027 | Calling Drills
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated solely to coxing topics. I’m Breana. I’m Sally. I’m Anne 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.
BREANA: Today’s episode is about calling drills. And drills really account for a lot of our time spent on the water as athletes. And when it comes to these, coxswains need to know what to call in the drill, how to call it with clarity and precision, and what sorts of technical elements to be looking for during the drill. These drills can feel tedious or boring and they might feel like they're really more intended for the rowers than for us as coxswains but they serve a purpose for us as well. And there's a lot of (again) precision and clarity and things that we can bring to make drills run as effectively as possible.
ANNE: Exactly, Breana. They do account for a lot of our time on the water and as such, there are lots of details that go into calling drills. Now I want to remind our audience that there are already lots and lots of resources out there that cover the technical aspects of drills. For example, you know exactly what the drill is comprised of as well as what it's intended to teach but we are not going to go into each and every one of those. Please feel free to use those resources - there are lots of them out there. However, we are going to give some examples.
SALLY: Drills are going to be generally dictated by the coach of the program and if you're lucky, you're going to get advanced notice but that doesn't always happen. Occasionally that happens on the spot when a coach sees something wrong with the crew and tries to address it. Drills - like everything else - are going to be affected by the coach, their personality, their regional dialect, and the particular rowing style that they choose to favor. So every coach … every region … is going to have a very distinct flavor to the drills and is going to ask that they be called in a particular way.
ANNE: With the variety of drills that Sally just referenced, I find that my response to being the cox and calling the drills is that it is very taxing. It is something that requires my attention and for me to be mentally alert and when people sometimes talk about drills, they might think it's a ho-hum kind of thing. Absolutely not for me. It is really important that I am an active participant - I am a leader in this effort - and in no way am I sitting back passively, so I often end up exhausted at the end of a session that's full of drills. And I would be curious to hear if our listeners have that same experience or if they just feel that this is part of the necessary pre-work to actually getting out and continuously rowing. It is something that requires a lot of my energy and I think that the more that you have experience with drills and understanding what their components are as well as when to use them, you can then pivot to being able to use those drills outside of a coached session if you have such opportunities to improve the performance of the crew that you're with. So how about if we dive right in then? And let's start the episode the same way many of us start our practices and that would be with the famous pick drill. Your response might be, ‘I could run this drill in my sleep’ and you know, you or your rowers might actually feel like falling asleep during it in some cases. Not for me. But let's explore that a little bit more.
BREANA: Just in case this isn't a universal term, we'll describe what we mean by this drill. So this is a drill where typically half of the crew is setting the boat and the other half progresses through the parts of the stroke in sequential order. It often starts as arms only … then we progress to arms and body. People might have a half slide stage in there and then finally full slide strokes. And this is really something that's designed to synchronize the crew - emphasize that appropriate body sequencing as we just talked about and then get the muscles warmed up. So this is typically run at the beginning of a practice. And we'd love to hear from our audience - we call this the pick drill. If you have other names for it, we'd be eager to hear that anywhere you can get in touch with us - coxspot.com/slack or on our social media.
SALLY: I have heard this drill called the pick drill or the progression drill. And basically how I would call it - and I’d like to point out that I am primarily an east coast rower and I’ve spent time in the mid-Atlantic region - how I would call it is: I would have bow four set it up … stern four sit ready to row at the finish … blade squared and buried … we're gonna row arms only … ready and row. And then as the drill progresses, I’ll count down - I’ll go, “Y'all we're gonna add the body swing in two. Ready, one, two … on this one.” So I give them plenty of time to both hear the drill and then to actualize what I’m asking for. But again, I’m a mid-Atlantic, North American rower. How do y'all do it? Anne?
ANNE: From listening to what you just said, Sally, I picked up something that I consider an interesting difference in the way that we approach calling this drill. What I heard you say is that you announced the activity - the change - and then you said, ‘in two’. You said body swing in two and then you explained the rest of it. You counted it down and they executed it. And my training as a coxswain has included feedback from coaches and rowers and they have suggested to me that it is helpful to start off with ‘In two’ and then describe what that change will be. And the reason is because then they'll know that - pay attention - they described it as … when they hear the words ‘In two’, it's like if you're daydreaming or you're distracted – rower, listen up … here comes something. It's just a different style and I just wanted to share that.
SALLY: So Breana, Anne and I talked about how we call the drills and we're starting with bow four, stern four. In this situation, what do you do when you want to integrate the other half of the boat?
BREANA: Yeah. There are a couple of different approaches to this. What I do most of the time is (you know) typically I’m going to go from stern four at full strokes to bow four at arms only. And the important thing to reflect on is that the boat has a lot more run as the rowers in stern four are completing their full length strokes than it will have with people just rowing arms only. So what I often do to kind of account for that is: on stern four’s final stroke, I’ll have them weigh enough and I’ll have bow four sitting ready at the finish … ready to pick it up arms only … and I’ll just let the boat run out for a moment so that we lose a little bit of our momentum. And that way when bow four comes in, they aren't getting kind of swept up by that much quicker run when all they're adding is the power of just their arms. But there are lots of different ways to do it. So how about each of you?
ANNE: I really appreciate that suggestion Breana because it seems like every year, this conversation comes up with the crews. So I’ve gone both the dead stop after the stern four finishes - we come to a dead stop, then we start with bow four. And then other groups want to go continuously … we don't even let it run and bow four ends up just (kind of) chop it away for the first few strokes and I have to wonder what benefit they are getting out of that piece when it's run that way. So thanks for that suggestion. I might try to adopt that as a middle ground at some point. I want to say that the only other thing that I might do if I am using that non-stop method is - the next time I leave the dock with that similar or same crew, I might start the drill with bow four instead of stern four. So I try to consciously swap which group starts off so that they get the full benefit of the pick drill.
SALLY: Sometimes it's advantageous - particularly if it's a pretty cold morning - that you rotate through. So it would be stern 4 or stern 6 rowing arms only, then add bow pair and drop stern out so bow pair is rowing arms only. Then switch to body swing then but so you're rotating through pairs. Everybody's getting to row - you just occasionally drop out a pair here and there to set the boat. How I prefer to do it - because y'all know I don't like to stop in life or in rowing - I will go through the entire sequence. So stern four – arms, then arms and body, then legs, and then what I’ll do is, I’ll have stern four rowing at full slide on the square. So I’ll go, “Bow four - sitting ready to row. Full slide on the square in two. Stern four out in two. Ready - one, two.” And then I will run the bow four through the sequence backwards. So bow four will then go half slide, arms and body, arms only. So that way, I’m working with the momentum of the boat and the rowers still get to focus and isolate. So those are just two ways I play with it. I definitely prefer the continuous motion one.
BREANA: So from just this single example of - seemingly the most fundamental simple drill in our sport - you can appreciate that among three coxswains here, we've identified at least four different approaches for this. And that's just from us and that really shows us that there isn't one right way to approach calling a drill. There are a lot of different modifications that you can make depending on the athletes you have, the conditions you're dealing with, and each of those has its own rationale and validity that's applicable to that given situation. So we hope that encourages coxswains everywhere to reflect on these things. Again something that might be a simple, automatic part of your everyday rowing practice, there's a lot of consideration that you can bring to that as the coxswain.
ANNE: I’d say consideration and creativity, right? it seems pretty much unlimited if you take a look at it. So perhaps we could next talk about some challenges of this drill. Breana can you tell us (maybe) what your thoughts are and what's challenging on this drill?
BREANA: Yeah. One challenge that I always face - given that this is often the drill that begins a practice and many of us practice in the early mornings in this sport - and so we're all still waking up, still getting acclimated to what we're going to do for the rest of the day at our practice and so my challenge is really the navigation of that social situation where I need to balance understanding that all of us have just woken up at a time that most people don't want to. And here we are … about to get into our practice … still convincing our bodies that this is what we're gonna do for the day. And so (you know) you don't wanna push off the dock and then start criticizing every little, tiny, technical aspect of what's going on here as rowers pluck away with arms only strokes. That is perhaps excessive but you also need to start to (kind of) get the rowers acclimated to that being the tone of the practice where you are there to bring that attention to detail and those corrective comments. And that's my challenge - is trying to balance that. You know, not being overbearing at the beginning of the drill but towards the end kind of transitioning the rowers into that mindset for the day of this is the dynamic - you guys are rowing, I am paying attention to what's happening here, and I’m making corrections that are going to improve the speed of the boat. So that's a challenge that I am always facing with this drill.
SALLY: I’m there with you, Breana, because I have been told by rower, ‘Sally please give us a chance to warm up. Give us a chance to wake up before you start nitpicking.’ And the urge is there to start going, “But you're doing this”. And I think - with all things moderation is the key - slowly acclimating them to making sure they know that this is going to be a very technical piece and getting them used to it. But I wouldn't hit them with a barrage of comments all at once. What I do basically to shut myself up is I start focusing on the rowers and I start looking at what they're doing because when they are distracted and when they're phoning it in and when they are thinking about laundry lists or picking their kids up from school, they're not really paying attention to their rowing form. And you get this sense of what the rowers naturally do - what is their endemic style of rowing and you just get a greater understanding of like - ah, three seats generally gonna sky … four seats gonna slug the finish … you get to see them (like) raw and unpolished.
ANNE: That perspective, Sally, is gonna help me because I do tend to be much more of the precision right off from the dock and also have that tendency as you both shared. But I now am going to pay more attention to their genuine behavior when they are distracted as an indicator of how they might be (you know) rowing in a stressful situation or when they're exhausted. So thanks for that suggestion.
SALLY: I think when calling these drills, if you can communicate with your coach - and we all acknowledge that coaches aren't always the best at communicating in general - but to communicate the purpose of the drill and the speed of the drill and the pressure that you want because you can use the same drill at paddle pressure … at race pace. If you can understand - or get your coach to give you some shorthand about the power that they want, the speed they want, the focus that the coach is looking for - it's going to help you guide the purpose of the drill. So when you're going to call these drills, try to communicate with your coach what they are looking for and try to modulate your vocabulary to help work towards the overall goal and instead of distracting your rowers and doing something different.
ANNE: Sally, I think that that's a brilliant point and the reason is because what you're talking about applies to all drills. Often I get so hung up on the technical aspects or the (you know) the numbers, the counting etc. that I might forget to let the rowers know what is the pressure (you know). Are we here for distance or are we here for numbers of strokes? What's coming next? Sort of framing it all in a piece. But things such as what pressure they should be using even with a pick drill. I think that's something very important that a skilled coxswain should point out and articulate. So the first drill that we've been talking about is the pick drill and that is really one designed to isolate parts of the stroke and to emphasize the synchronization of the rowers. Another type of drill that addresses this is the pause drill and because I find one particular type of pause drill very, very complicated and challenging, I’m going to suggest we talk about that. And that is the double pause drill. So why don't one of you describe it and then we'll figure out how to call it. Please? Because I need advice in this section.
BREANA: So in this drill, the rowers are going to take the drive part of the stroke as normal and then they're going to have two designated pause positions on the recovery and these could be at any two points. The example that we'll use moving forward is pausing at arms away and then bodies over. So what'll happen is the rowers will take the stroke, extract the blade, move the arms away and pause, and then they'll pause again after pivoting the body over, and then they'll go to the catch take another stroke and pause again at that arms away position. And so where we'll head for the rest of this section is talking about how we orchestrate that with our calls. And as Anne said, it can be a tough one.
ANNE: Well, why is it tough? For me it's tough because it's a lot of guidance to the crew and cycling through the pairs - if I’m in an eight and two people are setting up the boat - cycling through the groups is very challenging for me. However to start off with, here's how I call it - and again we're cycling through by sixes - I’ll say, “In two, we're going to go to a double pause drill. In two – one, two”. They pause. Then I say, “Up” or “Go”. And then they pause again and then I say, “Up” and then they take the next stroke. And then they do the pause. This is assuming that every stroke is filled with two pauses. So in order to switch pairs, I end up doing the talking for that at one of the pauses and an effect of that is that there's a long pause with me talking quickly saying, “Bow pair will be in next. Stern pair will be out”. And they're holding that pause that whole time and it does not work smoothly. So I am game to hear some suggestions on how to call that more effectively so there's less pausing at the pause.
SALLY: It is exacting. Timing is critical and you really need to be sharp - on point - because you are directing it. You are conducting this and if you are often sloppy, your rowers get off and sloppy.
BREANA: I’ve also experienced this struggle and have been routinely experimenting with different approaches to see what runs the smoothest. I have basically settled on what you described, Anne, as probably the cleanest way. Other things I’ve tried is knowing that the next time the rowers are going to be waiting for my voice to spur them forward is when they get to this arms only pause. I might - as soon as I make the call to move forward from bodies over - I know I have from that point … that second pause … until we're back at arms away to get something in. So I might try to squeeze it in on the drive. I’ve tried that as well - like (kind of) on the last bit of the recovery and the drive say either, “Next one” or “In two” (you know) whatever I decide we're going to be switching between these people and these people. And then hopefully, most of that's out and you can make the switch. I’ve also tried an approach where we get to that arms away pause and I make the switch right there with no warning. I’ve experimented with that as well so it's another long pause that's (like kind of) awkward but I’ll just make the change there. So I’ve also experienced that struggle of (like) how can I say this as concisely as possible so that we do the right thing when I want you to switch but also I’m not trying to squeeze more words into a space that can't hold them. It's a huge challenge and something I continue to work on. And I hope all coxswains bring this level of thought to drills. Like we said at the outset, they might feel really boring and monotonous but there's so much we can do to optimize them and we absolutely welcome audience recommendations on what has worked for you - tips and tricks of how to handle that switch while on a pause drill because it is very challenging.
ANNE: Yes please. Yes please - send them into Slack please. Let me know a better way of doing this.
SALLY: One of the things I’m going to advocate is pattern recognition. Your rowers are thinking about a lot. They're focusing on a lot of things the coach is doing. There's a lot of natural distractions for your rowers and I 100% agree with Breana - you need to experiment a little bit but be cautious where you experiment. Try to keep your tone and try to keep your words mostly the same. You know - change one thing every few calls or try to change a word here and there but what's going to help your rowers is if you use the same .tone … the same words … regularly. That's going to help increase the focus and help keep everything nice and tight. I 100% agree you do need to experiment to try to find the right words but don't do it all at once because you won't know what's working.
BREANA: Yeah. Absolutely. Experimentation within a session probably not advisable but session to session - especially if your lineup's changing - is something you could explore. One thing I will do within a session is shorten my calls during this kind of a drill. So I’ll often start with something a little more extensive - especially if it's maybe the first time the coach just out of nowhere says, ‘Hey line up, do this’. And to kind of guide the rowers through that and (you know) meet the coach’s expectations of executing that drill almost as soon as they request it, I will scaffold the calls a bit. So we might start with saying, “Okay. In two, we're pausing arms away. One. Two. Pausing this one.” They float to arms away and then I might say - you know, that scaffolding might look like – “Now going to bodies over. Ready, go. Now going up to the catch. Ready, go.” And then after a few calls, then we can reduce that to just, “Bodies, go. Catch, go”. Or you might forgo that all together and shorten it to just a single word as Anne described.
SALLY: So ladies, when you're pausing … how long do you know to hold the pause for?
ANNE: Oh, Sally, that's another age-old question … about things like how much pressure to use. So - why is this such a difficult question? It varies, right? And it's important to know that. and it's important to have an understanding with the coach who might be directing this to say, “How long should the pause be?” How long do you generally pause when you are in control of the length of the pause and the coach has not dictated what that would be?
SALLY: Well, we have already established I don't like to stop so - as brief as possible. I mean, the truth of the matter is it depends what we're focusing on and whether balance is critical to it. Is it a body awareness … where you just need to kind of do a muscle check to make sure your lats are engaged or your core is tightened … or is it something where we need to really focus on working the balance in the glide? So I wish I could say definitively this is what I do, but it honestly depends on what the focus of the drill is.
BREANA: My experience has been that I have a natural pace that I typically hold and almost always the coach comes alongside, observes what I’m doing, and tells me to shorten the length of the pauses. So I just know that my natural tendency is to be pausing too long. I think I’m doing what Sally described - which is allowing myself and the rowers to check in at each point and kind of receive the feedback that is there to be had from the boat about … are we balanced at this point? Let me look down. I’ve got to perceive eight blades as I look down the boat in a stern loader and see if they're matched for handle heights if that's the issue. What is our body (you know) … perceiving a lot of things related to this drill potentially before we move on and maybe taking a moment to adjust the set or whatever we're working on. So I’ve often gone the route where I just kind of call it at my natural pace and then adjust according to what coaches request -which in my experience has always been to call it faster.
ANNE: I have had the same experience, Breana. For me, the key takeaway is that we should have a consistent - as much as possible - length of time between the two parts so that the rowers can anticipate and not have to guess how long it's going to be.
SALLY: So ladies - how do you keep track of … if they say (you know) 20 strokes at arms and body, 20 strokes pausing at half slide - how do you handle it?
BREANA: I would say there's a couple options. I have gotten increasingly comfortable over the years outsourcing things to my equipment. I like to have the cox box running and doing some counting if possible - especially for very long things. If we're talking on the order of (you know) the coach says run this 10 times to clean this thing up and then get back on continuous rowing or they say rotate every 10 strokes or so, I like to use my fingers along the gunnels. So I’m holding the steering and I’ll kind of… starting with my pinky - you know, one stroke move the pinky … kind of scooch it to the edge of the gunnel - next stroke, ring finger moves out. Next stroke, middle finger and then (you know) I’ve got to hold on to the steering. So I’m just (kind of) like there's a mental moment of remembering index finger and thumb. And then I can start on my other hand so I can get up to 10 that way and kind of outsource the actual mental act of counting to something physical that I can just take a glance down and sort of get a sense of where I’m at if I’ve forgotten. That's how I approach that. How about you guys?
SALLY: I use my fingers similar to Breana, but not quite as the technical abacus sheet is. But for me, the struggle I have to focus and counting is necessary for me to do that. I typically don't keep my fingers on the gunnels because they have been smashed far too many times and that hurts. I will have palm down and I’ll use my fingers to count one through five and then if I want to switch six through ten I switch the palm facing up. And then I will use the fingers on my other hand to count sets of ten. While the technology is there and occasionally works, I am a trust but verify type of girl and I need to be able to use my fingers to count.
ANNE: And I take the approach that a drill is not a time for that level of precision necessarily. The be-all and end all for me in a drill is not that we actually executed just 10 strokes or just 20 of doing that particular drill - it's what happens in between those strokes. So unlike the both of you, it's possible that I’m going to vary a little bit more and for the rowers who are the series counters in the group, my humble apologies. But that's me. I bring other things to the game. That is not something that I obsess over but yes, hands, fingers, anything else … and relying on the equipment, too, as best you can while talking and keeping it precise and by the way, trying to keep those pauses this approximate same length through the whole drill - good job. I wonder if there are other coxswains out there that have other systems for keeping track of things. Would love to hear about those. So many things to consider when we're running drills.
BREANA: Another such consideration that comes up with this drill and others is - who is responsible for running the drill? So sometimes your coach may take over some or all aspects of calling the drill. Or we have also seen instances where the running of the drill is kind of outsourced to stroke seat, for example … so there's no calls of any kind that are verbal. It's just when stroke seat moves, the rest of the boat is supposed to move through the pauses. And a challenge in this situation - especially if your coach has sort of taken things over - is to figure out where you fit in now as the coxswain. And some of us may find it very disempowering to have your control and your main role in the drill calling situation stripped away. And some might even find it offensive that a coach has taken over, but one outlook you could have on this is that this has freed you up to put maximal focus on what is actually going on in the boat and how this drill is working so that when you do come back in in a verbal sense and the control is handed back over to you, you've observed a lot in that period of time and you can then bring an even stronger presence to the continuous rowing that happens afterward - or the rest of the drill - if the coach has passed it back. So that's one way that you could think about that situation even if it feels a little bit upsetting at first, perhaps, that the coach has kind of taken over your job - that's an opportunity for you to put your whole focus on how that drill is playing out in the boat. And there's a lot to be gleaned from that.
SALLY: One of the considerations I just want to make sure occurs - because coaches will take over calling drills and it feels miserable and it's hard - but when they are calling drills, you are still responsible for the boat. And if you need to make a course correction … the wind or the current is blowing you side to side … put your hand in the air … acknowledge to the coach. Say, ‘Hey - I have to adjust the point”. Don't distract them from what they're doing. Don't distract them from the drill. It hurts - I won't lie - coaches still will take over drills because I’m not calling it properly or they're working on a nuance. To surrender that part of the control isn't ideal but I am still responsible for the boat and it's a level of professionalism to (you know) put my hand in the air, wait for them to stop talking. Go, “Hey, I have to make an adjustment”. Just remain quiet, professional, and while you're listening to what's happening and observing the motions - like Breana said - you are still responsible for the boat. And make sure that you hold yourself with composure. It's not easy.
ANNE: Yes - we're not relinquishing all of our roles. We're just relinquishing the calling of a particular drill in that circumstance. I also find that in addition to watching the effects of the drill on the rowers, I sometimes welcome the coach taking over because then I have an idea how they would prefer it to be called if I’m not calling it in a similar way so I can repeat their behavior when I am next called upon to execute that drill. So whether or not the coach is running that segment of the pause drill - at some point, we're going to move out of the pause drill and get to continuous rowing. So how would either one of you transition to the continuous rowing? How do you fit that in? Let's say you're going to go from a double pause every stroke to continuous rowing. How would you call that?
BREANA: I would wait for us to be at the second part - so we're at the body's over in our example - and then I would say (you know) at this point I’m probably phrasing it like, “Catch. Go”. They go to the catch and in that duration of going there and taking the stroke I would say, “Continuous rowing. No pause” or “Drop the pause”. Something like that. And then you know by that point, we're kind of hitting the finish and we're not pausing. in my experience, I have always, always had rowers still pause and so I’ll share with people - in case it works for you - a phrase that I borrowed from another coxswain when I had the opportunity to be sitting in the boat and hear someone else run a pause drill. They used the expression. ‘Last pause coming up’. So we would be taking our final stroke … we'd reach that double pause point in our example here and we got that call before we got to that point. ’Last pause coming up.’ And then you can still complement that with the ‘”continuous” after you continue forward to the catch you know … “Dropping the pause” … other language. And somehow that miraculously has resolved the issue of a rower or two always still pausing. I don't know why that phrase is so effective or how it works but I was just able to observe - (kind of) sitting in the back of that boat which is not an experience I get often - how effective that was. And I was like I’m using this from here on out and it has worked so I’ll (you know) I’ll throw that out there in case people want to give it a try. “Last pause coming up” is the phrase before they hit that last pause.
ANNE: Pro tip borrowed from another coxswain. And that's how we improve.
SALLY: So ladies - we have talked about the pick drill. We've talked about the double pause drills. There's another type of drill - the stationary drill - which is a really useful tool for coxswains. And a stationary drill is something where the boat isn't actually moving and you implement it to keep your rowers warm or if you are waiting for any prolonged period of time. Because all water time is precious. And a stationary drill is something where you get to hone timing or balance and it gets people thinking and moving their bodies in a way that you just can't replicate on an erg. How do you guys approach stationary drills?
BREANA: One caution I want to put right up front is - unless you have a very experienced crew, resist the temptation to run a drill like this all eight. With the boat not in motion … without that support of the run on the hull … you can find yourself in some rough situations. I have not experienced this personally but have heard tell of this being a circumstance where a team flipped an eight - which was by asking a novice lineup to do the type of drill that we're going to describe here. So if you have the whole boat in a precarious position doing something that involves the blades coming off of the water and the boat is stationary, that can be a very risky place. So until you feel this out or if your coaches told you that they have confidence your crew can handle this, do not run these things all eight. That's my recommendation.
SALLY: To flip or not to flip - Breana has answered that question.
BREANA: The answer is: always don't flip.
SALLY: Keep the shiny side down, y'all. Anne, do you want to describe one of the more common stationary drills?
ANNE: I want to preface it first, Sally, by saying that I am a huge fan (also) of stationary drills. In part because those are often drills that I initiate as a coxswain. The coach very, very rarely will take it upon him or herself to say, ‘Hey, let's do a stationary drill’. This is when I can say … we got to our stopping place and our turning place before the other boat that's going to be coming along for the practice … or the coach’s (you know) the launch died and we are sitting there waiting for the coach to get the launch back functioning. This is when I will make great use of stationary drills. So that being said, the catch placement - or as some people do call it - the release to catch drill - is one where if I’m in an eight … (again) I take Breana's advisory … a pair sits out and in this case the rowers that are doing the drill are sitting squared and buried at the finish. And then on my call, they then tap it out, do the complete stroke, and then they end up with just letting the blades drop in up at the catch but they do not apply any leg pressure so the boat stays as it's called – stationary. And it's the timing thing and it helps to bring them into sync. Again – “Release”… they move forward as a unit and then enter the water. And in particular … this one I suggest to the rowers that they use their ears to listen to the catch timing themselves - not just focus in on what their bodies are doing. But it's going to be immediate feedback to them. I don't even have to say it. They can hear it go – plop, plop, plop, plop. Or if it is just one nice little plop in, it's a beautiful reinforcer that things have done well that time.
SALLY: For me, slide and catch is about timing but it's also about balance. And without the momentum of the boat - like Breana spoke about earlier - it's harder to set the boat and I think people can also focus on how they can contribute to setting the boat. The weight on their muscles, the height of their oar, where you're sitting in the boat - all of these things have a very subtle … not so subtle … effect on the balance of the boat. And when you're robbed of momentum, these little contributing factors have greater value. So for me, I do use catch placement drills to work on timing like Anne does but I also focus on is the boat leaning to port … where does it wiggle … all that sort of thing.
ANNE: Tons of feedback that we can get from every drill including the stationary drill. And how do you call it, Sally? What words would you use to call this drill?
SALLY: We're gonna live on the daring side because this is a theoretical world. So we're gonna do it all eight - if I can dream, I’m gonna dream big ladies. I’m gonna have all eight sit at the finish position blade squared and buried.” Chin up. Chest out. Check your lats. We're going to move up to the catch. Ready and go.” The rowers tap down, swing out and proceed with the motion of the recovery, drop the blade in and freeze. When they have frozen at that moment, I would just say, “All right, everybody. Let's do a body awareness check.” And then what I will do is I will make sure the boat gets set. So odds are plop, plop, plop happens. The boat is slightly down to port. I’ll go, “All right, y'all. Port side, lift your handles. Starboard side, lower them. Everybody relax your inside arm” and I set the boat. And I reinforce, “Remember this position. Let's chase this position again.” And then I’ll have, “All eight. Let's reset. Sit at the finish position. Blade squared and buried.” Wait for all the cattywampus to happen. “To the catch position. Ready and go.”
BREANA: I think those preview words like ‘Ready’ or ‘And’ are really valuable for the pause drill we discussed previously as well. It gives the rowers a preview of what you're about to say so that they aren't moving off of some mysterious ‘Go’ sound that could happen at any point. You're giving them this rhythmic combination of words – “Ready. Go” or “And. Go” or both if you prefer. I think that's really valuable so I’m glad that you mentioned that, Sally, all in the service of making these drills as clean and concise and efficient as possible.
ANNE: And one thing that I struggle with with some crews is the resetting aspect of it. So I have some rowers that are skying the blade and they're not moving up to the finish position again all together, so I like to instruct them that as we're resetting, just to skim the blades across the surface of the water so that we're not having to spend more time sitting at the finish getting it all organized - that we can move together smoothly. But no blades should be flying around in the air. That's just something that I have adopted and seems to work a little bit better. They can focus more on the drill and less on (you know) how wobbly everything is. Another thing that I like to think about is - in particular with stationary drills - I’d like to do my best to end on some really great instances of form. So (again) if I have two of these instances in a row where all almost all the blades go in at the same time, I’m going to stop that and move to the next pair at that point. So ending on a positive note all the time is a good thing and in particular, I like to do it when we're at stationary drills. So how about if we now consider weaving some of these thoughts together as we're getting closer to the end of this episode. We've provided some specific examples of how we call a few of the drills that we are employing. What are the key aspects that we want to make sure we walk away with?
SALLY: One of the things I really want to stress is - because when I row I am a lightweight rower even though I think that I am 6’2”, 220 pounds, very svelte - I’m not a big person so when I’m rowing, I am often stuck in the bow and I can tell you this thing coxswains have called ’bow bias’ where you tend not to get switched in nearly as often as you should. It really is important to make sure that when you rotate through the pairs, you rotate through all the pairs evenly.
BREANA: With that, one consideration that comes up that it might be interesting to discuss here is how do you go about making sure that you are evenly switching between the pairs? It's a subtle thing. It's easy to forget but the rowers do notice and they do value when coxswains pay attention to this and are diligent about it. So one thing you can do …. we already talked about all those tactics … perhaps you’re timing - in this case, you're using your cox box or your equipment, your watch, whatever you have to time the workout - so that you can switch people. Or you might be doing some kind of counting like we described earlier along the gunnels or using your hands. And then what you want to establish for yourself is a systematized way of moving throughout the boat that you employ every time. So for me, I think of it as the gap in the rowing - the pair that's out. So as six blades are moving, there's kind of a gap that's there from whoever isn't rowing and what I personally do - and have always done since the beginning - is moved that gap sequentially away from myself until it gets to bow pair and then it comes back to stern pair. So for me that looks like we start with stern six on a drill and then the next change I’m going to make is to have stern pair out, bow pair in. And then stern pair in, five and six out. Then five and six in, three and four out. And then we're back to stern six with bow pair out. So for me, the gap is moving away from my body until it comes back to me by switching stern pair and bow pair. The advantage of that is that it immediately circumvents the bow pair bias and that they're coming in right away. The disadvantage of moving the gap away from yourself is that you might influence the pacing because the rowers are following stern pair and suddenly you've dropped it down to follow five and six. The bottom line is: find one of those ways that works for yourself and then do that every day on the water so that you are equally rotating through people and you don't ever do that thing where you switch someone out and you switch them right back in a second later and people are getting forgotten about. How about for each of you? How do you conceptualize that rotation to make it fair?
ANNE: I’m a gap towards me kind of person but to your point, the key thing is: make sure you're rotating through and giving people equal opportunities.
SALLY: I’m with you, Breana, I’m team ‘move gap away’. As our British counterparts would say, ‘Mind the gap’. I think - if anything - when calling a drill, you want to make sure that your words and actions help reinforce the ultimate goal. One drill can have many different purposes and if you're using this drill today to focus on release timing or using the same drill later to focus on ratio, make sure that your words and actions are what is guiding them towards whatever the purpose of today's drill is. You want to be aiding in the lesson plan, not starting one of your own.
ANNE: I like the way you phrase that, Sally.
SALLY: You know because calling drills … it's not the same pressure of (you know) coming up with a soliloquy when you're in a race … things are slowed down and you can really focus on your words and hone your craft and your tool. Your rowers are going to have opinions about what you said and the words and the adverbs and the dangling participle or whatever that is most effective to help them. They will have feedback if you allow them. Some of it is going to be incredibly useful. Some of it's going to be painful. But I recommend listening to it all and taking the opportunity to hone your craft and hone your communication style so that you have more tools in your toolbox when dealing with your rowers.
ANNE: And with a crew that I have worked with a lot and that we've done a lot of drills with … or we've potentially been focusing on a particular type of drill close to a race, for example … I have occasionally referred back to that drill and what we focused in in that drill during the racing scenario in a head race. So I have found them helpful in that way also.
SALLY: In line with your communication, Anne, these drills are an exaggeration of the rowing stroke. They are slowing everything down or leaning in such a way that you normally wouldn't do because you're exaggerating a point - you're kind of over emphasizing it. Just like the rowers are doing with your body, you can do that with your words and you can change the art of your communication by emphasizing with your tone and the sounds that you make how things are going. If you want to slow them down (you know), you can talk about glide. Or you can talk about quick, sharp catches - this really precise, hard sounding consonant. Breana's got a scientific thing but I’m gonna wax literary cause that's what I do. In Vanity Fair - a Victorian novel by Thackeray - his protagonist was named Becky Sharp. She's a hard woman with rough edges just like her name - Becky Sharp. And you can use the sound and the roundness of your words to emphasize what exaggeration you want your rowers to do. Breana, does that make sense? Could you put it in (like) that magic science language you have? Maybe?
BREANA: Well, one scientific concept that is pertinent here is a linguistic phenomenon called the booba/kiki effect. This is a phenomenon studied mainly in the visual domain where people associate certain types of sounds with visual softness. So in these experiments, people were shown two shapes - one of which was kind of blobular (if you will). And the other of which had kind of sharp and pointy edges. And people were asked (you know) - if you had to name these shapes, which one do you think is booba and which one do you think is kiki … just random words. And people more often associate those softer ‘b’ sounds with the kind of blob shape and those harsher ‘k’ sounds with the spiky shape. And so that's something we can play upon as well - that already came across in what Sally was introducing - where we might use those kind of softer terms like glide. We're not only drawing it out but the actual sounds that we're saying are also evocative of what we want people to do. And then we might be able to further play with this phenomenon by bringing in the sharper sounds such as ‘sharp’, for example. ‘Quick’. Things like that to encourage people to behave in different ways like taking a quick catch, for example. So there's a lot of things that are subtle modifications we can make as coxswains - that rowers may not even consciously perceive - to really carry out the effects that we're desiring and reinforce the purpose of drills. We've got it all – literature … science - corroborating to support us in our work. I think that's really cool.
ANNE: So Breana, I think you bring up a really brilliant point but articulated better than I could about some of the subtle, mental aspects of this game of calling drills, right? And I don't mean to trivialize it by saying ‘game’ but it's - there are nuances to it that are really difficult for non-coxswains to appreciate. One of the things that I would love to hear your input on - let's say (you know) I’m using my fingers in that magical counting device and I am trying to switch out a pair but the coach is talking to them. How do you guys handle that?
ANNE: Happens all the time. And isn't that part of what drills are about is the coach making targeted comments and corrections and suggestions or catching people doing things just right and reinforcing that that is the way to manage that aspect of the stroke? So - happens all the time. And my personal take on that is that (again) the coaching trumps all else. Getting the purpose of the drill … having that come to life … is the key operative, right? And so - I don't switch them out even if it's been that 10 strokes, that 15 strokes, or that 30 seconds. Whatever it is, I let the coach finish as much as possible what's going on and then switch them out. Recalling - as I move through it - I was on them for a longer period of time - so I might lengthen, for example, a different pair. But this happens all the time. How about you guys? What do you do?
BREANA: Same approach for me. I recognize that the coach is engaged with a particular rower of a particular pair and even if it's their time to switch out, if the coach still seems engaged in that then happy to leave that pair in. You might find yourself in a situation where the coach then says, ‘Why haven't we switched in a while?’. If the coach has an issue with how you've run things that is - as with so many things - a conversation you can open up on land where you can say, “Which is more important to you? Is it more important to you that we switch through the pairs at exactly this prescribed duration or is it more important to you that you're able to coach a rower that you observe doing something on the spot?” And different coaches will have different opinions and once you know what that one coach wants, then you're able to execute that effectively. So if you get no direction at all, I think it's safe … from our own experience … to say leave that pair in. Let the coach continue talking to them and then adjust from there.
SALLY: Depending on my relationship with the coach if they have been talking with one pair for a long time - and again, I have a particular softness for bow bias - I’ll put my hand in the air to get the coach's attention and make some sort of visual reference that I’ve got a switch. But I do try to recognize that when the coach is around, I am a supporting player. But even supporting players have to …
ANNE:… be an advocate, right? That's a great point, Sally.
SALLY: Speaking of coaches and recognizing that you are an advocate - it's a really good word, Anne - what do you do when you're calling drills and the coach isn't: a) there or b) is there and is (you know) looking at clouds … like not commenting on what's happening to the rowers. I won't lie - this is (like) my greatest pet peeve and this is something that bugs me even more than the fact that there is no caffeine at coach/coxswain meetings.
ANNE: I’m not sure I really heard you say that. Did you say there's a bigger pet peeve than no coffee? Okay. Alright. The world shook just a little bit then.
SALLY: In my world, the purpose of a drill is to correct something that you are doing wrong and particularly if you are a seasoned rower, you have a muscle memory of doing something incorrectly or inefficiently. And without the outside input from the coach - even when you do these pauses or exaggerations - you are still going to slide just a little bit towards your original, inefficient stroke. You really need input from the coach to help this person make the change that will advance their stroke. It is a pet peeve of mine when you do a drill for eight and a half minutes next to a launch and the coach says nothing.
ANNE: So what do we do then, Sally?
SALLY: Truthfully in these situations, I try … again, I’m trying to be an advocate … I am trying to (you know) play this supporting role. If the coach is just naturally un-talkative - they typically don't provide input - I will do my best to provide some sort of coaching correction …only if the coach is not providing it. If the coach is just distracted and not providing input, I can just go, “Hey coach” and draw the attention to me. “Hey coach, I’m a little worried about this drill. Could you watch the rowers to make sure I’m calling it right?” to try to draw their interest back on the boat. And you know, I’m willing to take the fall for this so that they can pay a little bit more attention to the rowers. How do you all handle this because both of you have far more decorum and vocabulary.
BREANA: You brought up an important point there, Sally, that I think needs to also be considered which is - the experience level of the crew. In my view, a very skilled crew absolutely is in highest danger of having bad habits ingrained into muscle memory but they also possibly have the highest capability for self-coaching - that internal regulation and noticing of what's going on that our beloved coach and Episode 014 guest - Abby Peck - talked about where her goal as a coach is that rowers are able to coach themselves by gaining an awareness of what's going on with their bodies during the stroke. So if anything … if a crew is very experienced … I might find I’m not supplementing as much in the absence of the coach’s input. With a very novice crew that could quickly lose their way and (like), ‘Why are we just randomly pausing sometimes? What am I supposed to be doing here?’ That's where I might add a lot more guidance if I’m in that circumstance and the coach is not contributing a lot to that conversation. So that's another variable that is part of it for me. But similarly, I try to supplement the drill with what I’m saying in a way that matches the coach's vocabulary … matches our team-wide technical vocabulary and kind of takes advantage of the things that only I can perceive which is boat feel, for example, and conveys to the rowers how that is playing out … again, in the absence of coach input.
ANNE: Well, something that is almost the opposite of that is a situation where you might have a new coach, for instance, and that coach has incredibly precise, detailed expectations and opinions about how a drill should be run and you may - or may not - have advance notice of what that process looks like or what that coach expects in terms of our output and our facilitation of the drill. Have either of you run into that?
SALLY: I mean … that's … yes... I mean, in a word. You run into two problems. One when this theoretical coach comes up with a very complicated drill that exceeds the ability of the current rowers and then there are other ones where this very complicated drill exceeds my ability to comprehend. The caffeine has run out. The one brain cell I have has gone on vacation and there's this logarithm of numbers, counting, pausing body parts, words, colors. Sometimes there are drills that just exceed my cognitive capabilities and it's embarrassing but wow - is that … that's hard. And you just have to (you know) ask the coach to break it down.
ANNE: I’ve definitely run into that situation, Sally. And it kind of relates back to my question which was about the coach coming in with definitive ways of not only what the content is but how it should be called. So they're the two aspects - the content of the drill and then how it should be executed by the coxswain or the person in charge. And that is a time that I absolutely feel comfortable suggesting to the coach, “You know, coach, would you like to run the first part of this drill so that the rowers and I can become more familiar with it and then we can take it from there?” So I use that opportunity to (again) learn more about what the intent of the drill is and how that particular coach would potentially like to have it run and take mental notes and try to replicate that at the next practice.
SALLY: That's brilliant, brilliant way of handling that.
ANNE: Well as we transition to the very end of this episode, let's just summarize in the following way: we've talked about the role of the coxswain in calling drills, we've given some samples of how we might call them, I think that we have really tried to emphasize the importance of keeping our calls consistent and concise and relevant. They are - in the execution of them - often more complex than they seem at face value, right? Drills … ho-hum. I don't come away with that sense after talking with the two of you.
SALLY: I agree with you, Anne. I am a big believer that in rowing, there are no passengers. And in order to really grow and develop as a coxswain, you need to capitalize on every moment … every experience ….and try to absorb as much data that's coming to you as possible. And I think drills - particularly the exaggeration of the rowing stroke - goes a long way in helping you learn and diagnose boat movements and/or feel and how the body affects the stroke. Drills are absolutely critical to both you and the rowers for you to advance.
BREANA: And that really is the end goal for coxswains - is being able to handle a situation where you don't have a coach there, for example, and you're out for the outing and it's your job to perceive issues in the boat … identify a drill that could correct that issue and then execute that drill and complete the follow-through of talking the rowers through whether that issue was addressed by the drill and how that was done. So that is kind of the end goal to aspire to. We intend to have a future episode where we talk about drills in that way. So this kind of level - of being able to diagnose an issue, identify a drill and apply it to the resolution of that issue. So we look forward to tackling that at a future time.
SALLY: So ladies, what is our Quick Pick for this episode?
ANNE: I’ve advocated for our Quick Pick today being for what I call coach hieroglyphics. I was handed a piece of paper once that had all sorts of notations on it. I mean … it had plus signs, minus signs, it looked like a complex mathematical equation. I did not have a clue what any of it meant. Oh and by the way, one of them was counted like a very odd number of strokes … (like) do ‘x’ for 63 strokes, then for the next 25, do part ‘b’ and then go for another 20 strokes, do ‘c’. And I was just … I … they were all different. So what about you guys?
SALLY: Oh, no. I … absolutely. And if you are fortunate enough to have a coach who will plan ahead and then you're fortunate enough to have a coach who not only planned ahead but will go over his plan or her plan with you prior to getting on the water, you're already ahead of the game. But when said coach hands you a sheet of paper with some strange algorithm on it and you panic because you realize - I’m a liberal arts major who barely passed algebra. Yeah, no. I’m with you. You get something that's like: two & four times 38 at # like & ~ ?.
BREANA: If there's multiple brackets in there and I’m busting out my order of operations to follow your plan for the day, that's a lot. Been there.
SALLY: I suppose we wish you all a Rosetta stone so that you can interpret your own coach's hieroglyphics.
ANNE: Thank you for normalizing my ignorance. Awesome. So how about a Shout Out … on a positive note?
BREANA: We want to give our Shout Out today to those pairs of rowers who are sitting out while others in the boat do drills both because the great ones are diligently setting the boat during that time - enabling everyone else to reap the rewards of that part of the practice - and because when those pairs are really paying attention and actually (you know) taking note of what is going on with the rest of the boat, they're able to seamlessly blend in when it's time to switch them in. In exchange, we promise not to forget about you bow pair. And we appreciate it when all these pairs rotate in and are kind of ready to jump in on whatever's going on with the drill as opposed to if (you know) if you mentally check out, then we've got to re-explain things every time and that cuts down on efficiency a little bit. So to those excellent pairs which we hope is every pair in our boats - thank you. As we finish up this episode, we want to thank you for listening. 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 Breana. I’m Sally. And I’m Anne, signing off for now.
SALLY singing: “You swing your arms to the stern, you swing your arms to the bell, you swing your arms to the stern, don't shake them all around … that upsets the boat … you do the hokey pokey and Anne's eyes roll in her head - that's what it's all about” That will be cut. I know it.