35 strokes.

45 seconds.

That’s your start.

Regardless of your actual starting sequence, your calls need to consist of impactful words that communicate and reinforce your crew’s intent on each stroke.

Use “pry” (the most commonly used call for the first stroke), “complete,” “suspend,” “squeeze,” “direct,” “build,” “lock,” “accelerate,” “connect.”

If you want your crew to be doing quick, light finishes, try calling the start like this: 

“Prrry through. Connect cha. Complete. Complete. Accelerate GO…”

The Details

When it comes to executing a good start, there are two key things to remember:

First, your calls must reflect what you want to be happening in the boat, not what you see happening around you.

Second, the goal is to get off the line as cleanly and precisely as possible. You can facilitate this by keeping your calls crisp, concise, and consistent.

When developing your race plan these 35 strokes should be the only part of the entire race that’s scripted.

The first five strokes are about precision; the next ten to twenty strokes are about horsepower. 

Your calls during the high strokes are less about guiding your rowers through the strokes and more about motivating them with calls that aren’t distracting.

A common problem coxswains face is counting the entire time without making any calls, which doesn’t necessarily detract anything but it doesn’t add anything either.

When calling these strokes I try to limit how much I’m counting by interspersing “number-rate” or “rate-technique” calls throughout the burst. Here’s what a twenty-stroke piece might sound like: 

“1 42, 2 42, 3 breathe, 4 breathe, 5 press, hook send, hook send, 8 stay long, 9 stay long, 10 get after it, connect GO, connect yea boys, sharp 3, sharp 4, hang that’s it, hang get ready to shift, in 3… 2… 1…”

These  are some of the most important calls you’ll make. You must be diligent about executing them flawlessly.

This section (sometimes called “the settle” or “the shift”) actually begins in the final two or three strokes of the High Strokes (see below, left, “get ready to shift”). Since you’re about to lengthen the rate by 4-6 beats, you want to prepare the rowers ahead of time for that wind-down. 

A good way of shifting down to your base rate is to settle for five and then settle for five again. Here’s what it sounds like: 

“...get ready to shift, in 3… 2… 1... on this one, BOOM looong, BOOM looong, 39 shift again in two, that’s one… and two... on this one, shiiift 37, breeeathe 36, breeeathe 36, hold there, hold there…”