How to Cox a Masters Rowing Crew

So you’ve succumbed to the entreaties of the Masters rowers in your Club and agreed to cox them for this outing, even (and there are no limits to the cunning and guile age brings) agreed that you might be available for that regatta comfortably distant in the future.

There are some things you should know before you get on the water and some things that you’ll probably unlearn while you’re out there.

USRowing Masters Nationals Day 3_ 4
USRowing Masters Nationals Day 3_ 4 (Photo credit: michaelwm25)

One of the first things to find out is just who you’ve got in the boat:

  1. Is this a group of forty-somethings who played rugby together and thought they should try something new last year;
  2. Or is it a group of Mums whose children row and who are spending so much time at the river that they might as well get out in the boat as well;
  3. Or have you got that crew of yesteryear who’ve finally got enough time to themselves again and are re-living their youth
  4. You might even have those fanatics who’ve never stopped and are still putting in the same effort long into the time when you’d expect a bit more time in the rocking chair as the norm.

Find out what rowing the crew is capable of

The thing is you won’t be able to tell just by looking; be prepared to be surprised, very surprised by what these grey-haired types can and want to do.  Ask questions, find out how much rowing they’ve done, how much training they’re doing and what they want to do today.

Get them to tell you what their normal routine is, how they usually handle the boat and carry it down to the water –  yes old people are set in their ways but it’s also that age means an accumulation of insult and injury to the body.  She’s on stroke side because she injured her shoulder surfing; he’s sitting on the pontoon to get into the boat because he’s just had a hip operation; they can’t lift the boat above their heads anymore but with an average age of 70 being a little weaker is perhaps expected; you’ll have to speak up because a few can’t hear so well – there are all sorts of problems that they have already solved or at least have found a way of working around.

The Coxwain makes a big difference

In the boat you’ll meet all manner of rowing but one thing you can almost guarantee: the crew won’t have had much coaching either recently or at all.  You probably won’t even have a coach alongside you.

Here’s your chance to make a real difference to their session on the water and here’s what I recommend:

Choose one thing to improve

Let’s say they’re all rushing into the catch. Start with the legs.  They’re the last things to lose their strength in this aging process and if you get their movement to change then you get the whole boat to feel the change.  So we’re rushing into the catch – let’s push our legs out a little longer, hold them stretched for longer and create some time.

Good – now praise them.  They know about the things they can no longer do; let’s make sure that they are reminded of the things they can and  still do well.

Repeat and tell them what’s happening to the boat now that they’ve made the change.  You’re setting up their own feedback loop so they can make changes when they haven’t got a coach and so that they react more quickly when you want the same change.

Try focusing on the hands next.  We don’t need a lot of strength in our hands to row so any aging here shouldn’t have a big effect on how you row.  But what we do with our hands does, so again you can have a real influence on the boat.  Still working on that approach to the catch you might suggest that they watch their hands go over their knees before they start rolling their seats forward – getting more time and a better position.

Or how about rolling the blade square in time with the wheels, starting when the wheels start and taking a long time to roll the handle in their hands, smoothly.  Or taking time to really watch their hands as they roll over the side of the boat slowly.

Play your voice as an instrument so that they can take their time from you ‘rooollllllllllllllllll your hands’ and praise them, when you feel the changes.

Now try an exercise.  You’ll know by now which things you said made for the biggest changes so you can go two ways here.  Either really emphasise the thing that made the boat go fastest (‘Wow, did you notice how much time you had on the way forward when we held our legs down for longer.  This exercise will help you do that better.”) or take something that didn’t go so well (maybe they’ve never been taught how to hold the handle and so the death grip they’re using is making it really hard to square up smoothly) and see if the exercise can help bring the crew together in either movement or understanding.

Your first crew outing

First time out, I’d take the first option – it’ll give you all confidence in your actions and in each other. Finish off with some rowing and introduce some racing.  Even 10 strokes will do (“we’re 20 strokes out from the start, let’s push out our legs to get some more time, to get our race rhythm, 10 strokes with long legs, this time, now . . .”).

Social crew outings

And I hope you left some time for that coffee or beer afterwards.  The social element plays a big part in Masters rowing – you just wait to see how young they all are once they get to that regatta and the party afterwards….

Coxmate amplifiers have a wide range of volume settings – perfect for Masters Rowers

5 thoughts on “How to Cox a Masters Rowing Crew

  1. Matthew says:

    This is a perfectly example of a condescending toned article. It is apparent that you must have had some horrible experiences while coxing for Masters rowing, and for that I apologize. I have found masters rowing to be much more focused and driven than high school or college level rowers.

    For those coxswains out there reading this article, do not go into coxing ANY team with this attitude that “They aren’t REAL rowers”. This is childish, pompous, and arrogant. Treat everyone with respect and focus on getting the best from each tower and the boat as a whole, regardless of their experience OR age level.

    A good coxswain is humble, yet confident.

  2. Bill says:

    Spot on Matthew. As a tragic masters rower we still love the sport for all the right reasons but don’t want a coxen who treats us any differently to anyone else. We may not be as strong but you can bet our ticker has not diminished. Many of us train 5-7 times a week. In clubs we are usually there first and leave last because we fix the boats and attend to things around the shed. A great majority of clubs would not exist without Masters who fund the boats and most importantly share their love of the sport by coaching younger and older athletes alike.
    We don’t expect special treatment. Drive us hard and we will respect you a lot more.

  3. Heather parry says:

    I fully agree with sentiments, I am a masters (67) and also coach and cox other crews. The questions I ask are ” are you competing any time soon, what distance is the race, how hard do you want me to work you on this session?” If it’s recreational, ” what technical points do you want to work on to have a good row”.

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