Are Your Coxswains Developing? Technical Benchmarking Part II

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>> Download Coxswain Benchmarking File <<

In an earlier post, I discussed the benefits of technical benchmarking for your rowers . By creating technical benchmarks in your program you can create consistency and common language between your coaching staff and your athletes. In this post, I provide another set of benchmarking tools to help you develop your coxswains from the beginner to a level of competency that will have them perform well at races. To achieve this, I enlisted the help of Chelsea Dommert who is the author of “Coaching The Cox” which you can purchase from RowPerfect.co.uk at this link. I thank Chelsea for her support and permission to use her work in the e-book as a scaffold to the file provided with this post. 

Based on the performance levels provided in the book, I was able to create a benchmarking system for coxswains to learn the basics of coxing. The first levels include safety and navigation in addition to one benchmark for making a technical improvement. It is important that the coxswain understands that their priorities are first and foremost the safety of the crew and the safety of the equipment, in that order. Level I benchmarks also include steering competency, clarity of instruction to the crew, cox box use and various technique benchmarks such as ratio shifts and catch/release timing with other members of the crew. Once level one has been achieved and the coxswain has reached all of those benchmarks, they are ready to move on to level II skills.

The second level of benchmarks allows for the development of the coxswain as a link between the coach and the crew. Various benchmarks are included at this stage involving technical changes at the appropriate times. A coxswain should use the correct language to fix a fault and be clear about that. If the rowers get the sense that the coxswain has a good (or at least developing) consciousness for good rowing/boat feel and can make constructive changes they will trust the coxswain more. Level II also includes more confidence with steering. For example, a coxswain should be comfortable enough to steer the boat so that buoys are three feet away from the ends of the oars. 

Level III benchmarks are those that relate to racing. A coxswain who is achieving level III status is able to take the shortest route between two points be that in a head race or in a regatta. This level also builds on coxswain feel for the boat and for making more advanced technical changes. In addition to these benchmarks, a coxswain should have the ability to plan and execute a race strategy in a competitive situation.In order to achieve this, It’s often a good idea to run a “practice” event before your first race of the season.

For example, two weeks before your first 4k-5k head race in the Fall/Autumn hold a practice regatta for your program. Simulate the 90 seconds on the dock guideline/rule and award time penalties if your crews and coxswains are not efficient. The time penalty might cause some upset, but it’s better that they learn that before race day when it really matters. Your rowers and coxswains will thank you for it when the pressure increases on in a real competitive situation involving other crews and programs.

Additionally, you will give your coxswains the chance to learn how to get the crew up to speed before the start line in a head race situation. I’ve coached a number of years and there is always a novice crew that starts to pull their first hard stroke at the moment the shell crosses the start line and that’s too late. The boat needs to be up to speed before the bow ball crosses the start line. You should work with your coxswains ahead of time to avoid additional seconds that might be the difference between gold and silver.

Another idea is to set up a practice race course with buoys at important locations. You could also set up gates with two buoys marking each side of the gate and ask the coxswains to steer through those gates. If they are successful then you know that your coxswains are developing. If the coxswains miss this gates or hit a buoy with the oars, then award the crew a time penalty when you compile the final results at the end of your practice event.

Level IV benchmarks include race day knowledge. These include organizing a crew and knowing how to “scull” the boat around given a windy crosswind situation. It is important that your novice coxswains know how to get the boat attached to a stake boat. There are plenty ofmovies on YouTube that show sculling the boat around and so watching those videos and practicing this important skill is vital before the start of a spring or summer regatta.

In conclusion, the benchmarks are built on the material in the “Coaching the Coxswain e-book” found here. You can also hear the interview podcast with Chelsea here.  I’ve simply taken the concepts in her book and provided a means for coaches and coxswains to have dialog and set clear and sequential goals for development. There is room for improvement for sure, but the benchmarking document can be edited so that when additional skills are warranted they can be added and edited. Coaching and athlete development is a science but it is also an organic process as well. 

If you have any questions/feedback or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me at neil@coachbergenroth.com.

Until next time! 

>> Download Coxswain Benchmarking File <<


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