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row2k Coxswains Corner
In the Driver's Seat, with Dominic Mazza
June 12, 2024
John FX Flynn, row2k

Dominic Mazza, in the Driver's Seat for La Salle

Next up In The Driver's Seat--where we hear from the folks who add that extra something to the teamwork of a crew—-is coxswain Dominic Mazza.

Dominic, who just finished his junior year at La Salle, got his start in coxing down the Shore at St Augustine Prep.

Since getting into college the college ranks with the Explorers, he's won the Dad Vail twice: with the Freshmen Four in 2022 and again this year when he drove La Salle's JV Four to a win for the Ken Shaw Trophy.

Turns out, Dominic is an avid reader of this column, so we are glad we bumped into him on the Vails medal dock to set up this interview.

Let's hop In The Driver's Seat with Dominic:

row2k - What do you see as the three most important things for being a successful coxswain?
Dominic Mazza - A coxswain is responsible for wearing various hats throughout a practice/race. First and foremost, I try to be an extension of my coach. Before each practice, I set an objective of what I want to take away from the water. After practice, my crew and I will talk about our takeaways from the practice.

Communication and clarity are very important skills for coxswains to understand. The delivery of communication with a crew will vary, but at a surface level, a coxswain should always be clear with their calls. Throughout a practice or race, my communication style will change. On days of longer steady state, my communication is more technical. I focus on what I am feeling to maintain a clean blade throughout. I do not want my words to be lost, so I center them around being deliberate and choosing what to say during the row vs after weighing enough. I know think about what my rowers' needs are, and how they should be handling themselves in conjunction with the external factors: wake, wind, and current.

Racing Drexel in the La Salle 2V
Racing Drexel in the La Salle 2V

My second tip for being a successful coxswain is trust. Trust is built by being confident and committed to each decision. If a coxswain can unlock this skill, rowers can rely on you to make the right moves to put them in a place to succeed. Rowing is a true team sport, and a crew that can only be as fast as its weakest link. Ironically, the weakest person in the boat physically carries the strongest weight toward building the synergy of the boat. With 500 meters to go in a tight race, your rowers rely on you to make the right call to unlock that extra push within them.

My last piece of advice would be on steering. In theory, steering is an easy concept. Push the rudder right to go right, while the opposite is done to go left. However, a coxswain needs to understand the wind and current. Steering is a major factor in fall racing. Longer races with many turns are an opportunity for a coxswain to shine and show their skills of maneuvering the shell. A race with the least number of meters requires precision and minimal movement of rudder. Even in sprint races, this holds. A straight course allows the boat to hold speed for longer. Overall, I want to make the boat feel like I am not even using the rudder, and you can have one side add more power and pull in higher to help you keep from using the rudder.

Racing Drexel in the La Salle 2V
Racing Drexel in the La Salle 2V

row2k - What is your favorite drill to run with your crews? Any tips on how to do the drill well, for maximum effectiveness?
Dominic Mazza - At La Salle, we focus on a very long stroke with minimal check at each end to maximize boat run., so the drills I call usually center around slide control with half-slide/three-quarter slide pauses.

I have always found these drills useful as they teach weight transfer from the bow into the stern. These pauses teach a gentle finish and a smooth transition into the catch by controlling the feet and keeping the hands level. It is an effective drill that encompasses the entire rowing stroke.

Through the drill, I want to feel a smooth transition from taking the catch into the drive. The feet should maintain slide speed to enable maximum length as the rowers rotate the shoulders, take the catch, and drive the boat through the hips. Additionally, I find it effective for the boat to build speed with 3-4 strokes between each pause to ensure there is something to pick up on the front end.

At the Pac-12 Invite
At the Pac-12 Invite

row2k - What's some of the best coaching advice you've received about your coxing?
Dominic Mazza - One of the best tips I received from my current coach was about voice inflection. Coach Ivo and I discussed the importance of altering the voice to keep the crew engaged. Sometimes when a coxswain just yells, their calls can be lost, something I was guilty of, because so much is communicated by tone.

Now, my technical calls come in a lower tone to make my communication clear, but my voice gets aggressive when I need more power. By altering my pitch, I have found it keeps the rowers engaged as they can understand what I need from them at a given moment.

Racing the Stotesbury with St. Augustine's his senior year
Racing the Stotesbury with St. Augustine's his senior year

row2k - What is a mid-race call or move that you've made that you'll remember for the rest of your life?
Dominic Mazza - I love to make a big move with 1000 meters to go. This is a pivotal moment in a race, where the adrenalin is beginning to wear off.

My move usually consists of a power 10 to be powerful off the front. The goal is to inch the bow ball forward to advance on the closest crew to us. We want to take seats and swing the momentum of the race. A strong call at this point makes or breaks a race which is why it is my favorite call. If my boat is walking, I love to yell, “We are up boys. We walk away now and say goodbye.” It is an effective move that can change the direction of a race.

Just after winning Vails in 2024
Just after winning Vails in 2024

row2k - Can you tell us anything about what you've learned about how to call a good start?
Dominic Mazza - A good start sets the rhythm and pacing for a race. The best crews have an efficient start in terms of picking up the boat cleanly. The start is all about keeping the blades clean and long through the water.

Tone also plays a big part in a start. A low, quiet voice keeps the boat collected as they build speed. Once at speed, then a coxswain can use their voice to motivate a crew to lay down the power as they seek to get their rowers ahead.

Getting tossed in the Schuylkill at Boathouse Row after a home race win (photo credit: La Salle Athletics)
Getting tossed in the Schuylkill at Boathouse Row after a home race win (photo credit: La Salle Athletics)

row2k - Tell us about the best race/practice you've ever had?
Dominic Mazza - My best race was this year’s Bergen Cup in the Varsity 4+. As a boat, we were just coming off a win the week prior. Momentum was building for us, so we wanted to keep it moving into championship season.

It was a three boat race between us, Drexel, and Temple. The race was a blood bath throughout. During the race, Drexel kept trying to make a move to take a seat. Our race plan involved focus 10s approximately every 250 meters. These were to keep focus on our rhythm, but coincidentally they became responses to Drexel’s moves. The race came down to who could sprint harder: a sprint we won to hold off Drexel and Temple for 1st place. This race was a confidence boost for my boat since it showed our ability to beat fast crews.

Thanks for riding along with Dominic...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.

On the Vails medals dock with his crew, Ken Shaw, and the Betty Shaw shell
On the Vails medals dock with his crew, Ken Shaw, and the Betty Shaw shell

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