On coaching Coxswains

The coxswain, 8th and 7th position rowers in a...Image via Wikipedia

I am now coaching a University team and while getting them ready for the big races of their season, I pulled together some thoughts on coaching coxswains. 

This is an edited version of what I sent to the group.

Leading up to the University races, the principal job of the coxswain is to assist the coach in bringing the crew together, getting them rowing well and executing the coaches instructions on the water.  So you are steersman, in-boat coach and trainer all in one. 

This means that you need to be prepared every day.  Think of yourself as the person in the crew who knows the answers to anything a crew member might ask

  • Read the crew list and know who is sitting in which seat each day so you can call them by name (more effective to call a name than a seat number)
  • Print it out if you can’t remember.
  • Know what’s on the training programme each day for water and land training. 
  • If you aren’t sure how the coaches want the work done, ask before you boat
  • Listen to what the coach says and then repeat for the crew – if possible using the exact same words the coach used.
  • After the outing, get the crew together for a debrief about how the outing went, how they responded to your calls, how well the work pieces and drills were executed
  • If the coach isn’t in the boat bay for the crew debrief, it’s your job to feed the information back to the coach and find out what s/he thought about the outing.

Ask for coaching for yourself – from the crew and from the coach.  Discuss which calls work, which were not so good.  Find out why.  The crew is in a good position to tell you how to improve your calls. If you didn’t train with the crew in the previous outing, speak to them before going on the water to find out how that outing went and what they want you to learn from it so you can continue good things into the next outing.

 
Here are some other things to think about:

  • Which words do they respond best to?
  • How long should you leave them on a particular focus before moving onto the next technical point?
  • How quickly should you praise them?  After they got something right in one stroke or after they’ve held a change for ten strokes?
  • What do you say when they ‘fade’ off a change you called?
  • When you call a change, some things need to start changing at the catch and others need to start changing at the finish.  Make sure your calls are correctly synchronised with where the change starts from.


The crew as a whole cannot see you so your strength is your voice and the manner in which you deliver your calls. Vary the tone and intensity of your voice e.g. If warming up then getting into UT2 rowing you would talk and encourage with a tone that is suitable for the work piece and if carrying out 3x2km pieces at race pace you would be more assertive and demanding and direct with your calls. There would be a sense of urgency in your voice. Experiment to find out what the crew likes and responds best to.

All crews are different so be flexible as you may need to vary your approach to get the best of 'YOUR' crew!

Grant Craies

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