Question of the Day

I have a slight situation. I’m a 2nd year coxswain for a D2 college and I feel like I’m associated with the bottom boat because we are the only boat that practices frequently with the new assistant coach. I know I have a lot to improve on and I shouldn’t have that mentality that I’m a horrid coxswain but I just don’t know what to do when I try so hard during the pieces to increase the intensity (with rhythm calls, focus 5/10s, powers, imaginary scenarios, etc.) but there’s just a lack of ‘something’(will power? determination?) in my boat. It’s been especially tough this week. On Tuesday, we did 2X25’ 18-22-18. I drove the only 8+ with the other 3 varsity coxswains in 4+s. 8+s are definitely supposed to beat 4+s, no matter what, but we finished behind every time. We were started 2’ behind on the first piece, but even on the second one when we all started together, we still didn’t pass them. Coach had a talk with our boat after and gave them a chance to redeem themselves on Thursday, but he switched me and two rookie rowers out. The boat definitely moved and beat the 4+ on all the pieces. The lack of intensity happened again today though when we practiced with the novices, whom we also finished behind. I just don’t know what it is. One of my rowers said that if she’s in a shitty boat one more time she’s quitting, but I don’t think she means that my boat is the “shitty” boat (cause she’s been with novices lately), but at the same time it does lower my morale. Though she might not have meant that I drove the bottom boat, I feel like my other teammates do. I don’t know what to do anymore, or say anymore. Is it me? What can I do to change this?

Maybe the reason you’re with the “lower boat” is because your coach sees something in you that he thinks could resonate with those rowers. He thinks that you could be the key component in making them better. That’s a compliment, not an insult. Is that actually the case? Why knows, but it’s a lot more positive thinking that than it is “well, clearly I suck and that’s why I’m with this crew”.

If you’re curious why you’re with that boat, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. You might find that there are certain parts of your coxing style that he thinks would help these rowers but there are other parts that he wants you to work on in a lower-stress environment than if you were with the first or second varsity boats. Maybe your vocal intensity and the clarity of your calls is something he really likes but your steering is something that needs a lot of work. You never know until you ask.

What’s your overall team/boat morale like? Are the rowers people you can depend on to show up (literally and figuratively) every day and give 100% or are they the type who are pretty “meh” about things? If it’s the latter, I don’t want to say they’re lost causes but there’s really only so much you can do. They have to be motivated to go out and row their best before they even wake up in the morning. If they’re not there’s nothing you’re going to be able to say that will help them.

If you know they’re committed, great. If they’re not, talk with your coach and get their take on things. Do they know that this is their attitude towards the team and it’s something they’ve accepted and found a way to work with or are they unaware about the lack of commitment from them? Either way, if it’s to the point where they’re going out and just rowing without a purpose or literally just going through the motions, that’s something that warrants a conversation with your coach. No one wants to coach people who are unmotivated or unwillingly to put the effort in and I know for me, as a coxswain, I cannot cox people like that. It mostly has to do with my already dangerously low levels of patience but also because I want to row with people who are just as fired up to be on the water as I am – if I can tell right away through your attitude or performance that you’re not excited to me there, it makes me less motivated to be with you, which then leads to me putting in less effort.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your teammates think you’re the reason the boat performed one way or the other, it’s whether or not the coach thinks that. The only way to have any kind of definitive answer is to sit down and talk to them. I would also talk to the rowers in your boat. Ask them what felt different, why’d it feel different, what did that particular coxswain say that they think helped them move, how did she say it, what’s something she did well that they’d like to see you incorporate, etc. Also talk to that coxswain. I’m an extremely competitive person and would probably be really annoyed if I was in your situation because I would see myself to now be in direct competition with this other coxswain but experience (and maturity, obviously) has taught me that there’s a lot of value in using our competition to our advantage.

I mean “competition” in a friendly way too. If something she does can help you improve your skill set, by all means, interpret it to your style and incorporate it and vice versa – if she thinks that something you do would help her, tell her how you do it, let her interpret it in her own way, and go from there. Yes, personally, our goals as coxswains are to get better but the main point of our role on the team is the help make the boats move fast. If that means using something you learned from another coxswain who took out that boat one day then so be it. I’m trying to get away from the mindset of automatically shunning things because I disagree with how they’re done (because it’s not how I do them) or who the person is that originally did them and in doing that I’ve picked up a lot of great techniques that they’ve used but have been able to incorporate into my style and make my own.

Spend some time talking to your coach, teammates, etc. and get feedback from them. Use your coxing powers to do what you can to get people excited to be at practice. Maybe if they see that you are enthusiastic about being there and going out and you can get them fired up to row, regardless of who they’re up against, that’ll trigger something in them that motivates them to give it a little more when they’re on the water.

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