The World's best coxes on "One tip you wish you'd been given when you started coxing"

This article has been one of the most exciting things we've ever got to write, because we got to ask some of the best coxes in the world one question - "Can you please tell us one tip you wish you'd been given early in your coxing career?"

With the new season upon us we thought this was the perfect time to share these absolute gems with you. So whether you are new to coxing, an old hand, the coach/captain of novice coxes, or just interested in the wise words of the best in the world - this article is for you!

 

Peter Cipollone – Olympic Champion 2004, USA M8+

“Don't talk unless absolutely necessary. Listen, observe, and work to understand the reasons behind the coach's technical calls. Do this until you can identify the root causes yourself, make those same calls and get the same improvements. Every word you say needs to have a positive effect (or at least a chance of it). If what you are about to say does not have a clear purpose and action, say nothing. Go back to listening and observing. Something I *was* told early on that really helped: learn to row a single scull.”

Phelan Hill – Olympic Champion 2016, Great Britain M8+

“So my biggest thing I wish people would have said earlier is... dont be afraid to admit you dont know something and ask plenty of questions! There is a myth in coxing circles that to be good you have to act with authority and be in total control, in practice coxes translate that as meaning you have to be in charge, know everything and silence any rowers who may question your decision. This creates a bad feeling between cox and rower and in many cases there will always be rowers with more experience.

Far better to admit you dont know something and ask questions to get to the root of issue, that way you know better and can provide a better service to your rowers!”

Caleb Shepherd – 2014 World Champion and world record holder, New Zealand M2+

“I wish that when I was younger I had been told to take all criticism constructively and turn it into positive action. Even if the points come across in a negative way, turn it into something useful, and use it to become a better coxswain.”

Rowley Douglas – Olympic Champion 2000, Great Britain M8+

“If I could pick something I wish someone had started teaching me/helping me develop it would have been how to read the signals that the boat and crew emit and can be translated into an understanding of what is going well and what needs improving - in other words, boat feel. I am slightly loathed to call it boat feel as it is not solely down to feel but includes sight and sound as well. Learning to decode all of this and translate it into action is an invaluable ability to making the boat go faster. There is no magic here, you ‘just' need an articulate and quality coach and crew (or just a single crew member) to be able start learning how to do this.”

Francie Turner – Cox of the 1st New Zealand W8+ ever to qualify for the Olympic Games

“My tip would be to find you own style as a cox. Learn calls and tone variation from experienced coxes, but don't be afraid to add your own personality and flare to your calls. When you cox from the heart and are true to you, you will have your best races.”

Henry Fieldman – 2016 World Champion, Great Britain M2+

“Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Each mistake is a golden opportunity to learn something new. Making a mistake once is fine, but making it twice is not.”

Daniela Druncea – 2016 Olympic Bronze medallist, Romanian W8+

“I think the most important tip for me is to know my girls very well at training, but also outside of training/in their normal lives, because we are a team all of the time”

Neil Chugani – World Champion 2001, Great Britain M2+

“Early in my career, I wish I’d been given the reassurance that there is no one “right" way to cox.  There are effective, and ineffective (and of course safe and unsafe) ways of coxing, but no one right way.  Unusually in sport, it is a discipline which offers a lot of lattitude for the character and personality of each cox to be brought to bear uniquely in the way that he or she executes the responsibility.  Knowing this earlier in my career would have helped me to develop my own style more quickly and more naturally, rather than labour for some time under the impression that there was a singularly right and elusive way of doing things, and trying to understand what that was.”

 

And finally, from a couple extras from the Chattercox team themselves...

Zoe De Toledo

"If I could tell novice me anything it would be to talk less and listen more. I always had difficulty staying focussed during longer sessions, and it probably took me a lot longer to learn about good technique because I often lacked concentration and so wasn't taking in what the coaches and rowers were saying.

One great tip I did get was to say yes to any opportunity - cox any crew that offers you the chance, whether they are elite, masters, or novice. You will ALWAYS find something new to learn"

Katie Apfelbaum 

"I wish someone had helped me understand that you can make a boat go faster and hold a crew to a high standard without being overly critical or negative. You see a lot of bad rowing early on, and it is so easy to become nit picky, reciting laundry lists of things the rowers must change to get better. I wish I had known to listen to the boat, coach, and the crew more so that I could pick out something that was going well and create momentum."

 

Thank you so much to the coxes above who offered us their top tips. We'd love to hear more from all of you out there, so tweet us (@chattercox1), or leave us a comment below. 

[Podcast] Katie chats coxing, Upstate New York, and winning boat races with Stan Hudy

Katie sits down with Stan Hudy, sports report with the New York State Rowing Association to chat about coxing, winning boat races, and how good decision making defines great coxing.   The podcast wastaped over a gin and tonic after her presentation at the Junior Coaching Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY in January 2017.

Listen to the podcast

 

ka headshot.jpg

Get the Best out of Coxes: A Short Guide for Coaches

One of the questions we most enjoy getting asked by coaches is, “What can I do to best coach my coxes?” Most coaches, understandably, are focused predominantly on coaching their rowers, and we most certainly will not argue that this should be the main application of a coach’s time and efforts. However, we have a few relatively straightforward tips you can easily add into your coaching routine that will result in better performances from your entire crew- rowers and coxes alike.

1)      Make coxing feedback an everyday occurrence

Would you consider coaching a rower like this: shouting at them once or twice a session when they do something wrong (without offering constructive ideas about how to make a change), only giving feedback after the session is finished, or sitting down with them once every other month to go over their performance from the last 8 weeks? No? Well that is how many coxes are effectively coached. Whilst an off-water meeting can be useful when working with your coxes (more of this later), the most useful feedback you and your rowers can give your coxes is likely to come on the water. Give them feedback in the moment and then give them a chance to act on that feedback while it is fresh.

Think about how you can incorporate coxing coaching into every session – for example if you hear them make a call that has a noticeable positive effect on the boat, tell them – “that call worked really well, good!” If the steering doesn’t look quite right offer encouragement and advise an immediate change. Urge your rowers to do the same (especially those more experienced athletes), if something the coxswain is doing in the boat is or isn’t working for them it would be useful to know this at the water break, not after the session, as this gives your cox a chance to work on it during the latter part of the outing.

Remember that feedback to coxes can feel much more personal than feedback given to rowers – especially as it is often negatively based. You can normalize coxing feedback by making it an everyday occurrence, and your coxes are likely to respond much better as a result. This will also help the cox objectively engage with the feedback and make improvements faster.

2)      Visualize how it would feel to be sitting in the driver’s seat

The best coaches can describe to their rowers not just what they should be doing in the boat, but how it should feel, sound, and look when they do it correctly. The very best coaches can also describe to their coxswains what they should be feeling, hearing, and seeing when the boat is moving well. Can you imagine what your cox would experience if there was less check, more direct catches, better timed finishes, or a well-coordinated leg drive? Can you articulate to your coxes what they should be feeling? Now, if you have never coxed, this will not be an easy ask, and will probably take a significant amount of thought. You can start by recalling what fast boats you’ve been in felt like or how rowers describe changes in a boat after you coached on them a specific technical change. The next step is to think about how those descriptions will be experienced by someone who is stationary in the boat. It requires work, but we guarantee that it will give you a better understanding of how a shell moves, and will provide you with a new way of looking at rowing technique. It will also mean that your coxes will be more self-sufficient, and able to coach your rowers within the boat much more effectively. A win-win all round.

3)      Allow your coxes the same opportunities to practice as you do your rowers

One of the most frustrating experiences as a coach is the helplessness you feel after you boat your crew for a race, especially when you see something not going to plan – such as vital bits of the warm-up being left out, marshaling instructions being ignored, your crew arriving late at the start line, or (the worst) messing up getting attached to the stake boats. However, this aspect of racing is one that is often overlooked, even though it can often be the most anxiety-inducing part of the day for your coxes.

Make sure that your coxes have had an opportunity to practice these processes, preferably under some aspect of pressure to simulate race day nerves. Got pieces this weekend? Set a start time and make sure your coxes have a plan to get their crew there with enough time to get settled and prepared to work. Make sure you take the time to sit down and discuss with your coxes (and crews as applicable) what the warm-up should look like, how long they should spend on it, break it the components of the warm-up into places in the warm-up area so the cox knows what to do and where to do it, and what the most important exercise/bursts are just in case they get disrupted and have to cut out aspects to make the start on time. A key to remember: a good warm-up gets rowers to the line sweaty, with 10 good strokes at race pace under their belts. The goal is to get the entire crew to the line physically and mentally ready to race.

4)      Take the time to talk

Being on the same page as your coxes, and talking the same language, is invaluable. Talk to your coxes whenever you can – talk to them about technique when your rowers are erging or lifting weights, have them ride shotgun when you are towing boats to regattas so you can go over the race plan and warm-up, and take the time when you can to sit down and discuss their goals.

Remember it’s a lot harder for a coxswain to have clear, actionable objectives for improvement as their performance is a lot more subjective, therefore it may take a little more effort to come up with methods of assessing their progression. If they are struggling with steering, maybe you can video from behind them to track their course. If they want to improve their technical understanding perhaps the rowers can be involved in providing everyday feedback about whether or not they found specific calls useful. The more you talk, the more your coxes have the opportunity to learn from you.

These are just some initial thoughts about how you can incorporate more coxing coaching into your everyday sessions. We would love to hear from you about your own best practices and ideas on the topic! If you think we can help you and your club develop your coxes (or you are a driver who would like us to come and work with your coaches on how to get the most out of you!) please contact us – chattercox@gmail.com

5 Questions for Coxing an Ergo 2k

In February, the love/hate relationship with the ergo takes center stage. In Boston, rowers will be getting hot and bothered on February 28th in Agganis Arena for the C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints. 

For a rower, the training is methodical towards a clear objective. Rowing blogs are rife with preparation regimes for the final weeks of preparation before a 2k test (see U.S. Rowing's latest blog).

A quick skim reveals the cox is rarely, if ever, mentioned. From this (sin of) omission, one could assume that the cox sits on the sidelines. In many ways this is true, the cox plays a supporting role at best. This nebulous job can take the shape of awkward waterboy or strategic supporter depending on how the individual takes ownership of the role.

Before we go any further, perspective is key; the cox is there to lend support within the framework given by the rower and/or coach, and the ultimate goal is to see how a rower mentally and physically handles a race piece. While a cox will not make miracles happen, a 2k is still a valuable opportunity to learn about and bond with his/her rowers during a race. If coxing is expected during these pieces by coaches, it is an opportunity to assess the mindfulness and maturity in racing of the cox during a race. 

Instead of providing a laundry list of to-dos that will make you an epic cox, we created a list of questions whose answers will help you take on this role with confidence. 

1.     What is it like to pull a 2k?

If you don’t know, find out. Even if it is only a two-week training cycle, tackle the traditional test prep workouts, pick a date, and complete the test. After the piece, reflect on how you felt and what you thought about. What information, support would you have wanted? This is the closest way to eliminate the inane, filler yelling that coxes resort to in the heat of the moment. If you want rowers to respect you, respect the challenge they are taking on trying to pull a personal best on an erg by trying it yourself.

2.     Does the coach allow coxing in the pieces?

At Oxford, we were very hands off. A testing day measured the physical capacity of the rowers and put a spotlight on the decisions they make on their own in the midst of a race.

No. Bring your notebook and observe your teammates. How did they approach the piece? In what part of the piece did they falter? Were they able to execute their race plan? This information will be invaluable when you are racing with them on the water.

Yes. Keep reading! 

a.     If you are coxing your clubmates, talk to the coach about asking the rowers to write out a race plan on an index 3x5 card before the test. Keep it simple, splits and focus by 250 or 500. Have the rowers include what they want from you- free reign, only calls from the card, encouragement whenever they need it, or total silence. Make sure you establish this before the announcer calls for rowers to pick up their handles.

b.     If it is a mass erg competition, you have to walk a fine line between getting useful information from the rower (hopefully they prepared a race plan) and letting the rower warm-up properly. Again, you not knowing what they want will not make them slower. You interrupting their warm-up will negatively impact the piece.

3.     What level of involvement do they want from you?

a.     More experienced rowers will be self-sufficient. They will usually require less involvement, and your job is more to help them focus on executing their race plan with bits of encouragement if needed. If you do make any comments, be precise and concise. A good rule of thumb is no more than 1 comment ever 250 meters, until the end of the piece where the rower may want a little more encouragement.

b.     Intermediate rowers may want you a little more involved. Keep them focused on their plan. 

c.     This could be a novice’s first 2k, which can be a scary thing for a young athlete. Keep them calm. As excited as you are the get in on the action while you are not training on the water, step back and remember a novice rower is close to throwing up before the piece has even started. You are there to keep them calm, focused, and confident. 

4.     What is the race plan?

a.     Remember this is all about the rowers, not what you think they must do to hit a certain score. If the rower is a novice, avoid giving or encouraging unsustainable paces. Those glorious ten strokes can cause a miserable last 500.

b.     Follow their plan. Help them focus on setting a sustainable rhythm that will lead them to success. Remind the rower of the goals coming up.

c.     Do not be tempted to impose your own ideas on someone else. If you don’t know what the rower wants then offer general encouragement, not specific targets. They might have a great plan that you don’t know about, and calling out your own ideas will only mess with their minds.

5.     What if there is no race plan?!

0 m : Don’t panic!

0 to 250m : The first high strokes create easy speed. Call a smooth, clean transition to base pace, drawing the athlete away from the seduction of those low early numbers.  This segment contains one of the most important calls for a cox to make in a 2k. First, nailing the transition from high strokes to base pace (whether that happens over 2, over 5, in two steps). It may seem like an obvious call, but remind the rower to breathe about 10 strokes in. It helps.

250- 500m: This segment contains the second must-do call in a 2k. Between 60 and 90 seconds in, the systems will change from anaerobic to aerobic. Remind rowers before the piece starts to look for this transition. You can say something along the lines of, “breathe through these next 5, be brave as the legs/lungs come back." If your rower has done the proper training, they will get right into stride by 2 minutes in. For novice rowers, this can be a really overwhelming moment where they doubt if they have it in them to do the full 2k. Encourage them to have confidence in their training. 

500 m- 1250 m. This is the heart of the piece, keep rower on pace and positive. Again, only contribute what they have asked for. This is a long stretch that requires considerable mental toughness for a rower to choose to do the right work. Remember, your main role is to provide information, and if a call is made, tell them what is going to happen and when they need to do it. 

1500 - 2000m: Get into the sprint with 15-20 strokes focusing on a punishing race rhythm, then add power and acceleration in the subsequent wind. Rowers approach the sprint in many ways- cutting down to 3/4 or 1/2 slide, cutting the layback, moving the hands faster. Unless you know what their plan is, don't impose your view of the best way to sprint. 

Finally, remember in the hoopla that you are a teammate, not a nanny. They are in charge of filling and fetching water bottles, towels, etc.