Question of the Day

In the boat, when you’re calling a rower out to make a change, is it better to call them by their seat or name? A rower told me that by using a name it puts them on the spot – but isn’t that the point to make a change?

If I know specifically who needs to make the change, I always call them out by name. The only time I say their seat number is when I’m with a new crew and don’t know everyone’s names yet. I make a serious effort to learn everyone’s name as soon as possible though because I think the rowers listen to you more if you call them by name vs. by number. Plus, I think it’s the height of laziness to call rowers you’ve worked with for longer than like, a week, by their seat numbers.

Related: I have been told by my rowers that I need to call them out directly more, rather than general corrections to the boat as a whole. I cox collegiate men but I’m not afraid to push them around. My problem is that I am having trouble actually seeing what the problem is. I can tell that catches are off, someone is rushing, but I can’t always tell exactly who it is. Any suggestions for improving this skill?

Regardless of whether you use their individual seat or their name, they’re still being put on the spot … and yes, in order to get the change you want, you have to tell specific people what change to make. Some rowers get pissed when you call them out, to which I respond to with an eye roll and a “shut up”. How else do they expect you to tell them what you want? I think they’re more likely to make a change when they hear you specifically talking to them. Even though everyone should know their seat number, they don’t always associate themselves with that number, so if you say “5, lift your hands at the catch” they might not do it, whereas if that rower hears “Sarah, lift your hands at the catch” they’re more inclined to do it since they know exactly who you’re talking to.

Question of the Day

As a novice rower, I’m just wondering: are coxswains supposed to talk at you all the time [erg or boat] or leave you to get in your own zone?

In the boat, it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re doing drills, most of the time talking consistently is required in order to execute the drill properly. Whether or not you talk outside of executing the drill (i.e. giving them feedback/reminders – normal coxing stuff) depends on whether you’re with your coach or not. If I’m with a boat on my own then I’ll cox them normally while executing the drill but if our coach is with us and he’s actively coaching the rowers then I’ll only talk when it involves executing the drill and save any other comments for later. During long steady state pieces, you can interject some periods of silence to let the rowers focus on their rowing.

Related: Today during practice we just did 20 minute pieces of steady state rowing. My crew gets bored very quickly and their stroke rating goes down, so I decided to add in various 13 stroke cycles throughout the piece, but I regret doing it because it wasn’t steady state. I’m just confused as to how to get them engaged throughout without sounding like a cheerleader but at the same time keeping up the drive and stroke.

During races and other hard pieces, in my opinion, coxswains should always be talking just because there’s so much information that you should/need to communicate to the crew.

Related: Interesting question: How often do you think a cox should talk during a race? I feel really awkward and useless if I stop talking for more than a few seconds, and when I rowed our cox would talk almost constantly during races. However, at a regatta briefing the other day the OU Captain of Coxes implied that coxes should only be talking every few strokes. I guess it depends on the standard and nature of the crew, but what do you think?

 On the erg it’s a little bit different. I frequently tell coxswains that for a 2k or other erg test they need to ask the rowers before the test begins if they want to be coxed or not. Rowers often go into bubbles during the test and having someone coxing them can throw them off their focus. If you don’t want your coxswain talking to you when you’re on the erg, that’s fine, as long as you let them know ahead of time.

Question of the Day

I was reading on a rowing forum a commenter said that good coxswains are born not made. They can be guided to be successful but not much more than that. Is there any truth to it?

This is definitely a matter of opinion but I personally think that’s a true statement. Some may argue that the phrase “leaders are born, not made” is false but in the majority of my experiences in playing sports (bordering on 20 years) and working with other people I’ve never found it to be so.

With coxswains, as with any leader, there are certain personality traits that you inherently have to have in order to be successful and not having those traits puts you at a real disadvantage. Most coxswains are, by nature, strong leaders, organized, calm in the line of fire, a little pedantic, stubborn, cocky (in a good way), strong-willed, assertive, outgoing, extroverted, confident, persistent, creative, proactive, competitive, goal-oriented, adaptable, conscientious, observant, meticulous … I could go on and on. Those traits aren’t something you can be taught. I think you can pick them up over time but I can’t teach you how to be any of those things. If someone already possesses them, they can be nurtured and built but they can’t be taught or explained to someone who doesn’t already get it. There’s a mindset that comes with being an athlete and there’s no way you can possibly understand that mindset unless you are one – it’s the same way with coxing. Based off of what I know about myself and nearly every good coxswain I’ve ever met, we were all born to cox. Passion for the sport aside, it’s what makes sense based on who we are as people.

Like I said, it’s all a matter of opinion. There are always going to be anomalies but like I said, a lot of the traits that make coxswains can be nurtured but it’s hard to teach them to someone who’s passive, shy, quiet, etc.

Question of the Day

This is probably a weird issue but I’m a coxswain and a few outings ago I accidentally spit on my stroke seat during a piece. The stroke screamed and demanded to be removed from the boat because she didn’t want to be in a boat with such a gross coxswain. This is the only time it’s ever happened to me but now the rowers are purposefully rowing poorly when they are in my boat and when out coach asked for input about coxswain placement for the next race, they trashed me and I was moved down a boat.

I’m assuming that this wasn’t on purpose and was just a result of you getting into the piece. Yea, that’s pretty gross and I definitely would have been like “…ew, seriously??” if I was your stroke but she and the other rowers took it way too far. If you’re feeling particularly passive-aggressive I would refuse to take their times down after their next erg test because rowers are disgusting and sweaty and covered in snot, vomit, and god knows what other bodily fluids after an erg test and nobody wants to be near such gross shit after an erg piece.

The solution to this problem is to talk to your coach and explain that it was an accident. Ask yourself though if you really want to cox a boat where the rowers evaluate their coxswain on something stupid like this instead of your actual abilities. I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d tell them to go fuck themselves and stick with the boat you were moved down to. If your coach knew that that was why your evaluations were so poor, I’m sure he’d have something to say about it to your stroke and those rowers.

Rowers, if you treat your coxswains like this or see someone treating a coxswain on your team like this and say nothing about it, I have no respect for you. None.

I did something similar in one of my boats in high school and my stroke just busted out laughing and said “now you know how we feel!”. I had a cold at the time when we were doing a really intense race piece and I sneezed but tried to hold it in so it wouldn’t interrupt my coxing. That resulted in me choking which led to me coughing up a lot of nasty crap in my throat, which then led to said nasty stuff flying towards my cox box and my stroke’s feet. It was disgusting and I was like … omg … did that just happen … but my stroke was cool about it and laughed it off (although she wouldn’t let me live it down for at least a year after that).

Question of the Day

How are coxswain evaluations conducted?

What is asked and how they’re conducted will vary by team, but in general, they’re usually a survey (either paper or online) that your coach gives the rowers to complete. Some coaches have both practice and race-day evaluations but most stick to just general coxing skills without going into specifics.

Common questions that rowers are asked to provide feedback on include:

Something the coxswain does well and should keep doing

Something you don’t like that they do and think they should change or stop doing

Something new or different that they should incorporate

Who is the most/least motivating coxswain and why (or why you find/don’t find your coxswain motivating, if you’re not given the option to choose)

Who is the most/least confident and why (or why you find you find/don’t find your coxswain to be confident)

Skills regarding coaching on technique, how good the feedback is that they give you, etc.

One call you like and one you don’t like, and why

How’s their steering

What level of respect do you have for them, on a scale of 1-10 (or whatever) and why is it at that level

How efficient they are at giving directions – are they clear, concise, understandable, etc.

Do you think safety is a priority and why

Overall contribution to the boat – good, bad, etc.

Are they prepared or running around like a chicken with their head cut off

Do they work well with the coaches, other coxswains, and rowers

Sometimes the evaluations require written explanations from the rowers and some just ask for a number on a scale of 1-10. I think the more feedback you can get the better, so written responses are preferable. I’d like to say that the evaluations are free from popularity contests and personal like/dislike for the individual but that’s not always the case. Evaluating someone on whether or not you like them as a person instead of evaluating their overall skills is pretty immature in my opinion and is something that I feel the need to stress to everyone who reads this – don’t.

Check out the coxswain evaluation tag too, there will likely be a lot of information in there going forward on how to do them, what to include, etc.