Question of the Day

Hi! I am currently a junior in high school and it is my third year of coxing girls. As a junior I am looking into different colleges and I know that i want to continue coxing. In March, I am going to ID camp to try out for the Junior National Selection Team. Because of my birthday, I just miss the cutoff for trying out for HP, so having to trying out for the most competitive spot on the team is really nerve racking. Obviously I really want to make the team, so I wanted to know if there are any tips for becoming an even better coxswain and fully preparing myself for ID camp. I know that making this team can really help me be recruited into really good D1 colleges, and I have to grades for many highly competitive academic schools, so making this team is really important for me. Also, if you know anything that happens at ID Camp besides what they said on the website, please let me know because that would be much appreciated! Weight wise I am fine, luckily I was blessed with a good metabolism because I pretty much eat what I want and I float between 105-107lbs. Also, another thing that I am concerned about is my height. While I am 5’7″, as I mentioned before I am very tiny, but I’m scared they will discriminate against my height. Thank you so much!

Communication should be your biggest priority. You’re gonna be at a new boathouse, on a new body of water, with rowers, coxswains, and coaches that you’re unfamiliar with which means you’ve gotta figure out and internalize the plan and procedures ASAP. I assume the coaches will meet with the coxswains early in the day to go over stuff so you should look at it like any other coxswain’s meeting – if you have a question that isn’t answered, speak up and ask because it might have a big impact on how you do something later in the day. In situations like this I usually try to jot down a short list of questions that I know I’ll have, that way I can just tick them off as they get answered and then actually ask whatever’s leftover. (Did that for all my interviews with Columbia and it made things so much less stressful. Highly recommend doing it – it takes like, 5 minutes to do.)

A coach I worked with last summer who also coached with the HP/dev teams said that a big thing for the coaches was having the coxswains call everything “in two”, rather than “on this one”, just saying “weigh enough” on its own, etc. I’ve heard other coxswains mention that too so that’d be something to get clarified before you go on the water. It’s also a good reminder that you’ll probably need to adapt your normal way of doing things to fit their way of doing things. Your ability to do that without issue will most likely be something they look for, not only because adaptability is an important trait/skill for a coxswain but it’s also gonna indicate to them what your practice management skills are like. You’ll be out with a variety of people from a variety of programs who probably all do things a little differently – you’ve gotta be the one who standardizes it for everyone and says “OK guys, all my calls today are going to be preceded with “in two”…” so they

Obviously keep working on whatever you’ve been working on lately but don’t try to teach yourself new tricks before the camp. Do what works and do it well. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said this but moving up the ladder as a coxswain is all about excelling at executing the basics. The better you are at that, the more opportunities you’re gonna have.

Coxswains, feel free to leave a comment about what you did at the camp but as far as I know, it’s just helping collect times from the 2k and then going out on the water for a row. Depending on the number of coxswains there you might row the whole time or you might get switched in halfway if there’s someone in the launch.

As far as  your height, no one cares as long as you’re at racing weight (110lbs).

Video of the Week: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

This week’s video isn’t embeddable so you’ll have to click over to the Olympic channel to watch it. It’s a quick 5 minute interview with Pete Cipollone where he reflects on his two Olympic games and the USA’s “third time’s the charm” shot at getting a gold medal after falling short in 1996 and 2000.

Coxswains especially, there’s a lot for us to relate to in this video so I encourage you to check it out. If you take away one thing, make it be what he says about not changing the race plan – “don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything you don’t have to do”. If you’re up on the field and something is clearly going right, keep doing whatever you’re doing. Solid words of wisdom as we gear up for the spring season.

Coxswain recordings, pt. 29

Previously: Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6 || Part 7 || Part 8 || Part 9 || Part 10 || Part 10b || Part 11 || Part 12 || Part 13 || Part 14 || Part 15 || Part 16 || Part 17 || Part 18 || Part 19 || Part 20 || Part 21 || Part 22 || Part 23 || Part 24 || Part 25 || Part 26 || Part 27 || Part 28

2015 Henley Royal Regatta Thames vs. Barge, Thames Challenge Cup Semi-Final

This coxswain is #goals AF.  Listen and learn because she puts on a clinic here.

This is a great race from the 2015 regatta and a solid example of a style of coxing that most of us in the US aren’t accustomed to. The biggest difference is in how we call the starts. Our style is very regimented most of the time but this style is a little looser and focuses more on the technical side (“nice and loose off the back end”, “let’s start pushing that finish”, etc.) rather than calling out 1/2, 1/2, 3/4, full, “complete, complete, lengthen, full” or whatever your traditional starting sequence is.

I’ve called starts like this and I do like it but it requires a lot of focus from the crew because they don’t have you in their ear calling the starting five, power 20, lengthen 5, etc. The coach I did it with always referred to it as a more “mature” way of racing because it forces everyone, coxswain included, to be that much more tuned in to the race plan and what’s happening on each stroke, even if/when it’s not directly being said out loud.

Also, note how at 1:40 she says “here comes the wind”? You can see the texture of the water is different in front of the boat in the subsequent few seconds after she makes that call (in comparison to the calmer water in front of them as they came off the line). If you’re new to coxing or are trying to get a grip on how to alert your crew of where the wind is, this gives you a good visual of what the water will look like as you encounter, in this instance, a headwind. Remember, if it’s blowing towards you, it’s a headwind, if it’s blowing with you it’s a tailwind, and if it’s hitting you at an angle it’s a crosswind.

Related: One of my coaches was a coxswain and I got switched out the last third of practice to be in the launch with her. OMG BEST TIME EVER. Every time I had a question she’d answer it so well! More coxes should become coaches! One thing she was talking about was watching the wind patterns – like the dark patches in the water to let the crew know. I understand the concept, but I’m not really understanding why. Like, I tell them that a wind/wake is coming to prepare them?

The 15 seconds between 2:25 and 2:40 show exactly how you should communicate with your crew during a race, particularly one where you’re down. Her tone is level, she’s calm, she makes calls that keep the crew focused, and she doesn’t give them any reason to worry when she says where they are relative to Barge. She makes the call for “our rhythm”, which is always a great go-to call, and follows it up with calls that emphasize what she wants, not just in their direct meaning but also in how she says and annunciates them. She ends it by saying “they’re just sitting there … let’s start trucking through … we knew we’d be down off the start”, which is a good way of saying we knew this was going to happen, it’s OK but now it’s time to buckle in and get moving. There’s no sense of concern or anything there, which can admittedly be tough to master as a younger coxswain but it’s a skill that can really elevate you from just being mediocre to being good.

That move between 2:50 and 4:10ish is flawless. THAT’S how you make up 2/3 of a length between you and another crew. You can bet too that when she said “half a meter off their stern and they have no idea what the hell happened here”, that’s exactly what they were thinking.

When she slaps the side of the boat as she calls “now” at 5:38, you can see and almost feel the energy in the boat pick up. I’ve seen lots of coxswains do this and have done it myself too but be careful if you do – slamming your wrist into the gunnel hurts like a bitch.

One of the (many) things she does well is giving them super specific position updates – i.e. “we’re a meter and a half off their cox”, “we’re a meter off their bow ball … we’re a foot off their bow ball … bow ballll!”, etc. Don’t underestimate how motivating this is to the crew, especially if you can count it down like she does as they’re coming up on bow to stern.

Crossing the line, “we’re gonna act like this means god damn nothing, they should never have come over here” … like, damn, could you make a more savage call at the end of a race? I aspire to have that much ice in my veins.

She makes a great point though, celebrating wins is fine and normal and whatever but you should have some decorum when doing it too. My coaches always told us to save it for the final. Heats and semis were the battles but the final was the war and you don’t want to look like a dick by shouting, slumping over, etc. just because you won something as inconsequential as a qualifier, no matter how good of a race it was.

Other calls I liked:

“Let’s cruise now, tap it along…”

“In two … next stroke … now…” I like how she calls this. It just sounds crisper than saying “in two, one … two…”.

“You’ve got momentum Thames, we’ve got to keep moving…”

“Gimme five strokes holding the back end through…” Super basic call but she said it so succinctly and didn’t waste any time getting it out – one breath to make a call that that helped them take a seat over those five strokes.

“Hang and send…”

“Keep squeezing me away…”

“Whole crew, sit up now…” Another basic call but I like how assertive she is in calling it and how she gives them direction on when to do it. Little, little details like this add up.

Australia Men’s 8+ training row

This is a long recording (22 minutes) and there’s not much specific that I want to point out, rather I think this is just another good example of how to execute a long row – occasional technical comments but largely letting the rowers feel out the piece and process the changes that need to be made while giving the coach(es) plenty of opportunities to jump in if they have feedback to offer.

This is something you can/should discuss with the crew and your coaches too. I’ve been in boats that hated this much silence between calls and I’ve been in others where this amount of coxing was just right. Similarly, some coaches are content to let you take control and do the majority of the talking/coaching, others want to use this time to provide as much feedback as possible. Both can be annoying for the coxswain because long rows like this require a bit of forethought so you’re not just winging it with your calls but at the same time, it’s really annoying when you get talked over or interrupted every time you go to say something.

Conversations like this will obviously do a lot for making practice more effective but my end game with having them was to just save myself as much hassle and frustration as possible. There’s nothing selfish about that so don’t think you’ll look bad if you bring this up, particularly if dealing with overly talkative coaches on the water is a problem you’ve encountered in the past.

Team USA 2012 M8+ 10 at base pace

This is a quick and simple video that shows the eight going through some strokes at base pace. I don’t think this is Zach Vlahos coxing them so if anyone does know who it is, let me know. (Update: Asked Zach, it’s Ned DelGuercio.)

One thing he does that everyone should do at the end of the piece is say “clean paddle”. Just because you took a few hard strokes doesn’t mean you can row like shit now just because you’re not at pressure. That goes for coming off of longer pieces too. A small dropoff in technique is fine but you should still be at like, 90% when it comes to how proficient your strokes look. Anything less is just lazy.

Also, check out that docking. Drops pairs out on the approach, tells them to watch their oars, when to lean, to watch out for the corner … seriously, if you guys do those four things as effortlessly as he did them, you’re docking will improve tenfold in one practice. None of that is hard either so don’t equate “effortlessly” with the fact that he’s a national team coxswain. If you have functioning eyes and common sense it’ll be just as easy for you as it was for him.

Other calls I liked:

“Stabilize here…” I use this one a lot as a full-stroke call (“stabilize” at the catch, “here” at the finish”) if/when the boat’s off set.

You can see all the recordings I’ve shared by checking out the “Coxswain Recordings” page listed on the front page of the blog.

Video of the Week: What It Costs To Send A Team To Rio

Pretty interesting video on the breakdown of costs per athlete that raced in Rio. As a raw number $4.1 million doesn’t sound too bad either … until you realize GB’s funding totaled nearly $44 million (£32 million) and Canada’s was around $17 million.

Update: Better numbers for comparison – thanks Pete!

Video of the Week: “Why I Row” with Gevvie Stone

Coming from a mainstream magazine with no ties to rowing, this video is really well done. My favorite part is her subtly counting in the background from one to ten as the video nears the end. It’s a good strategy, especially when you’re on the erg, but the way it’s presented here is just really powerful and motivating.

There’s really nothing like being on the water early in the morning and seeing a pack of singles, usually led by Gevvie, storm into the basin. Kinda similar to how you know Harvard is nearby when you hear their distinctive freight train-like exhales at every finish, you know when Team Gevvie is on the water because it has the power to change the atmosphere of the basin in an instant. I can’t really put a finger on what exactly it is but it’s been incredible to witness over the last few years.

Question of the Day

I’m trying out for New Trier Novice Rowing in a couple days (go NT! I was super excited to see New Trier in the 8+ Midwest Championships recording!) and wanted to know what the real rules are on swearing in a race. I heard that you can get DQ’d but it is super rare and most coxswains swear anyway. What are your thoughts?

I’ve talked about swearing before whenever it comes up in the recordings posts but I kinda laid out how I feel about it in this recruiting post. Tl;dr, as long as you’re not doing it gratuitously or being over-the-top obnoxious about it … who cares. If you’re sending audio off to coaches you should definitely be mindful of how much swearing there is but if you have a really great recording that you think demonstrates your best abilities as a coxswain but you also say “fuck yea” in it a few times, just throw it in iMovie and bleep it out before you send it off. Should take 10 minutes tops and you’ve spared the adults from having to hear the dreaded “f-word” without sacrificing an opportunity to show what you can do.

You can get DQ’ed, it is pretty rare (in my years of experience, at least), and … I wouldn’t say most but a decent number of coxswains do swear anyways. If I had to guess maybe a little more than half of the recordings I’ve listened to in the last four years have included some amount of swearing. I haven’t run the analytics on them but just loosely thinking about the ones I’ve listened to (not just the ones I’ve posted on here), coxswains of men’s collegiate crews swear the most, followed by junior men’s coxswains, collegiate women, and junior women. I don’t think the gender of the coxswain has made much of a difference though, it tends to be more about the gender of the crew.

Anyways, I asked the refs on Twitter (solid account and super responsive if you ever have questions – highly recommend following them at @USRowingRefs) just to get their input and because I couldn’t remember what the official rule said so here’s what they told me:

Here’s what Rule 2-410 from the rule book (page 29) says:The unsportsmanlike conduct thing is a given (and I’ve said that before on here plenty of times) but, like they said, ultimately they have to hear it and decide to act on it. Usually during our home races I’ll drive the officials in the launch and last year I asked one of them about this (because a coxswain was swearing pretty loudly during the race but it was in the vein of the “fuck yea” example I gave earlier) and they said that they personally just use discretion when it comes to issuing penalties or DQ’ing someone. They likened it to when you get pulled over by a cop for speeding … if you’re 5-10mph over the limit but otherwise driving safely the officer will use his/her discretion and probably let you off with a warning. If you’re driving like you’re auditioning for Tokyo Drift though then they’re obviously gonna come down on you a lot harder. It’s the same with the swearing thing … you need to be mindful of the rules but keep in mind that some refs might not be as lenient as others.

This probably isn’t the clearest reply to your question so I’ll just repeat what I’ve said in the past: I’m not gonna say “don’t do it”, just be smart, use your judgment, and without hesitation, take full responsibility if there’s fallout from it.