Next up In The Driver's Seat--where we hear from the folks who keep the shells straight and the crews on track—-is coxswain Stella Christensen.
Stella got her college coxing career off to a fast start, winning ACRAs as a freshman with her University of Minnesota crew in the Novice Men's Four. Having started coxing in the sixth grade at Three Rivers Rowing Association in Pittsburgh, Stella brought a lot of experience with her to the Gopher men's team.
Stella and her crew were featured in this article by the U of M Rec Sports Department after winning the championship at ACRAs.
Let's hop In The Driver's Seat with Stella:
row2k - What do you see as the three most important things for being a successful coxswain?
Stella Christensen - 1. Coxing is subjective so what works with some rowers may not work with others. Be open to switching things up.
2. Be prepared for anything. Have all of your essentials on you at all times, since you never know when you will need an extra set of hardware, a wrench/adjustable, or a random extra spacer you found on the boat house floor the other day. Always keep them with you.
3. Be confident in yourself: you are the voice within that boat. Trust me, I get nervous too, but sounding like you have the utmost confidence in your crew on race day and even during practice is crucial to keeping them--and you--calm and bypassing those race day nerves.
row2k - What is your favorite drill to run with your crews? Any tips on how to the drill well, for maximum effectiveness?
Stella Christensen - My personal favorite drill to both run and watch is what my coach calls the 'Dead Mosquito'--your crew of eight will row by sixes on the feather while the pair that is sitting out will tap their handles down and hold them on the gunnels, eliminating their ability to help set the boat.
Drills can be confusing sometimes. My top three tips are:
1. ASK QUESTIONS, if you did not hear your coach perfectly or you need a clarification on something, ask them!! I promise you they would much rather pause for a question than have you run the drill incorrectly.
2. Write them down! Most coaches have a few drills that they love to do when warming up, cooling down or just during general practice time, and almost every coach calls drills something slightly different, so keep a small notepad with you in the boat. Write down the common drill sequences and what your coach calls each of them. That will help practice run more efficiently in the future.
3. Be concise with your calls. When the rowers are drilling, they are focusing on so many different things: when they have to pause, what hand to use, and what coach just yelled at them through the half broken megaphone. You can help by being concise and direct with the calls you make to ensure that everyone understands everything that is happening and can execute the drill properly.
row2k - What's some of the best coaching advice you've received about your coxing?
Stella Christensen - Some great advice I got recently from my current coach is to experiment during practice.
He really emphasizes that practice is as important to us as coxswains as it is to the rowers. He encourages us to try out new calls and different drills and steering methods (when it is safe obviously) during practice to see how we, the coach, and the rowers like it. Sometimes it backfires, but sometimes you find a call that really gets the boat moving.
row2k - What is a mid-race call or move that you've made that you'll remember for the rest of your life?
Stella Christensen - A call I picked up from my sister is to tell the crew to smile at the halfway point of the race. I have always said it, not only to honor my sister and how she got me into this amazing sport, but also because it works! It has been scientifically proven that smiling can improve your workout significantly. Plus rowing should be fun and sometimes they forget why they love the sport in the first place especially when they are in the middle of a 2k.
row2k - Can you tell us anything about how you learned how to call the sprint?
Stella Christensen - GET PERSONAL.
It may sound weird but really digging into what motivates each individual member of your crew can really kick them into high gear in the last 250.
row2k - Tell us a bit about your best race/practice, and your worst?
Stella Christensen - My best race has to be ACRAs 2023, in the Men's Novice 4+ -- taking home that gold medal was truly a race to remember. We had a rough novice year: we struggled with recruitment since we were in between coaches and we had a novice class of only six rowers. At the same time, this allowed the four I was in to really get to know each other and to truly work super well together, finally leading to our championship win.
My worst race might have to be the 2022 Cooper Cup Mens 8+. It wasn't that the rowing was bad, it was just that we actually missed our race. Due to a few hot seating issues, both our men's and women's varsity eights missed their final races of the day leaving us absolutely devastated. But something I will never forget came out of it: the coxswain of the women's eight and I convinced the officials to let us race each other down the course as it was the last event of the day. We raced down that course like there was no tomorrow and truly had fun with each other: cheering each other on stroke by stroke until we crossed the finish line and docked to our entire team cheering us on. Those were two races I will truly remember.
Thanks for riding along with Stella, 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.