Next up In The Driver's Seat--where we hear from the folks who keep the shells straight and the crews fast--is coxswain AnnaRuth Neville.
In addition to her recent starring role in our Rowing Hacks column--where she was featured for her skills with garbage bags and stakeboats--AnnaRuth has coxed the Varsity Eight at Oregon State the past three seasons. She got her start with the Nashville Juniors and was at the helm of the OSU 1V last season as Beavers made their first NCAA appearance since 2009. She will graduate this year with a degree in Kinesiology.
Let's hop In The Driver's Seat with AnnaRuth:
row2k - Give us your top three essentials for being ready on Race Day:
AnnaRuth Neville - My top 3 essentials for being race ready, besides the obvious equipment & information:
1. My orange hat: I've found it to be true that in Division I rowing you will perform to the level of your systems. My system is preparation, and since I wear my orange hat every practice, it reminds me I've already done the months of training and research to be ready for the flag drop. Race Day is the day we get to just put all the pieces together and perform!
2. Fruit snacks: It is essential to anticipate my crew's needs, so it wouldn't be Race Day if I didn't have some 'go fuel' for my crew. Usually we go for Mott's fruit snacks or Kirkland apple sauce but every now and then I'll surprise them with the fan favorite: blue Gatorade chews #foodisfuel.
3. My wrenches: I use my wrenches as a stress management tool on Race Day. I make sure to check my boat's rigging right before every race. It was a skill I was taught at Nashville Juniors, and one that I've used my whole career. It's a smart, harmless way I channel my jitters so I can stay level headed on the race course.
row2k - What is your favorite drill to run with your crews? Any tips on how to the drill well, for maximum effectiveness?
AnnaRuth Neville - When I get creative license to run drills in eights, I often choose straight arm continuous rowing: just the legs and body swing of the stroke. My goal for this drill is to get the crew accelerating horizontally on the drive and finding unified timing with the body pivot during the recovery. I go by 6's initially, and then add to all 8, all on the quarter feather. Once we're at all 8, I transition the crew out of the drill by alternating three strokes straight arm then three full strokes (with the arms added back in) until I feel like the value of the drill has been carried over into the full strokes.
In a 4+, my favorite drills are pauses, depending on what the crew is working on. Pauses are a great way to improve your boat feel in bow loaded 4+s especially.
row2k - What's some of the best coaching advice you've received about your coxing?
AnnaRuth Neville - 'AnnaRuth, zoom out, see the big picture.' I've heard this piece of coaching consistently during my collegiate career from my head coach, Kate Maxim. When I'm able to step into a practice with more perspective, I'm able to lead the team better and move boats faster. It's something I work on every day.
As a coxswain, it takes a lot of self-control to stay on mission when there are so many things vying for your attention, but the more you focus on your big picture goals, the more your team will trust you with their big picture goals. Small things add up. Some mistakes are avoidable when you can bring the perspective that each stroke will add up to the finished painting--and, if you're having fun and going fast, it might just be a masterpiece you'll never forget.
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?
AnnaRuth Neville - Day 2 at the Pac-12 Invite in Las Vegas in 2022, about 1200m into the Varsity 8+ race. The conditions where truly grim, and I could see they wouldn't be improving for the last 800m of the race. I called my stoke seat's name and said, "in two, I need half a beat of stride" and I told the crew to "win this stride."
It was one of the best responses I'd felt from the crew so far that season. We set a stronger rhythm at the lower rate and it reset us all. It had been a gritty and demanding race to that point, and I knew changing the rate was a dramatic enough call to get us rowing cleaner and fiercer in the conditions. Not only did we win the stride, but it ended up helping us walk a length on the crew in front of us and we won the race.
row2k - Can you tell us anything about you've learned about coxing a land practice or erg tests?
AnnaRuth Neville - The warm-up is the most valuable part of a land workout. As coxswains, I think we have the most impact on the outcome of a workout for the team in those roughly 25 minutes before the start.
At Oregon State, we call the coxswain collective the Beaver Coxswain Union (BCU). We like to run erg warmups cohesively as a team, so the BCU will share responsibility to call rate shifts and synch up the whole room. I like to think of the warm-up format we follow as being like shifting gears in a manual transmission car. The BCU guides the team through these necessary shifts and extremely uncomfortable physiological phases to prepare them for the workout or test.
row2k - Tell us about the best race/practice and the worst race/practice you've ever had?
AnnaRuth Neville - Best: The practice directly following the Selection Show for the 2022 NCAA Championships. The excitement and emotion of finally achieving what we had worked so hard for was monumental. Knowing that we would get the privilege to race against the best in the nation in less than two weeks put an interesting spin on an otherwise very normal Tuesday afternoon long row.
Worst: The practice where I had completely lost sight of the big picture. I let myself believe that my mistakes and my crew's mistakes had rendered the practice unsalvageable. In reality, an average 2.5hr practice has plenty of opportunity for the trajectory to change but to do that you have to be clear about the big picture and what success for that crew that day is defined as. It's hard to believe in the moment, but disappointment and failure can be fuel for a committed coxswain. There is a race in bouncing back from failure--win it!
In collegiate rowing there are a lot of high highs and a lot of low lows. I believe the most effective coxswains are the ones that can see each high or low as a data point in their process. Stay opportunistic. Learn how to understand your data and be a #studentofthesport.
Thanks for riding along with AnnaRuth -- and, remember, 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 you see from the Driver's Seat.
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