Coxswains have a tough job, especially when under pressure. To make it a bit easier, we have put together these six ways to clarify your calls in the boat.
For practices, it helps to be familiar with the workout before you get on the water. Many coaches will send the team (or just the coxswains) an outline of the day's practice ahead of time. If your coach does not already do this, it's worth asking for it. Knowing the pieces and the drills before you get in the boat not only allows you to predict and practice the trickier calls, it also gives you a chance to ask your coach about parts of the practice you might not understand and clarify the goals of the drills (more on this later).
A broad piece of white athletic tape is a great place to write the day's lineup. Put the name of the person sitting in bow seat on the top of the tape, and the name of the person sitting in stroke seat on the bottom. It also helps to align the names of the people sitting on the port side with the left side of the tape, and the names of the people on the starboard side with the right side. That way, when you're looking down the boat (or thinking about looking down the boat, in the case of a bow-loader), the blades line up spatially with names of the people moving them.
This way, when you see an opportunity for a technical adjustment, you will know exactly who you're talking to, and the call will be much more effective. Using names instead of seat numbers also forces you to remember that you're talking to a person, and can make your calls more empathetic. "Sarah, you're tad early to the catch--trust the set all the way to the top of the slide" can be much better than, "two-seat you're early." Preferences can vary by crew, though, so make sure your rowers are ok with being called out by name.
Almost all coaches have a set of go-to drills that they use in practice. Make it a point to call each of these drills the same way, or almost the same way, every time. There will be some trial and error as you work out a routine, but conventions make is much easier for your crew to predict what is coming next. If you do mess up a call, they'll know what you meant. Establishing a routine also frees up brain power for more important things like looking where you're going or helping your crew with technical improvements.
Listen to your coach when he or she is explaining the drills, and take note of the language they use to describe ideal technique (according to them). You should have a notebook with you in the boat so when something worth remembering comes up (and you're stopped of course) you can write it down. Don't be a parrot, but find ways to work this vocabulary into your calls.
A big part of your job is to be an extension of the coach. If coach describes the drive as a "squeeze" and all of your drive calls are a variation of, "pop… send," you're creating a disconnect. It's confusing to the rowers and they'll either follow your direction and execute the drive incorrectly, or they'll start to tune you out.
Look up the lane assignments for all the crews in your race. Draw a diagram on the back of your hand showing which crew is in each lane from the perspective of a boat at the start line. Make it visually obvious on the diagram which lane you're in for easy reference--it's shockingly easy to forget how many lanes are on either side of you when you're focused on other things (like steering).
When it's time to update your crew on their position relative to the rest of the field, all you have to do is look down at your hand. It's nearly impossible to try to figure out who's in the lane next to you and come up with a good call-to-action at the same time. "Lane three is gaining on us, power ten on this one!" turns into, "up one seat on Marin but they're making a move, big ten on this one!" when you know without having to think about it that Marin is the crew that just started a move in lane three.
The urgency of a race and the non-stop nature of most practices can make it feel like you have to generate the perfect call RIGHT NOW. Unless you're in an emergency situation, you have more time than you think. Take a moment to rehearse what you're about to say before you start speaking, and watch your calls instantly become clearer and more concise.
Are your having trouble saying what you mean because you feel intimidated? Read this for some ideas on how to gain confidence on the water.