“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no “TEAM” in “Rowing” Anymore…

straight four

Photo/Video Credit: Gus Rodriguez, 1988 Olympic Men’s Rowing 4- Final

Winter is finally over.

In the United States, we were very lucky to have such a mild winter. I am very excited to watch the spring and summer racing seasons unfold.

On-the-water racing began yesterday in Philadelphia. Colleges and universities start officially racing over the next few weeks. Olympic hopefuls begin their quest at the 2016 US Rowing Olympic Trials in Sarasota, FL over a month from now.

With the massive shift from ergometer and land training to on-the-water training, there should also bring a focus on athletes learning to move a boat together.

“Rowing is the ultimate team sport…”

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Photo Credit: John Graves, Twitter, Trinity College, 2005 Henley Royal Regatta

Not so much.

It has become apparent from our rowing society and even the World Rowing Federation, FISA, with their recent proposal to eliminate boat classes  (and add more small boats) from the 2020 Olympics Games, that rowing is shifting away from the ultimate team sport.

Isn’t that what we rowers pride ourselves on?

Nine individuals (coxswain included) attempt to get into a boat and pull as hard and as straight as they can to win. Each athlete focuses on what he or she can do to make the boat go faster.  However, when the boat fails, athletes and coach look for the individual or individuals that are to blame.

In the United States, we only celebrate the team aspect of sports after a team wins a major championship like the Super Bowl or the Women’s World Cup. Most of the media focus is still on the individual and their own personal journey.

“What is your role?”

I do encourage my athletes to use their own personal journeys as a  foundation for motivation. I am realizing more that in order to have success in a team sport, the focus must shift to how my athletes can contribute and support the team.

 “What is your role on the team?”

Athletes may describe the position they play, and their how their focus must be on the jobs that position is responsible for. They are a pitcher; they focus on balls, strikes, and pitch count. They are a wide receiver; they focus on running routes, getting open, and moving the chains. They are a power forward; they focus on rebounding, posting up, and playing defense.

Rowing should be very simple because athletes are repeating the same task over and over again.  Yet, it becomes complicated because athletes and coaches seem to approach this simple task differently.

“What is your role on the team?”

Many rowers have difficulty answering this question. The usual response is, “Pull as hard as I can.” When I ask why they have to focus on pulling hard, their response is, “So I can keep my seat in the boat.”

“Boat line-ups are never final until…”

Photo Credit: Viking Books, The Boys in the Boat

Photo Credit: Viking Books, The Boys in the Boat

Coaches spend an enormous amount of their time, effort, and energy on pitting athletes against each other during winter training.

“You need this erg score to compete at the varsity level…”

Therefore, high school athletes and their parents end up obsessing over their status on the team, and stressing over erg scores because of college recruiting. Collegiate athletes are tested weekly, even daily, to the point that “keeping their seat” is more important than studying.

Boat line-ups might not be set until the final championship regatta. By that time, the athletes do not trust each other anymore. Half the athletes do not believe their teammates should even be in the boat. The other half wish they were in a better boat.

George Pocock said that rowing is a “symphony of motion.”

I understand that internal competition teaches athletes to be competitive. It makes them tougher. It helps them understand they have to work hard to get what they want in life. However,  it doesn’t teach them to “play nice” together.

“United we stand; Divided we fall”

I can be critical. I have first-hand experience.

As an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, I forgot to teach my freshmen lightweights how to row well with one another. The goal should have been preparing them to compete at the varsity level, instead of seat racing them week after week to find the “best” line up.

I should have allowed my novice rowers to stay together and learn to row, because novice year is a special time that will either make you a rower for life or make you quit. I was too focused on making a great impression as a first year collegiate coach.

Before that, my failure in training for Beijing in 2008 was not developing real relationships with any of my training teammates. We were united in our quest to make the US National Team, but our coach was only focused on making the fastest line up. Competing against each other made us lose sight of why we were at Penn AC Rowing Association in the first place.

The legend of Penn AC was born from Coach Ted Nash’s ability to bring “rejected” athletes together for a common cause. That was the brilliance of the “Killer B’s”, the United States Men’s Four without Coxswain, at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Four different men who were taught by one legendary coach to trust each other just enough.

 

“Building Trust”

 How do we build trust?

It is much easier to attract and convince athletes to trust in a new training program, winning results, or cutting edge technology and facilities. It is one of the main reasons coaches attend the US Rowing Convention every year. We flock to seminars that promise to reveal “secrets” of how top rowing programs are making their boats go faster.

There are no seminars teaching coaches to inspire and communicate better. If you happened to attend a seminar on building team culture, it eventually morphs into a round table on how athletes today are “entitled, disrespectful, and do not know how to work hard… and their parents are worse…”

Not all US Rowing coaches are like this. Cornell Lightweight Head Coach, Chris Kerber is one coach that gets it.

I know he does. I sat next to him last summer and observed and listened to how he coaches athletes. Rowing News writer, Jen Whiting, wrote an article about him as  “The Innovator.” Much of the article focuses mostly his individual accolades as an athlete and his success as a coach. But you can read between the lines. Kerber emphasizes team and athlete accountability. There is no mention of individual effort.

 Moral of the Story

Why has the team aspect of rowing in the United States begun to fade?

Even if a coach can create a team culture of “athlete accountability”, it still requires all the athletes to believe in that culture. As an athlete, I can hold myself accountable. I can also hold my teammates accountable. It doesn’t mean that I am going to  overextend myself and help my teammates achieve their own personal goals.

This type  of “team” culture can still fail.

I read rowing websites and rowing message boards, and everything covered still focuses on the individual – their achievements, their stories, their rowing “secrets”. Individuals are judged based on their ability to perform or their failure to step up to the plate.

The athletes need to believe in the team culture, AND they need to believe in each other. They need to appreciate each others’ strengths and weaknesses and support each others’ efforts.

Trust is the missing component for boats that fail to cross the finish line first. This includes coxswains. This includes Masters athletes. This includes Olympic hopefuls. Talent, ability, and desire only takes us so far.

Until rowing coaches begin teaching athletes how to trust one another, rowing may no longer be a “team” sport in 2020.

Photo Credit: new.com.au, Australian Men's Four without Coxswain, London Olympics 2012, Silver Medal

Photo Credit: new.com.au, Australian Men’s Four without Coxswain, London Olympics 2012, Silver Medal

So much for the symphony…

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.

This week, I launched my “Balance” Page. In order for athletes to learn balance they need to understand themselves. Understanding themselves and trusting themselves allows them to trust others and their teammates. For teams that wish to learn more about themselves, and find that edge, click on “Balance”.

 

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues – by Strength Coach Will

I am pleased this week to post a guest article from Will Ruth, also known as “Strength Coach Will.” Coach Ruth writes this week about keeping a positive “mindset”  when recovering from an injury. Enjoy!

PHOTO Tohn Keagle

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues

by “Strength Coach Will” Ruth

Injury risk is an inevitable part of life and competitive sport. The first step to developing a positive mindset is accepting this risk and destigmatizing injury should it occur. Getting injured is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it is a risk that we all take as athletes and active people. In this article, I’ll explain how you can do everything you can to prevent injury and how to keep your cool should injury occur.

I do want to include a disclaimer here to say that sports are often a huge part of people’s lives, personal identity, and self-esteem, as well as a method for coping with stress, and it can be very difficult when an injury takes this away. If you or one of your athletes or teammates is struggling with depression-like symptoms, please refer to a mental health counselor or sport psychology counselor. The Applied Association of Sport Psychology is a great resource and maintains a list of certified consultants.

Control the “Controllables,” Discard What Remains

Maintaining physical readiness to train is at the forefront of every responsible athlete and coach’s mind. Even though we all accept a risk of injury training and competing in sport, injury prevention is a critical part of maintaining this readiness. Here are the core tenets of injury risk reduction that are 100% under your control:

1. Understand your sport, its injury risks, and safe training practices.

2. Learn how to prevent those injuries and then take action to do so.

3. Learn how to lift correctly to avoid compromising positions, then strength train to prevent imbalance injuries and teach correct motor patterns.

4. Stick to a regimen of warming up, cooling down, and stretching and mobility work to make sure your body is prepared for training and competition.

5. Hydrate and eat well to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to sustain hard training and achieve excellent performance.

6. Know your body and be honest with yourself. Know when to push and when to hold back in training to avoid sickness, injury, and over training.

While freak accidents do occur, the vast majority of sports injuries can be traced back to failure to adhere to those six tenets. Think of when you’ve been injured—were you consistently practicing all six at the time?

The next thing that can really derail an injured athlete’s mindset is the ensuing shock and surprise, often followed by disappointment and sometimes depression. This is where it really becomes critical to maintain a mindset of acceptance, positivity, and improvement to focus on the activities that you are able to do while recovering from injury.

Physical discomfort and inconvenience will always remain a part of injury, and what a positive approach seeks to eliminate is mental discomfort and frustration. The mental mindset to adopt is that your sport is now recovering from injury and getting back to rowing. Successful athletes who overcome injury apply the same determination, self-motivation, and drive to their rehab protocol as they did to sport training.

Remember, you’re only focusing on things you can control and positive action that you can take. Don’t get bogged down in the “can’t do’s,” such as, “I can’t row,” “I can’t lift,” “I can’t run.” Think about what you CAN do and apply yourself fully to that. Find ways to train around your injury. Can you use the stationary bike, run, or focus on one half (upper/lower) of your body with weights? Can you use this extra time to improve mobility and flexibility on a non-injured area? PT’s or athletic trainers will be able to provide specifics on what you can do to be as productive as possible during recovery.

You’re Still Part of the Team

An injured athlete is still an athlete and a teammate, so every effort should be made to keep them engaged with the sport and team. So long as it will not negatively impact their recovery, injured rowers can still attend practice and ride the launch, be there for their teammates during erg sessions, and stay involved in the team at social occasions. Often, athletes who are allowed to isolate themselves just fade away and find it hard to return to the team even when healthy. This is also where peers and team captains are relied upon to keep their teammates feeling engaged. A text or phone call of, “hey, we really miss you at practice, will we see you at _____?” can be very meaningful for an injured teammate struggling with motivation to return. Think about how you would you want your teammates to respond if you were the one injured.

Injured athletes are often worried about being in the way at practice. Here’s a list of some things rowers can help with while they’re recovering from an injury:

  • Checking gas and loading the launch
  • Holding a camera from the launch for filming
  • Holding the spotlight if it’s dark
  • Help out by writing down times during erg sessions
  • Is your team short on coxswains? I had snapping hip syndrome and could not row. I showed up for practice anyway. I was heavy for a coxswain, but when one of the coxswains didn’t show up to practice, I was able to jump in and allow that boat to get out on the water.
  • Collecting shoes, oars, and water bottles
  • Benefit from the instruction at practice. Look at your teammates and try to see what the coach sees and it will make you a better rower when you get back in the boat.
Have a Plan to Get Back on Board

One of the hardest things for eager athletes to avoid is rushing back from injury. After days or weeks away from practice, it’s hard to not want to scratch that itch right away. However, there needs to be a plan to return to training in progressive increments. Check out this graphic for an illustration of why this is—in the study, athletes who returned to do 100% of their normal training workload after only doing 40% of that workload during rehab had a 28% chance of re-injuring during their first week back from practice.

info Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CB708wHXIAAmqrB.jpg

While an athlete with a week long sickness or slight muscular strain may be able to return relatively quickly, a fracture, broken bone, torn muscle, or serious illness will need a more gradual progression. A general rule of thumb is to start with 50% of your pre-injury volume and add 5-10% (meters or minutes) from there. For example, if you were doing five two-hour practices per week before your injury, start with five one-hour practices for the first week back. This requires the coach to not only monitor training minutes, but to have a plan to swap in another rower for your place. If an erg session was prescribed 3×18’, start with 3×9’ the first week back. Your goal is to leave each session feeling like you could have done more. This may be frustrating to some athletes, but it’s a much better path than re-injury.

One final step that can be difficult for many athletes is mentally moving on from the injury after returning to rowing. A key tip here is to focus on what you DO want to have happen, not all the possible negative outcomes. With great dedication to the rehab protocol, a gradual progression to return to practice, and a positive mindset upon return, athletes can go on to put the injury behind them and focus on performance.

will ruth infographic

Infographic Credit: Strength Coach Will Ruth

WILL RUTH

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle – “Strength Coach” Will Ruth

Will Ruth (BS, NSCA-CSCS, USA-Weightlifting L1, US-Rowing L2) is the strength coach for the Western Washington University men’s club crew team and is the author of “Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance,” the only comprehensive strength training manual just for rowers published by Rowperfect UK. Will posts new articles every Monday on his website, www.strengthcoachwill.com, where you can find more resources for physical and mental training for youth, collegiate, and masters rowers. A former rower, Will keeps his own competitive fire going with the sport of Strongman and also coaches high school lacrosse.

 

Thank you Coach Ruth! For more info on AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.