Making Your Calls Economical
"To what purpose dost thou hoard thy words?"
--Shakespeare, Richard II
Efficient practices and maneuvers, as well as effective moves during a race, depend on reacting quickly. Coxswains whose calls are precise and economic make for efficient boats. Compressing information into the fewest words necessary -- a 'telegraphic' style -- helps your crew focus, saves time, and reduces the chance of misheard words. It also helps your own concentration in the excitement of a race. Coxswains tend to develop a verbal shorthand as they become more experienced, but by thinking about it early, coxswains can get to that stage sooner.
It is hoped this column will also be useful to rowers of uncoxed boats who need to use the minimum of breath to make their calls.
Boiling down "In two strokes we're going to take a ten for legs," to "In two, ten for legs" sounds much more professional and emphatic. "Up two in two" is more energetic than "In two strokes we're going to raise the rating two beats," especially in the sprint when a lot of things are happening quickly and you want time to be able to tell them important things about where the other crews are, and how you're moving on them." Using familiar landmarks helps. For example, "Bridge move in two" can convey several sentences worth of information -- distance on the course, rating, number of strokes in the move -- to a crew who is accustomed to that move.
A handful of examples to spur your thinking; you'll come up with many on your own: "Hundred to the thousand" rather than "We've got a hundred meters until the thousand meter mark," "Five to wire," instead of "Five strokes until the wire," are but a few examples. As the season progresses, you and your boat will probably develop your own, even more coded, shorthand.
A boat under way has a natural rhythm; fitting your calls to it helps your rowers' flow and concentration. The terser your calls, the more naturally this happens. A long sentence is more likely to counter the rhythm.
Most commands in crew have a symmetric doubling to them; this helps the compression. The first part lets the rowers know what is about to happen. The second signals the execution. "Waists and down" can replace "We're going to go to waists in two, ready, one two, waists."
Quick commands are especially appreciated at times when the crew is pressing the shell over their heads (rolling to the water, placing the shell on a high rack, etc.). Many coxswains either take too long to give the command, or else inexplicably pause at the most uncomfortable point. This leaves their crews stationary and waiting for the next command. It's tiring to hold a shell at full extension. Instead of saying "Over your heads, no toes over, roll it to the water," shorten it to "Over heads, roll!" (Or, "heads! [will] roll!" as our little dock humor goes.)
The "to the water" bit is probably obvious enough not to be needed, and there's time as the boat is being lowered to remind them about toes, splash etc. It doesn't all need to be done while it is over their heads. Any situation where the crew is straining to hold a shell, passing it over something, or otherwise incurring a risk, is a time when clear, compressed, and fluid commands are extremely important.
By giving the explanation part of a command ahead of time, you can shorten the actual execution as it's happening, and still be clear. For example, when rolling a shell into slings, it's best to say - before lifting - "we're going to roll towards me," instead of doing it as they're rolling it. Keeping the explanation separate from the actual execution simplifies both.
Coaches really appreciate quickly-executed drills, and it keeps you from falling behind another boat when you're trying to keep them together. It's better to call "In two, pause hands-away," than "In two strokes, we'll be pausing hands-away." When the coach has already described the drill from the launch, it is usually not necessary for the coxswain to repeat the whole drill. It should be enough -- especially for routine and familiar drills -- simply to give the call. However, if there is any doubt, or if there are several complex components to the drill, go ahead and relay it to your crew to make sure they have it. (It's also a good way to fix it in your own mind.) A quick "got that?" to your crew makes a good check.
If you have rowers in your boats who come from different programs, (e.g. college freshman boats at the beginning of the season.), it's sometimes worth the time to go through the details. They might be used to different names for drills ("Er, what's a 'Romanian drill'?") and it's worth making sure everyone is on the same page.
Precise and spare calls save you from rushing to get your words out. You can enunciate clearly, thus sounding calmer and more forceful, rather than rushed and frantic. This makes a big difference to your rowers' attention and confidence.
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