Next up In The Driver's Seat is coxswain Caroline Ricksen.
Caroline, who earned a driver's seat on 2022 U23 Team in the Women's Four, coxes at Stanford during the school year. She led the Cardinal 1V to the Pac-12 Championship in 2022, and at NCAAs drove Stanford's top eight to the second place finish that put her team into a tie for the point championship, sealing up their second place overall NCAA finish.
She and her USA U23 crew--Katherine Kelly, Elena Collier-Hezel, Greta Filor, and Angela Szabo--are in Varese, Italy, for the U23 Worlds, where they will race a shell with the call-sign 'Rooster'...starting with a preliminary race on Tuesday, July 26th.
Let's hop In The Driver's Seat with Caroline:
row2k - What are your top three essentials for being ready on Race Day?
Caroline Ricksen - Everyone has their pre-race ritual: the playlist, a special breakfast, using a face mask the night before. I used to believe in this, but I don't have any sort of ritual anymore.
Instead, I keep it simple: I remind myself that I am prepared to race--it is the fun part. The three things I do include are making sure that I feel great physically and mentally, that my crew feels the same, and that I have a moment of mindfulness.
First, I make sure I am ready to go: if I am not taking care of myself, I cannot be supportive to my boat. This includes making sure I can be active in some way (since that helps me mentally prep), I can clear my head, and I have all of my go-to items (cox box, notebook, etc.) ready for race day.
Second, I make sure everyone else is ready to rock and roll. This means that everyone is on the same page with race plan, has all nutrients needed, all questions answered, and that I communicate any needs to my coaches.
Lastly, it is essential I remind myself why I am doing this: I love my team, love this sport, and have fun doing it. At the end of the day, racing is the fun part, so why not remind ourselves that before launching?
row2k - What is your favorite drill to run with your crews? Any tips on how to the drill well, for maximum effectiveness?
Caroline Ricksen - I am a firm believer that leg drive builds rhythm. Without it, what you do on the recovery does not have a huge effect on the hull speed. It will be rocky, sensitive, and inconsistent if there is no solid leg pressure creating run.
For this reason, I love running the 'legs only' drill. My favorite way to do it is running it from 4s, to 6s, to all 8. This allows the unit to play around with the load. Stern 4 gets to determine and set up the leg rhythm; 3 and 4 come in to a solid rhythm and add into the leg speed. Then, by the time you get it all 8, the boat is running out nicely and the leg rhythm is established.
Sometimes on race day, if it feels off or I want to send the crew into an epic ten, I do this drill into a 10 at rate. Crushing leg speed sets up for beautiful run and stability on recovery.
row2k - What's some of the best coaching advice you've received about your coxing?
Caroline Ricksen - I am someone who is always trying to be better at the thing I am doing. If it is running, I want a faster mile time. If it is writing, I want it to be longer or more poetic. Something about my brain is hardwired in this way. This striving for constant improvement is a great quality because it has gotten me so far in life and in this sport, but sometimes it has the potential to rock my self-confidence.
Early on in my college career, I would over-prepare for races, trying to think about every possible situation that could occur. This left little to no room for my true skill to shine through. My coach, Derek Byrnes, told me to remember to "trust my gut and to just let things happen--my experience, skill set, and instincts will respond as they need to."
I do this every day, so nothing different has to happen on race day. The situations you face on race day are unlikely anything you could prepare for, so you need to sharpen your skill set, breathe, and be ready to respond. This has not only impacted the way I am able to be my full, complete self in the boat, but also helps me outside of athletics.
OH ALSO: have fun! I used to be so serious at all times in the boat. Yes, we are in charge of safety and the only ones with a microphone--this is serious business. However, there are moments of levity that bond the unit, change the trajectory of a practice, and ultimately lead to boat speed. Lean into these moments as a coxswain and have fun with what you are doing.
row2k - What is a mid-race call or move that you've made that you'll remember for the rest of your life? If so, what did it involve and how did you call it?
Caroline Ricksen - Pac-12s 2022 was pretty insane. Washington had won the Team Trophy for the last few years, so they had a winning streak.
Headed into the weekend we were excited, but without a doubt nervous and with no clue how the regatta was going to go. We had not lined up next to UW or Cal that season due to COVID complications. I remember getting off the line, feeling scrambled and like we were hacking at it.
I told my crew "Just breathe. Eyes in. Let it run out." Simple, easy, but so effective. We took about 5 seats in ten strokes. It gave them the confidence to take a second, settle into rhythm, and trust exactly what they knew how to do. It didn't need to be any more complicated than that.
[Ed. note: Stanford won the race.]
row2k - Can you tell us anything about how you learned to call the sprint?
Caroline Ricksen - At this point in the race, you are doing something wrong if you are not going full pressure and hitting a next gear. Of course, there is always some new level of grit or crazy energy boost, but I think that you need to tell your crew HOW to sprint: with catches, with legs, with body position.
Rate is a byproduct of speed, so the crew needs to increase the boat speed and focus on that, rather than just the rate. If you just tell them to jack the rate, it will get spinny and short, which just equals slow.
As coxswains, we must tell our crew how to increase boat speed and when. Once executed, let them know if they did it--if yes, get really excited. That's awesome. Keep riding that momentum to the end.
row2k - Best race/practice, or worst race/practice you've ever had?
Caroline Ricksen - I do not think there is a world in which I could claim a practice or race as best or worst. They are all just different; I learned something from each of them.
The wins were fun, but most of the time you learn the most when things don't go as planned. I am eternally grateful for every time I have gone bowball to bowball with another crew. At Stanford, we do this every day we have practice. We often say that racing our teammates prepares us to race others. There is not a best or worst, but they all hold unique specific memories in my brain and are attached to a learning moment for me. What matters most is reflecting on that learning moment and adapting for the next opportunity you have to race.
Thanks for riding along with Caroline -- you will be able to follow her and the rest of the USA's U23 and U19 team all this week here on row2k.
You can also catch up with all the In The Driver's Seat alums racing in Varese here:
This column is open to all "drivers" out there, so if you are an experienced coxswain at any level--from juniors to masters--and would be willing to invite row2k to join you in your ride, just contact us here. We'd love to hear from you about what see from the Driver's Seat.