Question of the Day

I am in my 3rd year coxing and I’m fighting for the JV boat with another girl who is in the same grade as me. I was really, really bad my novice year and wasn’t really good until now. I really want to beat her so I asked some rowers what I could do better and they said that people respect her more, and that she is more authoritative. But the thing is when I try to be authoritative people just think I’m a bitch because I’m normally really friendly and nice. How do I earn their respect?

Instead of focusing on “beating” the other coxswain, focus on improving your skills. OBSERVE HER. Ask her for advice. Yes, it’s a little “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer” BUT seeing you swallow some humble pie will in fact help your rowers begin respecting you more. What about her demeanor, attitude, personality, etc. makes people respect her? When she’s coxing or leading the team, how does she do it? You don’t have to emulate everything she does, but if something is working for her and that same something is something you need to improve on, there’s nothing wrong with adopting the same techniques she uses.

As far as gaining respect in general, think about your parents. Most of the time, I think we can all agree that our parents are fairly chill – maybe a little uncool, but chill nonetheless. When we screw up and they get pissed at us, that’s where the learning opportunity arises. If your parents get mad and yell and scream at you, what are you more likely to do? Listen to them and do exactly what they say or ignore them, roll your eyes, and walk away? For most of us, we’d ignore them. When they get pissed and talk to you in a stern but eerily calm voice, that is when most of us are like “shit, ok, I’ll do what you want.” Tone of voice means everything. If you are less likely to listen to someone who is erractic while trying to be authoritative, what makes you think your rowers are going to listen to you if you exhibit the same behavior? Part of being an effective leader is self-control. You have to stay calm in the face of chaos and not fly off the handle at little things. Use the “stern parent” voice instead of the “she needs some mood stabilizers” voice.

Being friendly and nice is a great thing when you’re off the water but when you’re on the water you have to separate the friendly person from the in-control coxswain. You are in charge, so you must act like you’re in charge. Look to people you see every day that are in leadership roles – teachers, your coach, your boss, etc. – and see how they conduct themselves.

Your rowers also need to understand that when you’re on the water, your friendship is still on land. It cannot come in the boat with you. If they get pissed every time you tell them to do something just because it’s not something they’re used to hearing, life is going to be pretty hard for them. Explain to them that you aren’t trying to be a bitch and apologize if it comes off like that, but you’re trying to be more authoritative and it’s hard to do when they a) don’t take you seriously, b) don’t listen, and/or c) take it personally every time you say something to them. Tell them to respectfully and maturely tell you (after practice or in private) if/when they think you’re being a bitch so that you know exactly what situations they’re referring to and can work on improving or adjusting how you do things. Ask them why it comes off like that and what you can do to NOT come off like that in the future.

You can’t it personally either, even though that is easier said than done. Having a mature conversation with your rowers when situations like this come up will show them that you really are trying to improve your communication skills so that you can become a better leader, which will in turn continue building more respect between the two of you.

Also talk to your coach(es). Explain to them that you want to cox the JV boat too and want to know what they are specifically looking for in a JV coxswain. Having good rapport with the rowers is important but having the trust of your coach is CRITICAL. If they don’t think you can handle the boat in ANY situation, there’s no chance you’ll cox it. Ask them to spend some time critiquing you one day at practice and pointing out things you need to improve, but also some of the things you’re doing well (so you can continue doing them). Your coach’s feedback is just as important as your rowers so again, be mature and take any constructive criticism that you get as an opportunity to get better. You asked a great question which to me shows that you DO want to get better, so make that obvious to your coaches and rowers as well.

A huge part of becoming an all around better coxswain is force-feeding yourself multiple servings of humble pie. Improving not only our technical skills but our personal skills as well requires us to take a step back and reevaluate how we handle various situations. A true sign of maturing as a coxswain is when you can freely admit that you messed up or you could have handled a situation better, and then be able to figure out ON YOUR OWN how to do it right or better the next time.

For a few practices, focus on yourself more than you focus on “winning” the JV boat or “beating” this other coxswain. Make a list of things you think you can improve on and then work on them. Talk with this other coxswain and try not to make it blatantly obvious to everyone on the team that you are hell bent on getting this JV boat over her. Maturity, remember? Competitiveness between coxswains is fine but when one coxswain is super competitive and the other one is effortlessly just doing her thing and ROCKING IT, people will notice that and it tends to work out better for the calmer coxswain.

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2 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. Fiona (@fc2001) says:

    You asked on Tumblr for comments from rowers – why do we respect our coxswains?

    Personally, I respect my coxswain because I trust him implicitly. I know that the job he does out there is hard and very often thankless, and that he does it with a great degree of skill. I believe, without question, he has the safest hands of anyone on our river and I have never felt that he’s put any boat I’ve been in in danger – though I have been in dangerous situations with him coxing on more than one occasion thanks to the generally poor state of coxing on our river, in every case he was able to swallow his own panic and get the boat through it without missing a beat.

    He’s very aware of the right balance of lightness and intensity – he’ll crack daft jokes during a hard practice or sitting in the holding area before a race to lighten the mood and keep us all relaxed (occasionally, he’ll even sing, hum or whistle…yeah :-)), but once ‘attention’ is called it’s all business and he switches to this brutal intensity.

    I respect him because he’s aware he’s still learning too, he’s aware he’s not perfect and if he fucks up a line or a call he’ll apologise for it after practice. I respect him because he makes an effort to know his rowers, to know the buttons to press. He knows all my sore spots, and he’s awesome at hitting them at just the right time and with just the right pressure to make me really prove myself.

    There’s a lot of things you can do to earn your rowers respect, but making sure they trust you is probably the key one, in my experience. I can’t respect any cox I don’t trust.

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