Question of the Day

It was commented on yesterday that I was ‘too quiet’. I think part of it is because I’m still concentrating so hard on the steering in an 8 (it’s a work in progress) that I forget the speaking part. Also, I’m coxing a boat with people in it who helped teach me to row so I struggle with the idea of ‘correcting’ them! I need to find my ability to motivate them, steer, and not panic about other boats around me. How do you multi-task when coxing? Any advice?

It’s pretty normal for new coxswains to initially be “too quiet” as they try to get the feel of things. I would talk with your boat and explain that you’re still working on your steering and because it’s so important to not hit anything (duh), you don’t want to try and do too many things before you’ve got this one REALLY important thing under control. Little by little each day, try and start talking just a little bit more while they’re rowing. Listen to what the coach is saying and repeat the technical advice he’s giving. Tell them how much time has elapsed on their steady state, what their stroke rate is, timing is looking good, etc.

Once you’re comfortable with all that, let them know that you’re going to start increasing the amount of time you spend talking in the boat but still let them know that you’re main focus is still on steering, at least for right now. If you let them know WHY you’re being quiet, it’s easier for them because they at least know that it’s not because you’re not paying attention or because you’re uninterested in being there. Talk to your stroke too – she’s right there so she can give you some things to say if you can’t think of anything. Bring that up with her one day before or after practice and see what she says.

One of the things I learned when I started coxing my masters 8+ was that even though these women were old enough to be my mother, I can’t be afraid to tell them when they’ve screwed up. Plain and simple. We are there for a reason and that is to tell them not only what they’re doing right, but what they need to improve on. Think of it like this – they taught you to row, right? Assuming they’re good teachers and you learned a lot and became a good rower following their coaching advice, you should have a solid background of things to look for and be aware of regarding the stroke. Without their coaching, you wouldn’t know what nuances to look for had they not taught you. Pointing this stuff out to them shows that you absorbed what was taught to you, which in turn will hopefully show them that you’re invested in this and really committed to helping them get better. If their timing is off or someone is washing out, you have to tell them. It’s a lot harder when the people you’re coxing are older than you but it’s part of the job. They’ll respect you a lot more for it too.

I always get a little nervous when I get near other boats, not because I doubt my abilities, but because I don’t know theirs. I have no idea if their coxswain is paying attention or knows how to steer or anything else. If I was hooked up to a heart rate monitor on the water, every time another boat comes around, you’d see my HR spike. My blood pressure too, probably. I’ve talked to other coxswains who are the same way – it’s our version of being a defensive driver while on the road. (Remember, defensive and aggressive are two different things … don’t confuse them.)

In Grey’s Anatomy there’s a scene where Dr. Sloan is talking to the residents and interns about a patient with an exposed carotid artery and the patient looks at the doctors and says “they look scared.” Dr. Sloan replies “They’re medical professionals. A healthy level of fear is encouraged.” We’re rowing professionals  – a healthy level of fear is encouraged when we’re on the water. Internalize it though. Don’t make it outwardly known that you’re freaking out because the coxswain ahead of you just spun right in the path of your boat while you’re doing a race piece. Just steer around them (or stop if necessary) and move on.

Related: How to steer an eight or four

Multi-tasking while coxing is like having someone (or multiple someones) in the car with you. You’re driving, you’re listening to music, you’re talking, you’re watching the speed limit, you’re watching the cars around you, etc. It’s very similar to being in the boat, especially the “watching out for other cars on the road” part. You get better with practice, but you can’t be afraid TO practice. You’re ALWAYS going to have to be steering and doing something else, so it’s something you have to get used to pretty fast. Steering is also something you want to pick up sooner rather than later so that you can turn your focus to other things. Have your coach critique your steering one day so that you know how you’re doing. Ask your stroke to watch you line for a few strokes while you’re out and see what she says – are you moving directly away from one point or are you drunk steering down the river?

Once I’m used to a particular body of water and know it’s twists, turns, etc., steering becomes an afterthought. I go on autopilot and my focus turns away from my steering and onto the rowers, which is where the majority of our focus should be anyways. As you get more comfortable with the river or lake you’re rowing on, the multi-tasking thing will be a lot easier and eventually you won’t even realize how many different things you’re doing at once.

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