Photo provided by Lorenzo Perez
Alumnus Lorenzo Perez gathered information from his rowing and coxing experience that could help new and experienced coxswains.
By Lorenzo Perez
LBS Rowing Alumnus Fall 2006-Spring 2008
Being a coxswain is one of the most difficult tasks I have taken upon in my life. It’s not an easy thing to do, as it requires not only a strategic mind, but also a level of confidence in your ability to lead.
It’s easy to become distracted when you’re just starting out as a new coxswain because you really have no idea what you’re doing. I had the benefit of learning to row first before I became a coxswain, so I had an idea of what it felt like to be in a boat and moving it.
If there’s anything I can recommend to a new coxswain, it is to get in the boat one day and row it. Ask your teammates to take you out to learn how to row (and yes, even the erg). To me, it’s the only way you’ll understand what your teammates are physically going through, so you can figure out the kinds of calls to make during practice and most importantly, during races.
Lining up that boat to a dock is easier than you think but it takes a certain skill and almost sixth sense to understand the speed of your boat and pace at which you’re moving and asking which rowers to lightly tap their oars to get you right in place. It’s a skill I wasn’t good at for the first few times, but it comes to you as you practice. When you get in that seat, the boat then becomes an extension of yourself. Through your verbal commands and slight adjustment of the rudder, you are in control of where your boat goes, while your crew is in charge of keeping that speed.
Being a coxswain is also one of the most nerve-wracking things to undertake as that boat is your baby in and out of the water, especially during big races where there are dozens of trailers and boats and people. Trying to maneuver the boat is another skill that is just as important as being able to do it in the water.
Another really important skill is to understand tempo, and being a band geek for numerous years, it also came in handy for crew. Your rowing pace becomes very mechanical and also somewhat musical once your boat gets into a rhythm, and it can be cool to watch from afar with a skilled crew.
One of my most popular calls during races or practices was “hit, send” to coincide with that swoosh and oar hitting the water with “send” coinciding with the movement of the water and the pull.
But your verbal calls have to match your tempo or else you will be out of sync and your crew will be annoyed. I had trouble in the beginning when it came to starts, yelling “HALF! HALF! THREE-QUARTER, FULL!” For me, it was really tough to verbally keep in sync with my teammates actual positions on their seat, and we’d have a lot of difficulty getting in sync until it finally happened, and I knew when to say those words at just the right time their oars hit the water.
NEVER RELY ON YOUR RUDDER. I made the mistake of overusing the adjustment of the rudder early on. That wire is there for slight adjustments and to help guide during sharp turns. If you’re rowing in a straight line, essentially you should only be moving that wire millimeters. However, if you see yourself using it more you have to feel your boat and make adjustments because some rowers are stronger than others (and one side can be stronger than the other) it’s your job and the coach’s job to help adjust that if need be.
There are days where you may feel a bit discouraged when you fail or don’t understand the pains your crew is experiencing. But rather than try to scream at each other while you’re on the boat., it’s best to take it off the water, talk in a civil manner, and discuss how you can work with your crew to understand their issues with your calls.
Communication is key for anything you’ll do in life and it’s the only way you’ll truly be able to meld with your crew. They look to you to tell them what to do, and they rely on your guidance to make it to the finish line or run through those drills. Your role is just as important, if not more than that of your rowers. Their safety is in your hands. So, if they’re getting angry and mouthing off to you, it’s because they might feel a bit unsafe, especially with a new coxswain. It’s a lot of pressure to have on your shoulders, but it’s worth it if you can prove yourself to your rowers, they will trust you to make the right calls and steer them towards that finish line.