I was lucky enough to hear Mike Teti speak at a coxswain clinic I attended when I was in high school and one of the things he spoke about were “the three S’s”. The three S’s are what a coxswain should consider to be their highest priorities. For novice coxswains, consider this an introduction; for experienced coxswains, consider this a reminder.
Safety is always and forever your absolute number one priority. Why? Because you’re in charge of a $20,000-$40,000 boat and eight other lives. If something happens on the water, it is your responsibility to do what is best for your crew. I tend to compare being a coxswain to sitting in the exit row on an airplane. You have to understand how the boat works, how to operate it, be able to follow the instructions given by your coach, and assess, select, and follow the safest travel route(s), amongst many other things. Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Steering is an imperative skill that all coxswains must become proficient with as quickly as possible. It’s not something to joke about and spend four months trying to figure out. Yes, it’s tricky learning to navigate a 53 foot long shell along waterways with a steering system that consists of two strings and a credit-card sized rudder but again, it goes back to safety. Zigzagging across the river and not following the traffic patterns can have disastrous outcomes for both your crew and anyone else on the water. The rowers are not there to steer the boat for you – it is your responsibility to figure it out.
I think if most coaches (and experienced coxswains) had their way, novices would be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, coxswains must be heard if they are to do the job that is required of them and to additionally ensure the safety of their crew. HOWEVER, I do believe that novice coxswains should be silent until they’re comfortable with steering the boat and have a firm grasp on their duties. Essentially, you must prove to me that you can handle everything that is being asked of you. Instincts are key as a coxswain and once safety and steering become second-nature, then you can talk. Another important part of “speech” is learning and knowing what to say. If what you’re saying isn’t constructive to the crew, you shouldn’t be saying it.
Being a coxswain is an amazing position to hold, but it is not one without responsibilities. Although these are just three of them, like I said before, they should be considered your top priorities. Mastery of these skills through practice, listening to your coach, and learning from your fellow coxswains will put you on the path to becoming your crew’s biggest asset.