Coxing long races – what coxes need to say

Womens Eights Head of the River Race, London UK

What should a cox say during a long (15 minute) race to keep the rowers motivated, without sounding repetitive?

A long race is a challenge. Happily there’s a great solution.

Plan the race beforehand  ok

Take a look at the landmarks (bridges, bends etc), know where the straights are and how long they are, decide where your starting and finishing sprints begin and end.

Also know your crew – what are the technique things which they need to be reminded of to keep their pattern of rowing efficient and effective? Discuss this with the coach.

What you need to do is to divide the race into segments. Think quarters. Then overlay the landmarks and write it out like a list. Something like this


First Bridge

Long straight

Second Bridge

Tight bend to RHS

Short straight

Finish line

Then you insert into these the quarters of the race. It may help to have distance markers aligned with the quarters and the landmarks as well.


First Bridge

Long straight – first 500m

Half way point

Long straight – second 500m

Second bridge

You get the idea. Now you have landmarks and distance markers.

And the next part is to overlay some pre-prepared tactics.

Long Distance Head Races are popular

These are designed to help keep the average boat speed up – keep the technique optimal and give the crew something to focus on.

So you will have some power pushes. How many strokes? What does the crew do to prepare for the power push? (do you sit up 3 strokes prior, or check the boat is level etc); What happens after the power push ends? – how do you prevent the boat speed dropping down?

The technique points you get from your coach and these should be planned as 10 – 20 stroke focuses. … You can tell the crew HOW to do the focus so calling “Next ten focus on catches by squaring early” or “next ten accelerating the finish by drawing the inside hand in the last quarter of the power phase”.

All these technique focuses need to be practiced so the crew is REALLY GOOD at doing them.



Join these two together

Your job as cox now is to take the list of race features and plan your pushes and your technique around the features. So you insert a sequence in every time you know you are going to have to steer by doing a power ten push on the last bit of straight before you have to steer (this increases the boat speed before you slow it down by steering) and then you can push for another 10 after you have stopped steering. Another thing is to push into and out of bridges and also through the distance markers.

Each focus needs advance preparation (mentally getting the athletes ready by telling them you’re about to do it, how to approach it) and then you do the thing itself. Minimum is 10 strokes for each one.

If you have a Coxmate GPS you can see average boat speed and telling the crew what this is can be helpful so they know how efficient each move and push has been.

So write this out in full in your document adding in the pushes, technique around the framework of the landmarks and distance markers.


Start (sequence of strokes)

Focus on long strokes for 20

Power push into bridge

First Bridge

Power push out of bridge

Technique onto the catches

Power push as steering ends and we move into the straight

Long straight – first 500m

Power push for 20 through the 500m mark

you get the idea…..

This is the BASE RACE PLAN. Print it out, put int a plastic wallet and tape it to your thigh so you can look down and see it during the race as a reminder. Use highlighter pen if you need for key points not to be missed.

Race Day

On the day, what happens can be very, very different.

Say there’s a giant head wind – you need to revise the technique to be very focused on techniques to take advantage of a head wind. Say there are crews to be overtaken – how to throw in extra moves to overtake and then get clear water. if you are being overtaken, have the crew hold off the other guys.

There will be plenty to say without being repetitive.

A skilful coxswain also judges distances and tells the crew how far to another crew or a landmark so they can focus on just that one marker and mentally tick it off as being passed.

Overlay all this with periods of QUIET. While the crew is pushing for 10, you don’t need to say anything as long as they are being effective. But come stroke 8/9/10 you may focus them on maintaining the boat speed after the push by removing extraneous movement in their body, by telling them the boat speed and telling then to transition off the push and into the main race pace rhythm.

The key is to practice everything beforehand. Know HOW to do each move and have the crew know what you MEAN by everything you say and WHAT they have to do and HOW to do it.

Have a great race!

3 thoughts on “Coxing long races – what coxes need to say

  1. Graham Cawood says:

    I question the use of ‘power pushes’.
    Machines such as cars are more efficient when driven at a steady speed. Humans?
    Well practiced rowers would decide the steady work rate they think they can use to last the race distance. As the race progresses they may alter this a little depending on how they feel. Each day is different for us,, and we can only know our potential in a race once it has started. Power alterations would be best planned to last for the rest of the race.
    After a power push the crew relaxes to the lower work rate,, and I wonder if this ,’relax, reduce, drop, or lower requirement is bad psychologically in a race.
    Assuming the cox doesn’t call for power pushes, what is he going to say? Endless orders for more work, calling the beat, light hearted banter, or silence? Worth testing before racing, because a poor technique could seriously affect work output. Crews will also react differently to coxes, depending on the crew members.

  2. John Hill says:

    Let’s hear it for the coxes! And allow me start by acknowledging the massive contribution a good cox can make to the performance of a crew. Probably. Having said that, I have to agree with the gist of Graham’s observations above.
    Much of the perceived benefit provided by a cox seems to presume on the tendency of an athlete to underwork. And, in your typical club crew, there is merit in this.
    In particular, rowing with crews where strokes vary in effectiveness (due as much to inconsistent technique / accuracy rather than from applied effort), the resistance which is felt, for the same intended effort, differs, it’s like having someone altering the fan adjustment on an erg every couple of strokes. This is not conducive to the steady application of maximum sustainable effort.
    Maintaining a sustainable (“red line”) output is difficult and therefore an athlete might find themselves unable to give their best – except when a call is made for a coordinated “push”.
    As far as the efficacy of power pushes is concerned, how many athletes would choose to have such tactics introduced into their 5k erg tests? Indeed into any erg test? What evidence is there – anecdotal or otherwise – that using a cox to call for non-steady state pushes (or equivalent input) during erg tests, has improved results?
    There is clearly a psychological element involved and keeping the crew simmering (“on the boil” sounds too excessive!) is a vital component to an optimum performance. Physiologically, however, it makes no sense to be dipping into unsustainable output levels unless you’re in a crew with sufficient inconsistency and inefficiency to require the focus to be repeatedly returned to the actual effort (and coordination) applied.
    Finally, it is a fact that, understood or not, almost anything the cox calls will help the crew – presuming it carries some element of meaning. Having all eight (or whatever) focus on one aspect of the stroke will benefit the outcome. Their contribution to improved performances is rarely appreciated sufficiently, so please don’t let this comment be seen as critical of coxes, only an indication of why their work is so often required.

  3. Pingback: Coxing long races (without sounding repetitious) • Rowperfect UK | I need input

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