There are four parts in this guide: how to make calls, in terms of voice inflexion and timing; what to expect from your rowers in terms of technique throughout the stroke; how to correct the technical issues spotted; and finally, race coxing.
The second part describes the technique expected of first-boat rowers: while this is useful for lower-boat coxes too, their calls will possibly be more simple, tailored by their coaches to correspond with the technical points expected of second- or third-boats (or fourth- or fifth-boats, knowing SSBC!). If you’re only looking for general examples of calls to make, see the third and fourth parts.
Rhythm, emphasis and timing
Most cox calls are timed with the catch, the finish, or both; but other points in the rowing stroke can be used to synchronize the cox and the crew: e.g. the squaring (midway through the recovery) or the hip drive (about 2/3rds through the drive, once the knees are down and the back-and-arms movement starts).
The rhythm of the cox’s voice should correspond to the content of what they are saying:
– drawling calls starting at the catch can be used to slow the drive, or focus on making sure the drive is as long as it should be (not ‘ripped’ through the water): ‘eeeeasy there’, ‘leeeengthen out’, ‘loooong in the water’.
– sharp calls will emphasize one or several point(s) in the stroke, so the crew can synchronize: ‘SHARP, THERE!’ (catch + finish). They can also be used to create an acceleration if the syllables are close together: ‘KNEES-DOWN!’ (catch + mid-drive), ‘HIPS-THROUGH!’ (catch + mid-drive) will make the crew push harder in the first half of the drive.
Many calls can be emphasized differently depending on the cox’s preferences, or the specific occasion: for instance, when building the rate up, ‘buuuuild THERE!’ (drawling from the catch, sharp at the finish) creates a different effect from ‘BUILD-IT!’ (catch-hips). The first is good when building the rate slowly (e.g. over 10 strokes in a rolling start, focusing on finishing together), the second is better for fast builds (e.g. bumps starts, when we have three strokes to get to rate 40, so the focus is on the leg drive).
Multiple-syllable calls tend to end up synchronized with the catch (1), the hips (2), and the finish (3) without anyone having to really think about it. The time between (1) and (2) is longer than between (2) and (3), hence a combination of drawl and sharp: e.g. ‘(1) loooong (2-3) and STRONG!’ to maintain a long drive yet make sure the finish is together; or ‘(1)driive through (2-3) THE LEGS!’.
When asking for a specific exercize: the ‘go’ call needs to be timed so the crew has a half-stroke to think about what they’re about to do – for instance, when requesting a stronger drive, the ‘go’ should happen at the finish so rowers have the entire recovery to plan their drive, or, when requesting a slower recovery, the ‘go’ should be at the catch so the rowers can spend the drive preparing.
One last thing: don’t use the same tone for two different calls. One typical example would be: don’t call ‘eeeevening out the pressure’ if the rowers are used to hearing ‘eeeeasy there’, because they’ll hear this familiar call and stop rowing instead of paying attention to the actual demand! It’s worth finding another rhythm or wording, such as ‘back to equal/even pressure’ – because no-one says ‘back to easy there’!
Technique in the phases of the stroke
The ‘catch’: it is considered one phase of the stroke, but is actually cut into two points. The moment when the blade touches or enters the water is the placement, which occurs before the rower is completely at front-stops; and when the rower engages the legs and starts driving, that is the connection.
Ideally these two phases are very close together to form quick catches – in races, they’re pretty much simultaneous.
So: calling ‘catch, catch’ is not sufficient to make sure the crew is together: both the placement and the drive need to be synchronized – or else, when they hear ‘catch’, some rowers will have their blade fully buried while others will only just enter the water. Calling ‘focus on the placement/the connection’ can specify where the crew is out of time, or, if you want to mark the rhythm, ‘place, place’/ ‘in, in’ can be distinguished from ‘drive, drive’, or ‘legs, legs’.
The ‘drive’: since all these motions flow into one another, the end of the catch – the connection – is the start of the drive, and from there rowers ‘unroll’: first the legs, then the back and arms.
As a general rule, rowers must accelerate through the drive, i.e. the blade should be going faster through the water at the end than at the start of the drive (that will create the momentum of the boat).
Consequently, while the leg drive and hip drive can be seen individually, the back-rock and arm-pull movements can’t really be distinguished, because everything is just going too fast at that time. Hands should keep the same height throughout: about ‘bra-high’ on the women’s side, or ‘lower pecs’ for the men’s side.
The ‘finish’: like the catch, it is a process rather than a single point, a “C”-shaped motion. There is the pulling into the chest bit and the tap-down bit, with the feathering happening somewhere between the two… And then the arms away fully extended bit!
Arms should go ‘away’ at exactly the same speed they came ‘into’ the chest, i.e. consistent speed through the “C”.
Consequently, calling ‘finish!’ is ambiguous: it is better to ask rowers to e.g. ‘focus on pulling into the chest straight/ tap down together/ tap down the right amount/ make a smooth C-shape …’.
Since we’ve already said that the arms parts are virtually impossible to call out individually, most of the sharp calls during the finish tend to coincide with the feathering, somewhere during the tap-down: ‘send!’ is monosyllabic so it fits well, as does ‘there!’ in the context of calls like ‘legs there’, ‘drive there’, etc.
The ‘recovery’: the arms-away flow into bodies-over (or hips rocking forward) which flows into the slide. The slide itself can be cut into bits: quarter-slides when the knees break, half-slides when the knees form a 90° angle, three-quarter slides when the knees are as scrunched as can be yet the heels are still on the footplates, and then full-slides when the heels raise and the balance is entirely on the toes (N.B: the placement of the blade happens right before full-slides).
Meanwhile, the body stays in a rocked over position, arms fully extended. The only change in the body position involves a slight twist from the hips to look out on the side of the rower’s rigger, coming into the catch – that gives extra length.
The hand heights start out a fist-height above the saxboard for the first part; and after the square (which can happen at different moments depending on the Stroke’s mood, or the rate, or the weather, etc) they start gradually raising into the catch for the placement of the blade.
Coxes can cut up the slide: e.g. when asking for pauses, the cox must specify ‘at arms away’, or ‘quarter-slides’, etc, and call ‘pause!’ when relevant.
Technical issues and their correction
Paying attention to all the phases and points in the stroke helps coxes determine where technical issues are coming from, and how to fix them. The most common problems are timing or balance issues, which can obviously arise from various sources…
When there is a problem, the cox must (A) tell the problem, e.g. ‘you are finishing at different times’; and (B) point out who it applies to, e.g. ‘3’, ‘middle four’, ‘all eights’.
The best way to sort the problem out (or simply to make sure it doesn’t arise when the rowing is already good) is then to (A) say which part of the stroke to focus on, e.g. ‘so let’s focus on those finishes’; (B) explain which smaller technical unit to focus on, e.g. ‘in particular the pull into the chest’; and (C) tell the ‘right’ way to do it, e.g. ‘pulling into the chest together/ in a straight line/ up to the bra line/ with enough strength’.
Finally, it is always best to give a timeframe, e.g. ‘for 5 strokes’, ‘until I tell you otherwise’, etc, and then to give feedback, e.g. ‘improvement on that catch timing’, or ‘the bowside lean is still there, let’s focus on….’ etc.
Some examples below: super experienced coxes will use all of these calls, but in the meantime it is worth picking a few that are easy to remember, e.g. ‘central weight’, ‘rocking together’, etc; and add more when the coach covers specific topics. That is why coxes need to pay as much attention to technical exercizes as the rowers, and not just focus on steering during them…
‘let’s focus on the timing of the catches: entering the water together’
‘let’s have quick catches: don’t linger between the placement and the drive!’
‘now let’s focus on driving together once the blades are fully buried’
‘focus on the leg drive: bringing the knees down at the same speed’
‘focus on the hip drive: swinging back together rather than opening the backs too early!’
‘focus on the end of the drive: control rather than wrenching/ripping through the water’
‘focus on the whole drive: accelerating together through the stroke, from the catch to the finish’
‘focus on timing through the finish: smooth C-shape in time with Stroke’
‘focus on the finish: pulling into the chest at a controlled speed rather than yanking’
‘focus on the tap-down: in time with the person in front of you’
‘let’s feather together at the finish, let’s hear that clunking sound!’
‘focus on the arms-away movement, don’t rush it!’
‘let’s rock over together, one movement for the whole crew’
‘focus on the recovery, break the knees in time with everyone to make sure your slide is together!’
‘let’s slow the slide, we need more time between half-slides and the catch!’
‘timing throughout the slide, don’t rush the last part between three-quarters and full-slides!’
‘no hesitation at the catch: don’t let your blade hover at the end of the slide!’
‘let’s accelerate that rate, extra pressure on the drive, up 2, next stroke, go!’
‘let’s slow that slide, extra time on the recovery, down 2, next stroke, go!’
‘let’s fix the ratio, up-one-down-one, ready, go!’
‘we’re going to build the rate from 18 to 26 over 5 strokes, following Stroke, ready, go!’
‘balance through the drive: make sure your hands are in a straight line throughout’
‘no digging through the drive: no “rainbow-shape” hands!’
‘heels and toes firmly on the footplate all through the drive, all the way to the finish!’
‘focus on the balance at the finish: drawing straight to the bra/pec-line!’
‘the boat is down on bowside: bowsiders draw higher into your chest!’
‘drawing into the chest with the shoulders level: strong core, no tipping to one side!’
‘balancing at the finish: tapping down the right amount, to the bottom of the rib-cage!’
‘the boat is still down on bowside: bowsiders don’t tap down too low, tap down a bit higher!’
or ‘the boat is still down on bowside: strokesiders draw/tap down a bit lower’
‘balance at arms-away: setting a stable platform with hands a fist-height above the side of the boat’
‘rocking forward without letting your hand heights wobble: still a fist-height above!’
‘balance through the slide: hands steady when you break the knees’
‘balance in the recovery: no jumpy hand-heights while you square!’
‘focus on the squaring: rotate with your inside wrist, and use your outside hand to keep the blade height constant!’
‘balance throughout the recovery: weight central, equal pressure on the toes of both feet’
‘slowly raising the hands towards the catch, no “dipping down” into your footplates!’
Whole other bucket of fish. At this point, coxes need to have some sort of ‘race plan’ in mind to avoid having to improvise (too much). The cox will need to motivate rowers throughout, and *at the same time!* control the pressure, the corners, and the technique.
Essential points: tell who needs to put pressure, and vary it (full crew power 10s can’t be used more than 3-4 times in a race, sadly), tell how long the rowers need to do something (‘for 5’ tends to be the usual time, with ‘for 10’ for exceptional occasions), and why (we’re pushing off this bridge, we’re starting this corner, we’re closing in on this crew, we’re pushing off this other crew, etc).
The way it usually works is: the cox says what needs to be done, and then calls out the rhythm while that exercize lasts, e.g. ‘let’s power 10, NOW! power ONE, power TWO, etc’.
Pressure and corners:
‘let’s have a power 10 from the whole crew, ready, GO!’
‘let’s push off the Motorway Bridge, send it away with a power 10, NOW!’
‘let’s have pair pushes up to the Railway Bridge, so five strong strokes from bow pair, ready, GO!’
‘3 and 4, joining bow pair for 5 strokes, NOW! push, ONE! push, TWO! (etc)’
‘come on 5 and 6, show us what you’ve got for 5, GO! five and six ONE! five and six TWO!’
‘stern pair coming in for a full-crew push for 5, GO! together ONE! together TWO!’
‘let’s have a push for 5 from stern 4 as we come into First Post Corner, NOW!’
‘now strokeside it’s your turn, power through the corner! Bow and 3, extra pressure until the end!’
‘well done strokeside, now let’s push out of the corner now, middle four for 5 strokes!
‘now the outside four, join middle four, let’s have a surge from the whole crew! full-crew ONE!’
Technique: can’t be as precise as during an outing, so only the essentials – but coxes can call technical points out even when there’s nothing actually going wrong, if only to make sure rowers are focused and the calls are varied, not just ‘power’.
‘let’s drive together for 5, GO! accee-leRATE! accee-leRATE!’
‘don’t rip through the water, control the drive for 5! leeeengthen OUT! leeeever THROUGH!’
‘remember the power comes through the legs! HEELS DOWN! HEELS/KNEES/LEGS DOWN!
‘swinging the hips together for 5! HIPS THROUGH! HIPS THROUGH! SWING THERE!’
‘firm finishes for 5, draw into the chest! draaaw THERE! draaaw THERE!’
‘firm finishes, send those puddles away! SEND THERE!’
‘feathering together at the finish! feather THERE!’
‘catching together for 5, ready, GO! CATCH, SEND! CATCH, SEND!’
Etc etc: anything works, really, if you put ‘there!’ or ‘down!’ or ‘through!’ or ‘send!’ afterwards…
If there’s a big issue:
‘okay we’re going to reset, so get back in time with stroke, ready, NOW! legs, there! lengthen out!’
‘we’re going to take the rating up again to 32, ready, GO! draw ONE! draw TWO!’
Or if there’s a huge problem, e.g. we’re completely stopped, or we’ve lost loads of speed because of a crab:
‘right, we’re going to restart, whole start sequence, GO! DRAW ONE! DRAW TWO! BUILD THERE!’
Encouragement and positioning in the race:
‘that’s it girls/ladies/guys/lads/W1 (etc)!’
‘excellent change on those finishes girls (etc)!’
‘come on guys let’s power through!’
‘let’s do this FOR SIDNEY!’ / ‘FOR *insert name of fave coach*!’ / ‘FOR EACH OTHER!’
‘WE ARE SIDNEY W1!’
A WIV (Women’s IV+ 2015) favourite, in time with three strokes: ‘For SIDNEY! FRANCES! AND SAINT GEORGE!’
In regular races & Bumps: ‘we’re coming up to First Post Corner, let’s prepare for that push!’
‘we’re two lengths away from the Railway Bridge!’
‘Halfway down the Reach now, SIDNEY OWNS THE REACH!’
‘I can see the finish, 200 meters to go now!’
‘LAST TWENTY STROKES, EMPTY OUT!!!!!!’ (always better to count a little too much, say 15 if you think 10, say 20 if you think 15, etc, to avoid the awkward ‘and power TEN! Uhm, 3 more strokes actually guys!’)
In Bumps: ‘we’re catching up to Fitz, they’re a length away now, let’s stick to our plan!’
‘that’s it lad(ie)s, moving up on them, we’re inside a length now!’
‘keep it strong guys, we’re nearly half a length away now!’
‘right, we’re not going to let Emma creep up on us, let’s have a push!’
‘we’re going to push off Emma, following the plan, let’s get the rate up 2, NOW!’
Hope that helps a little!
SSBC Captain of Boats 2016-2017