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.

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