010 | Practice Management
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I'm Anne, I'm Breana, and I'm Sally and we're three coxswains with over 50 years’ experience in the seat. We have decided to share our knowledge with coxswains everywhere via this podcast and ultimately we hope to create a community among our audience where coxswains can learn from each other.
BREANA: Today we wanted to talk about the topic of practice management and we want to open by just describing what that is and why it's something that you should care about. And as you'll see throughout the course of our discussion, practice management entails skills like efficiently and effectively running a practice so that athletes can get the most out of their workout and you can best utilize the time that your team is there at the boathouse ... or on land. This entails things like: being where the coach wants you to be, running the workout as the coach has asked, communicating effectively with other coxswains so that things don't go wrong (you know, having to restart a piece ... something like that). So these skills are kind of under-valued and under emphasized oftentimes in coxing content and in discussions between coaches and coxswains because there's a big focus on things like motivation and that being an important skill. But in fact, I would argue that practice management is one of the most important skills that you will deploy on a daily basis. And so it's something again that goes unnoticed because coaches aren't always able to convey the importance of this skill - in part perhaps because their own recent experience in the seat themselves (if they were rowers) was probably at the end of their career with a coxswain who was perhaps very skilled and so they may not even be aware anymore (you know) ... not remembering back to their novice days of what these skills that go into practice management are because it's been a while since they had a coxswain who wasn't deftly handling those skills. That being said, these are still super important and whether a coach can articulate it to you or not, they are probably watching for these things ... because if you show that you can run an effective practice on a day-to-day basis, then that gives the coach confidence that: 1) if they put you in the boat they're gonna get the most out of every day that they're out on the water for practice, and then 2) when they send you off for a race they can trust that you're gonna implement exactly what they want when they can't be there to follow you in a launch anymore.
SALLY: I agree, Breana. This is definitely one of the most critical coxswain skills and I think it's the one that's not often taught. Effective practice management is something that is very slow to build and understand - a bit like remembering 'Rome wasn't built in the day'.
ANNE: I'm really glad that the two of you introduced the topic as you did and I concur it's a vital skill that does take (to Sally's point) a long time to develop. For the interests of this particular episode, we are going to be focusing on practice management while on water, but we should acknowledge the fact that there are aspects of practice management that could be done on land so we may add some information in another episode about practice management on land. But today we're going to focus on the on-water aspect.
BREANA: We want to further emphasize that the benefits of focusing on practice management really go both ways - so you are helping the team to achieve the team's goals and we'll take a moment a little bit later in the episode to kind of talk about what those goals can look like and that's an important thing to always have in mind every day that you go to the boathouse. And a coxswain who is the person who can best help the team achieve their goals is also the coxswain most likely to achieve their personal goals of being chosen for top boats. So again, coaches - even though they can't always articulate it - they really do value these skills. And they want coxswains who can communicate effectively with each other and make decisions as needed in the moment and run effective practices. And that was something that we talked about a little bit with our guest Kayleigh Durm back on Episode 005, so if you haven't had a chance to listen to that episode, it's a really great one - definitely give that a listen and you can get a preview of how some of these skills can really contribute to a well-run practice.
SALLY: A lot of what Kayleigh said is so germane to what we're talking about today. And one of the important things for a coxswain to realize is: every day, every moment, every practice - you can waste time or you can apply your time and resources towards the team goals. And whatever the team goals are - as long as you know them and you understand them - you can better use your moments. Every moment is an opportunity and you need to choose how you are going to make it something that's going to make the team greater,or is it just a moment to live through. And I think it's a very important distinction. I see every moment during a practice is a finite amount of time that we are slowly building towards the final result.
ANNE: I think that also understanding and focusing in on goals is a really great way to structure your approach to practice management. So let's talk for a second about the fact that goals have various lengths of time associated with them, so you know as you end every practice ... you should have accomplished hopefully some of your short-term goals for that practice. So in a particular practice, the coach or you or the team will have some goals for that practice, and then those hopefully will also support the longer-term outcomes which will be (you know) where does your team want to be by the end of the spring season ... or the end of the fall head race season. And then, if you also take a look (trying to keep in mind the even longer-term goals) that might be articulated - which would be 'season' or a year. Some programs are in development and it takes many years to achieve a long-term goal, but you build it. It's sort of like the Russian nesting dolls, you know. You take care of today's practice or the first part of the practice ... the end part of the practice ... and then that builds into what you're trying to accomplish that week ... and then maybe that month ... that season ... and that year. You may want to really consider all aspects of goal achievement as you're going forward.
SALLY: I agree. Every small step can be towards the goal or away from it. Every moment's a choice - choose to make the best of it or choose to waste it.
BREANA: And I'll also add here that you may be in a situation where you feel like your personal goals are not in alignment with the team's goals. Maybe your team has a goal of including everyone and that means mixed boats at regattas ... and your goal personally is to be in the fastest boat that you possibly can. Maybe you have your eye on the national team or on some similar aspiration, but the take-home that we hope you get from this episode is that every practice benefits from being run efficiently. So even the team that's just out there to get people a little bit of exposure and those people (you know) are not interested in being long-term involved in the sport - you still can run that practice as efficiently as possible and help those people get the most out of their practice. So it's definitely something to pay attention to even if you feel a little bit of a misalignment between your personal goals and the team's goals at this time.
SALLY: And even if there is a slight misalignment, understanding and knowing how to be efficient in different environments and different settings is only going to help you when you're facing new and different challenges later. You have more depth and more breadth to draw from.
ANNE: And just as much as we need to prepare for the practice, let's not forget that we need to get ourselves prepared even before the practice starts. So for example, you need to be dressed appropriately and also beforehand visualize how you can most efficiently and effectively get things done during the practice session. It's those tiny moments that make a big difference in terms of the success of the practice and the efficiency so you're not wasting time on non-essential activities. And let's remember that it's a sequence when we're talking about on water practice - there's the whole that turns out at the end, but there are all these little pieces of activities that contribute to the overall running of a practice, right? There are multiple events and actions, so think of it as each little item, but it's woven together to make a successful practice.
SALLY: I think that's very well put, Anne. Just as a skilled coxswain looks ahead and plans how to take a turn minutes ahead of time and anticipates the wind and the current, that's the same skills we have to actualize when working a practice. Just getting the boat down to the dock is not the single focus sentence that I just made - it is a component of many myriad diverse (and often independently thinking) pieces that don't often want to cooperate.
ANNE: Right, right. So how about if we kind of walk through - the three of us - what we think of as some of the components of an on-water practice so that our listeners can say, 'Yep, I've got that one down ... oh, I sometimes I forget this'. How about if we do that?
BREANA: Definitely. And that starts with - as Sally said - looking ahead and seeing what needs to be done as we would on a race course. That starts with: after your own preparation, you need to get all of your rowers together in one place so that looking ahead in a race sense would be: 'I see a boat ahead. I'm a little faster than them (in a head race, let's say). Am I gonna reach them and we're gonna have to go through a bridge abutment together, or can I pass them in time'. What's the decision to be made? And that plays out in a practice setting by seeing - okay I have my lineup. I'm looking around. I see seven of them here. I need to designate someone to find the eighth person, or I need to find that person, or I know that three seat is always gonna have to go get another jacket and refill their water bottle. And so I'm gonna tell them to do that stuff now so that as soon as I see them ready and I get the okay from our coach (if we have one to go out), then we're going. And so it's just seeing all those little moments that (you know) - the quirks of your rowers and trying to help guide them to be ready to be together in one spot and get hands on.
ANNE: Yes, the rowers need to be together and that sounds easy, but I began most of my experiences with masters' clubs and there are all sorts of aspects of getting the people together. It is not a naturally occurring event. It takes some wrangling (right) and the more efficiently I can do that, the quicker we can actually get on the water. And of course once you've got all your rowers - the right rowers in the right place and they understand where they're sitting that day if it varies ...the next aspect is to make sure that somehow the oars and the boat get down to the water. Are there any other aspects that have to be taken care of in advance of getting on the water?
SALLY: One of the things to consider was appreciating how time is moving differently for the eight other people standing around waiting for you to run back to your car, get your water bottle, and run back. To you that happened in a blink of an eye, but to the eight people who were freezing and not rowing and getting impatient, that same span of time seems like an eternity. One of my favorite turns of phrases: ‘The definition of five minutes depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on’. And keep in mind that when people say, ‘Oh I got to run in my car. I'll be right back’, what that really means in the whole of getting everything out or ‘oops I forgot my water bottle’ or ‘oops I forgot my butt pad’ or one of the eight million other things … that practice is delayed because oops the rower forgot. Sometimes doing a simple check when you know (sorry three seat) three seat has a habit of forgetting her butt pad and then forgetting her water bottle - maybe reminding her about that earlier just to expedite things. Or are there things that we can do while three seat is running to go get their stuff?
BREANA: Another thing you might want to do - if it fits your situation before you go out - is have a chat with your coach (if you have a coach for this practice) - and again what you ideally want to glean from that is: what is the goal of this practice? And then everything that you do from here on out can be in the service of that goal. So maybe it's a long workout … just getting people reintegrated after a long time off the water … or maybe it's race prep (you know). There's a variety of approaches that will guide what you're going to do. And so questions you might want to ask is: are we expecting any other boats … so are we going out with two eights together … am I gonna be side by side with someone else … what shell are they taking out (we know) … when can I expect them to join me if I launch first … is there a warm-up that you want me to run? Some coaches have a defined warm-up every day that they send you off to do and they (you know) are happy for you to just run that by yourself, and others would rather (for instance) let all the boats gather together and then the coach maybe will have a warm-up specific to that workout that's coming up. And so instead, they want you to gather with all the boats and then start. And so that's different from running your own warm-up. And different coaches want different things - including even on different days. So it's important to establish that because (again) that time is wasted when you go off doing pick drill and then the coach is at a meeting place where they thought you'd be with the other boat … and you're (you know) already several 100 meters down the river and now they're trying to scream over the megaphone and call you back. Whereas, had you just established it beforehand, you'll be able to meet together and then go off on the warm-up if that's the situation for the day. And coaches can take some ownership of this as well and help communicate to coxswains what their expectations are … and especially if that's going to change from the norm.
ANNE: I think it's really important. And regardless of whether you are working with an established coach and crew, I think it is worth the effort to at least confirm (at the very least) confirm verbally with your coach, “Coach - I understand today we're doing xyz and we're going to be doing this warm up and meeting at such and such. Is that correct?” It doesn't take that long to do that. But rather than operating under an assumption, it is worth that effort at the beginning to do that. And sometimes they will have thought about something overnight and changed what they would like to do and so it's great to have that clarification right off the bat.
SALLY: This is a water sport and an outdoor sport and there are far more variables than there would be in - let's say - a bowling alley. So things change. Environments change - wind direction change … currents change - everything's in flux. But you want to make sure that you talk to your coach because everything is not going to be constant and there are going to be things that you are going to have to adapt to. And knowing about it ahead of time and having the precognition to understand and act is going to (again) save time and make the practice run a lot more efficiently.
ANNE: I agree. So let's visualize now that we have got the rowers all wrangled up and we've had that conversation - or at least confirmation - with the coach. Then the next piece is making sure – what? You've got your own equipment, because it's a horribly awkward situation if you're doing all this wrangling and you haven't taken care of yourself. So make sure that you have all of your own gear: cox box, your (you know) whatever you carry with you along.
SALLY: Yeah, I would have put this up a little bit earlier because I always think you need to a set an example. And to be - to quote the airline industry – ‘Make sure you have the oxygen mask on yourself first before you assist others’.
ANNE: That's a great point, Sally.
SALLY: And if you know your rowers and they're going to forget a water bottle or they're going to free out a butt pad or they're going to drop a spacer in the water, it doesn't hurt to carry some extras with you. I'm not saying carry a six pack of disposable water bottles with you all the time, but it doesn't hurt to have an extra water bottle if you know three seat (sorry three seat) forever forgets theirs. If two seat always needs tape, it doesn't hurt to have tape with you just to help them so that we don't have to stop and bring the launch over to get x y and z. You have this small tool kit with you at all times.
BREANA: And from there our goal will be to get down to the dock. So the way I like to think of this is that you want to get the most out of that experience - fill every possible gap along the way of that process. So your boat is stored somewhere - it's not stored directly on the dock likely, and you have to get it from wherever it's stored down to the dock. And so my goal for coxswains that I coach … and for myself when I'm coxing … is that as soon as the boat that is (you know) currently occupying a space on a busy dock shoves, your boat is literally rolling into the water - like the hull is touching the water as soon as the starboard oars from that other boat (or whatever side you're launching from) have cleared. Like instantly you're putting it down right there and that also applies a little bit of pressure to other coxswains in the system. You know we're not going to sit there and fool around with our foot stretchers when we see that there's four other boats lined up waiting to take this space and launch on a really busy dock. The inefficient way of doing that is to watch the dock, see a space open up, and then tell your rowers, ‘All right, let's get hands on. There's a space now’… because you walking down there and orchestrating that whole process has wasted all of the time there's an open spot sitting there now while you do that. So instead, be following at a safe distance directly behind each boat in the process here so that you're ready to roll in as soon as the other boat shoves off.
SALLY: Water time is so precious.
ANNE: Yeah, I agree. So then you've got your boat in the water. The rowers - you're gonna get them in … get yourself in. And I think that every crew has a determination about what needs to be done while you're on the dock and also on the water. What suggestions do you have about that?
SALLY: So I have a thing about spacers. Spacers are not magic. I have an entire rant, rave, pet peeve - whatever you want to call it. They are important in setting the boat up so a rower can maximize their efficiency and if you have a smaller rower or a short waisted rower, sometimes it is really necessary to adjust the spacer so they're not pulling into their chin. Oftentimes they only know how desperately they need a spacer until they get on the dock, but it's very hard for them (especially if they're shorter rower) to lean out across a rigger and have the finger strength and dexterity to pop a spacer out and change it. I would not do this at a busy dock - especially when you have rush hour trying to get on and off. It's only going to take a minute to the rower who's struggling, but to everyone watching, it's like the efficiency of the post office - it's going to take years. Just being cognizant that there are changes to make but maybe (you know) paddling off the dock … giving your rowers time to adjust … is the place to do it. Also spacers are not magic. But I'll rant on that later.
ANNE: Awesome. So we finally got off the dock. Now what happens?
BREANA: So hopefully you had that pre-chat with the coach about what your meeting place is and so the question is first - how are you getting there? Are you getting there by doing a drill? Are you getting there by light paddling as one half of the boat ties in kind of thing and then you're starting the drill? So make sure you have that established - and coaches will vary again in what they want. And then if you're not meeting with another boat at all are you waiting for the coach to come? Are you going ahead and getting started and then they'll join you because maybe a launch can meet you faster? That's something to establish as well. And then it's time to start whatever warm-up is established and so there are some other things here that you want to sort out - so does your coach have the expectation that if you go to a shared meeting place and you're waiting that you're running stationary drills? That's something to ask. So things like choppies - or bobbies people call them - release to catch kind of drills - anything like that that doesn't involve the boat actually being propelled forward or backward. Some coaches expect you to be filling any downtime with something like that until they've arrived and they send you off for the warm-up. And then another thing, of course, is what is the warm-up, so what is the drill and how do they expect you to rotate through? So coaches (especially if you're early in working with the coxswain), it's not sufficient to send them off and just say, ‘All right. Run a pick drill and I’ll join you at the buoy”. There's so much to what ‘run a pick drill’ can mean, especially the more coaches that that coxswain has interacted with and the more teams that they've worked with. So you can have coaches who want you to do 10 strokes of each thing … 20 strokes of each thing … a minute of each thing. You have coaches who genuinely don't care - in which case you're empowered as a coxswain to decide what you think is logical. And then you have coaches who want you to rotate stern four arms only, bow four arms only, back to stern four arms and body. And you have others who want you to do the entire sequence with stern four and then repeat it with bow four - and so all of those things are important to sort out. Even just something as simple as if the coach says, ‘All right - go off sixes on the square’ and they just kind of sit in the launch and watch initially as the team warms up. How often do they want you rotating those sixes through? And if you don't get an answer, you can go ahead and choose something for that practice and oftentimes in these scenarios, we find out what the coach wants by doing something - whether they articulated or not - that is not what they want. I've had a coach who wanted rowers to be switched every 10 strokes and if he saw you take that 11th stroke and you hadn't switched, then he was mad. So there's coaches like that. And then there's coaches that, as long as they kind of see you handling it, they don't mind if it's one minute, two minutes, 20 strokes, 14 strokes, whatever it is. So if you feel that there's a miscommunication in expectations, that's a chat you could have with the coach off the water after that practice … and say, “You know, you made a comment about me taking a little too long to switch. Here's what I was doing. Would you like me to shorten it to 30 seconds?” … or something like that. Even in that simple act of a one sentence comment like, ‘Go ahead and do sixes on the square after pick drill’, there is so much. So many decisions to be made within there, so it's good to establish that. And again your fallback is: choose something in the moment if you aren't sure and then have a conversation with the coach later if you identify a point where you would like to have more clarification from them.
SALLY: And it seems incredibly obvious here sitting in our dry little rooms that you need to spread the work out equally among all the rowers. For some reason in eights, bow pair is often neglected and forgot. I know this because I usually - because of my immense size - I'm usually stuck in bow pair. Often times coxswains, especially novice coxswains, will hold bow pair out … will not allow them the drills that the stern pair has … and it's natural. Everybody does it, but when you are switching and rotating pairs, really be cognizant of how much time each pair is doing. I remember one time, I had 273 strokes over the entire practice because I was sitting in bow pair. I was not pleased (to put it politely), so just be cognizant of that when you're switching around.
BREANA: And rowers notice that - these little moments that you think (you know) maybe in your head, you're like, ‘Oh. I haven't switched in a while’ … and you switch and you just kind of hope that no one notices. But bow pair noticed. They noticed that they haven't been in a while and other people have noticed that they haven't switched out in a while, so don't be afraid (also) to outsource those responsibilities to the tools that you have. So use your cox box to time. I like to use a watch to time because if you're counting strokes, the cox box isn't gonna work when stern pair is out in an eight or wherever the magnet's at in a four. You don't have to sit there actually spending your entire mental energy counting to 20 a bunch of times. Don't be afraid to use the tools that you have to time for you and count strokes for you (and other things) so that you can focus on correcting technique and steering and all the additional responsibilities you're going to have in that warm-up moment.
SALLY: All right. So we've done the drills. It's important to note that your rowers are going to need to make subtle adjustments through the practice, so stopping once in a while in-between pieces and checking nuts, bolts, stretchers, the height of their spacers - because sometimes what they think is working at the start of the practice might not be working for them later because as they fatigue, they're going to start to slump. It's all about maximizing efficiency. Also as the boat moves and the friction of the boat wiggles and jiggles, it's like the lady who ate the spider, right? So the boat's gonna wiggle and jiggle and do all these things that the engineers never designed. Bolts come loose. Bolts come loose at the worst time, so making sure everybody just puts a finger on the foot stretcher wing nuts, puts a finger on their rigger bolts, just to make sure everything's at least finger tight before you go to the next piece. You'd be surprised how often the vibration will set things like an oar lock loose. So give them opportunities to check and double check and make their equipment most efficient.
BREANA: And don't leave it up to them to just do whenever either. A skilled coxswain can provide a direction in that moment to say, ‘Okay - the warm-up is done. If you need to take off any layers because you're warmed up now, this is the time to do that … you know, in between these pieces … as you get a sip of water, reach down and double check such and such bolts’. That is better - a better way of ensuring that that gets orchestrated - than just kind of hoping that a boat of rowers (of perhaps mixed skill levels and experience) understand what they should be checking up on.
SALLY: Acknowledging that your rowers have independent thoughts and independent needs, but discouraging them from actualizing it unless the time is appropriate and right. Acknowledging that their foot stretchers are jiggling. It's not okay to stop and adjust that in the middle of an intense piece - it's okay to adjust that when they're resting. There's a time and a place for everything. I think The Byrds wrote a song about that. But acknowledging when it is, and giving them permission to tend to their needs, and giving that structure goes a long way into helping increase efficiency. Anne?
ANNE: It is about that communication piece as we are listening to the conversation unfold. And right from the get-go, it's about communicating with the coach in advance. It's about communicating with other coxswains on land as you're getting down to the dock. Your rowers (you know) - laying out for them the fact that you are anticipating their needs … that you are going to provide time but you will let them know when that time is appropriate. That really helps to create that efficient, effective practice. One thing that I think is another area that sometimes some of us don't do quite as well as we could, is when we have to turn the boats, right? And at my club basically two minutes after we've launched from the dock, we have to turn to go the exact opposite direction down the long lake. And I think that I've been with coxswains who've done a great job and then I've struggled at times getting that boat turned quickly and into a position where the coach can drive up, have a comment if required, and then take off. Do you have any suggestions or comments about the time that it takes to turn the boats?
SALLY: Well, speaking as a coach, it honestly depends what we're doing. If it's a large enough body of water and I can get a piece as they're crossing the river and doing so safely, I will have them do a river turn - which in my vernacular means you just do a rudder turn across the body of water. If you are in a highly congested … or doing shorter rowing spurts or something like that, sometimes you have to do the right angle turns. If you're doing it with a number of boats, there is an art to taking turns with boats alongside of you. And knowing how to do that … talking with the other coxswains … telling them your points as you're turning … is all useful and really critical information and communicating to your coach. It's not only the degrees that you're turning but once you turn, how far over do you go. Do I go and hug the shoreline? Do I stop in the middle? There are so many opportunities for miscommunication, y'all. Understanding turning is a big make or break in a practice.
ANNE: And we are going to have an episode that's about maneuvering boats, right? Steering. Maneuvering. So stay tuned for that if some of these particular boat movements are something that you're interested in learning more about or considering. So now we've turned the boats and it may be just one boat because often I'm in a situation where I do not practice with other boats. But let's say that there are other boats - what suggestions do you have for coxswains out there that are just learning how to manage practices?
SALLY: First, only get the boats as close as you are comfortable. Only get as close together as you can trust the other coxswain, which means you are going to need time to react. You're going to need time to deal with what happens with three seat (sorry three seat) catches a crab. You're gonna need to deal with - what if three seat misses a stroke. What if the coxswain is looking at your boat instead of looking ahead at a point - they will turn into you. So knowing that, knowing how to react, and knowing how to react calmly is going to help you a lot. So when you're keeping boats together, get as close as you're comfortable with. There are coxswains out there (and I have done it and it's stressful … it's more stressful for the coach following us) where we pull really tightly for 4000 meters but that is because I have worked with those coxswains for years and I trust them and they know how I'm going to react better than I do. For adrenaline junkies like us it's amazing, but it is something you have to work up to. For novice coxswains, I would say (you know) be close - maybe not being able to see the whites of their eyes is okay - but just be close enough that you're able to hear the other coxswain and react. And that's really important. Keeping the boats neighborly helps the coach because they are able to watch everybody at once. They're able to make evaluations and judgments on how the crews are rowing … how fast they are … how strong they are when they are fatigued. When you are separated by 1500 meters, that helps no one. And if you're in the lead boat and you are wiping the pants off of the other boat, being the head feels great but it's not helping the other boat. There are other things - other games you can play - that keep the boats together. And again, you have to talk to your coach. If you're doing race work and you need to hit a certain rating for a certain amount of time, that's what you have to do. But if you're just doing steady state pieces and you are dramatically out-pulling the boat next to you, you can drop the rating … you can add pause drills in … but you're keeping the boats together so the coach can watch both of you guys. If you're the boat behind and you're doing steady state work and stroke rating isn't an issue, ask the other coxswains to drop their rate and you increase yours. And sometimes if you finish ahead of everybody, give your rowers time to cool down, but then do those stationary drills or those pause drills and let the trailing boat catch up to you. So again, you can at least be together for part of the time. And sometimes if you are in a trailing boat (if it's not going to hurt the practice), ask the coach if you can start up … if you can start ahead.
BREANA: Part of my struggle in that same scenario has been knowing - especially if it's the kind of thing where we're doing pieces - the lead boat's gonna pull miles away and then we're gonna stop, I know that as soon as my slower boat catches up, the coach is gonna start the next piece and so the poor people in my boat are not really getting a rest. So (you know) increasing the rate is one thing but then again you're asking them to work harder to meet, which perhaps is part of the goal of being in a second boat. But one of the things that I've tried to do to show the rowers that I understand that this is challenging and help mitigate the scenario is: we end the piece and now we're paddling but we're paddling a little faster than everyone else to catch up. And I'll update them on how close we are to reaching the other boats so that they know … is it seven lengths … is it half a length? How far are we from potentially being able to stop. And then I might also do quick rotations and tell them, ‘Okay. I'm gonna give each pair 30 seconds to rotate through and get a sip of water and that might be all we have’. And when they understand that, you are doing the best that you can to give them a break and you recognize that they are beat and they need a just a breather, then they'll respect that. And I've really seen rowers hustle to say, ‘Okay. I've had my break. You can put five and six in now’. And they tend to respect that. So that's a way where (you know) you can't magically make them faster or help the situation exactly, but you can show them: I understand that this is challenging for you and I'm deploying my abilities to mitigate this respectfully for you so that we can again all get the most out of the practice. And then for that lead boat, you have much more decisions to be made. And I would say again here - allow the conversation with your coach (1) and your understanding of the goals of the practice (2) to guide your decisions. So there's many ways to slow down. There's stopping. There's dropping people. There’s slowing down your rate. There's throwing in a pause drill. And coaches may have different preferences - a coach may say (as we've said): ‘The goal of the workout is for you to row hard for five minutes. So if you row off into the horizon then I'm happy about that and just stop later and I'll find you’. But other coaches might say: ‘We have two somewhat new boats here and we're on a busy body of water and I want you in my sights at all times so if you start to get more than two lengths ahead (this is a place where coaches can really help by specifying for the coxswain) if you get ‘x’ number of lengths ahead, I want you to take this action in order to slow down”. And if you aren't given such an action, then as a coxswain you can make a decision. So maybe your coach has said the purpose of this practice today is that we're working on swinging together, and so you get in the lead and you might say, ‘All right. What's a drill that could help them work on swing? Maybe I'll throw in a cut the cake or a pause at arm's away body over’. And then you can reinforce for the rowers what we're doing now - even though we're not rowing at full pressure like the other boat that you see, we are practicing this swing. And so instead of just (like) all right (whatever) we're slowing down so that the other boat can catch up and you say nothing … instead, you can reinforce that we are helping the coach achieve their goals and we're helping our boat achieve the goals for today which is that we're working on swing in this moment and your calls are aligning with that as you monitor the other boat. And you may not ever hear anything from the launch, but that coach very well may be sitting there saying, ‘Thank you. I am so grateful that you chose to do something to slow down up there because (you know) my megaphone couldn't even reach you. And I'm so happy to see you doing this drill that I see is helpful for what the rowers are learning. And I'm just so glad that you made that not a thing that I have to deal with’.
ANNE: Let's also remind our audience that on this particular episode, we are not talking about how to manage drills. That's going to be a discussion another time … something I'm looking forward to because I have a few that I still don't do well. And I know I need a lot of improvement in some of them, so I look forward to that particular episode. But just so you recognize - our audience - we are deliberately not discussing that aspect during this episode, but we know how important it is and so it'll get its own time.
SALLY: Okay. So you're running pieces like a champ and putting the team's goals and needs first in all of your decisions. So what's next?
BREANA: Every coxswain's favorite responsibility - docking at the end of the day and everything that comes along with that. And we know everyone listening is in a whole manner of potential situations - perhaps you are on the busiest body of water out there and every morning, every single team is coming back at exactly the same time and there's a fight for the dock and there's tension. Or you might be on a perfectly leisurely dock where it's just you on a small body of water and (you know) you can take your time. It still behooves you to be efficient in those scenarios but take what works for your own scenario here and what we're gonna say and apply it as it's useful. But if you're in one of those situations with a super long line, again that's a place where you want to maximize efficiency. So you want to be right up on - safely to the extent that you can - the other boats that are in that line, which again applies a little bit of pressure to those coxswains to get ready to move as soon as they possibly can. And it also just keeps things efficient spacing wise … closing those gaps. And this is always my personal goal: as soon as the previous boat that's emptied out of space on the dock - as soon as they're rolling over heads, my bow is cresting into that spot. That's the dream, so grab those moments of efficiency. And then once you're on the dock, you need to be as quick as possible … recognizing safety aspects, you know. A rower who's in their 80s is not going to spring right out of the boat necessarily, so maybe you're all (you know) 20 year old men who can just pop right out and whip that thing over heads right away, crouch down, pick up their own oars, and walk back. Or you may have other things that you need to manage, so give it a visual sweep and see. Sometimes rowers are dealing with serious pain or issues and that's apparent on the dock, and you need to handle that. And in that scenario, ignore all those teams that are going to be behind you … screaming at you to get off the dock because it makes them feel powerful to shout at someone. You know, take care of your own boat but be as effective as possible. So this isn't the time to be having a leisurely chat with stroke seat about what you're going to do later today, and wasn't the sunrise nice and everything like that, you know. Get them streamlined in the process here of getting the oars out, storing them wherever you're going to store them, getting back on, getting over heads, and note the places in that process where you could help. So is there a stray water bottle on the ground? Just grab it and move on we'll figure out whose it is later. Those kinds of little moments, so that people watching - waiting to take your space - see you making the maximum effort to handle the situation. And that helps keep respect for you as a coxswain … running that situation … and for your team being a presence at that boathouse.
SALLY: Docking's hard, y'all. And it's incredibly intimidating because everybody's watching you. The rowers are taking hundreds (if not thousands) of strokes during a practice and they are flubbing more than one or two. You get one chance to dock (if you're lucky) during practice and there are a lot of variables and things that could go wrong … and people who are trying to help … and people who are trying to help but aren't helping. So take a deep breath when you're docking. Stay calm. Try to maintain control and composure. A leader isn't necessarily loud. In a docking situation, it's important to remember that. There are times where I am screaming at bow seat because I need them to quick take a stroke because a gust of wind … or seven seat has pulled us in, and we're gonna hit the bow on the dock … but I use that volume and that panic rarely to convey urgency. If I spoke all the time like that: 1) my singing voice is shot and 2) your rowers will become conditioned to that panic and not respond like they should. Just stay calm. Stay focused. You have one job - dock the boat. Do everything you can to do it right, but docking's tough.
ANNE: It is tough and I think that understanding how long it's going to take - taking that into account for the practice - keeps the practice efficient. So it pays to have a sense of how long it's going to actually take you to dock, get the rowers out and off the dock. Just the thought of docking gives me the cold sweats, so I'm gonna move on. So there we are. Our next steps are then going to make sure that we get the equipment away efficiently and making sure that we are observing any glitches to our processes, so that the next time - if it turned out that it took longer than it really ought to get the equipment put away properly - we make note of that. And the next time we have an opportunity, we solve that differently. I think that's important to understand that - it's improvement over time. We're not going to get it 100% most of the time, but if you notice what's going less efficiently that time, next time (say) try something a little bit different.
BREANA: And I would perhaps close by saying: make sure that the rowers stay there until all of the tasks and responsibilities are actually done. Now and then a person will need to sprint off to an exam or to work or whatever, but we need to train the rowers and condition them that you are on duty until dismissed by me or a coach. And so - as best as you can -avoid letting them get into the habit of seeing, ‘Okay .. whatever … I put away my one oar and now I'm just … I'm done … I'm gonna go get my bag and go shower and do whatever else’. Instead, especially if your coach is in the habit of holding some kind of post practice meeting, make sure that they understand we're all here to gather - we're gonna debrief from whatever went on with the day and then we're allowed to go our separate ways once we give a look around and we see everything is truly put away. I think that's a good habit to get in because once you start to let them run off on their own, it's hard to get it back to something more controlled. So to the extent that you can, try to manage that situation. And it shouldn't be you – you should not ever have to be (or not very often) have to be in a situation where the rowers all run off and you're standing there by yourself putting away eight oars. That's part of their responsibility as well. You can certainly help but you have your own things to manage and put away, so try to keep them in the habit of understanding when practice is actually over … and it's not the very second that the gunnel touches the rack.
ANNE: I'm so glad you mentioned that Breana, because in my experience, the end of a practice can be one of the most chaotic confusing and disorganized times unless I make myself as clear as I possibly can. So thank you for that point. As we draw to a close for this particular episode. we wanted to again remind you that we have some things to come in the future that are sort of related in some ways. So we've mentioned that we're going to be doing an episode that's going to include information about calling drills. Seat racing is another topic that came to mind as we were preparing for this particular episode but we didn't have time to cover here. Also one of my areas of need for improvement is maneuvering - and for example, how to pull boats together … sort of these technical details that I think people are going to benefit from. I know I will. But most of all, we want to say thank you for listening to this episode! And let's move on to our Quick Pick.
SALLY: So our Quick Pick today - we're going to talk about the coxswain's toolkit … the stuff we take with us in a launch for emergencies or general safety or whatever. Breana, Anne - what are some of the go-to things you take with you?
BREANA: One for me that's perhaps an addition to the obvious set of wrenches, tape, spacers - is hair ties if you have long haired people in your boat who could benefit from that. I've been asked that before. Any way that you can, in a small, tiny way, save the day by producing something that can move the practice forward - or even band-aids or just kind of small things like that. Even if that band-aid falls off two seconds later, the rower feels like you did something by helping them relieve their blister pain for one brief second. so that's a couple of things that have been added to my typical collection.
ANNE: Yeah. I say just ‘yay’ for tool kits because I think I've used everything that I have at one time or another and they have helped the practices not get waylaid. So have quick access. Save the day. People will not notice it, but it does matter - it really does.
SALLY: Two items that I would not be without is electrical tape. I can fix most problems in the boat - even a small hole - with electrical tape. I fix cox box wiring and foot stretchers and everything. Also I carry - especially in international regattas where not everybody knows the word stop and what it means - I carry with me a marine whistle. They won't understand ‘stop’ or ‘achtung’ or whatever, but they do hear the whistle and that generally gets somebody's attention.
BREANA: Awesome suggestions.
SALLY: So our shout out today - I want to thank Anne because she is our chief wrangler (since we are talking about time management). Anne does a phenomenal job about allowing us the freedom to talk and the freedom to explore ideas, but bringing us back to the main point. So for that, I am entirely grateful.
ANNE: All right, Sally - I'll give you that one time. But thank you very much … much appreciated. And in the meantime for our audience, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack where your question might get featured on a future episode. We'd love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. And for our patrons, we will be offering early access to some of our upcoming episodes, the chance to have input into what we talk about in future episodes, and other fun perks like blooper reels - and we have a few from these episodes. We are very excited to bring you more content soon. And until next time I'm Anne, I'm Sally, and I'm Breana - signing off for now.