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030 | Fixing Set Issues



Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated solely to coxing topics. I'm Sally. I'm Anne. 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. 


ANNE: In this episode, we're going to explore a topic that every coxswain and rower experiences - issues with set. 


SALLY: Anne, Breana and I first would like to define what is ‘set’. Set is when the boat is sitting “true in the water”. It's sitting as it was designed.. We're on port and starboard. The riggers and the gunnels are both equidistant from the water. If the boat is filled with rowers, the blades are not touching the water or skimming the water when the rowers are coming back to the catch on the recovery and this is a place where everything's equivalent and equal and we're not leaning one way or the other. 


ANNE: I think it's important to establish that ultimately - if you have some strokes where it is absolutely set – hey, enjoy that because it is not the consistent experience for most of us in boats. And who hasn't been in that boat where the set frustrates someone to the point of shouting? Breana, what do they say in your boat?


BREANA: Oh, my favorite line - the classic – “Can we get it off port?!” 


ANNE: I can relate to having heard that a million times. 


BREANA: It is a pet peeve for sure but that is what motivates me to work really hard to find ways to address the set. 


SALLY: So now that we've talked about it and we know that this is not a happy place for Breana when she's leaning to the port side of the boat, what stages … what steps … what other things do you guys think of to help correct this set? How do you put the world – well, maybe not the world but the boat - back into balance? 


BREANA: Well one first, pivotal concept that comes up when we think about this is the handle height of the oar. That's a kind of early adjustment that we often go to. And a perfect example of how handle heights can affect the boat happens when the rowers are sitting out (even) and one of the things that can be really frustrating and really challenging to work through is thinking about why and how the boat can still be offset even when there is a pair or more sitting out … which I imagine we've all experienced. And the point of having those people who are sitting out work to contribute to setting the boat is so that the rowers who are in can focus on what they're doing - whether it's a warm-up or a drill or something like that - and they don't have to worry about set being an issue in that moment. So what we want to talk about here to start is how can we fix an unset boat in this situation where we even have some people sitting out? 


SALLY: I think a key point to this that we should think about is that once we're all in the water together, there are no passengers. All nine of us have an active role to contribute to the set and I think there's always something you can do to fix set. It's never the other guy's problem. 


ANNE: I have issues sometimes with rowers who are sitting out and setting the boat for their teammates in terms of their engagement with that process. It is a very active process but I often find that I have to remind the rowers to stay engaged with that process for the betterment of the practice … for the betterment of the rowers who are actively rowing and doing that drill. I think part of that is affected by how the rowers actually support the oar and the set of the boat when they're sitting out. Do you guys have thoughts on that? 


SALLY: Every coach is going to have a different opinion and have a different preference on how you hold the oar when you're setting. But the crux of it is you need to make sure that the oar doesn't wiggle because every inch you wiggle the handle - because you're on a fulcrum - is going to be about a foot when it gets down to the blade. So when you are setting the boat - when you are providing those pontoons … the stability for your teammates or your coxswain to do something - that handle needs to be locked in. So you need to prevent it from moving horizontally or vertically. So what I typically do is I have my rowers move up to the catch position or maybe three-quarter slide and have them rest their handle on their legs and have one hand on the handle and one hand on the rigger or the foot stretcher or something just so that they can eliminate that wiggle. 


ANNE: As you point out, Sally, there are many coaches that have different styles and if they have a preference, they're going to express that to the rowers and instruct them. But if you happen to be coxing a boat that has new rowers and hasn't been instructed yet, that's going to be a really important thing to do early on, right? If you find that set is affected when you have a pair or four sitting out, you've got to address that because no one's going to benefit from them not being able to keep the boat set. So I often suggested the rowers sitting out that they look at the gunnels and try to make those as parallel to the water as possible and also to be attending to the rowers that are rowing. If they're more towards the bow of the boat, they can hear and see that the boat is tilting to port or to starboard. Do you have any other suggestions rather than just saying, “Fix it”? 


B REANA: I like to give the tip that if the boat is tilting down to their side - the side that their oar is sticking out to - that will often cause the handle to kind of plummet deeper into their lap if they're sitting the way that Sally described and that many coaches advocate. And so all they have to do is lift that handle up a little bit, press against the water, and that will help tilt the boat back towards center. So I often empower the people on the side that the boat is down to to make that adjustment. The people on the other side can tap down a little bit to try to kind of bring the weight back over but I find it's most effective to instruct the people that can affect it the most by lifting those handles up on the side (again) that the boat is tilting down to. Sometimes I find that rowers have their blades off the water in a setting situation in part because they have experienced the situation where their oar kind of gets sucked under the water as the boat is moving towards the bow as someone else is rowing and they're afraid of that. They don't like that feeling and so they kind of hold their blades slightly off the water. One encouragement that I give them to help with that situation is as they're holding the blade … it's feathered … it's sitting on the water … if they grip the handle and they just take their knuckles kind of slightly towards the cox and towards the hull a little bit - kind of tilting them down that - will help the top edge of their blade come up and give them that space to coast along the water rather than having the top of the blade get sucked underneath from the momentum of the boat. So I found that to be a really helpful tip that enables them to set the boat without that scary feeling of losing control of their blade.


SALLY: I think that's brilliant, Breana, and as many times as we say, “Lift your hands on the port side- we're off set”, getting specific is critical. So even something like telling them to roll their knuckles forward is something they might not have the ability to realize on their own. 


ANNE: So what I'm hearing is - first of all - having two people or four people sitting out is no magic bullet to address a set issue … that especially early on with a crew, a coxswain's going to have to attend to - and give instructions to - rowers about how to actively set the boat and keep them engaged. However, as you get familiar with your crew, they should be picking that up on their own because I want to pay attention to those who are rowing and helping them do a better job with that. If they are not picking it up and starting to actively, independently set it for their teammates, then you've got to address that. So - too bad - having training wheels on and having people assigned to be training wheels does not magically take care of the problem. You'd think set should be set that way but sadly – no. So let's now take all the oars off the water - whether they be four or eight - and talk about set. How about some other things other than handle heights that might affect the set and what can we do to fix that? 


SALLY: One of my go-to's … why I see as a coxswain - especially in a stern loader - why I see set issues is there's generally a discrepancy between the catch and the finish timing. If you have one side that's in the water or one person that's in the water longer than another - and that can happen because of size … because of ability … because of a bunch of other things - if you have people who are still driving while another side is on the recovery, that's going to cause a set issue. How do you guys correct the set issues when that occurs?


ANNE: I usually start with catch timing and I often encourage people to add the auditory feedback of hearing - they can hear the catch timing - whether it's in time or not. What else do you do, Breana? 


BREANA: I also generally start with catch timing. I find that to be a little easier to perceive. It was something I feel I was able to perceive fairly early on. Then I was kind of at a point of just saying, “Let's work on timing (you know). Let's take the next five strokes and focus on following the person in front of you”. Some coxswains opt for a strategy of calling the catch and the finish - maybe just saying, “Catch. Finish. Catch. Release.” Sounds some people like to use other words, “Sharp. Extract.” Whatever it is for you … something as simple as that can help people stay in time. And you'll call that with what stroke seat is doing so that everyone can match. And then as you build skills, you can start to identify specifically which seat is off and then further step is identifying why is that person off … why are they early to the catch? Why are they late to the catch? And so a more advanced correction as you're able to build those skills might sound like, “Okay two seat, I want you to slow down the last half of the slide so that you don't get to the catch earlier than three seat and have to wait and that's what's happening right now.” You watch them … you see them make that change and then say, ”Great. Yep. That was it. You were in time on that one. Let's see another one like that.” And that is an advanced example as you build those skills of what the whole process might look like. 


ANNE: And of course the reason we're talking about catch timing is because that will affect the set of the boat. It'll be more unset the farther off that catch timing is with the rowers. So if we can get that piece of it as tight as possible, it's going to do nothing but - I'm going to use it … set us up for success. And similarly, I think, Sally, that you brought up finish timing. There's a huge impact on set. Do you want to talk about that just a little bit more? 


SALLY: If an imbalance is caused by the timing at the catch, there is equally going to be an imbalance when the timing is off at the finish. I particularly feel more passionate about trying to correct the finish timing and the power application at the finish to help adjust the set issues. One of the calls that I would make to help hold on to the finishes would be (well), “Hold on to the finishes” or “Make sure you're pulling in high. Pull into your rib cage” or “Make sure you have connection at the footboards”. Something that reminds people to focus on that last third of the drive … that last six inches of the drive … and just try to tease a little bit more power and a little bit more length out of them. What would you guys do? 


ANNE: Often I will be specific about which rower is hanging on longer than the others. I will work off stroke seat and if they are not matching stroke seat, I often find that I have to ask other people … I will say, “Starboards - you're all hanging on a little bit longer than stroke seat.” One option will be, “Stroke seat, can you have a little more lay back and stay in the water a little bit longer?” But generally, they're at their max so then I will call out the people that are hanging on longer and ask them to lay back a little less … maybe release the water a little sooner so that they're in time with the extraction of the blade. 


SALLY: Now ladies when you're in a bow loader, what are your cues when the timing's off? 


ANNE: My default is always to audio. You can hear it go plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk. And because I am basically one with the hull I can feel the boat respond. I can feel it potentially moving to one side - sliding to the side rather than going straight forward if the catch timing's off. It responds the same way, unfortunately, when the finish timing is off so sometimes it's hard to tell. That's why my big go-to is that audio cue. 


SALLY: Breana, what about you?


BREANA: I use audio as well in the same way. And also feel for me, it feels (like) kind of like a pole in my shoulders if the blades are coming out at different times. You might feel like you're sort of being ratcheted back and forth … kind of getting pulled side to side which I tend to feel in my upper body as I'm lying in a bow loader - that's something that I also use as a cue. 


ANNE: That's a great transition into what we want to flesh out just a little bit more. Why don't we talk for a moment about how do we sense it when the set is off? What are our coxswain cues? Where do they come from? How do we determine that the boat is not set? Let's take the example of being in an eight and I think one of the very first cues that will resonate with most of our listeners is: one side or the other cannot get their blade off the water. And when the boat is tilted like that, your body also is trying to maintain an upright position and you might find yourself leaning away from the side that's down trying to compensate for that lean. For example, potentially port side. Is it ever port? Maybe all the time? I mean is it … it's an in-house joke, folks, about it always being on port. But it does seem to be that way often. So I often, for example, feel like I am tilting to starboard to compensate the boat when it's onto port. That's a first cue. I feel it in my waist and my hips and my shoulders … sometimes in my feet. My feet shift. I brace myself a little bit differently. In a bow loader, I can often tell that I have been trying to compensate for the boat - in this case, again being on port - because I am hugging the starboard side. My right shoulder and my leg … I naturally scoot my entire body a little bit to starboard and lean there. And I spent a whole season before I realized it - kind of like hugging that side. And finally I said to myself - I've got to stop doing that. I have got to sit dead in this boat right over the keel and let the rowers make the adjustment. If you find yourself gravitating one way or the other, that's a hard tip off that the boat is not set. And sometimes the boat will be tipping back and forth. It's not going to be all on one side in which case, you're going to find like you're riding a bicycle or a horse. Your hips are moving back and forth and your waist is curving and your shoulders are tilting. 


SALLY: I like how you were talking about that you're kind of a human gyroscope, Anne. That you're always trying to center yourself and when all going on - and there's a lot going on and you're worrying about steering and safety and calls - sometimes you might not notice that you're slightly sliding over to one side. But you're right, Anne. If you think about the way you're sitting … if you're putting more weight on one cheek or one leg or one foot than another … it sometimes is so subtle how you're trying to shift and manage set. And then listen to it. There's going to be the sounds of the blades dragging … the sounds of different catch timing. I tap into what I call my Jedi skills when I use the force and just start taking in all this data to help me determine the set and what's wrong with it. 


BREANA: I'll add that visual signals is one that we can also use that's something that was probably the first thing I was able to perceive when it came to set and is a signal that I still rely on. I like to detect set issues visually in a stern loader by kind of looking down the center of the boat - maybe at stroke seat’s foot stretcher, for example - sort of unfocusing my eyes and then perceiving if either gunnel is closer to the water on one side. And then you can take a look at a pair of riggers as well and see if the boat is tilted towards one side - that angle that's formed by the water, the boat, and the rigger is different. So that's another way that you can start to perceive whether the boat is off set. 


SALLY: So y'all, we fixed the catch. We've fixed the finish. We fixed how they set the boat. So now we no longer have set issues - the boats will be (like) perfectly set. Right, y'all? Perfect? 


ANNE: Always. 


SALLY: And that is why we're making this episode thank you very much. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. But realistically, what else could go wrong because the boat is still not going to be set sometimes even if they have impeccable timing? What do you all look for … think about? 


ANNE: Well, I think that one of the things you've touched on already is the drive and the power application. So why don't we flesh that out just a little bit more. What is the set issue that either one of you feels … perceives … and then how do you correct it if the set is going off during the power application phase? 


SALLY: Power application on the drive is tricky because we're not all coming out of cookie cutters. We're not like a little gingerbread men and all your rowers don't look the same … you're going to have people of differing heights, different skills, differing power. If you have some people who are Valkyries - who are giant, who are powerful, who can lift (you know) trucks off toddlers in emergency - then they are going to be able to generate this phenomenal power and if you have somebody like - let's say eight seat can lift an F-150 off a toddler in an emergency and you have somebody who looks like me who might be able to lift a small European car with the aid of a fulcrum - the power and the energy I can generate even though my catch and my finish are identical - isn't going to be enough to match that person who can lift the truck. You're going to see this giant vortex of power. You're going to see them bend the oar. You're going to feel the whole boat on the drive slip down to the port side. There's no power I can generate that's going to be able to correct that imbalance. The only way for the boat to still go true is for that more powerful rower to back off a little bit so that they help me bring out my best. So while they aren't rowing at 100%, they're only rowing at … let's be generous, 70% …  the boat is still going to be faster because it's going to be going true and it's going to be going even and consistent. And that's kind of the game you have to play because it's not about how great one person is, it's how great the synergy of the team is. You can't have an outlier - we all have to be great together. Nobody can be great alone. 


ANNE: Can I add something to the power application conversation which is that I often have rowers that have similar abilities in terms of strength but if we are out with a coach and they have put together a steady state plan or whatever the plan is for that day, the coach often does not articulate what pressure they would like to have the rowers rowing at. And so just by default, everybody kind of picks their own number. So I find as a coxswain: A) I always try to ask (when I can) to the coach, “At what pressure would you like the rowers to be?”.  And that really helps to level the power application issues. Secondly, if the coach is not there or the coach has not made a decision, I will call a number so that I can at least plant a general ballpark range in people's heads to say, “What I'd like you to do here is be at (like) 60% to 70% pressure during the drive”. And that often helps. Now, everybody's definition of what 60 to 70% is? Understood - that can be interpreted very differently by individuals. Have you used that strategy -  either one of you - to articulate what power or level people should be at? 


SALLY: Absolutely. Especially if you're working with more mathematically inclined individuals. Some people who are more like me … more liberal arts majors, more history geeks … I use different terminology. But if you know your audience, speak to them in a language - in a way that they understand. The people who are searching for concretes, I definitely use percentages. 


ANNE: And what would be a literary way of describing how much pressure they should apply during the drive? 


SALLY: “Once more into the breach, my friends. Once more lest we dam up the walls with our English dead.” 


ANNE:  What would that equate to? Full pressure?


SALLY: That'd be a race pace. 


ANNE: That'd be race pace. How do you indicate a lighter one? 


SALLY: Hold on. Give me a minute. 


ANNE: Steady state. 


SALLY: Steady state - Simon and Garfunkel, “Slow down. You move too fast. We have to make the morning last … kicking down the cobblestones. Feeling groovy.” Steady state.


ANNE: Okay, okay.


SALLY: Just saying. Took me a minute because I don't usually slip into that but there you go. 


ANNE: I digress. Anyway Sally - really glad that we're talking about the boat being offset during the drive because it happens a lot. And in addition to unequal power application, one of the common things that I perceive is that one or more rowers are really digging their blades in. Their handle heights are not going straight back. They're pulling up too high. Sometimes coaches describe that as having a rainbow effect during the drive with their handle. And there are lots of reasons that people do that but what I can see is that one blade oar - as I mentioned more - are digging. What that does is it kind of acts like an anchor and pulls the boat down to that side and then magically when they release - if they release at the same time as everyone else - that issue goes away so you'll find the boat listing back and forth. How about other things that can cause some issues during the drive phase of the cycle?


BREANA: We've talked just now about what might be happening with the upper body. There are also issues potentially with what the lower body is doing that can affect the set during the drive. One of those is how the rower has their weight positioned on the seat. We want to caution them ideally to keep that weight evenly distributed which sometimes means instructing them to actually feel like they're putting a little extra weight on their outside butt cheek, for example, to counter the feeling that they are rotating out around their rigger at the catch and maybe leaning that upper body a little bit. Generally, sometimes just telling rowers to sit up can be something that helps the set. That's an easy one to say and make a call for even if you have almost no idea what you're perceiving or what might be wrong. if nothing else, now they're rowing a little bit better. And then also all the way down to what rowers are doing with their feet. If the pressure off the feet is not even on the drive, that can also affect the set so that's something that you can instruct the rowers to work on. And that's also a little hack that you can use if, for instance, maybe the boat has just been constantly down to port (of course) and it's just been riding on port for many, many strokes. It's very frustrating and you're just looking for something to do to - at least have the relief of one stroke … kind of reset everybody and try to get things back under control - one thing that you can do is you can ask the rowers on the drive … all together on your call … to push a little bit harder off of the foot on the side that they want the boat to tilt down towards. So if we are down to port consistently … consistently … I want to have at least one stroke that's even or maybe even we flipped a starboard and we just we can reset like I said, then I might ask them to all push a little harder off their left foot on the next drive. And that can be a way to tip us back towards center. So lots of different aspects of the body that we can modify on the drive in our effort to improve the set. 


ANNE: As we're going through the rowing cycle, let's talk about the next thing which will be the finish. Some people call it  the finish. Some people separate the finish and the release of the water. So we might use those terms interchangeably here. I am a little more specific and I consider the finish to be when the blade is still in the water and the release when we extract the blade. But (you know) different people call it different ways. Again, here we're going to use it interchangeably. So what kind of set issues do you see or perceive at the finish of the release? And let's presume that you've already fixed the timing. So other things that can happen are that potentially they're not coming out clean … so they're sort of feathering out of the water. Another common thing that I experience going awry is people leaning away as they are in the finish or a release position. And part of it is that they may not have their wrists - their outside wrist – level. They might be feathering with the outside wrist. A whole bunch of reasons … but if the bodies - where there's a lot of weight including the head - are leaning away at the finish, that's a recipe right there for being off set. So one of the calls that I try to focus on right away is, “Keep your body centered in the boat at the finish and right over the keel. We're going to take five strokes to really focus on staying upright at the finish”. 


BREANA: Those are all potential causes for the experience of the boat being off set immediately as the blades come out. Sometimes that moment is perfectly fine and it's elsewhere on the recovery that the boat will get off set. And that's where we can start to perceive this advanced level of knowing where to make a correction by identifying exactly where the boat is becoming off set. So after the blades come out, maybe everything is great but then as the hands start to move away - maybe that is when the boat is dipping or overtly falling to one side. So what corrections might we offer if that's where the problem is arising? 


SALLY: The differing hands away and body over speed is definitely a culprit but just as there are regional dialects to our voices, there are regional dialects to rowing. Some people go arms away really quickly. Some people do arms and body. Really cleaning up that swing out of bow is going to help set a lot because if you've got three people who do it one way and four people who do it another and an eighth person who just is all creative, that's not going to help anyone. 


BREANA: What I perceive for differing speeds of the hands away is the rate at which the blades are moving away from me. So as they come out, they're at the closest point to me that they're ever going to be in the stroke and then they start to move away from me in a stern-loaded shell and I'm watching that speed to find out where the disparities are. Is someone moving much more quickly and reaching that hands away point faster than stroke seat or faster than the rest of the boat … or slower? That is the kind of thing that I am looking for. And it might also be a change in the vertical height of that handle. Some people may have feathered and now be moving the handle straight away from their chest others might be kind of dropping their hands down or lifting up and touching the water with their blade. So there's a couple different things to look at there - the speed and also the height that the handles are at. 


ANNE: So what I might call if I detect that happening is I might do a pause drill at hands away and see if we're getting there all at the same time. But often I'll just have continuous rowing and I might say to people, “Make sure that the hands go first before the body follows … let the hands extend fully out before the body moves forward … hold the lay back just another second while the arms go out at the same speed.” Sometimes I'll say, “Try to look at the elbows of the person who is in front of you try to match that speed of the elbows straightening out” because they would be out to the side and then as they come in towards the body that is a cue that they can use to determine the speed at which the hands go away. I want to add though that for many crews the hands away and the body over kind of all blend together. Yes, they do blend together but I'll tell you, if you can maximize the hands away first and that speed and then you can bring the bodies forward together, you know that's bonus points. So now let's talk about issues with the bodies following the hands away and what kind of set issues happen there. What I often notice is that issues from hands away are then magnified by body over. And often people either go over too far or as they go forward their hands drop because they have their arms all the way straight out and it's normal - the mechanics are if you keep your arms rigid with the oar handle out and your body swings forward, those handles are going to go down. So what I often will suggest to people is as the body goes forward, lifting the hands ever so slightly so that the actual handle is at one horizontal movement. That's my first call if I see the oars starting to sky there. And a drill - what might you offer as a drill if you don't have a coach that might improve the set that is off as a result of bodies over at different times? 


SALLY: I think one of the best drills that we can do is the Cut the Cake drill. Calling that usually helps reinforce people to focus on body over and handle heights. 


ANNE: As with all things in the rowing stroke, it's often a culmination of issues that manifests in the boat being off set so if you have issues with the bodies over together or people leaning different directions … whatever happened at the body over can happen even more so during the slide part of the recovery. Different speeds of the seats moving forward is a common culprit and then people sometimes will be squaring up the blade - preparing for the catch - at different times. So some people - some crews - start to do that the minute the seat starts to move forward and so if people are starting to square up at different times, that will also affect the set. So making calls to improve the uniformity of the squaring of the blades will do nothing but help. And a great drill might be the double pause drill to make sure that we get to half slide at approximately the same time, for example. 


BREANA: And maybe you have a stroke that seems to be going great - the timing is together at the catch, the drive is perfect, the extraction of the release is perfect, everything's going great … all the blades are off the water - and then right at the moment before the catch, that's where your set issues arise. I'm often looking to see if one side's blades are sticking way up in the air at that moment because people are fearful of squaring up at that point and putting the blade in the water because they're afraid they're going to bump into the water and that's a scary feeling … losing control of the handle. And they also often take their outside shoulder and dip it way, way, way down towards the center of the boat maybe in an effort to get length and that causes their blade to sky - a term that we mentioned earlier to move closer to the sky and end up higher up way off the water. That's something I'm looking for. If it's smooth sailing all the way up until the moment of the catch and that's when the set gets off, I will often do a check of where our blade heights are at that point and give people a reminder to keep that outside shoulder up, to sit up and rotate from the trunk rather than feeling like they're diving for any extra length in a way that isn't really helping by throwing that outside shoulder down towards the center of the boat. 


SALLY: Water is a far better medium than clouds to row in.


ANNE: Indeed. I have two key things that I also think about and watch for and one of them is that one of their legs may be flopping out to the side as they're coming up to the catch. For example, if they are on port side, I'll often see most clearly stroke’s right leg start to drift out in an effort to make more space to get that handle through their legs. So even just bringing those legs more parallel to one another at the catch will make a big difference. The other thing that I will also notice is that the squaring up is happening at different times and if people are using their outside hand to square up.  Those two factors: the speed at which they're squaring up … the time when they are squaring up - as well as improper squaring using, for example, the outside hand - will all affect the set just before the blade goes in. Also something that I recently adopted that seems to be helpful for at least the crews that I've been in is that as they are approaching the catch, I will also cue them into activating their glutes. So using their hips to maintain the connection with the seat and trying to make that as equal as possible – unless, as Breana pointed out earlier, it's dramatically on one side in which case then they should consciously adopt a little bit more weight on the other side - but let's say that things are doing pretty well right up until that time, let's try to activate the glutes. And that also helps to stabilize - particularly in women who tend to have looser ligaments in their hips - helps to stabilize that area of the body just before they're going to take the weight of the boat with their oar. 


SALLY: What drill would you do to correct the catch? 


ANNE: One of my favorite ever - it's ‘legs only’ drill. That particular drill is one of the ones that has so many benefits but in this case where we're talking about set, it's going to have them really focus in on those aspects that we just talked about. This is the only part of the stroke they have to worry about … is coming up and catching. They don't have to worry about swinging. They don't have to worry about pulling in their arms. All they need to do is to come up to the catch, drop the blade in, and press their legs down holding that core nice and solid. And I think that really helps to improve a couple of things not the least of which is the set of the boat. 


SALLY: Now we've talked about what we can perceive as coxswains and what can go wrong. What do you do when a rower is complaining to you about set that you don't feel. Like they say, “Brace yourself, ladies. It's down to starboard.” And you think it's down the port. It gets tricky, right, because it's the rower's opinion and you have to kind of extrapolate from their perspective why are they saying it was down. And it could be anything from the rowers’ technique, right? That maybe they're using two hands to feather or they're opening their back. It could be all that or it could be something more structural and I think that's something you should be aware of. I mean, don't do this first - try to break everything down … try to run the practice through your mind - but sometimes, y'all, we have bad boats. Repairs or how it's stored or the boat age - don't get me started on boats that should be long hung over a salad bar somewhere - are still being rowed - but they're no longer able to maintain that lateral stiffness. So where you're sitting in the coxswain seat in the stern in an eight, everything's fine and beautiful but back in bow, it's like jello and it's going down to port and starboard. It's like a Weeble. What was that thing “Weebles wobble but they don't fall down”? It's a toy from the 70’s, Breana, you won't get it. 


BREANA: I do know that one, actually. 


SALLY: You know that one?


BREANA: Yeah. “They weeble and they wobble but they don't fall down.” 


SALLY: Yes. So - oh my God … thank God. It's gonna feel very old there for a minute. But we could have a significant loss of stability and structure in the back particularly around a repair. And so the boat could be fluxing. You could be fine but three seat - God help them - the boat's gonna be constantly down to starboard. Another issue just to be aware of and it's nothing you can fix on the water and you're gonna have to suck it up and deal with it - so if you take the boat, you put it down in the water without anybody in it, without oars in it - if the boat just kind of slowly flops down to one side, odds are there's probably been a repair where they put too much gunk on one side and didn't level it out. It happens. Boats age. So that's definitely something to keep in mind. 


BREANA: A couple other things that can impact the set beyond all the technical things that we've discussed here include: the weather that you're dealing with on your body of water … whether there's wind, what direction it's coming from, how the current is impacting the boat, and also the speed at which the boat is moving. The slower that it's going - the more time rowers are spending on each part of the stroke - the more opportunity for things to go wrong.  So you might often find that the faster you pick up speed, the fewer set issues you are potentially going to have. And truthfully - all these factors aside - all the effort that we might put in … sometimes we just can't fix it that outing. We just can't. And sometimes we have to decide that it's time to let it go for a little while or for the rest of that practice. And we can't spend every single moment - in every single call that we're making - to address the set even though it's frustrating to the rowers … even though it's frustrating to us. I always try to remind my rowers that I am doing everything I can to work on the set but we also can't use bad set as an excuse to just give up on the practice and not do our row. It's a tough balance. It's a very challenging thing. Set has always been one of the biggest banes in the boat for me and it's something I'm always, always working on. And we heard throughout the conversation how complicated it is but again sometimes we just have to say either internally to ourselves that day or externally to the boat if need be, “This isn't our focus for right now. We're going to continue to work on other aspects of the rowing and we'll try to continue to clean it up on future rows.” That's just the reality sometimes. 


ANNE: And fixing set issues is not something that you magically learn about and automatize. There is no one call. There are no one or two calls that are going to magically fix the set issues. As we progress in our skill set, the idea is - as you've heard - to tease apart the parts of the rowing stroke. Get better at determining exactly when the set is going off. Often an issue of set is caused by some precursor two or three steps ahead (of the row) in the rowing cycle. So (you know) a problem during the recovery can be something that's been affected by the release. So try to gather more tools and more ability to determine when the stroke is going off and what you can do to fix it. I hope we've given you some suggestions today to do that.  However, my bane is when rowers are helping to set the boat and it's still not set. That's when my teeth grind a bit … gonna say it. But you have to work on it every single day. There is not a time I have been in the boat that I have not had to - at one time or another - address set issues and done my best - actively - to assist in getting it to be better set. It's hard. 


SALLY: Because it's a constant set of shifting variables. Heraclitus said, “You never step in the same river twice”. You will absolutely never step in the same boat … with the same lineup … in the same moods … in the same water conditions … in the same weather … in the same atmospheric pressure… and the butterfly in Japan. Never going to be the same way twice so there's no one rubric for any of it, unfortunately. 


ANNE: And being a rower is hard. Implementing the rowing stroke by yourself is difficult - doing it with other people, it's tremendously challenging. I adore the sport. When a stroke is right and the boat is set, it's miraculous and I always take time to celebrate that with crews that I'm with. Even if it's four strokes in a row – yeah, that's a win. That's a real win. 


BREANA: Setting the boat is a very challenging task. Many coxswains find themselves in a place of hearing that handle heights is something that can affect the set and we sometimes get stuck there and we don't feel like we have anything else in our repertoire except to just say, “Handle heights guys. Can we fix our handle heights? Everyone pay attention to handle heights.” So we really hope that we were able to provide some additional options of things that could be contributing to the set and hopefully that equips you with more calls - more tools in your toolbox - to be able to address that in the future. And we'd love to hear how it goes. Please do communicate with us and share things that we maybe didn't think of on our Slack channel at or on social media or anywhere else that you can get in touch with us. 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 Anne. And I'm Sally - signing off for now.

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