Trying Something New

By Marcus McElhenney | May 11, 2012

This summer, I decided to think outside the box.  What if we could coach only coxswains directly on the water for a week or so? I'm not talking about minimally involving the rowers; I'm talking about not coaching them at all and focusing actively for the first time on coxswains. Would it be too intense? Or would it up coxswains' game beyond belief? Sparks may be willing to bet on the latter.

In my own coxing career, I've recently been in a lot of different boats with a lot of different people.  Knowing that there is no ‘magic’ call that works for everyone, I try various things to improve boat speed and the rowing of the guys in my boat until something works.  The biggest mistake that most coxswains make is they keep saying the same thing over and over to a particular athlete.  They expect a change, but never get one.  “Johan-Stop skying your blade…stop skying your blade…stop skying your blade.”  The problem is that Johan continues to sky his blade or maybe fixes it for a stroke or two then go back to the way he was rowing. The coxswain keeps repeating themselves, making everyone in the boat a little more frustrated and tense.  How about switching it up?  “Johan-carry those hands a little higher.”  And all of the sudden it clicks and his blade is at the proper height.  This sounds simple, but I have seen very few coxswains actually do this.

Simply, there is so much going on that it is hard for them to stop and think about saying something new or different.  Before practice, prepare a few new and different calls.  Or think of a different way of saying the same things you are already saying in your boat.  Then when you hit that rough patch of the row where you are not getting anywhere, try your new calls.  You'll see an immediate difference for two reasons.  The first is that you are paying more active attention to an issue in the boat and addressing it in a multifaceted and purposeful manner.  The second is that you will generally be directing athletes on what to do as opposed to what not to do.  Telling someone to carry their hands a bit higher is directional, specific and helpful.  The goal is to make things easier on your athletes and you.

As for what I mentioned about trying something new in terms of actively focusing on coxswains, stay tuned...we all might be about to make a major jump in speed.