Coxing at Selection Camp
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
Hoping to make a racing team this summer? Whether you are hoping to race for an elite summer team, race in red, white and blue representing the United States, or you are hoping to make a junior or senior team High Performance camp boat, it is important to come into the summer well prepared and ready to execute...
At selection camps, coxswains play a few different roles. Finding a way to be what both the coaches and rowers need from you is a big challenge, but with a good attitude and the right skillset, it is possible to achieve any of your summer camp goals! As a coxswain, the coaches will look to you to run practice smoothly and execute their plans starting the first day of camp. This can be tough when working with new coaches, so it is important to ask questions and stay adaptable.
In turn, rowers will look to you to help them achieve their goals during camps as well, so being accountable and building trust with the rowers that are invited is super important. It is the coxswain's job to bring rowers together from all different teams with a wide range of experiences. Although this can be challenging the first few weeks of camp, by the end it is a very rewarding experience.
Racing in the summer is a different type of fun, given the short timeline and the quick gratification after ~2 months rather than the entire school year of training. At the end of the day, it is such a good feeling to make the boat that you worked for and dreamed of. Putting on your racing uni, and competing at the highest level makes all the early mornings and 3x a day practices well worth it.
Here are a few things I have learned during my time competing for boats in selection camps. Everyone has a different experience, but I have found that going off of these focus areas was super helpful during my time coxing both at the Junior and the U23 levels. I have been fortunate to represent USA coxing Internationally for 3 summers, and below is my best advice for anyone who is looking to do the same.
Always be prepared - stay one step ahead:
Make sure to arrive a few minutes early to practice every day.
Have all of your equipment charged and ready to go.
Keep extra spacers, wing nuts, tools, and tape on you to make sure if anything comes apart during practice, you have what ever is needed in the boat with you.
Write your lineup down on a piece of tape and put it on the gunwale if you aren't able to remember everyone's name - then you can call people by name instead of seat numbers (this will make them way more responsive to your calls).
Know the coach's expectations - different coaches value different things in coxswains. In the beginning of camp, I have found it helpful to have conversations with each coach to be aligned on their expectations, and so you are able to best execute their practice plans. Establishing credibility and building trust with camp coaches can be hard because of the short timeline and constant coxswain rotating, but its important to try and get to know your coaches as well as you can, and as quickly as you can.
Some coaches write everything down on a whiteboard in the boathouse before launching, and some call the practice on the fly. Find out what type of planner each coach is to be well prepared.
If your coach is the planning type, be sure to write down the practice plan so you can run it independently from inside the boat (make note of meters, rates, drills, etc..). I used to personally hate writing stuff down and could mostly remember it, but since the stakes are so high and you are not used to the rowers, body of water, drills, or anything, I decided to start writing things down and it was actually super helpful.
If you have any questions about anything in the practice plan, be sure to ask while still on land. You can always ask as many questions as you have, just don't ask the same question twice! Coaches want you to be thoughtful and intuitive, but also independent.
Learn the way each coach wants things to be done, for example, how often do they want pairs switched? How many strokes do they want to be legs only before adding the swing?
At selection camp, every day is about people proving themself. It is super important as a coxswain to be ready to add in a pair, or drop a pause, or anything the coaches call for in a group of boats to keep your boat competitive and in the mix.
I reached out to chat with Mike Wallin, who is coaching the US Junior Women's Selection Camp this summer, regarding his thoughts on the coxswain selection process. We discussed what he and the USA junior team coaching staff are thinking about when it comes to their coxswains. Wallin's boats will be racing at the 2022 Junior Rowing World Championships this summer, which will be held at the end of July in Varese, Italy. When not working with the US Junior National Team, Mike Wallin is the head coach at Chicago Rowing Foundation during the regular season, who's Women's 8+ just won the 2022 Youth National Championship a few weeks ago. Given his extensive coaching experience both nationally and internationally, I thought it would be great to hear from him regarding the coxswain selection process.
“We are looking for coxswains who are confident and composed, and who can execute practice in a way that allows the coaches to both teach the mechanics of the stroke and meld a crew of athletes who have never rowed together before” highlights Wallin, explaining a bit about the coxswain selection process for the U19 Junior World Championships this summer.
Be humble, but trust your experience.. find the balance of being ready and eager to learn, while also having confidence in the skills that you have developed throughout your career that got you invited to camp in the first place.
Confidence is earned by prior knowledge and experience - it takes hands on practice and doing things right consistently to develop confidence in coxing.
Each rower and every coach brings something valuable to the table.. Try and learn from the people around you and add bits of what you like into your coxing, technical knowledge, and even general attitude as a teammate.
Be open to learning and changing, but also be true to your style and trust your gut when it comes to certain things that feel non-negotiable for your coxing style
Ask for feedback, and implement changes:
After every practice, ask for feedback from your boat. This will create an open dialogue with the rowers where they can give you both positive feedback and constrictive criticisms
ex. "what calls were helpful? what calls were effective? what should I say more of? What should I say less of?"
If rowers say "your coxing is fine", try and challenge them to give you concrete feedback so you have something specific to work on, get better at whatever they specifically want, and then come back to them and say "I have been really working on XYZ, how do you think its going now that we've been focusing on it for a week?" so you can track progress, and hold yourself and the rowers accountable
Sometimes rowers and coaches are going to be harsh with their feedback.. I have found that the best approach is to listen to the feedback, give yourself a little time to remove the emotional aspect from it, and then try and make technical changes based on facts.
Taking feedback can be hard, but will also make you much better. The only way to evolve is by learning, so do your best and keep trying to learn.
If you are asking for feedback every day, and trying your best to implement it, you are doing what you should be doing... Be kind to yourself, remind yourself you are trying your best, and keep going...
The best growth and changes happen over time, keep thinking big picture and doing what you can to get better.
Cultivate a good team culture, and bring positive energy to any boat you step foot in - it sounds obvious but it makes a huge difference to help lift up the people around you.
If people are excited and happy to have you as their coxswain, your boat will go faster.
If rowers believe that you have their best interest at heart, and want what is best for the entire team, they will grow to respect and trust you over the few short weeks of camp.
Being open minded, ready to work hard, and friendly to everyone will make a huge difference in how the rowers think about you as a coxswain.
In rowing, often coxswain boating comes down to a vote by the rowers. Rowers will always want the best technical coxswain in the boat, but they also want someone that makes practice enjoyable, and can bring the best out of the entire boat...
At selection camps, all of the coxswains invited are usually very sharp and capable, so sometimes the best way to differentiate yourself among the competition is just by being a genuinely dedicated teammate, good support system for the rowers, and a helpful and friendly hand around the boathouse.
Camps require a super different type of execution and sharpness than school year home team coxing does. Learning to mold to a new coach's style, cox people who all row differently, and get a get a boat rowing well and fast in just a few weeks is always a challenge, but can also very fun and rewarding. It is such a good feeling to be invited to camp, and then to get there work hard and perform your best.
When it comes to selection camp, my best advice is to work hard, ask for feedback, stay adaptable, and be yourself... If you are a coxswain that needs help strategizing, talking technical feedback, or going over tapes, I am currently working with a few Junior and U23 level coxswains, and would be happy to work with anyone else looking for some support through selection camps! Head to this link if you are interested in working together as you work to achieve your national team goals..