rowing whenever the hell you want. You don’t do that any other time so why would you do it now? If anything, in situations like this is when you need to be the most coordinated in order to get out of there quickly and safely. There most likely isn’t going to be time for the coxswain to say “sit ready, ready, row” so just go with your stroke. Follow them from the beginning. Stroke seats everywhere, do not start rowing from half slide or whatever random position you’re sitting in. Have this worked out with your crew ahead of time that you’ll all start at the catch or the finish, whichever one you choose if you need to abruptly start rowing, that way everyone starts together and you don’t look ridiculous like this crew does.

Remain calm. You can freak out and be pissed at each other when you get back on land.