015 | Audience-Generated Topics
BREANA: Welcome to CoxPod, a podcast for coxswains. I'm Breana.
SALLY: I'm Sally.
ANNE: I'm Anne and we're three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. While there are many rowing resources out there, we decided to create a venue that's solely dedicated to coxing topics. We learn from our shared experiences and want to foster a community that encourages innovation and discussion. And in this episode, we're going to address a variety of topics inspired by our audience. Each of these could easily be its own episode so we are going to limit ourselves to a brief response. I hope. We're each going to make one key point about each topic. Now a lot of these questions came from our Slack community. And there are excellent community responses to these questions already there. We encourage you to use Slack to continue the conversation after this episode and share more ideas.
BREANA: So kicking it right off is the first listener that we heard from on our website contact form. And this person wrote to us to ask about the linguistics of coxing - specifically as this relates to concepts like diction, tone, syntax. And something that this listener was also interested in discussing was the importance of being concise when we're speaking as coxswains.
ANNE: I've liked the concept of being concise. And one of the joys of having an established crew is that a lot of times you can come up with sort of key phrases or one word that the crew is aware means a whole lot of other things. So for example, one of my crews (that's experienced with me), I might say something like 'posture', and they know precisely what that means. And that's so much fun, because then you don't have to fill the air with a lot of noise. They know what that means. And then they can execute that. But what I want to say is that on the other hand, it's really important with new crews that you're working with, even if they're very experienced rowers ... the importance of not having a shortcut in your explanation. Really establish - with clear, explicit instructions - what it is that you are asking them to do or asking them to execute.
BREANA: I'll speak to the tone aspect a bit. In my view, one of the most important things with that is to match your tone to the workout. And I have seen this go wrong in both directions. For me personally, when I started coxing, I erred on the side of being not intense enough. And I shared in Episode 8 (where we talked about receiving feedback) that the rowers let me know that I was not producing the necessary intensity on really serious workouts ... like a 2k, for example. So I learned from that, and I've also seen coxswains with the opposite problem - who are too intense all the time. So if this is just a very long swing row - steady state practice - you don't need to start off the dock with your pick drill, screaming and shouting at the rowers. That tone is too elevated for the environment there. And that variation and tone enables you to use your voice as an additional tool to convey to the rowers what the workout should be in that moment and its level of intensity.
SALLY: When I'm observing a crew, when I'm listening to a crew, I really try to pay attention to what's their experience, what's their education level, what's the vocabulary, what's the vernacular you use. Because if I default to something incredibly Southern like, "They're about as eloquent as a hog on ice", someone in Maine might not A) know what that is ... or B) just start laughing at me - which has happened. Or if I say something to a southern crew like, "Huh, I can't get there from here", they aren't gonna know what that means or know that's a totally Mainer thing to say. It is my burden to try to express things in a way that the listener can both understand and then take action on. So I try to mirror the rowers' vocabulary and accents as much as I can while still trying to be true to myself and throwing in a final line of Shakespeare in there somewhere. Our second question comes to us from Doris, who asked us on Slack, 'As a master's individual who relies on high school coxswains and volunteers to fill the role of coxing, how can I both be fair and effective when assigning a coxswain from the team who isn't a traditional coxswain'? Doris then follows this question with, 'What can I do to help them overcome the initial terror and allow them to relax and maybe even enjoy a different role in the boat?' When I was a masters coach, I didn't have the luxury of many regular coxswains. I had to pull from the masters team and I did it on a rotation that was documented and publicly available. We would write down who coxed and when. And if said person could find a coxswain, their incentive was they were removed from the rotation. And then I had to - I don't want to call it a punishment because I never want to think of coxing as a punishment - but I had to set up a repercussion for when people didn't show up to practice and didn't let me know. Again, masters team ... understanding everybody had lives and 14 year olds who occasionally went to prison in the middle of the night and dogs that had digestive issues. And then there just sometimes it wasn't physically possible for someone to come to practice. And that was fine, as long as they called or texted me prior to getting on the dock. But when they didn't do that - because we had to do this last minute shuffle - the next time they came to practice, it was known and understood they would cox. They needed to understand that there were repercussions to their actions. I wanted them to respect the energy and the effort that their teammates were putting out.
ANNE: This is a great conversation because every time I talk with masters' groups, the big question is, 'How do I get a coxswain? How come we don't have coxswains? How do we cope with it?' So I want to say that I suggest that a club invite any rowers that might be injured to take over the coxing ... or at least try it out for a while. Now keep in mind there are some injuries that can be exacerbated by sitting in the coxswain seat, but that is a really great way to have people still participate in the sport, bring their knowledge of rowing to that role, and also to have a coxswain in the seat.
BREANA: I'll address the part of the question about getting rower coxswains to overcome the fear and maybe even actually enjoy their time in this different role in the boat - which I think is a really admirable goal for a coach to have. In my mind (honestly), my goal was always more that these rowers - when they were in the coxswain seat - would gain an appreciation for the role. You know, I wasn't interested in necessarily having them embrace it. If that was the outcome, that would be fantastic. But oftentimes the outcome that I observed was that these rower coxswains were amazed by how much their regular coxswains were managing when they were in the seat. You have the cox box giving you information. You got stroke seat talking to you. You may have other people in the boat talking to you ... if you have the coach talking to you on a megaphone. We used walkie talkies on our team, which was another method for coaches and coxswains to communicate with each other. You're timing the workout ... you're correcting technique. There are so many aspects to what we do that coxswains often handle in a very quiet way that rowers are not even noticing. So for me, I thought that was a really positive outcome of having rowers rotate through the coxswain seat. And that outcome (again) was that they would come to appreciate the complexity of what we do ... and maybe recruit some coxswains if they didn't want to be in that seat so often.
SALLY: Our third question comes from Taya. I have known Taya for nearly two decades. She and I both started rowing when the boats were made out of wood and the oarlocks are made out of brass and we used Macon blades. And we had that little styrofoam cup as a megaphone that we shouted into. Taya is an extraordinary coxswain and an even better person and a phenomenal coach. She's currently working with one of the master's clubs in Philly. You will know her because you'll probably see the back of her head as she breezes past you in the fastest boat possible. And she's also an assistant coach to a very, very prominent club in the Philly area. We are so lucky Taya is part of our community. And she is as kind as she is generous, but don't make the mistake of getting in the line in front of her. She'll let you know who's who. Taya asks, "How does your team club coxswain community foster a truly collaborative atmosphere?"
ANNE: I'm happy to start this off. In our club, I felt the lack of that community. And so what I did a few years ago is - I invited (at that point there were two other coxswains) - I invited those coxswains to join what I named a Coxswain Work Group and set up monthly meetings that have continued to this day. At first we just got together informally and sort of shared things like about what we have in our kits (which are whatever we carry with us), coxing strategies, dealing with different coaches, our experiences and questions and challenges that we had. And more recently, what we've been working on is a coxswain manual where we're detailing all sorts of things that are coxswain specific and will eventually be incorporated into the club membership manual. That's we do at our club. We found that it does truly foster a collaborative atmosphere.
BREANA: It can definitely be challenging to achieve that goal of creating a collaborative environment - especially on those teams where there are more coxswains than boats. So you know in every interaction, that at the end of the season, a couple of you are going to the championships and several of you aren't. That kind of thing can really complicate that goal (again) of creating that positive atmosphere. I think one party that I would speak to here is coaches - and coaches can really support this. And I know that Taya's question came from both the coach and the coxswain angle. Coaches can enable this environment by being transparent in their coxswain selection. Oftentimes coach's decisions are very opaque - or worst of all, they're overtly random. That creates an environment where coxswains feel - if they don't know what is causing someone to make the top boat versus the second boat, then they're going to be more inclined to keep things to themselves that they're doing because they don't know which thing they're doing is the thing that sets them apart from other coxswains. That's how I view that ... having personally experienced environments like that and seeking as a coach to prevent that outcome by being transparent. And to the coaches out there, I would ask you to look deep within and ask if you actually have criteria that you're selecting your coxswains based on - or if it's subjective things like your sense, or just talking to one or two rowers in the boat, or just putting the most experienced person there because you don't want to deal with it. I see coaches really put a ton of effort into selecting for rowers and then the coxswains are often an afterthought ... at best. So one way that you could support a collaborative atmosphere among coxswains is by making it clear which abilities they have developed that are enabling them to be in the top boats, which also makes every other coxswain want to strive to develop those same skills and abilities.
SALLY: I think that both you and Anne hit upon communication as part of a means to build this collaboration. I believe Kayleigh Durm said it best when we interviewed her and she talked about keeping the larger picture in mind. We had the privilege of talking with Kayleigh Durm on an earlier episode. And she mentioned - what's best for the team isn't always best for the individual. That there is only one coxswain seat at Head of the Charles. There's only one seat in the eight at NCAAs. And how do we get there ... isn't going to be just one person shining. If you are trying to get as many points for the points trophy or trying to get as many people on the medal stand, sometimes putting the best cox in the slower boat is what you need to do to help lift up the slower boat's performance. And pulling aside the coxswain that you put in the B boat and explaining, "You are not the B coxswain - you're here because without you, this boat doesn't have a chance". Your skills are what's needed to make sure that everybody has their best performance. If it's just (you know), one and done ... gold medal and you're out. For the fast cox or the fast boat, that's the obvious decision. But if you're trying to do what's in the best interest of the team as you're trying to secure more bids for Head of the Charles for the following year ... if you're trying to do something from a coaching standpoint that is more than just a single race, you need to draw on everybody's skills. And you need to draw on everybody's gifts and apply them to what's best for the team overall with this larger picture in mind. And the only way to do that successfully is really - like you said, Breana - is to talk about it. And the only way that you're going to start improving if you have a gaggle of coxswains- I don't know ... what's the collective for group of coxswains?
ANNE: How about a pod?
SALLY: Okay ... or a pod of coxswains. If you have a pod of coxswains, the only way you're all going to get better is if - like Anne - you talk and you work together and you establish trust on something as simple as what kind of wrenches do you carry in your fanny pack? I'm a big believer in rising tide lifts all boats. We're all better for this collaboration. We're all better for this communication. I suppose I should keep going. Because the mighty Taya also asks, 'What have you done to continue improving when you aren't getting feedback or the feedback you're getting boils down to 'Y'all are doing fine ... I can't think of anything you can change.'
BREANA: I'll start by saying that I would highly encourage everyone listening - if you want to get a deeper answer to any of these topics, check out the Slack community where these questions were put forward, because there's a lot more there. So we won't even recap everything that's there because there's so much great content that other members of the community have provided, which we're really appreciative of. This question, in particular, got some excellent answers. That would be my encouragement - is find more answers there. We always keep a link to the Slack community at coxpod.com/slack. What I'll say, Taya, is that I can 100% relate to this feeling of stagnation, really. This happened to me in my time as a master's coxswain, which is ongoing. I felt I got to a point where I was, you know, fine. I wasn't someone that the coach was concerned about. And therefore, every day went by without the coach thinking much about me or having much to say to improve my development. And you're on the same team with the same people (often) in the masters' world. And it can really feel like you don't know how to improve from there. So I've definitely experienced that personally. And what helped me a lot was to get a broader diversity of coxing experiences. And sometimes this means you jump into that boat from a startup team that is desperately trying to put something together at a regatta and they don't have a coxswain. But they've cobbled together the rest and you're in some ancient, heavy boat, and it's taking on water as you do the row and everything's a disaster. But those experiences honestly - even though they're not going to fast track you to the medal stand at that race - those kinds of things have made me so much more flexible. All the challenges that those experiences present have really helped me advance as a coxswain. So that was my strategy - was to (kind of) get out of my typical day-to-day context ... get these other experiences and help those support my development in that everyday context.
ANNE: I love that response, Breana, because I have also employed that and I do agree that it forces you to be more creative and responsive and flexible. Also, from my point of view, I went through years and years and years of A) silence. And if I prompted the conversation, I got the - exactly what Taya is saying, 'You're doing fine. I can't think of anything you should change'. I mean, almost literally, those words came out of multiple people's mouths, from rowers to coaches. So I struggled with that. And I wanted to improve my skills, which were very, very, very minimal and did what a lot of us do, which is: look at resources, books, interwebs, talking with rowers, absorbing all of the external information that I could that's out there. Also, as the club grew and I had an opportunity to talk with other coxswains, I took advantage of that. And I just responded in my answer to the last question that I formed a workgroup that has been instrumental. And also I'm going to say, Breana and Sally, I have learned and improved so much based on conversations with you over the years. So thank you for that. And I think before I finish my answer, I just want to make a call back to Episode 008 that is entitled 'Receiving Feedback'. There are some additional thoughts in that episode. And lastly, I have also found it important to form a bond with a couple of rowers who are not as scared to communicate with me about things. I think that a lot of times, rowers and coaches are so scared they're going to lose a coxswain ... they're going to offend a coxswain in some way ... that they hold back for that reason. And if I've formed a bond with a particular rower or two, they get to know over time that I sincerely want their feedback of all sorts and that it's going to help the boat. It's going to help me. And in the end, it'll be a stronger group.
SALLY: Like you, Anne, I'm very fortunate to have found a pod with you two because I have learned so much and you have I've taught me so very much. I'm just very, very grateful for it. I think I approach the no feedback thing a bit how I approach life - is that there's no such thing as a perfect practice ... there's no such thing as a perfect dinner. There's always room for improvement. And - absolute perfect thing is like Plato's notion of the forms - you're never going to get it. And the closer you get to perfection, the more you realize you don't know. I look at everything and just explore ... how could I have made that call better? How could I have improved this? I do have to warn y'all that sometimes it does get into a pretty vicious cycle in one's head. And sometimes you can say - you know, I did pretty well today, that was a good job, and just try to ease off on yourself. But I play a lot of things back. In the middle of the night, I still relive courses I took, especially at Head of the Charles ... could I have pulled us closer to the buoy line? I second guess a lot of my things. And I do think that does help me. But I do think there is (like) paralysis by analysis - that sometimes you don't get better if you're being too critical.
ANNE: Thanks, Sally. How about if we move on to the next comments that came in from Slack? This is from Wendy. And it's sort of a two-parter. And the first part was about docking. And we hope we answered - at least partially - your questions in Episode 13, which is 'Landing'. And hopefully the question was responded to there. And if not, well, ask us again. And we'll see what we can do to support finding the answer to that question. Again, as Breana mentioned before regarding the use of Slack - you can go back ... you can ask new questions. If you find out something new, you can add it in there and keep asking additional questions. So then ... on to the other part of the question, which had to do with lining up for a race. She said something along the lines of that she finds that they are so unpredictable and at times highly stressful, and at the same time, a great test of all skills under pressure. The winds, the current, unsolicited advice - all add complexity. And then there's the marshalls ... quickstarts ... boats blowing around on top of each other ... blowing people over too far and having to do high level physics to work out exactly how to get the boat in the right lane again. She mentions - laughingly - 'I guess you've all been there?' Well, I can say ... even just reading that ... my blood pressure went right up. And the fact of the matter is ... yes, I have been there over and over and over again. Because I've been lucky that I've had opportunities to race. What came to my mind first - when I read this - was all about floating starts for sprint races. In our area that's fairly common - where we do not have stake boats or pontoons that we lock on to. We are lined up in a river or some other body of water by officials, and you try to pull your boats up, and it's complete chaos, and there are no defined lanes. People are inching forward, then they get called back. And it is great fun. It is a huge challenge. And I think that I handled it by trying not to stick out too far in any of my maneuvers from the rest of the crowd, but giving my crew the best advantage possible. It's a challenge each and every time. I don't think I've ever had a race where there was a floating start that I could just breeze through. No, no, no, no. They're - as we would say up here - wicked fun.
SALLY: When reading this, what came to mind is: Thomas Paine wrote this quote: "These are the times that try men's souls". I mean, I'm an adrenaline junkie. I love doing this. This is my passion in life. I tried to encapsulate my thoughts and I can't do it in a single one liner. I think I have so much to talk about and there's such a complexity and nuances and luck involved like ... Wendy was spot on. I kinda think we're gonna have to delve into this in a future episode.
ANNE: Yes we are.
SALLY: Yeah, I got ... Breana save us. Be clinical. Be matter of fact. Save us from me waxing poetic.
BREANA: Well I wish I could say that what I have planned was a time when I was clinical and matter of fact but in fact, it was a situation that divine forces must have saved me from because it wasn't through my own power. But one of my most horrifying stories was a race -this is actually up at Anne's home course - where I was getting locked on to my stake boat and I was in bowloaded four. Just the biggest gust of wind comes across at that exact moment and it pushes my boat so hard that we are now pinned against the next lane's stake boat. And like I said, I can't provide you the solution to how to get out of that because I don't know how I did. I was asking people to back - that seemed to be the first approach. But that was causing our stern to cut deeper into the stake boat. And so that wasn't an option. People couldn't row because we were now (you know) attached to this other stake boat. And luckily, there was no one in that lane. But that poor stake boat holder is trying to (like) push us off but the wind kept countering. At one point, an official came over in a launch. And I was like ... here we go ... we're getting disqualified. I guess I'm just ... I'm gonna have to handle this. They took pity on us. And somehow - again, I don't know how - we got righted in that lane and we're able to do our race. But that was one of the times when - my message here is that: amid all this chaos, the way I try to handle it is by staying calm so that my rowers don't get riled up right before we're about to race even though the environment is very stressful. And that is one of the times that challenged me the most in terms of keeping my voice calm because I was (like) ... there's no solution here. No action that I'm taking is fixing this. It is so stressful ... like time is passing and you still haven't solved the problem. And you don't know what next action to take. So if you're ever in something that wild, think of me. And hopefully something saved you from that as well. And on the note again, of trying to stay calm - exactly like Anne was saying - those floating start situations that you encounter are some of the most stressful of all time. And I'll play here ... I'll insert a recording I have of a sprint race where we were lining up at the start ... in case you've never experienced this. Or maybe it will just remind you what this is like. And you can hear the aligning official on a megaphone kind of getting increasingly agitated. And you know, maybe it's not their intention to sound this way. But it's been a long day and they're just trying to get every race off on time. And you'll hear what that sounds like as they're telling each lane to adjust. And my goal - when I'm in the boat in these situations - is to calmly convey the key points to my rowers (again) so that we don't start the race unnecessarily agitated. So I'll insert that clip here for you guys. And then afterwards, we can move on to our next question.
SALLY: Be sure you put a trigger warning, Breana.
ANNE: Thanks, Breana, for inserting that audio recording. I feel like I've experienced a lot of that in prior races. So thank you. Let's move on to question 6 which came in from Elaine on Slack who started coxing as a junior in high school and now is a varsity coxswain at a university. She asked, 'Do you have any advice on how to better judge distances on the water? I always want to call like '100 meters until halfway' or similar calls. But I'm always afraid of judging the distance incorrectly'. This is a great topic. I'm glad this was brought up. And I don't know that I'm exactly the person that can answer it the best way. But I'm going to start off by at least sharing what I do. Every coxswain should take advantage of the course maps that are out there, particularly if you're away from your home course. Most rowing venues do have some kind of course map. If not, then of course, you can use Google Maps or any other geographical tools. You can use the course map to figure out large landmarks and their distances. So use that as one of your tools. And lastly, the strategy that I use when I'm on land and I'm at a regatta - and we're not one of the first races - is especially towards the end of the race course, I make a point to count strokes from similar class boats as they go through that area. And then I just sort of extrapolate how I think my crew is: age wise, skill wise, similar or different from the crews and the counting that I'm doing. That has helped me a lot of times to understand the impact of either current or wind factors on those courses. So that's something that I do.
SALLY: I think one of the really important things for coxswains to keep in mind is: don't lie to your crews. If you cannot see the finish line by the curvature of the earth, then don't tell them we're almost there. Don't call 'last 10' if you are not absolutely positively sure it's the last 10 because last 10 strokes are sacred. One of the other things to keep in mind is if I say 'last 10', rowers will shorten up. Rowers will get ugly to get the power on and what was 10 strokes 100 meters ago is not 10 strokes now. And the worst thing a coxswain can do is go, 'Oh my God. I'm sorry. I meant three more'. I have done it - I apologize. I do this thing I call coxswain math. And especially in a longer course, I can (kind of) do this thing where I can see - they're going to catch us in 15 strokes or I have 10 strokes before I make contact on their bow ball. It's just this very subtle thing of noticing whether you're pulling towards them or pushing away. So I use that coxswain math as a means of gauging distance. But a good rule of thumb is that it is better to call distance than strokes. Because if you say we've got about 250 meters to go, nobody knows what that is. They're anaerobic. But if you go, we have 10 strokes left, and there was 11, I can guarantee you, they will all remember that because they're all counting. So if you can't give exact numbers just do distance ... 'We're about 250 to go'. Nobody knows if you're at 270 or at 235. That's how I would handle it.
BREANA: For me, personally, this is a pretty big area of weakness, I feel, and it's something I would really like to improve on because I think having that skill mastered can take a coxswain to the next level. I think using distances is an excellent work around. And it is definitely safer than being off by plus or minus whatever at the end of the race. But if you can earnestly tell them that it's 10, rowers feel so empowered by saying, 'I can do 10 strokes. I barely have anything left in the tank, but I can do 10'. So I would love to improve my skills in that regard. But I'm not there now. One of the ways that I have tried to approximate or build ... I hope this is building towards Sally's coxswain math abilities ... is by just kind of estimating to myself. When I'm practicing on my home course, there's a landmark I know - a bridge I come up to every day ... I'll be some distance away from it - and I'll just try to say to myself, "I bet that at the pace we're going right now, we're 25 strokes away". And then I'll count in my mind and I'll see how close I was by the time that we reach that landmark. And none of that has to be said out loud to the rowers unless you start to feel more confident, but that's the way that internally I tried to build my estimation skills of distances - is by using known landmarks. And as Sally was alluding to, it really depends on each crew that you are in. So - depends on how long they are ... depends on what rate they're at ... it depends on what kind of power they're applying. And so that's something that I feel I have to establish once I'm in each boat as it moves during a race. And it's very challenging. We especially (as we've said here) welcome anyone's suggestions on how to build up this skill of measuring distances because I know it's something that probably challenges a lot of us, and it's something that could definitely elevate all of our coxing if we master that. So please share wherever you can - social media or Slack community. Give us your tips. Our 7th question came from Reagan - a high school coxswain who asked, 'Could you possibly do an episode about being the underdogs in a situation... like how to motivate your boat when they know that we're up against a really tough crew, and how to then push your crew to gain those seats back after they have been lost?' And again, I would point everyone towards the Slack community for some really excellent detail answers there. And we will give our brief thoughts on this topic of being the underdog here today.
ANNE: This is an area that I deeply struggle with. And I cannot wait to hear other people's suggestions. There have been so many times when we've been passed - we are so far back that we are hardly in the same race. I'm going to give an example of one race that I was in. It was 1000 meters, and when we were at the 500 to go, the horns were going off for all of the other boats. That is how far back we were. And I have to tell you, I was deeply unnerved at that point. I think I probably sat silent for five or more seconds and just was struggling about ... okay, how are we going to get through the next 450 meters. So I commiserate with those of you who face this challenge, and can't wait to get some more ideas.
SALLY: So I believe the vernacular at least here in the states is: DFL. And when things happen -like Anne was saying - you add on DFL/COE which stands for 'dead freakin last' and you lose sight of the boats and/or lose by COE which is the 'curvature of the earth'. So yeah, when you're in DFL position and COE, it's really hard to maintain that ... that positivity and that energy. But I think that's when it's most critical. For me as a coxswain, I'm in it to win it because you never know ... six seat in the lead boat could fail a steroid test ... or you could suddenly discover that the winning boat has dropped an outboard. You know, miracles happen. So I never give up. But what I do is I change the focus from, "Oh, we can catch them. We have contact" and I take it from being us in the thick of it to internally what's happening in the boat because I do believe that not all victories get medals. And if you can reframe your coxing, if you can reframe the race so that what they are doing is still their best effort and they can keep their head high - that regardless of what happened in all the other lanes, they rowed their best race and it's a victory for them. And they can leave the water knowing that they gave it all. I think there's no shame in it. I mean, I not the biggest fan of coming in COE but that's how I try to change my coxing. I try not to make it obvious, too - like 'We're three seats down ... we're six seats down ... we're two and a half chapters of War and Peace down' - but you know, like, I tried to rephrase it. And then I take it from being just about how we place to what we're doing, and I transfer ownership to the individual. So if it's a novice crew, when they've never done this before I tap into their fears and remind them that - "Yes, you hurt but you're choosing to do this. This is your call. This is your choice. They're challenging us, they're pushing you. Push back. Own it on this one. Make a choice here." If it's more of a status thing, I will go, "I want you to think about the teammate behind you. Your teammate is doing everything they can to push us to the end of the line. Don't let them down. I need you to pull for them. Pull for their work. Pull for the fact that they're getting up and they're sacrificing. Don't be the one to let your team down. You deserve to be here. This is yours." I'll do stuff like that or like ... another favorite of mine is when Caesar was (and depends again, who I'm talking to) ... when Caesar was about to conquer Rome, he stormed the city and burned the boats so that nobody had a chance to retreat when they cross the Rubicon. I will explain that on dry land. And then usually at about 500 meters when people are gasping for air, I will remind them, "This is your Rubicon, this is your choice. There is no retreat. You can fight through this. You can choose to be strong, or you can choose to give in, but I know that there's more to you. Pull. You have chosen this. Embrace this. This is your fight." One of my favorites is - especially with novices, I remind them, "If you only had one race to define your legacy as a rower ... if you had one race to carve your name into the lexicon of rowing, what will it look like? Make it that race. Make it now. Make these strokes your best strokes ever. And I want you to pull for the people coming behind you because you are a role model. Show people what grace - show people what grit under pressure looks like. I want you to stand up and earn your spot in the legacy. Earn your spot in the sport." And that usually covers about four and a half minutes. I'd like to say I genuinely and sincerely believe what I'm saying. And I really believe saying these things to draw something out of people and take it away from - "You know what, lane three has six Olympians, and they have more gold medals than pirates have plunder. So I'm not racing them. I'm racing with you. And I want to make your race the best race possible." How do I encourage you to silence the demon in your head and encourage you and the boat become greater than the sum of its parts?
BREANA: I really appreciate those examples, Sally. That's - I hope - going to be really helpful to the listeners as you each find or develop your own voice. You know for me, a call about the Rubicon is never going to be it. But for Sally, it 100% works.
SALLY: So we're still friends, Breana … even though … we are still friends.
BREANA: Absolutely. So I appreciate that you provided some actionable calls there that people can take and tweak and try out. And I think also in these answers, you have spoken to the two scenarios that can emerge here that may come to our minds based on Reagan's question - which is the ‘maybe there's a chance scenario’. And the answers on Slack (I'll say) spoke to both of these. So there's a wealth of information there and in the ‘maybe there's a chance scenario’, a lot of the things that Sally was saying would be excellent. And if you feel that slipping away - you know the boat is within reach but you can tell that your moves haven't been working - what I try to do is to say, “Okay. They're walking away but I want this to be the hardest walk through of a boat that they have ever had to do in their lives. I want them to have to expend so much energy. They might think that they've got it and this is an easy walk and instead they're going to have to fight tooth and nail to finally get clear. You know, every coxswain's waiting to make the call, ‘Yeah, we have open water’ and we're gonna deny them that for as long as possible.” That's a way that I sometimes approach that strategy. And then I personally have (kind of) an internal metric - kind of like you were saying, Sally - no boat wants to hear, ‘We're eight lengths back … keep fighting’, so for me it's probably about (like) a length and a half is when I’m gonna go back internal with the boat and work on those internal goals. And it's really critical - as you guys laid out at the beginning - that that we don't give up because we're the voice of the boat and if we do, then why should the rowers even be trying to continue. What's motivating them at that point if not you since it's not going to be winning a medal, for example. So it's a really tough situation but hopefully people find solidarity in the fact that so many of us - probably all of us in the coxing world - have been there at one point or another for sure.
SALLY: We did get a question - our 8th question - from Beth who is a collegiate coxswain who wanted to know some answers to the coxswain journal prompts that we mentioned in Episode 002. And Beth asks, ‘If you could do one thing differently when getting a fresh start on a new team what would it be, and what is the one thing you could tell your novice self?’
ANNE: I love these two questions and I know that I’ve been pondering them for a while. I think I’m going to pick up with the second question. And to my novice self, I would say - it's going to take a long time. Keep at it but it is going to take longer than you think. There are so many aspects to our role that you just build on the skills, but it's not as if you suddenly … or let me say this … I have not yet suddenly hit a spot where it's like, ‘Oh it's all coming together now and I feel like I am ultra confident about my skills in a boat’. (Just) I would tell my novice self - build it piece by piece. There will be times when you'll have the ‘aha moment’ or you'll be able to integrate all of the aspects - the positive things that you've learned - for the betterment of the crew but be patient. Keep your eyes and ears open. Continue to reflect on how you have been doing and also what your objective is. And I think it's great to have the bar set high. I certainly have multiple coxswains that I deeply admire and aspire to be more like. I happen to work on CoxPod with two of them. But I hold them out - in different aspects that they present - as my goals and I don't lose sight of that. So again, to my novice self - oh boy, it's a lot more complicated than you think right now. Stick with it. It's all worth it. How about you, Breana?
BREANA: That's a really beautiful reflection for coxswains at all levels, I think. I took some things from that. I'll answer the first question which is: if you could do one thing differently when getting a fresh start on a new team, what would it be? And these scenarios may happen to us. Perhaps we move to a new area. Perhaps we graduate from high school and start coxing in college. This is worth reflecting on even if you're going to be on the same team for a long time. One thing that I would like to do personally is establish a little bit more discipline in terms of things like the difference between ‘weigh enough’ and ‘let it run’… and clarifying to the crew that in one of these situations, we're just stopping and in another one of these situations we're going arms away putting the handle to the gunnels and we're waiting until I give the command to set the blades down, for example. There are times where I’ve been with a crew for a long time and I get a little bit lazy on those elements or (you know) we let it run to gunnels and a couple of the people don't do it … and you know, when you've been getting up every morning for hours and you just don't have the energy sometimes to establish discipline in that moment. And those are some things that I wish that I had done on previous teams that had not let get so slack perhaps. And things that if I joined a new team - as I will be doing - those are things that I would like to establish up front.
SALLY: As a coxswain to tell my novice self, like you, Anne, I would remind myself that it gets better. It's not going to be as hard. It's not going to be as miserable. It's not going to be as lonely. And on those dark days when I didn't wear enough clothes and the freezing rain is dripping down my spine … I'm laying in a puddle of water (I hope it's water) and like my cox box is out. I had the great privilege to row with several people who are no longer with us who shared their passion and love of the sport, and when that happens and when my cox box goes out or break an oarlock or someone decides to go out with sculling blades in an 8+, I just think about how precious that time is and what my friends would give for that opportunity. Sometimes I just want to be angry but (like) … what would my friend Mary give for one more day on the river no matter how miserable it would be. And it reshapes it for me. I need that reminder to remember how precious it is and just to stay humble and kind because far greater people than I am had to reach back to help me get my place. And I want to be the person that reaches back and helps people exceed my abilities. So that's what I’d tell my novice self. That … and don't wear jeans - they're far too cold. Invest sweetie, invest in warmer clothes.
BREANA: Yes. Please - never wear jeans. Oh my gosh, I don't know how people cox in jeans but some do. Thank you for your inspiration, Beth, to consider these questions. I think that really helped us end on a nice note here. And we had such a great time preparing for this episode. And it really speaks to the variety of listeners that we have and the questions and concerns and just points of commiseration that have come up across our different channels for communication. And we can - at the same time - relate to each of these questions that came up. And we really found that we need to rely on each other as a coxswain community to come up with more answers to these questions - especially those super challenging situations that so many of us struggle with. And as we've encouraged throughout, if you have thoughts on any of these topics, please share those in our Slack channel, on our social media, or on our website through that contact form. And we'd love to hear your reactions to what we covered here as well. You know, this is an opportunity for you - the listeners - to kind of drive the direction of future content. So anything here could be flushed out into a full-fledged future episode if there's interest in that … and hearing from the community about what resonated with you the most will help us drive the course of that future content.
SALLY: Yeah, these answers aren't the only solutions. These are the opinions of three wise, sagely, and except for Breana, gray-haired individuals. Sorry, Anne. But they’re our opinions and we'd love to hear yours … and your experiences. And we want to put ourselves out there - that we're open and willing to be taught and instructed and we want the benefit of your knowledge and wisdom.
ANNE: Yes please - I need those answers. I need more ideas. So thank you very much for reminding us about that, Sally.
SALLY: Also: don't wear jeans.
BREANA: And yes - please keep asking questions. Many of us have the feeling that we're (kind of) coxing in isolation but hopefully this and other content that we produce helps us all feel that we're not alone. And your question might get featured on a future episode of this nature. We're so excited to round up questions and do another one of these. We'd also love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. And we're so excited to bring you more content soon. So until next time, I'm Breana. I'm Anne. And I’m Sally … signing off for now.