“CHOOSE YOUR COXSWAIN…”


I wanted to be coxswain.

Unfortunately, I was too tall and heavy. As a rower I gave it my all, but I was still fascinated with my coxswains’ ability to motivate us into performing our best.  This power is one of the reasons I always preferred sitting in the bow, and why I enjoy coaching now.

In horse racing, much of the focus is put on the horse and their abilities. Yet, it is the jockey that gets the horse across the finish line. One miscalculation and the horse may go out too fast or too slow. Very rare do you have a horse like Secretariat or American Pharaoh that wills itself to win the Triple Crown. In NASCAR, all the focus is put on the driver. Much is written about their personality and their ability to maneuver around other vehicles at 200 mph.

Why should rowing be any different?

The coxswain is the driver. They need to manage the different personalities, behaviors, and talents of athletes who may or may not be on the same page. They must constantly be ready to follow and adapt their coach’s instructions. They are the ears, the eyes, and the nose (if they happen to be downwind) of the team.

Yet they get no love…

CHOOSE YOUR COXSWAIN

Just for fun, I want to share the six different types of coxswains you may have on your team. Coxing is not just about knowledge. Practice calls, drills,  and race recordings  are all important, but they can be memorized. A coxswain’s strength is their unique ability to connect and communicate this knowledge to the athletes. Each coxswain below motivates their teammates in different ways.

In December, I wrote about the Process Communication Model® and “which erg screen you would choose”. The coxswains below are the six “pure” personality types. Each of us utilize all of these six personality types, but to a different degree.

Even though I chose genders for each character, the characteristics of each coxswain is gender neutral. They are universal.

Riley Rebel – “Whose boat is this?”

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Artist Credit: EijiSaeki on DevianArt

Riley. When you read her name, you were not sure if it was a guy’s or gal’s name. It doesn’t matter; when she shows up, she is in charge. Riley does not cox the way other coxswains do. That is what makes her awesome. Stroke rates, erg times, and drills are not important, because she thinks outside the box.

Strengths:

Riley does not challenge your thinking process, but she will find more creative ways to get a boat moving as opposed to the way you approach it. She will use more exciting words like “NICEEEE!”, “WAAAY-Nuff”, and “ROCKIN’.” She sings in the boat, raps on cue, and is quick with an inappropriate joke to keep boat laughing. Riley makes rowing fun.

Needs to work on:

Riley needs to get with the program. She may struggle focusing on the daily grind.  You may believe she is not serious because she does not hang out with the team all the time. She has her own crowd to hang with. However, Riley may provide the dynamic and balance you need to win. When working with Riley, keep interactions fun and interesting. Lead with humor if possible and she will stick around and get on the same page.

Otherwise, your best coxswain will prefer to stay the 3rd boat because they are more fun and laid back.

Theodore Thinker “We are at 32 spm, and in exactly 5 strokes, we’ll shift to 34 spm.”

Artist Credit: Naths 2008

Theodore or “Ted” to his close friends is super organized and well prepared. He carries everything to practice in his backpack –tool kit, athletic tape, Dora’s Map and his cox box is always charged. Ted carries around a large notebook or iPad.

Strengths:

Ted remembers everything.  He knows the erg times of every athlete on the team as well as other teams.  He knows the race course like the back of his hand, and knows how the wind speed and direction affects the boat.  He scribbles constantly in his notebook, which he will fill up in a week. If asked if there is a correlation between shin length, stroke rate, and protein intake, Ted will show up on Monday with a report complete with a TPS report cover sheet.

 Needs to work on:

Sometimes Ted is so caught up in the numbers and drills that he may hesitate.  Even though the training and race plan is solid, he needs to trust his instincts more and just let go. He needs the confidence to go with his gut. Ted is more prepared than anyone else. Make sure to highlight that strength, before asking him to take a risk. He will be more likely to respond.

Otherwise, your best coxswain will fail to call the sprint earlier, because it was not part of the original plan.

Peyton Persister – “Well Coach always says…”

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Photo Credit: Photonest

Peyton loves coxing. She prides herself on her ability to “inspire” talent out of all the athletes. Like Ted, she will have an array of tools at her disposal to get you technically sound, however she is more focused on doing things the right way. Her way.  Rowing has rules, and Peyton knows them all. She is passionate about her job, and she is extremely loyal to the coach and her athletes.

Strengths:

Peyton does practice right. She will know the best way to get you warmed up and prepared physically and mentally to race. She gives great advice on how to approach an erg test. When times are stressful, Peyton will know the correct way to get everyone focused. She will be at every practice, even when she is sick, and may even train with the team because she wants to know what the athletes go through.

Needs to work on:

Peyton can be a coach’s pet or a coach’s nightmare.  No goofing off on Peyton’s watch. If you are talking in the boat, then she will call you out.  She will report to the coach anything you should not be doing. It is great that she can be right 99% of the time, but if she disagrees with the coach or athletes it may affect her performance. Help her understand that her views and opinions are valued, and it okay to agree to disagree. As long as she can share her input, she will stay loyal to you and the team.

Otherwise your best coxswain will “take her talents to South Beach.”

Isabella Imaginer  – “Let’s be calm…”

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Artist Credit: Miss_Dior on Favim

Rowing is an intense sport, so when Isabella arrives on the team, many may believe she won’t last. She is very quiet, and doesn’t get very excited. Yet, her calming presence makes her one of the steadiest performers. Isabella could be the difference maker when the boat is clicking.

Strengths:

“OHHMMmmm..” Isabella is a great listener, and she will be able to absorb many of the athletes’ woes. She gives excellent feedback to the coach how the boat is moving through the water. She will hypnotize you into focusing on the run of the boat instead of erg scores and the drama on the team.

Needs to work on:

Isabella can be too calm. You may need to snap her back to attention. Give clear and concise directions, or you will overwhelm her. Boat drama may cause her to shy away, and you may question her team loyalty. In reality, she needs time to recharge and process to find a solution that makes sense.  Pick and choose the right moments to talk to her about your rowing. Ask a pointed question and you will get a profound answer. Isabella may be the “missing piece” you need at the end of a stressful season.

Otherwise your best coxswain will vanish, and you will never know that she was gone.

Preston Promoter“You mad bro?”

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Preston is a bro. He is the A-team. At least that is where he believes he belongs. Watch out because the V8+ is his boat. He is one of the most competitive athletes on the team, and makes up for his small stature with his big and commanding voice. To be honest, Preston can be a total %#&!?, but that is how he rolls…

Strengths:

“Why would you want Preston in your boat?” The answer is simple. He gets it done. He is aggressive, and is constantly scheming up ways to win. He is the coxswain that you need with 250 meters to go. Is there a race plan? Scrap it. It’s all about the battle. The chess match is on, and he has stalked and scoped out all the other coxswains and athletes before your race. If there was a publicly televised weigh-in for coxswains, Preston would fight all the other coxswains and the officials.

Needs to work on:

Slow down bro. We need you to focus. Every practice is not a race, and sometimes we need you start paying attention to details. When Preston is bored he may find ways to make things competitive or stir up trouble on the team. It is not that he is manipulative; it is just that he wants a challenge. Give him one. “Preston, practice this drill, and I want your boat to master it by the end of practice”. Let him work his charm. He can be the best, and you just need to direct him there.

Otherwise, your best coxswain may find a way to get you out of the boat.

Hunter Harmonizer“We can do this…”

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Artist Credit: ChillyFranco on DevianArt

Hunter is the ultimate cheerleader. He lives for the team, and he will remind everyone why they row. He is the peace maker, and he will check in with each athlete before practice and competition to make sure they are ready. He is the pulse of the team, and knows what everyone is doing before and after practice.

Strengths:

Hunter is the pulse of the boat, and will be sure to tell the coach if anything is wrong. He gets fired up when an athlete performs, and will be exhausted after every erg test because he pours his heart out with them with every personal best and every failure. He trains with the team to stay in good shape and keep his weight down. Hunter wants to know what all the athletes are going through, because he constantly walks around in the shoes of everyone else.

 Needs to work on:

Hunter may be so concerned with pleasing everyone he may forget what his real job is and his role. In the last 500 meters he may hesitate to act. Hunter credits the athletes for every victory, and blames himself for every loss. Remind Hunter why he is important to the team. Praise him for his compassion for his teammates and his passion for the sport.

Otherwise your best coxswain will take his heart and his sleeve to look for a better “team” to motivate.

Moral of the Story

I believe the coxswain is one the most important “athletes” and “coaches” on the team. When the boat shoves off the dock, we are putting the keys to our Ferrari in the hands of this Cameron.

Know your coxswains. Develop them.

Athletes may be strong, but they need a leader to lead them and a “captain” to guide them. Winning the race is not as sweet as tossing your captain in the water following your victory.

Remember, you are the only crew that has earned that honor.

 

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 Thank you coxswains…

On April 2nd, 2016 I hosted “COACHDISC” for coxswains and coaches. This was a different kind of seminar, because we focused more on HOW coxswains say things, rather than WHAT coxswains say! For more information about upcoming seminars, or to register, click on EVENTS.

You don’t have to wait. Find out which coxswain you are! Get your profile now at Regatta Central. Allow 24 hours for processing!

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For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or follow me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“YOU CAN’T ROW AND HOPE…”


You can’t row and hope.” A great man once said.

I use this quote often with my athletes. Every time I use it, I ask them where it came from. I still have not gotten an answer.

Do you know? (Special prize to the first that emails me)

This quote carries a lot of meaning in the sport of rowing. Simply put – you can’t go out on the water hoping that you will win if you have not done all you possibly can.

I believe this quote applies to strength and conditioning and rowing. Rowers and scullers that refuse to train for strength will be at the mercy of the athlete who does train for strength.

One of my favorite quotes from one of my Masters athletes was, “What good is lifting weights when there is six miles of open water to row on…” Fine words from a fine athlete. However, this athlete no longer competes at a high level.

Rowing is an “Aerobic” Sport

My experience as a rower and sculler has taught me that you just cannot go fast if you never train fast. Athletes must follow an organized training program that will build their aerobic capacity and aerobic power over time to peak at their particular event. However, how do rowers and their coaches project speed if they have never physically raced at that speed?

Many young athletes begin with raw strength and power. There is a definitely a genetic advantage to the former football player that decides to pick up an oar and race against you. Give that athlete time to put in some aerobic capacity training and you might be in trouble.

I was at a disadvantage. I gravitated towards rowing because I came from another aerobic sport – cross-country running. I was blessed with the lungs and patience to race the full 2k distance multiple times, however if you put me on the rowing ergometer against some of my bigger, stronger teammates, I would usually lose. If a training session called for 6K test or Hour of Power then I usually could come out on top…

…but the Olympic racing distance is 2000 meters.

In 2005, I lost to my younger brother on a 90 second erg piece. He is 6’6” and can probably still dunk a basketball. As we began the ergometer piece, he went out way too fast. I purposely would bide my time, so I could level him with my sprint. As the clock ticked down, I realized I was going to run out of race course. He defeated me in my prime…

Did he go to the Olympic Trials? No, but I would never have the power that he had.

Unless I trained for it.

There is no time to lift weights

There is not enough focus on strength and conditioning in the United States specifically for rowing athletes. I am not writing about “CrossFit”. There is definitely a place for CrossFit in the world of fitness. Athletes like Erin Cafaro were successful with CrossFit because they found brilliant coaches like Kelly Starrett and Brian MacKenzie to train them individually and correctly.

Every collegiate athlete that I have ever worked with said that their rowing coach did not have time for lifting weights or did not “believe” in it. The strength and conditioning coach at their college or university did not understand the sport of rowing.

Is this really true?

There is no time to program strength and conditioning for your athletes?

I learned everything backwards. I was a  competitive rower  at the end of my rowing career that became a strength and conditioning coach. As a CSCS*D through the National Strength and Conditioning Association I have the ability to train athletes in any sport. I understand how the body moves and how weight lifting affects it. I do not claim to know more about football, basketball, baseball than people who play them competitively.

I do understand rowing.

I know that successful rowers are strong. Athletes like the Sinkovic brothers and Olena Buryak train for months to build large aerobic capacities to travel fast over 2000 meters. Multiple times. Do they also do strength training? If they do, you better get cracking…

Diagrams show that a rowing race is mostly aerobic.

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“Energy Systems in a six-minute race”

That is true…provided that all the athletes in the race can produce the same speed and have similar aerobic capacities. An 2000 meter Olympic race is basically a  “drag race” to see which athlete can maintain their racing speed  and cadence and outlast the competition. That requires Aerobic Capacity and Aerobic Power.

However, when you watch a 2000 meter high school or collegiate race, it is more like watching a prize fight. Some boats start out fast,  and some boats cannot even get off the line with everyone else. Usually a winning boat requires one or two “moves” to knock out other boats. That requires Peak Power and Anaerobic Power.

To improve Peak Power and Anaerobic Power you have to do strength training.

Mobility, stability, flexibility, and strength  for rowers is just a “fad”

Volker Nolte published Rowing Faster in 2005. It is a must have for all rowing coaches.

Rowers must be able to do three things:

  1. Start fast
  2. Maintain
  3. Finish Faster

Ed McNeely, who wrote a fantastic blog on Peak Power contributed the chapter on strength. It’s on page 87, Chapter 8:

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It’s in the Second Edition (2011) as well! Chapter 12, page 163:

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The data he provides is simple:

There are three lifts that each racing class must be proficient at – Deadlift, Bench Pull, and Squat.  Basically  a “Hinge”, “Pull”, and “Squat” exercise.

And for each lift he provides the recommended standards at each level.

Coaches may argue that athletes that they have trained as rowers were successful without having reached those physical goals.

That is wonderful…those athletes are the exception.

Whether I was an elite rowing coach or Masters coach,  I  would want make sure that my athletes had all the tools for competing in their racing class.  Our athletes should be proficient in all of these lifts, and close to the recommended standards if they want to be successful in this sport.

It was true over 10 years ago, and it is still true today.

 Get Screened or Get injured

Before putting weights in your athletes’ hands, have they been examined by a fitness professional or physical therapist to make sure there are no underling physical issues?

In November, I wrote an article for Rowing Recruiting about the “Next Evolution” in rowing training. In the article, I interviewed some top, well respected, and qualified coaches that felt that coaches need to take a step back when it comes to  implementing their training programs.

It isn’t really an evolution. It is more bringing awareness to coaches that if their athletes are not being screened at a young age then a “specialized” training program may be sending down the road for poor performance and potential injury.

Building a solid foundation of mobility, stability, and flexibility for our athletes will allow a coach to successfully implement  a strength training program. Athletes will get stronger, and will less likely get injured.

Collegiate coaches need to decide if their goal is to win races or develop athletes that may have a future at the national, World Championship, or Olympic level.

If  athletes continue to focus just on Aerobic Capacity and Aerobic Power, then they will continue to manage rowing slower than their opponents for a long period of time.

Moral of the Story

The 2015 USRowing Convention was full of smart, capable coaches. Here are a few questions for them:

  1. Will all coaches ever get together and decide a single training standard for the United States and follow through?
  2. Why are our athletes – from high school up to Olympic hopefuls – spending so much time on the water and not any time in the weight room?
  3. Are all of them able to Squat, Bench Pull, and Deadlift well?
  4. Or will they wait until after selection to focus on this?

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Until then, athletes will continue to be left figuring these things out on their own.

 

"Hope..."

“’You can’t row and hope.’ Row and hope. All we did was row and hope…”

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

References

Nolte, Volker (2005). Rowing Faster (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc. Ed McNeely, “Building Strength”. pg. 89, Chapter 8.

Nolte, Volker (2011). Rowing Faster (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, Inc. Ed McNeely, “Training for Strength”. pg. 165, Chapter 12.

Davenport, Michael (2000). USRowing’s Coaching Education: Candidate’s Manual, Level II. Church Hill, MD: SportWork. “Training, Conditioning, and Nutrition.” pg. 102. Chapter 7.

Rowing Recruiting, Next Evolution in Rowing Training, November 2015