Updated: Sep 17, 2022
What are the best coxswain practices when preparing for championship race season? See a few of my go-to's below for when it comes to spring racing weekends, and how to best set yourself and your crew up to leave it all out on the water..
Photo Credit: Emma Sharon
When coxing a race, especially a 2,000 meter race, it is super important to be well aligned with your crew. Open communication and mental preparedness are important for a boat to perform their best. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure that your rowers know the boat's goals going into a race weekend, and understand the plan on how best to achieve them.
Clear communication is key to make the most of any race weekend from the coxswain seat. Setting expectations and keeping your boat all on the same page before and during the weekend will help you to achieve the highest results possible, and allow your boat to perform to the best of their ability!
Tip #1 - Set the tone during the week leading up to the race.
What are you hoping to accomplish on the water for your championship race? Are you hoping to win the entire thing? Are you hoping to place top 3 in your semi to qualify for the A-final? It is important to pick a realistic goal based off of the performance of past races this season, the boat's capabilities, and the speed of the competition. Work with your rowers and coaches to discuss what you are hoping to achieve, finding the balance of setting lofty and inspiring goals, while still being realistic based what is within the boat's ability.
Once you know what you want to do, the best way to get there is by laying ground work during the practices and weeks leading up to the race. What is the best way to do this? Through clear communication. Plant the seed early, and reference your goals often, as well as talking about the standards needed to achieve them.
Meet with your boat the Monday of the week of the race (if not even weeks earlier than that). Before you launch for practice, have an honest conversation where you touch on what all 5 or 9 of you want to accomplish as a boat, and then what needs to happen throughout the week(s) leading up to the race to get there.
Pick a few things to work on in preparation for the race, and get comfortable executing them consistently in the days leading up to the race to ensure you are able to perform during the actual competition.
These goals can be concrete or conceptual, but should be measurable to an extent so you can determine if you are achieving them or not. Executing as a boat during the weeks leading up to a race should give you and the rowers confidence going into the weekend that your goals are possible.
Some examples of good goals for the week of the race are below:
Some Examples of Concrete Boat Goals
"Lets shoot to come off the line at the start at 45 strokes per minute or above"
"As a boat, lets aim to shift down between 35-37 strokes per minute on our shift stroke"
"We will take 5 strong power 10's within every 2k distance practice/race piece we do"
"Lets agree to arrive prepared for each practice and race so we can maximize our time on the water"
Some Examples of Conceptual Boat Goals
"We will shift with confidence and dictate the tone of the race when we come down off the settle"
"We will mentally reset for the 3rd 500 meter segment of the race during all of our pieces"
"We will trust the coxswain's calls, or the stroke seat's shifts to keep the boat cohesive and dynamic"
Once you set goals for your boat, check in throughout the week leading up to the race to determine if you are achieving them. For the concrete goals, measure the progress and discuss it as a group. Did we settle to the rate we said we would? Did everyone arrive on time and prepared today? For the conceptual goals, have discussions about if you feel as if your boat is achieving them, and what that might look like (given that it is more fluid and less trackable). Did we reset well for the 3rd 500? Did we trust the shifts and move well together?
Once you have established your goals, and have executed many times during practice, the boat can go into the race with confidence knowing what they are capable of and what is within their wheelhouse to achieve. When you call to shift down to the 37 strokes per minute, you can tell them "lets shift to the strong 37, just like we've been doing in practice". This type of call will give your boat confidence and foster trust, because they are comfortable and are used to shifting like that in every piece at home leading up to the race.
Tip #2 - Go into the weekend well prepared.
As a coxswain, it is super important to have your finger on the pulse of what is going on with your team, boat, and race weekend in general. Take some time before the race weekend starts to look into all the details you will need to make you successful both on and off the water.
"The best coxswains know exactly where they need to be, know what they need, and are even a few minutes early"
Some examples of things you should look into before a big race weekend are below:
Course map/traffic pattern
Distance from hotel to race course
Where the coaches parked the trailer
Which dock do you launch from? Should you take your oars there when you unload the trailer?
Does this race have uniform regulations for being on the water? (National/World Championship only usually)
Does this race have traffic pattern/time penalties?
What time is the coxswain meeting?
How many boats qualify from the heats to the semi's?
Are any races straight final?
Do you need to weigh in your boat? (National/World Championship only usually)
Does the course normally have a headwind? A tailwind?
Are there any shallow parts to avoid in the practice area?
Do coxswains get weighed in? What is the weigh in window? Are the officials checking ID?
Being well prepared and being a reliable resource for your boat will allow them to feel less stressed on a race weekend, and will let them feel comfortable instilling full trust and confidence in you as their leader both on and off the water.
Tip #3 - Keep everyone on time, and set clear expectations.
Do your due diligence before travel to make sure you know what time your crew needs to be ready, what they need to pack, and where they need to go. If someone doesn't make it to the bus in time from your boat, it might mean you are not able to make it to the course with enough time to practice, or that you will have a rushed race warmup. Keep everyone in line and well informed throughout the entire race weekend.
When it comes to race day, I like to make a super clear schedule that the rowers can look at the night before in order to mentally prepare, and to plan ahead. Give them the information needed far enough in advance that they can adjust for their personal needs accordingly. An example of the race day schedule I like to make and then text out in our boat group chat is:
6:45 leave hotel
7:00 arrive at the course
7:30 body warm up
7:40 last pee break
7:47 meet with the coach (bring water bottles, seat pads, inhalers, and be in race uni)
7:52 hands on
7:57 launch and start warm up
8:34 get to start
I try to make it as easy for my boat to function during a race weekend as possible. As a coxswain, you never want your rowers to say "I didn't know that is when I was supposed to be there". Even if you communicate clearly with your boat, if someone is late, the blame will most likely fall on the coxswain. Is this fair? Not necessarily.. but will it happen anyways? Probably... When it comes to herding your boat, overdoing the scheduling and communication is the best bet to ensure everyone is where they need to be at the right time, especially when it comes to launching for your race.
Running late on race day can be stressful for the entire boat. It is best to plan ahead so you don't have to rush your warm up, and have time to shed layers, drink water, and regroup before pulling into the starting blocks.
Tip #4 - Get to know your rowers very well.
It is super important to think about each rower as an individual, and to work closely with them to learn what they need to perform their best on race day. Each athlete is unique and needs different things in order to race their fastest race. Although you are not expected to individually cater to each rower in your boat at all times (which would be exhausting and nearly impossible), it is important to have a good understanding of who is sitting in your boat, what they like, and what makes them row fast.
Different things motivate different people, and everyone responds well to different communication styles. Having conversations with your boat mates and asking them questions to get to know them well as rowers will allow you to cox them in the most effective way.
Some questions that are good things to ask your boat mates are:
What type of feedback do you do best with?
What are some things that really motivate you?
What types of coxing calls do you like the best? Is there anything that really gets you going?
What are your favorite calls you've had a coxswain say to you during a race or a practice?
Is there anything I can specifically try and remind you of or help you focus on in the boat to best help you perform?
If you can cater to each person in your boat's needs (within reason), you can maximize speed from each seat and bring all of the rowers together to make your boat as fast as possible. Sometimes just saying a few specific words or phrases can unite an entire crew when you are tight with your boat mates. I have found when you have your own language and telepathy with your boat, it results in the most fun and memorable races.
One thing that is super important about this tip is to set clear expectations. When having these conversations with your rowers, you want to make sure you are not overpromising anything. I personally always like to say that I will try my best to incorporate their needs, but have to keep in mind that there are 7 other rowers that need things too. I never want to promise I will say something at a certain meter mark, or make a specific call, because sometimes it isn't possible to do that. I prefer to set very clear and low expectations, and explain that I will do what is best for the boat in the race, which is whatever I see fit at that time.
Prioritizing the boat's needs always comes first, and then finding a way to best serve each rower individually second. A 2k can be a very short race to fit in many different requests, so try not to overpromise and under-deliver. Instead, get to know each rower as well as you can, and read the boat wisely to make whatever call will maximize potential for the boat in that moment.
By putting these 4 tips in practice, you will pull up to the start line with the tools needed to succeed on race day.
If you come into your race on time, well prepared, with well communicated and aligned goals, and knowing your boat mates intimately well, you are ready to have your best race. Get out there, set the tone, and get after it!
If this was helpful, if you have any questions, or if you want to discuss how to incorporate these 4 practices into your personal race routine, book a 1:1 coxswain coaching session below to discuss. I feel super confident in the importance of these 4 methods, and I would be happy to help any developing coxswain elevate their skills and leadership by implementing them as we head into championship racing season!