Question of the Day

When did being a coxswain really and truly click for you?

I’d say within the first month or so of being on the water as a novice I had the general hang of everything but as far as the specifics (like practice management, executing a race plan, etc.), I think they really clicked at various times over the next year or two. Steering was always my Achilles heel and was the skill that took me the longest to get fully comfortable with but with practice I improved a lot.

Related: Because there are so many aspects in a coxswain’s job, what do you think is the one thing that is hardest for you?

As far as making calls and stuff, I picked that up right away – all my coaches remarked that I’d picked it up faster than any coxswain they’d ever coached before. I spent an unusual amount of time talking to the varsity coxswains, researching everything I could about what calls to make, what everything means, etc. so that I’d be prepared when I went out, so I think that definitely played a part. Once I had the hang of the basics (steering, making calls, basic technique, etc.) then I spent the next few years really working on it. It’s just like school – you start off with basic addition that you learn pretty quickly so that eventually you can work your way up to trig and calculus. Everything about coxing just fits me and my personality though, which is another reason why I think it clicked so fast.

Question of the Day

My coach says that there’s  “a feistier” side in me that my rowers may not know about me. I can see why, I seem a little timid at times, but on the water when I make calls, I guess my voice changes and I get really into it/competitive. She also told me I should work on being even more of a leader, esp. on the water. As in I could throw in some challenges like out of shoes rowing at the end of practice or something. How do I become an effective leader without coming across as a bitch, rude, etc. ?

The only time you’ll come off as a bitch instead of a leader is if you constantly yell at everyone and go on power trips. Treat other people how you want them to treat you. If you do that, you’ll earn respect from your teammates, which goes a long way when you’re in the position you’re in.

Related: My coach says that there’s  “a feistier” side in me that my rowers may not know about me. I can see why, I seem a little timid at times, but on the water when I make calls, I guess my voice changes and I get really into it/competitive. She also told me I should work on being even more of a leader-esp. on the water. As in I could throw in some challenges like out of shoes rowing at the end of practice or something. How do I become an effective leader without coming across as a bitch, rude, etc. ?

Don’t take your coach telling you there’s a “feisty” side to you as a bad thing. After the first week or so of going out with my masters 8+ we were at breakfast one morning and one of the women said “I love you as our coxswain but your personality is SO different in the boat – you’re such a bitch!!” At first I didn’t know how to take it until everyone chimed in and said that it was a compliment because my assertiveness, efficiency, knowledge, and most of all intensity make them want to be better rowers. If that’s what being a bitch is, then I’m not complaining. The important thing is knowing how to separate your in-boat personality and your on-land personality … you can’t take all the yelling you do into boat on land with you, otherwise people won’t take you seriously and they’ll lose some respect for you if all they ever hear you doing is yelling and bossing people around.

Question of the Day

Since my 8+ rushes so much and doesn’t row together, I thought that rowing with closed eyes might help them. I talked to my coach about it today (like you suggested!) and she said it would be best incorporated in the warm up or rowing back to the dock. How should I go about calling this for my rowers? Like I don’t want to freak them out or make them hate me. What if they cheat, open their eyes, and it won’t help them? I mean, I won’t be able to see if they do….

I like to do this as part of my cool-down as we row back to the boathouse. Sometimes I’ll do it in between pieces too to get the crew to focus on feeling the boat, particularly if the previous piece felt rushed.

They’re definitely not going to hate you and it won’t freak them out. As long as you explain what you want to do, they shouldn’t have any reason to worry. If you just randomly call out “OK everyone, close your eyes” then yea, they might wonder what you’re talking about but if you explain ahead of time why you want to do it, what the benefits are, etc. then they’ll be more open to it. I’ve been with experienced crews long enough that I just tell them we’re going to close our eyes and row for a bit and no one says anything about it.

When I first started doing it in high school, I told my crew either on land or during the warm-up that I wanted to try something new that might sound unconventional but I thought it’d help with the various things we’d been having trouble with. They all trusted that I knew what I was doing, so I didn’t encounter any resistance or anything. When I call for it now, I usually say something like “OK, so we’re gonna close our eyes and row back to the dock … everyone take a deep breath … and let’s close our eyes on this one. Keep the bodies loose, relax, and just feel the boat.” It all sounds very meditational but it really does help the boat flow better.

If they cheat and open their eyes, honestly, that’s their problem. You’re not there to be their babysitter (although that’s what it feels like sometimes). There are times when you have to just go with the flow and trust that your coach and/or coxswain is telling you to do this because there are benefits to it, even though up front you might not see what they are. I’ve encountered people like that they think “oh this is stupid, I’m not doing it.” I’ve been that person too. When I’ve had them in my boat and they make it known that they think whatever we’re doing is pointless, I just say to them “Look, everyone else is going along with it. If you want to be that person that doesn’t do it, fine, but know that you will be known by the rest of us as the person in the boat who only does what they want instead of what is best for the crew.” It definitely gets you a pissed off look in response but no one wants to be that person so eventually they’ll get on board. It’s not your job to go down the line and make sure everyone’s eyes are closed. If they trust you, they’ll go with it.

Question of the Day

Hey. I’m just beginning as a coxswain on the men’s team at a D3 college and had a question about the relationship between the captain and the coxswain. They’re both supposed to be leading the team, so where do their jobs differ? I understand that in the boat, of course, the coxswain is in charge but I was wondering more how you handle your relationship with the captain leadership-wise during practices, on land, for team affairs, other leadership functions aside from specifically coxing the boat, etc. How much captain control is too much? I’ve heard that coxswains are supposed to run practices when the coach isn’t around and during the offseason but my captain has been doing that. I realize I’m new so it makes sense, but if I weren’t, theoretically, is that atypical? Thanks for all of posting all of these things. It’s been really helpful.

This is a great question and not one that coaches think about too much when they appoint captains. There is HUGE potential for butting heads if the responsibilities and expectations of both the coxswain and captain aren’t clearly laid out ahead of time.

From my perspective, here’s a brief synopsis of what I think the roles of each are:

Coxswains. The role of the coxswain, like you said, is to lead their boat while they’re on the water and when mandated during on-land practices. In the boat, the only person with any authority is the coxswain (not counting the coach, obviously). It’s as simple as that. While the team is erging, they’ll take down times, cox the rowers if necessary, and observe. Sometimes the coach will also ask them to lead a body circuit or calisthenics or something. When it comes to actual rowing stuff, coxswains are by default the go-to person. It’s also their responsibility to set a good example for the rest of the team – showing up on time (don’t ever be late, EVER), making sure everything is clean and put away at the end of practice, having a good attitude (regardless of the current state of your team, practice, etc.), etc.

Captains. Not every team has captains, so on teams where there aren’t any, coxswains sometimes absorb those duties in addition to their own. When a team does have captains, I look at them as holding more of an “administrative” (yet still very important) role. There’s probably a better word for it but I’m drawing a blank if there is. A captain’s role is to be a leader when it comes to general team management – at team and/or parent meetings, the captains usually go to act as a voice for the entire team. That’s their biggest role, in my opinion. Sometimes they’ll also be in charge of things like finding fundraising opportunities, making sure everyone has their pre-season paperwork turned in, etc. It’s also their responsibility to maintain communication with the coach and pass along any information from him/her to the team, most commonly something like a change in practice time, date, or location.

During the winter months, usually in between finals before Christmas break and the time before winter training starts when you get back to campus, captains can also be in charge of holding practices for those wishing to workout. These are usually optional practices since everyone’s schedule is all over the place in December-January. They’re informal and most likely involve a text or Facebook message saying something along the lines of “The captains are heading to the gym at 1:30pm today for a quick lifting session if anyone wants to join!” In this case, they are in charge of practice since the coaches and coxswains aren’t present. Coxswains can still go but they’ll take a backseat in terms of who leads things. In addition to all of that, like the coxswains, they must also set a good example for the rest of the team. Their desire to always improve, commitment to their teammates, and enthusiasm for the sport and their team should never be questioned.

In terms of how much control is too much, I would say that if one person starts infringing on the responsibilities of another, that’s too much. If a captain starts trying to tell the coxswain what to do in the boat or the coxswain starts trying to take over as “voice of the team”, that is when a power struggle tends to happens. This is why if your team has captains, it’s imperative that either you two sit down and figure out who’s going to do what or your coach lays out a specific set of guidelines before captains are voted on stating exactly what their responsibilities are. Maintaining a good relationship between captains and coxswains will make practice a LOT better for everyone involved. If they’re constantly trying to one-up the other, they’re going to lose a lot of respect really fast from their teammates.

Related: I know coaches are always looking for “team leaders” but there’s this one girl on my team who TRIES to be a leader but is just ignorant & bossy. Inevitably, she only hurts herself by getting on her teammates & even coaches nerves. She’s leaving next year (along with a huge majority of my team) & I want to be an effective leader but I’m afraid of being annoying to underclassmen like this girl is to me. How do I lead w/o being bossy and making people want to straight up slap me in the face?

As a novice coxswain, I would look to both the varsity coxswains and your captain(s) as you learn how things are done on your team. It might seem like your captain is being pushy right now but it’s likely that they’re just trying to help ease you into things or the coach has given them the specific job of running off-season workouts. Either way, I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now. Talk with them and ask what their role on the team usually is and what can you expect for yours to be. Getting that clarified right away, as if I haven’t said it enough already, will make things much easier for both of you.

Related: As a coxswain, I guess you could say this is my first actual leadership position. I’ve had a little experience with being in charge of activities, but never the safety of a 30 thousand dollar boat … or people. What would you say makes an effective leader? Most people if they are, are born leaders. How would you bring that out of someone, if that’s even possible?

PS: If you’re a coxswain and a captain, make sure you keep your ego in check. The “Napoleon complex” thing is meant as a joke when it comes to coxswains so let’s not ruin it by becoming tyrannical, power hungry gremlins.

Question of the Day

I have this bad habit of shortening up my stroke and basically just not compressing enough. I never really notice when I start to do it, I feel as if I’m at full slide but my coach tells me that I’m getting short. How do I force myself to lengthen out when I hardly notice I’m doing it? I’ve also been told it might be flexibility, if so what on earth do I stretch to help that problem?

Row2k actually posted a hack yesterday that I think could help you out. They wrote this with the use of an erg in mind but I think you could definitely try doing this in the boat if you used a piece of tape or something on the tracks. Basically what you do is you take a bungee cord or a piece of tape and wrap it around the erg at the point where your body should be fully compressed when at the catch. Then when you row, you’ll know if you’re hitting that spot because the slide will either stop completely (if you’re using a bungee) or you’ll feel the slide hit a “speed bump” (if you use tape). Based on those feelings, you can train yourself to inherently recognize where your full compression should be.

Another trick you can do for when you’re in the boat is take a regular drinking straw and tape it to the side of the boat to mark where your catch should be. When you’re fully compressed and reaching out towards your rigger, you should be able to touch the straw with your finger tips. If you can’t, you’re not going far enough up the slide. If you’re hands go past it, you’re going too far (or didn’t tape it to the right spot).

Like you said, your flexibility could be an issue as well. Where it’s lacking is most likely in your low back down through your hamstrings, so those, in addition to your IT band (which runs along the side of your upper leg), would be the muscles you’d want to focus on. Guys typically have tighter hamstrings than girls, so if you’re a guy, that could be contributing to the problem (girls can have tight hamstrings too, but it’s more common in guys).

Question of the Day

Do coaches generally like it when novice coxes go into their office asking questions about last practice/tips on what they could have done better coxing wise, etc? Or does it make the novice, look like a nervous, needy, annoying cox? That’s what I’m always worried about going into coach’s office. Thanks! I love that you’re a cox/coach and you answer all our questions!

I’d rather you come to me with a question then have something happen and when I ask you about it you say “I didn’t know what to do” or something along those lines. If you come to me and you’re asking about something from practice or what you can improve on, there’s a good chance that I’ll have a lot more respect for you because you’ve taken the initiative to reach out and start a conversation.

Related: What do you see as a good relationship with a coach? Being able to joke/tease? Being able to point out technical problems?

 The only time a coxswain comes off as annoying to me is if they constantly ask me things that are so blatantly common sense that they should be able to figure out the answer on their own. If you can’t use your critical thinking skills and at least attempt to arrive at the answer on your own, being a coxswain is not the job for you.

Related: It’s summer holidays where I am, I have this problem and I was wondering if you could give me some advice. So my coaches for my squad are all ex-rowing students of my school and they are between 19-20 year old, who can be a bit intimidating. So my problem is about completing exercises/not stopping for a break etc. which one of coaches have helped me with earlier on in the season. As a coach would you think It would be better to ask her via email or Facebook before it gets worse or becomes a habit OR should I not bother her on holidays and just ask someone (like you) and explain in as much detail as possible even if they don’t know me personally. Secondly as a coach would you be willing to help someone via email during your holiday? Would I be better off asking the head coach even if they can be very very scary at times?

You should never be afraid to talk to your coach and they should definitely never treat you like you’re annoying or your questions are stupid (even when they are). It’s their job to help you so they shouldn’t act as though they’re bothered by that. The good coaches that I know, even though they might not always have the answers to coxswain-specific questions, typically welcome questions since it offers them reassurance that you’re committed, you want to get better, and you actually enjoy what you’re doing. If a coxswain (or rower) never talked to me about anything, I’d question their desire to be there.

Question of the Day

I’m not sure if it’s like this at other colleges but our varsity and novice teams are separated. Winter and Spring season is supposed to mix novice and varsity, but our novice group feels as if the varsity is “stuck up”, as if they don’t remember their novice year [at some point in their life]. There are a few that are super nice and helpful but the others scorn or just don’t talk to us. Do you have any advice on handling it? Or are we too sensitive – maybe we’ll bond later on?

I think many of us felt this way when we were freshmen too – Syracuse was similar in how they separated the novice and varsity teams. Normally the winter training trip is used as a big bonding sesh between the varsity and novices so you’ve got that to look forward to. In time, I think everyone gets to know each other better by default but it does take some effort on both parts. Try to plan some events together, whether it be dinner at someone’s apartment, a party with the other teams, etc. and see if that helps.

From the novice’s perspective, I’d start the season with a clean slate and just try talking with them. It doesn’t have to be a huge gab-fest or anything, just something like “hey, how’d your row go” or “did you have professor _____ when you were a freshman?” or just something super casual like that. It’s simple stuff but it initiates interaction between you two. If they still act bitchy and don’t talk to you … honestly, I’d just say “their loss” and stick with the ones who are nice to you and who you enjoy being around. I don’t think you’re being overly sensitive – situations like this can be frustrating for everyone, but more so when you constantly have to be around the same people.