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by Izzi Weiss

Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming racing season. Whether you’re a seasoned varsity coxswain or a new novice, the start of the spring season can be both exciting and daunting. It’s a time to set goals, establish a routine, and start building the team chemistry that’s essential for success. As a coxswain, you play a vital role in your team’s success during the spring racing season. Your ability to steer the boat, motivate your teammates, and make split-second decisions can make all the difference between victory and defeat. So, how can you best prepare for the upcoming racing season? Here are some tips and strategies for tackling the first month of spring season.

When it comes to early spring, most teams are changing lineups weekly (if not more often) to play around and find out who should be boated where, and what seating combinations work best. As a coxswain, it is super important for you to be adaptable and to set a consistent tone as your lineup changes from practice to practice. To give each rower and each lineup its best chance, coxing clearly and consistently will make it as easy as possible for rowers to come in and out of your boat. 

Approaching early spring coxing, you should be thinking about how to get the most out of your lineup. Whether it’s mixed lineups doing a long steady-state row, or a new lineup changing each piece seat racing, it is your job to bring cohesion to your boat. Sometimes you get the entire 2-hour practice, or even a few days back to back, but sometimes you only get 250 meters after a pull-together switch to try and unify your boat. When your time together in the lineup is brief, this is when your consistency and clear communication from the coxswain seat is the most important. Here are a few ways to help your changing lineup go well…

Unify your boat with goals

When you shove off the dock at the start of practice, tell your boat what you are hoping to accomplish. Whether your goal is to win all of the pieces that day, stick the designated rate, or gel together and find a rhythm, communicate that with your rowers when you are launching so they know exactly what a successful practice will look like. 

Set expectations

Once you have set goals, give your crew some insight into how you plan to execute to achieve them, and the steps needed to make that happen.. I like to tell my boat, “you can expect lots of calls for shifts” or “we will need to row together if we want to win these pieces” before the calls need to happen. This will allow the rowers to mentally prepare for what your calls might sound like and know how they should react when they hear them. It is easier to make changes mid-piece if there has been a conversation beforehand that highlights what these changes might look and sound like. 

Clear communication and well-developed calls

When making calls for power, technical changes, or even to weigh enough, it is important to give your rowers all the information they need to do things together and successfully. When you are asking a mixed lineup to stop rowing, saying “on my call weigh enough at bodies over” is going to bring uniformity to your boat, rather than just saying “weigh enough in 2 strokes” which might result in 4 rowers pausing at body over, 3 at the finish, and 1 just dropping their blade. If you can get all 8 rowers to nail something as simple as a perfect pause at bodies over, where the boat balances before you say drop, you are going to help the boat develop confidence. 

Once you have been in a lineup for a while, you don’t have to be as specific, but in the beginning of spring season when things are changing daily, I recommend coxing very clearly. Giving technical details to each call allows the rowers to do things together, and leaves nothing up for interpretation. When you are asking for a ratio shift, tell the boat where to shift, for example asking them to breathe over the knees as they lengthen. When you are calling for a power 10, give the boat a technical focus like the front end, the catch, or the hip swing, to ensure that each rower is applying power in the same way. This will make your shifts and moves feel as if your lineup has been rowing together for weeks, rather than minutes. 

Coxing seat races

If you are doing switches in practice and someone gets moved into your boat that hasn’t been in it the entire time, get them up to speed on what the focus areas of your boat have been. As they move their foot stretchers and adjust their spacers, tell them the goals that you are hoping to accomplish, and what type of calls or moves have been working well. This 

quick briefing will allow any rower to hop in your boat and be effective right away. Giving rowers a high-level summary of goals, expectations, and how you will be calling for things will help them row as if they’d been in the lineup the entire practice. 

Early spring is all about getting the most out of each row and each lineup. If you are coxing clearly and with attention to detail, you are giving your boat its best chance at success each day. Adjusting your style to accommodate lots of moving parts will help your lineups go fast regardless of if the rowers in your boat are familiar with your coxing or have never been in your boat before. Setting goals and expectations hold both you and your rowers accountable and will help achieve better results than just getting in the boat and hoping for the best.

For some more tips on coxing in early spring, tune into @insideturncoxing or @rowerschoice on Instagram the next few weeks to hear from some of the world’s most decorated coxswains on how they approach coxing early in the season and in mixed or changing lineups…

Izzi Weiss is the owner of Inside Turn and a contributor to Rowers Choice.
You can find more information at and connect with Izzi at [email protected]