Looking for a way to better your coxing now that fall racing is wrapping up? The good news is that the winter season presents many opportunities for learning and growing as a coxswain. Having a little extra time as you step back from full-blown water practices gives you the chance to gather feedback from your rowers and coaches, review your coxing from the fall, and do some self-evaluation techniques to get your skills better than ever once spring season rolls around.
Feedback is super important from the coxswain seat, and I recommend asking for feedback multiple times a week during the fall and spring seasons. When it comes to end-of-season feedback, this is a chance to compile some thoughts from your rowers, coaches, and yourself, allowing you to choose some areas to focus on while they are still fresh. It is important to start this process right as the fall season ends, just so the feedback can be fresh in everyone’s minds!
I do want to make a note before diving into some betterment tools that accepting feedback can be hard, awkward, or hurtful if you go in without being in a good headspace. Before asking for feedback, take a moment of self-reflection and remind yourself why you want the feedback in the first place. You are doing this to grow your skills and make your boat and team faster. With that in mind, it is important to know that you are not going to like or agree with everything you hear. Every coxswain, from a novice in their first week, to Olympian Mary Whipple, has gotten feedback they don't necessarily love or agree with. It is important to hear everyone’s thoughts, find trends, and implement changes where needed.
Note: Sometimes you will hear things that you already know you need to work on! Sometimes you will hear other things that you don’t agree with or feel are not true to your coxing style. When this happens, I personally try to make some changes and meet people in the middle, without completely going against what I believe. You want your boat to go fast, and you want to appease your rowers, but it is important to stay true to yourself and your personal style as well, so finding the balance while implementing feedback is super important!
End-of-Season Feedback Exercises:
Ask for feedback from your coach
Ask for feedback from your rowers
Listen to your tapes from the season
When it comes to asking for feedback from your coaching staff, I would either pull them aside or send them an email (depending on their vibe), and explain that you want to use the winter season to get better and improve as much as you can.
“Hey Coach, I really want to take some time this winter and focus on growth from the coxswain seat. Would you have a few minutes to chat and give me feedback? I would love to hear anything you saw or heard that you think would be good to focus on. If you have anything right now, great... Otherwise, feel free to take some time and think about this and let me know in the next week as some things come to mind, as I am hoping for some things to hone in on specifically!”
Whether you get feedback from your coach that day or over the next week or so, make a note of the areas they mentioned in a document so you can start gathering focus topics for the winter! I like to keep a running google doc with dates and comments, but you also could do notes on your phone or whatever works best for you.
Rower feedback is super helpful and important to help craft and evolve your coxing skills. If you are a team that changes lineups super often in the fall, I recommend casting a wider net when requesting feedback from rowers on your team. If you have been in a set lineup for a long time, then it makes more sense to just ask the girls you have been rowing with each day.
If you are still practicing in person, you could say something like “Hey! I am really hoping to focus on some development areas this winter, and would love any feedback you can offer me! Whether it’s small things you noticed, things you thought were helpful or not as much, or changes you’d hope to see, any feedback would be great and super appreciated! No rush, but if you think of anything now or over next week and want to pull me aside that would be really helpful!”
If you are taking some time apart as a team and reconvening later for the winter season, I recommend sending out a text to ask for feedback. You can text a few rowers whose opinions you really value or all the athletes that you have been working with. If you are texting, you also can say the same as in person, “take your time but as you think of things just reach out,” giving them time to mull over the request and give you the most valuable feedback.
Note: Whether you get feedback in person or via text, I recommend asking people to pull you aside after, or text back to just you, rather than expressing all the feedback in a group. Having these conversations one on one will allow people to form their own opinions and thoughts regarding your coxing without being swayed by everyone else’s comments. If you feel comfortable, you could even make a google form and send it out so everyone can fill in their responses in one place.
Assessing your performance and listening to your own tapes is just as important as gathering feedback from your coaches and rowers. After each race, and then at the end of the season, I like to listen to my recordings first as a once-over and think of these main questions:
Are you well-engaged or bored/zoning out listening to your own tape?
Are you hyped up during the parts that you are supposed to be hyped up during?
Do you clearly understand where your boat is compared to the other boats you are racing?
Do you always know where you are on the course? Do you have a good pulse on the rate and split?
Are the moves clear-cut? Are you giving understandable directions and direct feedback?
It is hard to critique your own tapes with the questions above because you lived the race firsthand, so even if you don’t say where the other boats are for a full minute, you already know in your head. To best benefit your growth and coxing ability, I would try to be super objective when you do an end-of-season tape review. Listen to the tapes for just the words that you hear. Sometimes pretending it is someone else coxing and you are listening to it for the first time is helpful. As you listen, write down your thoughts and any trends you pick up on.
What parts/calls do you like?
What calls annoy or bother you?
Are the directions and calls clear? If not, write down the time of the recording that you make an unclear call so you can come back to it later.
Are you giving enough information?
Are you repeating the same calls or words too often?
Is your coxing easy to follow?
Super Helpful Extra Credit:
If you have a lot of downtime during the winter and want to take your analysis one step further, I recommend transcribing one of your races onto paper. I know this sounds like a super tedious exercise, but it is one of the most helpful ways to see the breakdown of what you are really saying. Once you have it all written, take a few highlighters and break down the race based on different categories.
I like to go over my transcription looking for specific things:
Highlight any filler during your first go-over of the transcription. All filler is technically wasted words and time. Picking out the filler will allow you to figure out where you could say way less, where you could add calls with important information, and even where you could spend some time being quiet and letting the boat just listen to the rhythm.
You don’t need to get down to 0% filler in the future, it is just super important to be mindful of what you are saying that NEEDS to be said, versus what you are saying that could be either left out or could be something more valuable.
Crucial internal boat information
pick a different color and highlight anything that is crucial facts and data specific to your boat
Crucial external boat information
Margins of other boats
Are you hyping up your boat often enough?
Are you switching up your motivational calls?
I like to break down how much technical feedback I am giving the boat, and then closely listen or read to see if I told the boat HOW to make the change
Once you have broken everything down into these 5 categories, you can get a pulse on how efficiently you are using your voice and your time during the race from your seat. Are you giving mostly information and motivation? Do you have a lot of filler? Do you use a lot of variation or repetition? All of these are super helpful for giving yourself small goals moving forward.
If you really want to go all out with this exercise, you could do a word count and calculate some numbers for your race as well. If you do this, count all of the words based on each color highlighter. I recommend looking at:
How many words per minute am I saying? Am I talking wayyyyy too fast that it is hard to understand me?
What percentage of my calls are information based?
What percent are motivational calls?
What percent is filler?
Once you gather feedback from your coaches, teammates, and go over your own tapes, I would recommend making notes and keeping a running document. Did people in your boat tell you you talk too much? Cross-reference this with your word count during the race and see. Do people tell you in your boat that they always feel motivated? Or know the information? You’ll be able to see this based on the highlighter exercise as well. Cross-reference the feedback from your coaches and boatmates with your own personal summary of development areas.
By choosing to critique yourself, and opening yourself up to others’ feedback, you will be able to take your coxing to the next level before you even get a chance to hop back in the 9th seat for the spring season. Use your time wisely this winter to get faster, just like the rowers on the erg… Make both specific and broad goals over the next few months, and then spend time figuring out what you need to learn or do to implement them!
If you have any questions about any of this or want someone to help you review your tapes, gather feedback, and evolve for the spring season, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Inside Turn is here and happy to help…