How Top Coxswains Learn to Diagnose Technical Errors

By Sparks Editorial Staff | January 9, 2014

We've been looking at the core skills that top coxswains use, but don't talk about. In the last article, we discussed how top coxswains can learn from rowers’ criticism about how to give criticism productively and positively – and get away with calling out the important things when they’re not getting fixed.
But how do we diagnose those technical errors in the first place? There are a few ways to get better at this (asking coaches, observing coaches, listening to rowers’ suggestions), but the best coxswains have another core skill in their employ that helps them supercharge this ability.coxingskills

It’s a self-evaluation exercise that requires a deceptively simple shift in thinking.

You have to be prepared to recognize and acknowledge when things did not go your way, then decide what you can do to change that.

It actually isn’t even about blame. It’s not about whether or not something was “your fault.” It’s about the fact that, for some period of time, you and your rowers were unhappy, and there’s only one person in your employ to make sure that that thing does not happen again.

That person is you.

So, when the boat ends up rowing in its own puddles or gets passed by another boat or falls to pieces at the 1000m mark, you get to decide, unilaterally, what you might be able to do to make that bad thing not happen anymore.

Also, when your boat does something awesome, you get to decide, unilaterally, what you might be able to do to ensure that that thing keeps happening in the future.

This is no more true at any other time than when trying to correct technique in a boat.
If you’re asking for a certain correction, and the boat makes the change and gets faster, then you can make a note of the situation and what you did that might have made things better.

Conversely, if you’re calling for a certain technical error and it’s not making the boat faster, either a) the rowers are not executing on your call or b) they are executing on it, but it doesn’t increase boatspeed. We already know how to utilize rower feedback to reduce the likelihood that we get caught on the first of these two failure points. It is the second one where you gather the best data about which technical changes work when. That data (which you’re hopefully recording after practice in some sort of coxswain journal) will help you assess the situation more quickly and accurately next time.

This sounds obvious, but the active acknowledgement of helpful versus unhelpful attempts at technical changes works far faster than the passive expectation that you will “gain experience over time.” It’s a self-coaching exercise that the top coxswains systematize to use in their everyday training regimens.

- Chelsea Dommert