top of page

041 | Advancing Our Steering

041 (from Hope Wilkinson).jpg
(photo courtesy of Hope Wilkinson)

Join the conversation:


Support us:

Resources mentioned:



  • 00:00  Introduction

  • 01:50  Advancing our steering occurs on a pathway

  • 03:02  What does advanced steering look like, and why strive for it?

  • 05:51  Each shell may steer differently

  • 09:41  Testing your steering mechanism

  • 13:15  Adjusting for an overpoweringly strong rower

  • 16:32  Steering issues off the start line of a sprint race

  • 18:02  Pulling alongside another crew

  • 20:52  Developing a shared vocabulary for effective steering

  • 21:52  Navigating narrow bridge arches

  • 24:40  Environmental factors can impact steering

  • 25:23  Dealing with wind

  • 28:50  Dealing with wakes

  • 32:45  Head race turns as a culminating example

  • 36:55  How to tell if your steering is advancing

  • 42:59  Closing

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to CoxPod, a podcast dedicated to coxing topics. I'm Anne. I'm Breana. We're experienced coxswains who continue to learn a great deal from the broader coxing community and from sharing with each other. Our primary goal is to promote ongoing skills development, and we're happy you're joining us. 


ANNE: Breana, ever since our episode on steering fundamentals, we've been wanting to do a follow-up by talking about advanced steering. And at first, I thought advanced steering was just about situations like riding the inside buoy line on a head race or weaving in and out of obstacles or jamming my arm into the water as an emergency action - which by the way, I've had to do once when I was docking. 


BREANA: I think a lot of us, Anne, think of advanced steering primarily as a skill that we bring to a really complicated head race course, for example. And while it is that, it's so much more. I think of an example that happened to me at a practice where I was coming back to the dock kind of at an unusual angle … at a complicated spot. And as I came in, it just occurred to me to ask a certain person to back on a particular seat of the boat. And that perfectly got us into the dock. It was literally never a way that I had ever approached the dock before, but somehow that maneuver occurred to me and it was exactly what we needed in that moment. 


ANNE: Right. The more we talked about situations such as the one you just described, we ended up concluding that advanced steering is not just about racing situations or how we use the rudder. In fact, it's mostly not about that. So we've decided to take the approach that advanced steering is a pathway that we progress along once we've mastered the fundamentals of steering and maneuvering. 


BREANA: And we have an episode on each of those topics. 


ANNE: There are a lot of great ideas in those two episodes that will help our listeners get started on this pathway. But let's keep in mind here that there's a range of abilities when we're talking about advanced steering. There are two main things to keep in mind. One, we don't really ever hit an endpoint. And two, there's honestly no substitute for time in the seat. 


BREANA: That's so true. And you'll never be able to reach an endpoint, in my view, because nothing is ever the same day to day when we're coxing. 


ANNE: It's part of that variety that happens - even if you have the same crew, the same boat, the same water conditions - that keeps me coming back for more. And the important thing to keep in mind - for me - is that this is a process of testing and trying and making mistakes and then testing and trying again and believe me, I still make (every day) plenty of mistakes. So how do you know when you get to an advanced level? I think that's when you are more able to seamlessly blend those skills together with more finesse of steering and maneuvering. Steering effectively becomes more instinctual and less effortful in my mind. 


BREANA: Yeah, that's what I experienced in that time on the dock where the right maneuver just came to my mind. But I contrast that with what it felt like starting out as you're just learning the ropes of coxing and all the things that we have to manage. And you might know, I want to move in this direction. And you get a little stuck with something like, “Okay, two seat take a stroke. I mean, bow seat. I mean, bow seat back. I mean, stroke seat…” - and you are just really in this halting struggle that I'm sure we all experienced at one point. So why do we want to move along this pathway from those initial challenges where everything is hard and takes a lot of conscious effort to that more effortless, seamless place? One, it gets the boat where it needs to be and when, which is key for what we're doing in the sport. And it also frees up your mental bandwidth as a coxswain to do all of the other things besides steering that are part of our job. That's things like supporting the overall objectives of your team and your boat. It means being able to call an effective workout, being able to assess changes that are needed in the boat and then call for those changes and then monitor the execution of those changes and continue that cycle to make the boat's performance better. 


ANNE: And that is our key responsibility and ultimate goal - to support the crew in every way possible, isn't it? I'm going to also throw out that when you have advanced steering skills, it's way more fun. It's really fun having that higher skill set, doing a better job, and feeling that satisfaction from doing something that requires less effort. 


BREANA: Absolutely. I find there's really an exhilaration that comes along when you just nail a maneuver. 


ANNE: Oh, you are making me think of the Week's turn at the Head of the Charles, for instance, which it's a 90 degree turn in the middle of a very exciting head race. Or you know, I also have... almost as much satisfaction when I can nail a maneuver in a practice like pulling alongside another big boat in the dark. I get a lot of excitement and satisfaction from that. So, why don't we now jump right into various factors that we should consider when building the steering skill set? I think that it's a good idea to start with what probably comes to mind for most of us - equipment considerations and how those affect our steering. 


BREANA: I personally experienced how important of a factor the boat is when I transitioned … several years into coxing from a boat brand that I had used for most of my career up until that point … to a completely new (to me) brand of boat. And the first week, I would say that I spent in this new shell … it was like I was a novice again in terms of my steering abilities. It really made a huge difference and showed me that those automatic skills that I had spent many years developing did not necessarily transfer to a new shell, a new piece of equipment. 


ANNE: That is such an unsettling feeling, isn't it? You know, you self doubt and “Oh gosh - what's going on here?” And I recently had a reminder about the differences, for example, in boat manufacturers. I was assigned a new shell. So of course, I asked a fellow coxswain who had been in that shell a lot about that boat and how it handled. And that person said, “Hey, it's a great boat. It's really responsive. You're going to have a great time. When you're doing the turns, it will be no problem at all. It'll be a piece of cake.” Well, I got in and I discovered otherwise. I felt like it was incredibly sluggish … slow to respond. I was underwhelmed. Of course, once I recognized its steering capabilities - or lack thereof as I judged it - I then was able to adjust the rest of the row based on how it responded. But that was a real lesson to me and a two-part reminder about: boat responsiveness really does vary based on the manufacturer and also your experience will shape how you feel a boat is responding. That person had never been in the type of boat that I normally am in and vice versa. And another thing I think most of us can relate to is that even if you are in two boats that are made by the same manufacturer, there can be variance between those as well. They might be from different eras. They might be different weight classes. We mentioned these things because they do affect how we strategize and how we actually execute our steering maneuvers. 


BREANA: And a piece of advice we have for coxswains listening is to take advantage of your first outings in a new shell to do some learning for yourself and maybe let your coach know that you are going to do this. You might say, “I've never been in this shell before. I'd like to see how responsive the steering is”. And also let your rowers know that you might be experimenting a little bit at the beginning of a practice and why you're doing that. I did this recently when our boathouse was very fortunate to get some brand new shells. They were a brand I had never used before and my first day out in those, I said to the rowers, “Don't worry about what's about to happen. I am doing some extreme steering to just see how much the boat responds”. And we're weaving all over the place as I ratchet my hands to the extremes of the rudder's capability just to observe what I was working with. 


ANNE: I absolutely agree about the importance of asking for time to test the steering and also articulating for the crew that that's what you are doing because otherwise they're going to be confused. This is a valid request to make of both the coach and the crew. So just make sure to articulate that and test it out. It's well worth it. 


BREANA: And even before you get on the water, another coxing skill that you can cultivate is being able to assess the steering mechanism itself - the actual technical mechanism on a shell. 


ANNE: Right. I think this is something that we need to build into our routine because it makes such a difference. So how do we do this? 


BREANA: One component that I look at is the amount of tension that's available in those steering ropes. I just mentioned those new shells that our boathouse was lucky to get. But what those replaced were some much older shells where the steering had been broken and repaired so many times that it - instead of being any kind of nice cable - it was just a bunch of haphazardly tied together different pieces of rope. And when I would test it, it would just be this super floppy mechanism with so much play in it. And I really had to modify my approach to steering on the basis of that. There's not as much subtlety and finesse available to you when all you have is a bunch of floppy pieces of rope that have been cobbled together to create a steering mechanism. 


ANNE: Oh, I have such a visual of looking along the gunnels and seeing this loop almost down to where my feet are … of a rope down that way. And yes, you have to adjust and adapt and or fix it as soon as possible, right? We've all walked into those. Or I've also seen where it's been nothing but zip ties tied together that function as your steering cable. So we've got all these examples, but it's really important to understand how much play there is or isn't in whatever steering mechanism that you have. Also, I've developed a consistent practice of evaluating the steering mechanism especially after trailering and before a race. While the boat is in slings, I will double check that everything is functioning as it should be … making sure that it's moving smoothly as I expect it to … that there are no glitches there. And also I'll make sure that where the center of the steering is, is where the actual rudder is straight on. And if not, then I make adjustments during my race. And then as soon as possible have that fixed when we're back at the boathouse. But that is a practice I think that's very helpful. We check our cox boxes before we head out to a race and we should, in my view, also be checking the steering mechanism. And another reason that I check the steering mechanism is that we have both been in the uncomfortable position of having crossed steering, which we've encountered in European boats. And not knowing that in advance, I got into a shell and I... pushed my hand in a way that I thought would turn the boat to port and it went to starboard and I thought I had totally lost my mind … that I had forgotten everything I ever knew about steering. It was quite a startling thing and later I found out that it was standard that particular boat brand had crossed steering. So it pays to check. What do you think Breana? 


BREANA: That is a disorienting experience for sure - having cross steering. And as you accumulate those experiences, it becomes one of those other things that you test out, for example, if you're hopping in a new shell. 


ANNE: So we've just talked about the boat brand and the steering mechanism that's in your boat but let's move now on to other important tools that we need in our advanced steering toolbox, so to speak. One of those important tools can be considered the rowers. 


BREANA: Physical factors about the rowers - like their power application, the length of their strokes, their timing - that will affect your steering. 


ANNE: Recently, I was reminded of this when I got into a learn-to-row sweep boat and there was a very, very tall, very fit stroke seat and they were using it as their workout. So every time that person was in the lineup rowing, the boat would veer all the way to starboard. And so I had to make accommodations for that through the entire practice. Has this ever happened to you, Breana? 


BREANA: Absolutely - have definitely met in many an imbalanced lineup in my day. And to me, what advanced steering entails is being able to adapt to that situation and adapt in a way that preserves the goals of the practice and the workout. For example, the coach might say, “Run pick drill with stern four and bow four” and we have a completely mixed skillset lineup. I go out and I switch to bow four and maybe there's just a super strong person on the port side. And even rowing arms only, a few strokes in, I can immediately see that we are headed for the shore. This person is outpowering everyone on the starboard side but I have to remember that the real goal of this drill is for all four of those rowers to experience building the stroke up from arms only to full. So while I of course have some options that I could default to like fully stopping, getting my point, or dropping out that rower who is overpowering everyone else, those options don’t preserve the goal of the practice at that point … which is to have those four athletes rowing, including the super strong person. So of course in that circumstance, I'm going to try moving my hands on the physical steering mechanism … seeing if that helps. If it doesn't - it probably won't with a boat just moving arms only by fours -it might be that I ask another person on the starboard side to add in. Maybe I ask five seat to join in the warmup for a little while until we're straightened back out. Or I might ask someone on the port side who isn't involved in the warmup to hold … to additionally pull us back towards the port side. So that's - for me - what it means to have an advanced steering skillset. You're aligning your maneuvers with the goal of the row as much as possible. 


ANNE: That's a great example of advanced steering skills there. And I'm thinking of another time when we can experience a dramatic power differential and that's right at the start of a sprint race. 


BREANA: That's a particularly painful one that I know many of us have likely experienced … where you go off the line and everything is immediately out of control and you have to quickly fix it before you leave your lane. And in a previous episode about sprint racing, we talked about how to address this and part of it can be done before you even get to the line. So our advice in that episode was take advantage of your warm-up even if you've never met the lineup before … you've never been in the boat before. Hopefully, you have some time on your warm-up to get in a couple of practice starts and observe what happens on those starts … what direction are you veering if you keep the steering perfectly straight. And from there, you can provide some guidance. Maybe you need to tell a certain rower to back off for the first couple of strokes just in the service of getting you to go straight off the start. 


ANNE: That's a complicated situation that absolutely calls upon advanced steering skills and it all happens in the blink of an eye. So the more practice - as Breana has suggested - prior to getting into the actual start itself is pivotal. And you will have decided what adjustments you're likely to have to make. But you need to be prepared anyway, just in case. That experience of a sprint race - where the boat is veering to one side or the other at the start - is an example of unintentional power differential. We would like to now talk about using intentional power differentials to our advantage when, for example, we want to execute a turn. Advanced steering to me includes knowing that tweaking a particular seat or a side will have a specific impact on where we are going. So I'm going to describe a common practice scenario, which is where we want to pull alongside another crew quickly and precisely. We want to either align side to side or bow to stern - whatever the coach's instructions are. And for me, this happens most often when I need to turn 180 degrees to head back to the boathouse. And in the maneuvering episode that we previously put out, we talked about how to pivot the boat. And so the way I like to execute this is I will pivot the boat. I will then row probably by sixes because we don't have a long distance to go. I will then have the rowers stop and glide for a moment. I'll have ports hold for a bit to start the turn. I will have all the ports ease off or feather their blades on the water - except for stroke seat - which will then finish that turn in a gliding motion. And then in theory - and sometimes in reality - we will just glide right up next to the other eight and be side by side with probably two or three feet between us. It's a great feeling and it's so much fun. 


BREANA: And that's a really challenging maneuver. So our advice to coxswains who are building up their skills would be to gradually practice getting closer and closer to that other boat as you are pulling alongside them. Start conservative and then build your confidence and make that approach slightly closer every time. Maybe that first time you think, for sure my bow is gonna hit if I don't start turning now and ask your ports to hold. And then after you've finished the glide, you maybe notice, oh, we're a whole boat length apart. I actually could have gotten a little closer but I wasn't confident about that distance yet. And then the next time you glide in a little bit closer … just one inch past that point where you thought the bow was gonna hit. But you have the confidence that last time it didn't and now you have ports holding … you see where you land … that kind of thing. And experiment with different seats holding, different seats dropping out … there's all kinds of things available to you to execute these maneuvers. And it takes time - time and practice and testing and trying - like we've been saying. 


ANNE: And that's why we talk about the rowers being tools in your steering toolkit, because it is a dance and it is based on an understanding of that particular boat's capabilities. And a large part of this is dependent upon the vocabulary that you end up developing with your crew. So with a crew that you don't know, you're going to have to be a lot more conservative because you're not sure that they understand exactly what you need to have done. But you will also find that when you can develop a consistent shared vocabulary - the shorthand - you can execute these maneuvers much more quickly and in much more complicated situations than the ones that we just described. And honestly, regardless of the amount of time that I've spent with a crew, I know I've done as much steering with my voice as I have with any rudder. I'm guessing the same is true for you, Breana, and specifically I'm thinking about what you shared with me about a bridge that's on your home course. 


BREANA: Yes, we have a very challenging bridge - pretty much right off the dock on our body of water - which has very narrow arches that basically just accommodate a sweep oar sticking out on either side of a shell. So it's a pretty nerve wracking bridge to travel through. For me, it's actually the most nerve wracking when my crews are the least experienced. So this is a time where I really have to think about the rowers that are in my lineup and their capabilities or maybe what capabilities they don't have. So as I approach this bridge, I try to think really carefully about who I have rowing. So I try to pick four people, for example, in an eight, that are the most experienced. I'm in a lot of mixed ability crews and the rudder isn't going to have much of an effect paddling by fours right off the dock. So I try to think about who are my most reliable people because if someone holds a stroke a little too long, someone gives up for a stroke, someone makes any kind of unusual maneuver, we're going to be in a situation of damaged equipment as we approach this bridge. So I even go so far as to think about things like maybe I want to switch pairs as soon as we come out of this bridge as part of our warmup but I'm not even going to make the call to think about that while we're approaching this bridge because someone going to the finish and getting ready and throwing off the set - that could really mess everything up. So it takes a lot to be able to safely approach this in my view and it's all about considering who do I have available to me and what are their skills. And I find that going through that bridge at race pace is actually a lot more comforting. I mean … you have less time for error but the faster the boat is moving - and this is something we addressed in our steering fundamentals episode - the faster the boat is moving, the more responsive your rudder is. So paddling through that bridge on the warmup - a little bit scary. Piecing back the other way through that bridge is not so daunting because I can make more use of the rudder and those very subtle movements will have the effect that I need. But I do still live in fear of going through that arch and someone crabbing and just everything going wrong. But it keeps me on my toes, this bridge. 


ANNE: That's a terrific example of how the rowers impact steering. And the final key factor that we want to discuss involves our environment. Certain environmental factors definitely have an impact on our steering. And we need to consider them. One of my most recent examples involves a heavy current in a river that was being impacted by previous significant rain and it affected both the flow and the height of the water. This particular river had many curves in it so that I did have to attend to which direction the current was flowing and how it was pushing the boat and making adaptations in terms of pressure and also a lot of work on the rudder to stay where we need it to be. 


BREANA: Another factor to consider when it comes to the environment is the wind, which can vary even on the same body of water that you might be racing down a segment of in a 20 minute stretch. 


ANNE: And it really pays to warn your rowers in advance. If you know as you come around a corner you're going to be hitting, for instance, a crosswind,  let your rowers know in advance. Ten you're going to probably have to ask for pressure on one side or the other to compensate for that until you get stabilized. And speaking of wind, there are going to be times when you are trying to hold your coordinates, for example, in a marshaling area with a bunch of other boats where you are side by side but the wind is trying to blow all of you in together or against one shore or the other. I've found a helpful strategy which is that if I'm in an eight, I will use the middle four rowers to maintain my location and not drift forward or backwards. If I use bow pair, which I see many coxswains doing, that changes your point significantly. And so, I want to avoid that. I want to maintain my coordinates in a stable way. I recommend that you give that a try - using your middle four rowers in that situation with strong wind and you're trying to hold your position. And another strategy that I’ve also adopted that seems to work quite well is that instead of somebody rowing, I'll have a particular rower hold. And what that does is kind of lock that part of the boat into a position and then I can let the wind make the correction and then I'll have that person feather again once we're into my desired position. So I often find that I'm having one row or another hold and then release … hold and release. And this could be all different rowers at different times depending on what position I want to have. It keeps them engaged - I also find - because they're listening to me. They're not just hearing the same thing over and over again. Tap it, bow, seat, tap it, bow, seat, two seat, tap it. They are all engaged. They all understand that they're assisting with the positioning of the boat. And lastly, when it comes to wind, because I think maybe you can tell it's one of my favorite topics - part of advanced steering is assessing the body of water and understanding when a gust, for example, is going to be coming. And how do you know there's a gust coming? If you're not familiar with it, you will see a little ruffling of the water. Often it turns darker color and you can see it almost as a dark streak or puddle that's coming to you or away from you. And if you look at its speed and you take into account the speed of the boat that you're in, let your crew know that a gust of wind is coming and see if you can judge that time closer and closer to just before hits the rowers. They're going to be aware … they're going to be appreciative that you have let them know that gust of wind is coming. They need to be prepared to take that hit when it comes and then knowing that it is a gust and not continuous will inform them about how best to manage their strokes. 


BREANA: That's brilliant advice, Anne, for managing those different wind situations. I also find that the wind gives me a lot to deal with steering wise, so all of those actionable tips that you provided are excellent. Another factor that I'm fortunate to not have to deal with in a big way on my current body of water but has been a huge issue on past bodies of water that I have coxed on is the phenomenon of wakes - whether they're created by a launch, a barge, a jet ski … whatever it might be. The way to approach these as a coxswain is first assess how big of a wake it appears to be as it rolls towards you. Something minor, you can stay your course, but a wake that appears to be pretty serious … you're gonna want to start orienting yourself parallel to that wake. So make your shell parallel to that and not perpendicular where those troughs and peaks are … not only splashing over all of your equipment but if it's very severe, possibly leaving parts of your shell unsupported by any water underneath them, which can cause damage. So you're gonna orient yourself parallel to that wake in time - so you're observing around you … you're predicting as it's approaching … you might have to fully stop if it's really extreme. 


ANNE: I think another thing about wakes is how it will impact your steering decisions. If for instance, the wake is moving port to starboard, knowing that when it hits the side of your boat, your point is going to be affected because it's gonna lift the boat up and move it to starboard side without intention on your part. And if you're in that position where the wake is coming from the stern and you might be actually what we call surfing that wave - even with a big eight … which is kind of a fun experience - it can be a little unsettling because it will lift the boat up and it will feel like it's skidding a little bit. It will be odd for the rowers. But just be prepared to make a corrective action - probably with pressure - at the next stroke that you're actually able to connect. In addition to wakes, some of us are going to encounter eddies that occur around bridge abutments as well as outflows. Some bodies of water have some massive outflows that will not only send funnels of water but also debris out. 


BREANA: I've experienced a lot of these. Sometimes it causes the boat to move unexpectedly and you can't pinpoint why suddenly you're pointing in a different direction. Suddenly the water's choppy when it wasn't a moment before. And if it's something unexpected - maybe it's a new body of water - you don't know what to attribute it to. Just notice that change and adapt. I've also been on bodies of water where there are known things and I have had rowers who appreciated being given a little heads up before we came across one of those unusual spots. All of these environmental factors require that as coxswains, we be aware of their possible impact on our steering. We anticipate that impact whenever possible and in the moment, we adapt using the tools available to us for advanced steering - including the rudder but also including rower maneuvers that we might ask for. 


ANNE: And last of all, mentally calculating exactly what the effects are going to be in reverse if you end up having to go the other direction … all the while, of course, doing all the other coxswain things that we do. So that is a sign of advanced skills: is when you can calculate and integrate these environmental factors into all the rest that's going on in your boat. So speaking of adapting and adjusting and calculating, how about if we talk about head race turns as a sort of a culminating example of what we're talking about when we think about advanced steering? 


BREANA: When I think about head race turns, an important first question is: are there going to be buoys? And if so, what type of buoy will be marking that turn? There's everything out there in different race courses from super small buoys that you can take really aggressively and put underneath your riggers with your steering. And then there are race courses with those massive, inflatable buoys that you do not want to touch in any way with any part of your shell. So that's kind of step one of approaching any head race turn - is figuring out what type of buoy structure physically that regatta venue is using. 


ANNE: So Breana, let's take the example of the smaller buoys that you can put underneath your riggers if you've got the line just so. 


BREANA: Yeah, part of steering a really competitive line in a head race often entails getting as close to those buoys on the inside of a turn as you possibly can … remembering that you can't have one of those buoys appear on the wrong side of your hull. So you have to know your own steering capabilities, your shell’s responsiveness, your rowers’ responsiveness, the environmental factors - everything that we've been talking about so far gets put into practice here to inform your sense of how close you can get to that buoy. 


ANNE: And for me, there's only one way to manage that successfully and that is to practice. Practice as much as you can with that crew. You might be, as both Breana and I have had … jumping into that boat with that crew for the first time but most of the time, you'll be most successful if you practice. So if you are practicing with the crew that you're going to be racing with, specifically ask your coach to practice the turns at full race speed so that you have knowledge and they have knowledge about what's required. Some coaches won't think about doing that, so please specifically ask them to give you multiple opportunities to practice a sort of a simulated turn with that crew. Try different strategies. Find out how many strokes it takes to execute that turn. Find out whether or not dropping one side to a lighter pressure along with the rudder … or just the rudder … or half strokes for some. There are multiple ways of making turns but you need to make a sort of a detailed, scientific, if you will, assessment of how it is most efficient for that crew in that particular boat to execute that turn because there's not one magic answer on how to do that. So put another way, some of the techniques that I use are: just using the rudder; power differentials on one side or another; depending upon how tight the turn is, I may have people press into the shoe or basically put a little more pressure on the side of the boat that you want the boat to turn to. We all know from experience that when we're coming into a dock, having the rowers lean away will affect the direction of the boat. So use that to your advantage potentially on a turn. And also practice - if need be - having one of your rowers do an air stroke if that's what it's gonna take to execute that. But that again requires practice. An extreme version of turning is a stake turn. And I actually had the opportunity to execute one of these in a race this summer. It was quite something and I did a lot of studying of coastal rowing techniques to do my best on this but is something that I aspire to learn a lot more about in the future. That's part of my steering journey. 


BREANA: That transitions us into talking about how to know where we are on that steering journey. You just gave us an example, Anne, of a steering goal that you have and are working towards because as we said, there is no end point to this journey. It's something that we're always building upon … gaining new skills. And we should build those skills in the same way that we would advise a rower to build their skills. We know that as coxswains, we shouldn't throw everything at a rower all at once. So in the same way, we should build our advanced steering pathway up bit by bit. 


ANNE: And the best way to learn really is: time in the seat. There is no substitute. We would encourage everyone to seek and accept as many opportunities as we possibly can. But even if we don't get to pursue opportunities that are outside our own boathouse, that's okay. Because as Breana mentioned earlier, we can be in the exact same boat with the same crew and the same weather conditions and it still is not the same. 


BREANA: The fact that it isn't ever the same day to day means that we can use our time in the seat as an opportunity for reflection on where we are in that steering trajectory. In my experience, it's pretty rare that a coach will say anything to us as a coxswain so how can we (then) tune in to where we are on our steering pathways? 


ANNE: Try to reflect often. Whenever we have a practice or a race, think about how much thought did I have to exert to be able to accomplish a particular maneuver? Did I have to make a lot of adjustments as I approached something or was I able to make it in three fewer steps than I did the day before or the week before? It really pays to say, “Oh, I just did that and last week … last month … that stressed me out incredibly and now it just flowed”. 


BREANA: So how else can we deal with this feedback void in which we may find ourselves? One way lately that I have been reflecting on my own steering is by recording GoPro footage of both practices and races and then watching it on mute actually so that I'm not thinking about my calls, but I'm watching to see how my steering is going … to observe my point. And that allows me to reflect on my steering skills which at this point, generally feel automatic. I'm not giving them a lot of conscious thought. When I watch these videos back, I can apply conscious effort to what I'm doing and really tune into whether I am steering effectively in these different circumstances. So I've found that to be really valuable. You can also - if you're on a relatively calm body of water - turn around if you're in a stern loaded shell and observe your wake … the wake that is created as your boat carves its way through the water. And note if that appears to be straight. Of course, that can be modified by all kinds of things like a launch driving next to you and things like that. But it can be a good quick sense if you look back and it's a super squiggly line behind you and you don't have a lot of other things on your body of water that might have influenced that, that might give you some insight into the fact that you were doing a lot of steering there. 


ANNE: I think the wake is an underutilized feedback mechanism on steering a straight course if that's what your need is. You could also ask a coxswain who's behind you during a practice to just make sort of a general note of how your steering seems to be or ask your coach at the start of practice to perhaps drive behind you and try to make an assessment of the wake and your point. Just be curious about things that do and do not go well and then integrate that knowledge in your next practice or race. And please, let's all remember we're gonna make mistakes. This is part of this learning trajectory and improving our skillsets. We gather new skills by pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. That means that we are going to be dealing with situations that we have not previously handled - by definition. But the next time that we come across it, we're going to handle it a little bit better. And then eventually it will become more reflexive. You'll still have to give it some thought potentially, but it will become more instinctive. And isn't that what we're really striving for? So where we are on this pathway to advancing our steering skills can be demonstrated by the speed with which we're able to execute maneuvers and doing it with less conscious effort, as we've said. Another hallmark of advanced steering is that we are anticipating rather than reacting. We have more alternatives to quickly take on when we have a situation that we're not familiar with. So we have a bunch of alternatives instead of one or two that we can choose from to execute our steering objective. And we can quickly toggle between them. It's taking our existing skill set and synthesizing or adapting those skills in creative ways to meet whatever that steering objective is. 


BREANA: And recall that the ultimate outcome is that when that mental effort that it takes us to execute steering maneuvers diminishes, then we have more attention freed up to be able to direct it towards all of those other important aspects of our job as coxswains. 


ANNE: Breana, I really like that as a concluding statement. But before we close this episode, I'd also like to invite our listeners to join us on Discord. There's a lot of great conversation that happens there - advice and sharing - and I cannot wait to learn more about advanced steering through the Discord conversation. 


BREANA: So as we close 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. And I'm Anne, signing off for now.

bottom of page