023 | Coxing an Erg Race
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated solely to coxing topics. I’m Anne. I’m Sally. I’m Breana and we're three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. We learn a great deal by sharing with each other and want to foster a community that encourages skills development and discussion. We're happy you're joining us.
SALLY: Today's topic is coxing an erg race. This is something that you're very likely to encounter as part of your coxing career. It's either going to be in the context of an erg test to qualify fitness or position in a boat or it's going to be an actual erg competition. Erg competitions - at least in the US - are held all over the country … typically in the winter months. And if you're curious, we suggest you check out Row 2k's calendar of events. There's usually some pretty pithy and creative names and we will link that in our show notes. So - an erg race is fascinating. It's awesome. It's pretty much a bank of ergs arranged and the coxswains will be sitting or standing in between competitors. Anne … Breana … you guys both participated in these.
ANNE: I have Sally - in a limited way - so it's not something that I’m hugely familiar with. I have only coxed at one particular race which is the CRASH-Bs in Boston, which is a very large competition.
SALLY: I just want to stop and point out Anne is very humble to say that she coxed at the CRASH-Bs. The CRASH-Bs were at one time the indoor world championship of erging. They're definitely up there in the indoor rowing hall of fame.
ANNE: That's quite something to attend. How about you, Breana?
BREANA: I have also done a couple of different venues in my day. Several different indoor competitions occurred in the various places that I have lived and coxed over the years. It's a really unique experience if you've never done it before. It can be very loud and energizing and exciting and the coxswain has a role to play in these events so if this is something that your team takes part in on an annual basis, we hope that you'll get a lot out of this episode. And as Sally mentioned at the beginning, we're also going to spend a little bit of time addressing the related situation where your team is conducting a 2k (for example) test - some kind of test piece that you may be called upon to cox as well. So we hope both of those things will be addressed by what we're going to talk about here.
ANNE: When we talk about coxing erg racing, let me take the point of view of the novice coxswain. And one of my questions is going to be to the two of you who have done this a lot more than I have. Are erg races all the same length?
SALLY: They seem forever and indeterminate when you're in the middle of them. However, they are not all the same length. The typical distance is 2000 meters - that's standard. However, Breana and I have both coxed events that were 500 meters long … that was a half marathon long … that was 30 minutes long … so they can vary and I think the distance is going to really affect how you're going to go into this, right? You're not going to want to yell at somebody for 30 minutes straight.
ANNE: Thanks, Sally, for that clarification. And maybe we could just roll right into the things that are same and different with being on the water or being on land and coxing an erg race.
SALLY: Coxing on land may seem diametrically opposed to coxing on water. I mean - nobody's going to ever ask us to steer an erg and if they do ask us to steer an erg, there are other greater issues at play. But one of the things you're doing on land is you're establishing and working within your leadership role … you're still embodying task master, cheerleader, motivational speaker, and occasional therapist. And you are still the time keeper. You are still the arbiter of information but you're not going to be confined by a seat and you're going to be able to better communicate with your rowers because you can see them face to face.
BREANA: That really is one of the hallmarks of coxing an erg competition - is that it's very likely that you're going to be doing a lot more one-on-one engagement with rowers … perhaps rowers who have personally requested that you be their coxswain for this event. And so one thing that we want to emphasize here is that rowers have different motivations that bring them to the seat at an erg competition let's say. And they need to be coxed through these events in different ways and so in order to serve these rowers the best that we possibly can as coxswains, we need to figure out what is motivating them to be there and what their goals are.
SALLY: You're absolutely right, Breana. One of the things you have to think about is - is this rower trying to win? Are they trying to beat a personal best versus are they competing with their own demons? Are they trying to just establish their own athleticism? How they are approaching the race really needs to change how you are approaching race. I was very fortunate to have coached a crew of cancer survivors and one of the women - she lost a lung and a half to both cancer and treatments, so when this woman was on the erg, it hurt. And the best she could do was a 12 and a half minute 2k. Her effort was extraordinary and her focus and her determination was incredible. That 12 and a half minute 2k was phenomenal when you consider she was doing it with half a lung. And the effort and the energy she put out at that 12 and a half minutes - which some people would totally snub and speak down on - was her personal record. It was her best. It was her being an athlete. And I want to make sure that when you're approaching it, understand where your athletes are and you don't want to punish somebody whose 12 and a half minute 2k is the best they can do. Celebrate it. Encourage them. Push them to do it in 12 minutes and 29 seconds. Really, it's going to be a huge variety of people and efforts.
ANNE: It strikes me that this is an opportunity for coxswains to truly zero in on the specifics of that individual rower … how important that is whereas in a boat, often we have to look at the boat as a whole. Here we get to interact with the rower as an individual and take their specific needs and concerns and help them to do their very best.
BREANA: Yeah - even though erg races bring their own challenges - that one-on-one relationship with a rower can certainly be intimidating … as we'll talk about - there's a lot that comes with that. It is - as you said, Anne - really nice to not have to make any compromises like you do when there's eight people in the boat. You can focus on this one person and their needs … however they need to have things called … whatever they need said or not said … whatever technical corrections they need or don't need. You can bring exactly what they're requesting and that is a really cool aspect of erg racing.
SALLY: One of the things, too, about the rowers now being individuals: the fear, the pressure, the excitement, all these things that was previously spread across an entire boatload of people, it's now just on them. It's their effort and their work and their performance that's going to be seen and quantified. And that magnifies fear and that increases excitement and trepidation. Rowers who are rock solid, steady, coolest cucumber - you suddenly see them shaking and quaking and nervous and that's because they're alone in the spotlight that they previously shared with their teammates. and I think that aspect of racing on an erg is really important to take into consideration.
ANNE: So I’m thinking that that has a lot of impact on how you prepare for race day. Is that what you're driving towards … in part, Sally?
SALLY: Yes. Very much so. Breana is the planner. let's be honest - Breana is the planner and even now she's got a note card out and she's jotting all this down. But how you plan for a head race … how you plan to cox a sprint race in a boat … is going to be very different than how you cox a race when it's one-on-one. Breana the planner - you really are the one who should be speaking of this. I’m like … I’ve read about a plan once.
BREANA: So the way that this process of coxing an erg race ideally starts is well before the day of the actual race. We're saying ideally here - and there's certainly going to be circumstances where you're approached as someone is walking to the erg. Perhaps you get asked to cox, but it may also happen that a rower approaches you beforehand and says will you cox me at such and such event that is coming up? And then the two of you can enter into a conversation about how you can best support them during that experience. So it's really a back and forth. You know, you don't have to determine their entire race plan but you guys enter into this conversation where you're saying basically: how can we come up with a plan that's going to serve you and that isn't just: “Why don't I just push until I die 2000 meters later?” We can do better than that and that's what you're seeking to do with this rower. So you may ask them, for example, what kinds of vocabulary words really resonate with them. I’ve had a rower who wanted a very specific sequence at 600 meters to go - “I want you to start telling me to push harder on the legs. At 500, quicker hands … such and such.” And some people have a very regimented thing that they already know works for them and then others – again, it may be more of a conversation where they say, “I don't know. This is my first ever event like this. What am I supposed to do?” And you can offer them some guidance. Maybe – “okay, we're going to start with some number of high strokes. We want to make sure that by 200 meters in, we've settled down so that we can pace ourselves. What sort of pace have you typically been holding?” And again, it's this real conversation - back and forth between the two of you - so that you aren't going in completely blind and the rower is getting your help in having the best race that they possibly can.
SALLY: I think it's funny you should bring it up like this, Breana. The O’Donovan brothers who won silver (I believe it was in Rio), they're like, “The race. Somebody says go. We row hard. They say stop. We stop.” There are people who have that race plan and they're awesome, but some people have every stroke calculated … “And on this one, I want you to tell me this and on this …’. It's really important to: a) understand their race plan, b) how to keep them on their race plan, and c), what to do when they fall off the race plan and know when to abandon their race plan altogether. That's a language and a vocabulary you - really if you can - try to talk about beforehand because that's going to be critical to their success.
ANNE: Another factor here and it seems obvious but I do want to state it, is that some of the information that generally we're responsible for in a boat - it's sitting right there in front of them on the erg … on the monitor. So that information is not something that you'll necessarily be giving them. You'll be watching it and potentially sharing that with them just to make sure that (you know) they're not so oxygen deprived that they don't know where they are. That does happen of course, but understanding what information they already see and augmenting it in some way - depending upon the race plan and what they prefer - seems kind of important to me, right?
SALLY: I think that's brilliant, Anne. And not to underestimate the fact that these rowers are deep within their pain cave, right? Just because they see they're at a 36 stroke rate doesn't mean they should be at a 36 and just because they can see it, don't assume that they know what's best. You might need to remind them, “Hey. 36. Not so much … not now”. Or you might need to remind them, “Hey. I know this hurts but you're only at a 36. You have to bring this up if you want to win”. So sometimes just because they can see the information doesn't mean they have the ability to interpret it.
ANNE: So we have touched on actually what happens during the race itself. Should we go back a bit to talk about the pre-race preparation? You know ,the day-of kinds of activities that we could or should be thinking about?
SALLY: There's going to be a little bit less orchestration, right? You don't need eight people to put down oars. You don't need everybody to carry the erg to the platform. These things are already going to be set up. So the rower really just has to warm up and go. And the things that are normally a team's responsibility … that are usually divided over nine people … suddenly become one person's problem. They have to make sure they're warmed up. They have to make sure they're hydrated. And it's these little things that we can assist them with. We can, you know, make sure that they're getting water and they're staying off their feet. We can make sure that they've got their paperwork before they sit down. Make sure that they're warming up. Make sure they've given themselves enough time to warm up. These are things that they generally don't have to worry about on their own. And your coach may have told everybody to do this or (you know) everybody's on their own, but I think it's really helpful to know what your rowers should be doing. And that way you can either help motivate them … remind them … carry things for them … just be in an assisting role because we're trying to help them get their best performance out.
BREANA: And don't forget to do your own planning as well. I have been at an erg competition where I was managing responsibilities for three different teams that I was coxing for and before even arriving at the venue, I spent a good bit of time reading the race packet (if you will) - the informational packet - and making sure I understood. This was a very large event with multiple banks of ergs which would all simultaneously have different events running on them. And so I had to plan which bank of ergs am I going to be at which time, where is this person, what kind of event are they in, what do they need, if I have two people in the same event how close together are their ergs …. am I gonna have to jump back and forth between them, this person - they're getting on the erg right after the person I’ve just finished with so I won't see them in the warm-up area … I need to tell them that tell them not to freak out when they don't see me there. There's a lot of complexity the more and more teams that you end up supporting and the more people on each of those teams if you find yourself in a situation like that. So definitely make sure you have your own logistics locked down as well and planned out beforehand. You want to make sure that you aren't overextending yourself and trying to be in two places at once.
SALLY: But if anybody could be in two places at once, Breana, I’m sure you would have unearthed the paperwork and been able to do that.
BREANA: It was an elaborate index card that year, I’ll tell you.
SALLY: Was it one of those things where you wrote on it in red ink and blue ink and then wore the 3d glasses so if you closed one eye, you could see the writing on one side …
BREANA: Didn't have to go quite that far but there's probably some color coding, no doubt.
SALLY: One of the other things that's unique here is lightweight weigh-ins. And it's going to be very different than when a coxswain weighs in because where we weigh in, we have to make sure we are at a minimum. A rower weigh-in has to be at a maximum and it's stressful and it's frustrating and it's nerve-wracking. I would advocate making sure that if anybody in your team is weighing in that you are providing them both physical and emotional support. There is nothing, nothing worse than watching some poor person row in (you know) sweat pants and a coat … you know, thick wool hat trying to sweat their way down to the proper weight. I don't encourage the sweating it off but it is a practice people do so I would just be aware of it. It is a similar stress to a coxswain weigh-in. All the same, it's unpleasant. I guess that leads a little bit into anxiety, right? How do y'all deal with the anxiety of your rowers at this event?
ANNE: My experience with that, Sally, is that the rowers are much more inward because it is them on the erg alone. They are a little more focused whereas in a team race, it's much more of a group experience. I find most of the time, my best strategy is to be quiet and let them lead the way in terms of the amount of interaction that they want or need. Breana what about you?
BREANA: I take a similar approach. I try to just handle little things if I can (you know) that they may have forgotten like, Oh, we're getting in line to start cueing for our event. Oh you forgot your water bottle over there (like) … don't worry, I grabbed it”. Just little things that don't require you to be inside their head necessarily but you just take other inconveniences and stressors out of their way. And you're just ready to do whatever they say. “Hey, can you watch my stuff. I gotta go to the bathroom. It's the final call.” “Yep. Absolutely. Happy to do that’” You know – little, little things like that. I look for ways to help and maybe lessen their anxiety.
SALLY: We are helping them get the best out of their performance and that's going to take different shapes and different actions depending on the person. You are by no means their butler. They are not there to order you around. You are to assist your teammate to get better and just make sure that when you are helping out, you are protecting your own boundaries, too, because this gets really easy on race day. You're running around taking care of everybody else and you forget to take care of yourself. And you are asked to cox this person and grab this and do that and just because you are not the one who is physically doing the 2k doesn't mean that this isn't going to be a lot of effort and energy taken from you. So you are going to have to make sure that you remember your role - you're here to assist your teammates … help them get the best out of themselves and their performance … but you need to make sure that you remember that you are a part of this team and protect your boundaries. And sometimes you need to ask others to help you help them.
ANNE: That's a great point, Sally. Also I think it's a great way to transition into discussing more details about what happens during the actual racing experience. I’m wondering if you could describe the physical layout that you might encounter so that our listeners will be feeling prepared.
SALLY: Well, there aren't any oars. I find that most disconcerting. Depending on the size and the complexity and the budget of the event, there's going to be different degrees of staging but generally, there's the warm-up erg section which will be separate from the race section. And usually there's some sort of transition - a curtain, a hallway - between the warm-up area and the race area. In the race, you can have up to (I think) like 60 ergs networked together and you can see your competition on the erg screens or on a display on the big screen. Please expect that there's going to be a lot of auditory and visual distractions - the ergs, the sound of people cheering, it just gets loud. So if you have stimulation issues, earplugs or headphones are definitely not a bad way to go.
BREANA: So after you've departed the warm-up area, there may - or may not have been - some kind of intermediate location where you were queuing up. Those vary and how elaborate they are or whether they exist. And then your event is invited out to the bank of ergs that are all connected in some way and so that rower - which again, is part of your preparation - will have an assigned location on those ergs. They sometimes have a number on the front and back to help you know where you're supposed to be. And then they'll sit down on that erg. They'll be able to interact with its settings … you know, take some practice strokes. And oftentimes, their name will be displayed on the erg. So again, they're very stressed. They're nervous. That's a place where you can help just give that a double check: make sure you're standing in the right place. Let that rower get situated and then eventually they will be called to put their handles down, stop warming up or moving the flywheel in any way. And then a start will begin and that is typically displayed on the erg screen itself. So that's an electronic start and so you want to coach your rower to be prepared and watching for that because the race will go on whether they're watching it or not. And so the erg screen will cycle through various screens - letting them know that the race is about to start - and then they will be allowed to take their first strokes and then the race is on.
SALLY: So now that we're racing, what are some of the things that you guys look for? Some of the pitfalls we should be aware of that occur once the athlete has started?
ANNE: My first step is to make sure that I have a real clear understanding of that race plan which. as we said before, you have gone over with the rower. How close are they to maintaining that? And trying to make an assessment of - if they're varying from it, is it significant? Is it something you need to address? Can you let it go because they're making an adjustment on the fly? It's really difficult. I find it very, very challenging.
SALLY: I find (you know) now that I am not focused on steering and that my energy isn't going to trying to sync up eight rowers, I can really, really - for better or worse - focus on this one individual. What are the things that are going to help them? Watching their form - do they need reminders to sit up … do they need me to count for them … do they need me to remind them to breathe? I am coxing this race in a very similar manner that I would be coxing a boat but I get to hone in and focus on this one individual. I think it's really quite extraordinary. Breana?
BREANA: There are a couple of things that I try to look out for. You mentioned deviations from the race plan, Anne, and it could be in either direction, so I often find really early, the biggest danger being the ‘fly and die’ as we call it. The rower comes out super-fast. They feel fantastic. I mean, they're coming off that adrenaline and energy and they are well above - or in terms of split, well below - their anticipated race plan and sometimes they're having a fantastic day and they're going to be able to finish at that pace and they're going to pull the best piece of their career. In other cases - more often I find - they're just running on that energy and they need to be calmed down so I try to employ different language that (you know) is not framed as like ‘I don't think you have the strength for this’ - it's framed as ‘Let's hold back a little bit … let's settle into our pace … let's relax … let's make sure we find something we can hold’. Those are all different kind of pieces of language that I might use to try to rein a person in within those first couple hundred meters so that they do have some energy left. So that's one phenomenon that I see. And then the other way that the race plan can be deviated from is to pivot in the other direction. So a person is well above the split that they were going for. In that case, I’ve often - as part of my pre-race conversation with the rower – said, “Is there a split when you want me to start getting on your case (you know)?” Okay, you said my goal is to be at such and such. Are you cool with the deviation of one or two splits? If that happens for more than a couple strokes, what do you want? And sometimes people are able to give me something very specific: “So if you see me deviate for more than three strokes … for more than two splits above my goal, I want you to get back on my case and get me down to where I’m supposed to be.” Sometimes people have given me something like that. If they haven't, I will sometimes play it by ear and say, “Okay. Here's what we're gonna try - we're gonna let ourselves just breathe for two more strokes and that next drive, we're back.” And that's kind of what I’ll try to say. Maybe they can bring it back down. Maybe you try a 10 for something - 10 for hard legs … 10 for heels down … whatever you need to try to get them to get back on the pace. Those are a few things that I’ve employed in those scenarios where the split is higher or lower than the rower was expecting based on our conversation beforehand.
SALLY: I think it's very difficult to cox and speak in a language louder than the demons in their head. Here's the rower all by themselves - face to face with this number and this number is not what they think it should be. And the cycle of doubt … the anxiety … the demon starts telling them things they can't … they won't … they shouldn't. How you as a coxswain have to be louder and more articulate than the monster in their head ... I think that's a skill I don't always possess. So what do you do, ladies, when the monster - the lactic acid - gets so great that the rower stops. The demon just overwhelms them and they can't do it anymore. What do you do if they stop the flywheel or they stop in the middle of the piece? What do you say? How do you handle that?
ANNE: Fortunately I have not had that experience, so I’d like to listen and learn here.
BREANA: This one is pretty jarring and I think it's very helpful for coxswains to hear that this is possible and it doesn't mean that you have failed or anything like that. You know (again) the rower is battling their own stuff and you're there to support them through that. I have - in the times that this has happened - tried to pivot to language that's more like ‘Show yourself that you can finish this. Prove to yourself that you can get through this piece even if we're just paddling. As long as we're keeping that chain moving, the meters will tick down. This piece will end.’ I say that one a lot. I’m reminding them every piece before this has ended. This piece is also going to end. We keep taking strokes and those meters will count down even if their stroke’s at 15 strokes a minute … at a 3:30 split. You know, we're showing ourselves that we have the mental fortitude to not get up off that erg and we want to be proud of how we finish this and proving to ourselves that we can. So don't be alarmed - this thing can happen and it doesn't mean that you're a bad coxswain or anything like that. Again, it's just something personal going on with the rower and where you come in is you can try to help them finish in a way that they're proud of. That's my take on that.
SALLY: It's not uncommon when an athlete gets (you know) deep into this pain cave and everything gets raw and touchy and brutal that they are going to react not with their best logical self. And sometimes they're gonna yell back at you. Or they will cry. They are so depleted physically that all the guards they have reigning in their emotions overwhelm them for good and for bad. What do you guys do - because I always need advice - what do you guys do when you've got a rower that (you know) stop the flywheel … start it back up again … is so grateful for you to help them get through it that they start crying? Or crying because of their performance or crying because it hurts or just crying. I’m terrified about the crying.
ANNE: My response to crying, Sally, is you just gotta let it go. And the person - with their non-verbal behavior - will show you in some way whether it's just sit back and let them have their moment privately. A lot of people need (you know) a shell around them of privacy and not to draw attention to them. I’m thinking that most of the people in that circumstance do not want to have attention brought to what's going on … they feel out in the public enough that I want to minimize that. And if other people are approaching them - I have had this circumstance - if I judge the individual rower to be okay just having that time, I will sort of shield them from the person who might be approaching just to give them time until they can collect themselves. But the stopping thing - what do you do, Sally? Breana gave us some great terminology and some actionable steps to take potentially. What about you?
SALLY: I try to figure out why the rower stopped. If they stopped because they are not physically where they thought they should be and they're utterly dissatisfied: ‘This should be a sub eight and it's going to be an 8:10’. I try to get them to take ownership. “This is going to be a building block. This isn't where you want it to be but this is going to be the best where it is now and we are we're going to use this to get where you want.” And I try to change the focus. If it's pain related, right - because I’ve seen rowers actually injure themselves on the erg because they push too hard and they let the adrenaline take them to places they should not have gone - then we assess: is this real pain or is this the body just crying out to stop? And I try to talk them through this, “You've given birth. You can do this. You’re stronger than this”. Or you know, “Look at all you've overcome in your life. You can fight for these next three minutes. You have this in you. Do not let that clock … do not let this erg beat you. You are stronger than this. Show me what you're made of … show me what you came here to do.” And I try to tease something out of them that way. if it's the demon in their head - that's the one that's the hardest … the voice inside of them telling them that they can't finish this - it's reminding them that there's more to them than this erg number. That there is more that defines them than how they finish. Define themselves by character. Choose on this stroke to make a difference. And just keep giving them small little things to do. “I need you for 10 strokes … just 10 strokes. Hold on for me. Sit up for 10 strokes.” And then when those 10 strokes are done, “All right now - you did that for 10. For this 10 …” I changed the frame so it's not, “Oh my God, I’ve got 500 more meters or 1500 meters”. I give them smaller, more digestible bits.
BREANA: We've talked about a number of reactions that rowers might have during a 2k and one of them that you briefly addressed, Sally, was rowers yelling out loud at you as the coxswain. And this is something that can happen. Again, we bring it up here just so that it isn't as jarring - we hope - when it happens to you. And again, is not an indicator of you failing as a coxswain … being annoying as a coxswain necessarily. The rowers are dealing with a lot of personal things and sometimes that plays out in them turning around and saying something to you in the heat of the moment. It's very hard not to take that personally. You know, I’ve been told to … someone turns around snarls, “Go away”. Or “Shut up” or different things where they're not at their best. They're not thinking as clearly as they would and there's not a lot of decorum being brought to that situation. So it's just something to be aware of that can potentially happen in these environments.
SALLY: Another really important thing to take into consideration is that sometimes a rower will invalidate themselves and invalidate their own strength because they're like, “I can't pull a sub two” and they have their own psychological barriers. In the boat, they're always pulling a sub two. Are you kidding? They're beasts. But they see the number and they get scared of it and I think part of the coxswain's job is to help them see the number and work to what they're capable of - not be afraid of it … to own it. I think you should recognize that a lot of rowers - part of the demon that twists them - is they see these great numbers and they're like, “I can't hold this. This is gonna hurt too much to do for eight and a half minutes” and they allow the numbers to back them away. Ladies, what do you do when it's the middle of the erg race and somebody is sitting two tenths of a split outside the podium and they're hanging but they're kind of stagnating. They can't advance. They're not moving. What do you say? How does your coxing change to help them find the two-tenths of a split … to push them … to motivate them? What do you do in that situation where you are going to be the competitive edge? How are you the competitive edge?
BREANA: Yeah, this is one where you need to know the rower well and you need to know that this rower is capable of being pushed … wants to be pushed … really is striving to win. And let's say (you know) to go for it. And in this case, I’ve turned to calls like … one that is sometimes powerful is, “You're running out of time to make a change here”. Again, that's a certain type of person who's motivated by that. If you know the rower well and that's not going to work, you're not going to want to say a call like that - that could be very demotivating. But that could work for a person in this scenario who needs that extra boost to know (like) ‘If I don't start going now with only 600 meters left …. wherever we are … this could end with me feeling disappointed in my performance’. And in those moments, I try to tell myself I know this person has a goal and I don't want to leave the gym floor feeling like I let them leave something out there so how can we work together and feel like at the end we both gave everything that we possibly could - there was nothing held back there. So that also dovetails into language that I might use like, “We do not want to feel any regrets at the end of this piece … when we get up off this erg. We gotta lay everything down here.” This is all to say that there are times where a rower just needs a little bit of push and can handle that push and that's where you can really make the difference between podium versus not.
SALLY: For your athletes there are some things you can draw on in the heat of the moment. Another way to get that competitive advantage out of my rowers is I ask them to choose: “You have fought all season for this. You have trained two years for this moment. Is this result good enough for you? Does this represent what you put in? You are stronger than this. You are better than this.” Like you said, Breana, “You're running out of time. Now is the moment. Don't let all that pain and suffering go. This is yours.” These are powerful words and I think they need to be used judiciously and they need to be used sincerely. Don't just say them to say them. Say them because you believe them. Say them because you want the rower to believe them. I think there's a lot of magic and a lot of power in stuff like that.
ANNE: I absolutely agree, Sally and Breana, to the types of calls that you have suggested … again, used judiciously. And you can also - as you do in a boat - watch the effect of your words and your tone. You can tell whether or not it's making an impact. You have that feedback rather quickly. In the circumstance where you've got that person that can potentially give more - you've determined that that's possible - I also think that the way of dealing with the doubts and the fears that they may have … their uncertainty in that moment … is to let the rower lean a little bit on my belief in that person. So they can also take some of my belief in what they are capable of doing and augment what might be at that particular point something that's failing a little bit. So sometimes I will even say … you know, give the challenge and then I can say, “And I believe that you can do that”. And again, this is not for everybody because they're rowing their race … they're doing all of the work … but expressing a belief in what they're capable of doing can be a reinforcer. So have we got to the part where the rower’s race has stopped? Because all the rowers stop at different times - that's part of it - is the psychology, right? How do we deal with all of that group comparison?
SALLY: There is nothing worse than pulling your heart out and having the person next to you stop because they finished 100 strokes ahead of you. That hurts! When the external distractions drip away and that person can't focus on racing the person next to them … they don't have the sound and the energy of the flywheel moving next to them … that stroke that they're taking gets heavier. And so what I try to do is I get a little louder. I will try to make up for the white noise that's not being generated by the other ergs. So I tend to yell louder and focus more on (you know), “the harder you push the sooner this is over. Get those legs down you.” That's how I handle it. And making sure the effort of the people still rowing feels validated. Don't (like), ‘Oh, three people are done now. It's the time to turn away and do something else.’ There's somebody there who's still working. You don't want to discredit them or insult them by going, “Hey, how's that banana bread recipe, Anne?”
ANNE: I think that's a really important point to stress here is - our own frame of mind. From the coxing perspective, we need to be prepared …. before we go into these race scenarios … to deal with the ending of the race because it is a very different kind of experience - in my limited experience - from being let's say, in a sprint race where you have that same inequity in terms of finishing. But it's not less challenging. Because it's on an erg, I don't find it less challenging as compared to being on the water.
SALLY: So your rower has just finished and they have either surpassed their goals or they didn't. And all the pain and all the anguish and all the humiliation is coming flooding in right now. What do you do?
BREANA: Truthfully, I usually just let them sit in their own feelings for a minute. They're either feeling elated or they're feeling down and I often just let them process that themselves. Again, sometimes I’m turning an eye towards logistics like: okay, are we gathering up our stuff now so I’m ready to move when they're ready to move. If I’m close enough with them and I feel like we were really both in that - achieving something together - I might give them like a little pat on the back. You know, something like that that's just a small kind of subtle gesture. But I often kind of hang back and let them experience whatever they're experiencing and then when they're ready to turn to me and comment on that and bring me into the conversation, then I’ll take part.
SALLY: I can see Breana now – ‘We have exactly three minutes for you to process that information before I need you to get up off the erg. You have …’
BREANA: I keep that part to myself but it is going through my head.
SALLY: ‘...there is no crying … we didn't … if you look at the schedule right now … y'all we do not have on the budget … there no crying … there's no crying in rowing.’
ANNE: Oh. It's … it's a tremendously difficult question that you've asked, Sally even for somebody who has some (you know) some capacity to deal with emotions and so forth. Because what comes to my mind is at the end of the race, that's not my first concern. My first concern is when they stop that race, most of them are white or they're falling off the erg or they're getting ready to vomit. Some just lay down in strange positions. So really at the end of the race, my first concern is safety of myself and others and it later comes the emotional aspect. Am I - are my experiences so far out of the norm or not? And I’m also sorry - I’m a little more like Breana. I know that the next group of rowers is going to be coming in and they need to sit down and do their warm-up because these events are, in my experience, very tightly controlled. So I’m not trying to bypass your important question: what do you do with the person regarding their results? But I did want to mention - for coxswains who have not yet done this - that's a very important time when that race ends that you can help. Sometimes it's as much as taking the person's feet … helping them get their feet out of the shoes safely because they just don't even have any oxygen left to cope with that.
SALLY: Anne and Breana. They make the trains run on time. That's pretty awesome.
ANNE: So Sally, since you asked the question, I’m going to turn it back on you and ask you to respond to: what do you do with that rower that surpasses the goal … meets the goal … or falls short?
SALLY: There is generally such a catharsis of energy and emotion and you're right, you have to let the rower process it. But I want to make sure that the person who didn't do what they thought they should, doesn't wallow in it. And frame it for what it was - don't let that voice inside of them frame it because right now, the beast is weak and you can slip in some precious words so the beast inside of them said, ‘You suck. You can never do this. Why did you try blah blah?’ Make sure they hear you say, “That was a good effort. Wasn't what you thought but that was a good effort.” You know, don't lie to them. Be honest. “That was a hard fought 2k. You should be proud of yourself. You finished it. You're going to get it next time.” And for the person that that hit their goal and they’re happy again, the beast is weak. Stamp on that bad boy's head. Remind them they did a good job. “That was something to be proud of. Way to fight.” Yet while Anne and Breana are getting their feet out and cooling down, I think those moments are critical because again, it's such an emptying catharsis and raw emotion. Just give them something to keep that beast at bay. I think that's what's most critical.
ANNE: I think it's very interesting that Sally is bringing up the emotional stuff and the supportive words. And Breana and I? Breana and I are watching our watches. So just as a turnabout is fair play kind of thing, yeah Sally. Good.
SALLY: No. No, no, no, no, no, no, oh here's what's going on…
ANNE: Own it, Sally. Own it.
SALLY: I am standing up talking to people you're helping them that would get their shoes out and are getting sweated on and possibly puked on. Really? It's survival, people. It's survival.
ANNE: Is that how you're framing it? Okay. Good job.
ANNE: At this point I’d like to just toss out a couple of related topics before we do our final wrap-up. And the first of those is that we coxswains may have the opportunity to be event coxswains. And I’ll give you an example of that. At the CRASH-Bs where I’ve had my most experience with coxing races, the event puts out a solicitation for coxswains to go in and support the rowers who are there who don't have their own coxswains. Many do bring their own team coxswains or personal coxswains, but many rowers show up at the event and appreciate having a coxswain available to them. It's a really great way to meet other rowers … see what people do … make connections with the rowing community, and bring all your skills to bear for those people who don't have someone particularly dedicated right to them. So I wanted to encourage coxswains out there - our listeners - that if that is an opportunity, I urge you to try it out. It really can be an educational and rewarding experience. And the other topic I just really wanted to quickly touch on before we close is about the differences and similarities to running a 2k test as opposed to a race per se with your team.
SALLY: A lot of teams use a 2k result to determine ranking and where people sit and boatings and blah blah blah. And honestly, there's so many similarities right? There's rowers trying to do the best they can and row 2000 meters as quickly as they can. A lot of the things are germane - a lot of the similarities, right? It's individual … it's a raw number … it's people going deep, deep within a pain cave … lots of emotions … there's some crying. So it's very similar. But I find the 2k tests to be harder because there often isn't a lot of white noise. There isn't a lot of distraction. There isn't an announcer. There isn't somebody passing out two bays away from you … a small child running up and down the bleachers. It's (you know) often time just a handful of rowers working really, really hard. And I find those tests to be challenging. We're using a lot of the similar skills. We're trying to get the same end but it's just different enough to be painful.
BREANA: I agree with everything you said there, Sally. And one of the differences in terms of logistics that I have perceived - sometimes it goes very similarly - rowers approach individual coxswains to be their coxswain for the 2k test and things play out kind of as we've described and all the considerations that we've brought up thus far are in play. Other times, I’ve seen the approach where a team has a number of coxswains who are just the team coxswains - maybe one or two has been approached individually - but most haven't. And they kind of move around the ergs and support rowers whenever that's needed depending on where a person is in their particular own personal piece. And it still really helps you in that moment to know an individual rower's preference. There might be someone who absolutely does not want to be spoken to and you'll probably know that among your coxswain group and hopefully you guys can share that information if there's more than one of you. Or there might be someone who doesn't want to hear from you until halfway or later or there might be someone who needs a lot of encouragement or someone who really is trying to push for (you know) getting the eighth seat in the top eight. And I’ve seen this work where all the coxswains are sort of flexibly milling around - supporting whoever needs it in that moment and maybe multiple people are taking on some of the different roles that we have talked about previously. But many of the things that we've talked about here absolutely will help you handle that situation. So whether it's a 2k test internally within your team or an erg competition within your broader rowing community, the take-home that we hope you have from this episode is that there is a lot for the coxswain to do at these events. And a lot of the responsibilities that you'll take on are similar to the sorts of leadership responsibilities that you will have on the water. But there are some differences. And one of those hallmarks really in an erg competition is that you are having a much more individual relationship with a rower and you're really working one-on-one with them to help them have the best possible piece that they can. And so there's a lot of preparation you can do in advance as you're in conversation with that rower. And then there are a lot of possible contingencies to plan for that will keep you on your toes as that race is actually taking place. And it can be extremely rewarding no matter how the race goes to have been part of that rower's journey. So we hope that this episode supported you whether this is something that you have done a lot or something that you are preparing to do for the first time.
ANNE: That's a great wrap up, Breana. Thanks so much for that. And as our listeners are considering this topic, we hope that they're going to share with us some experiences via the Slack community so we invite people to go there and let us know your thoughts and experiences. And as we get close to the end of our episodes, we always have a Quick Pick and I’m going to lead that off. And our Quick Pick for this episode is music we do NOT want to erg to. And Sally's laughing so go ahead, Sally.
SALLY: God knows what's going to be on my playlist and sometimes it's (you know) my books on tape. And there's nothing like erging to applied economics. It's like dancing to architecture. It's dreadful. But the one that came up I found particularly painful is - I love Etta James and I think ‘At Last’ is this beautiful, languid pan that's just powerful and soulful and slow. And that came on during a 2k and it hurt and I couldn't get my hand off the flywheel to change the music and Alexa wasn't listening to me. And it hurt, y'all, it hurt. ‘At Last’. Man, that finish line never came along.
BREANA: My own experience is a song I have the entire soundtrack to - the video game ‘Portal’ - which is an older video game now but still fantastic. Still my favorite of all time. And there is a song towards the end of that game that comes on. Whenever it plays - and it's come up on shuffle as I’ve been erging in the past - it takes me back to that extremely stressful part of the game. And it's not the ideal feeling to be in while you are erging.
ANNE: Moving along to our Shout Out. How about that for this episode?
SALLY: Today's Shout Out is going to be: we would like to thank that one rower … that one-on-one interaction where somebody took the time to invite us to cox the erg race. They sought us out. They talk with us. They work with us in so many ways that acknowledges our worth and our value and for that, we're really grateful. So thank you to those rowers that see us more as than just dead weight in a boat.
ANNE: Absolutely. I have a special place in my heart for those rowers who actually sought me out and said, “Could you please cox me for this erg race?” It's something that's very - I hold very special - and it's dear to me. Thank you very much to those rowers. And as we finish up this episode, we do want to thank you for listening. We also invite you to engage with us on social media and join the discussion on Slack. If you like what we're doing, please consider financially supporting us on Patreon. We're excited to bring you more content soon and until next time, I’m Anne. I’m Breana. And I’m Sally - signing off for now.