About Mary Whipple

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9th Seat is the brainchild of Mary Whipple, Olympic gold medalist coxswain of the US women’s eight. Here you’ll find informative blog posts, tips and tricks, and opportunities to learn from the best!

5 Mistakes Coxswains Make When First Getting Back into the Boat

Taking off at the start of the 2011 Lucerne World Cup


I’ve received a couple of e-mails asking me how to get rid of the winter blues or how to survive the long winter months of indoor training. I had a hard time relating to these questions only because I have been privileged to spend this winter at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.  Winter blues do not exist for me when the sun is out and I have to apply sunscreen during January and February. I do however get restless when our training focuses more on small boats and not the big boat.  When I do get the chance to get back into the mix of practice I have to make sure I don’t waste time by making mistakes. Especially when the rowers steer their boats and organize practice without me.

So when it is your turn to hop back into the coxswain’s seat this month keep these simple suggestions in mind so you don’t make the common mistakes most coxswains make during the first week back.

  • Less talking and better steering–The first couple of days of practice no one will notice how quiet you may think you are being.  Rowers starting trusting you more when they don’t have to second guess your decisions.  How you steer your boat will separate yourself from the other coxswains.  Coxswains try to fix all the technical problems of their rowers or try to be the ultimate motivator on day one.  Take the time during the first week back on the water to solidify your boat handling skills.
  • Start even, end even–If you want to be considered as the top coxswain of your club or team start to organize practice by making sure all boats are level and no more than 5 feet apart. If you have a coxswain on your team that always drifts past you make sure to have your stern pair ready to pull it up even.  For the goal of stopping even sometimes you have to hold a drill longer in order to stop even.  Make sure to communicate to your rowers that your 10 strokes are done but you are continuing to row in order to pull up to the other boat  ahead that has already finished their drill sequence. If the problem of other coxswains drifting past you still occurs make sure to nicely talk to your coxswain teammate off of the water and make it a team goal to start even and stop even between different aspects of practice.
  • Slow down your speech–Racing is just around the corner so more builders and 20’s are going to happen during practice.  When race intensity starts to happen in practice make sure your words don’t speed up as well.  As the rate increases coxswains tend to try and squeeze in full sentences while still trying to count out every stroke.  Count inside your head while giving important information. The NK stroke counter on your cox box is your friend during 20 or 30 stroke pieces.  Give your rowers time to digest your words to make what you’re saying really count.
  • Listen to the work out and don’t forget it–Don’t be afraid to write down the workout. Athletic tape works really well for writing  line-ups and the work out.  Remember to remove the tape from the deck or gunwale after the practice.  It’s one of my pet peeves when getting into a boat and having to remove the other coxswain’s line up.  Only because it leaves a sticky residue sometimes. More importantly, running a smooth practice and not having to ask your stroke or your coach what to do next will only help your stock and value increase.
  • Dock like you mean it–Have you ever heard of the expression, “Fake it until you make it?” That is exactly what you have to do when docking. If you sound scared or indecisive your rowers will probably take matters into their own hands and mistakes will happen.  Have a plan and then have a plan-B. Notice the wind and current to gauge the speed you need to approach the dock.  Practice makes perfect and above all don’t forget to lean away…

I hope these simple suggestions will help you avoid these common mistakes.  Spring racing is right around the corner so selection for racing boats start with nailing practice. If you are not happy with where you rank on your team right now there is still time to change by becoming more reliable in practice.  If you would like more help I’m accepting more coxswain students this spring.  Please see my Coaching: one-on-one page for the two options I have for coxswains who want to work with me to better their coxing skills.

Practice like you mean it…
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Posted at Sunday, March 4th, 2012 in: Intermediate Coxswain

6 Responses to “5 Mistakes Coxswains Make When First Getting Back into the Boat”

  1. […] While you are here… check out this link to Mary Whipple’s newest blog post […]

  2. Miller Kehlet says:

    Thank you so much for this! I am always looking for ways to help my coxswains (high school- novice to experienced). I appreciate the straight forward but easy to grasp explainations.

  3. Lucy says:

    Hi Mary,
    I am living in Australia and our pre-season is about to start up again. I will be moving into our senior program and hopefully will move from coxing quads to eights and have some tough competition to get there. I have never coxed an eight before and was wondering if you had any steering tips or things to know as a beginner?

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  5. gestapo says:

    Can I copyright 20 pages of old newspaper articles ?

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