Question of the Day

OK so I’m not one of the top coxswains on my team but sometimes my coach likes to put lower level coxswains in the varsity boat so that they can experience good rowing except I find that a lot of the girls in the varsity boat are so used to good coxing that they get annoyed with me. Sometimes they like, swear at me and tell met to do things (not even advice, but just like “can you PLEASE FUCKING DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SET”). What do I do when I’m trying my best and calling set and this happens???

Starting with them yelling at you to do something about the set, here’s what I think, and I tell this to my rowers too … if you know the boat is unset and you can feel that the boat is leaning to starboard, why would you yell at someone else to tell you what to do? Why wouldn’t you just do it? If you don’t know how to fix the set on your own without someone telling you how to do it, that’s a problem.

I’ve had this happen to me before and it always irritated me. One time the boat I was coxing kept saying the same thing – “fix the fucking set” and I was so over it because I’d been making calls for it for awhile that I finally just said “why don’t you do something about the fucking set?” Yes, it’s the coxswain’s job to make the appropriate calls and keep everyone on the same page but it’s not like we can walk down the boat to every rower and say “OK, your hands need to go here and your hands need to go here”. Your rowers need to take ownership for their seat, their oar, and their handle heights and you are well within your right to tell them that.

On a side not – when you call for changes with set, give them specifics. I remind coxswains that you almost have to treat rowers like they’re toddlers (without actually treating them like they’re toddlers) and tell them every single detail of every single thing you want them to do. If the boat’s not set, don’t say “set it up” unless your crew is experienced enough to know what to do without you telling them or if you’re racing or something and don’t have the seconds to dedicate to explaining it out. If you’re doing drills, steady state, etc., then you can get really down into the details. “We’re leaning to starboard, let’s have the ports bring the hands down and the starboards lift ’em up. Let’s find the balance and hold it here…”

Handle heights are about 50% of the reason why the set can be off … the other 50% is made up of about 500 other things. Body weight not centered on the seat, drawing the blade out early, looking out of the boat, etc. Talk with your coach about these things and figure out what he notices with the bodies so that you can make additional calls to fix them in addition to reminding them about appropriate handle heights.

Related: I just found this blog and THANK GOD. Today was my second day ever coxing for novice women’s 8 and it was terrifying making calls myself. My stern seat was yelling at me telling me what to say because I didn’t know what to do. With all 8 rowing we almost kept falling over and all I could say was “one catch, everybody watch the person in front of you.” How else would you recommend steadying the boat when we’re tipping?

When you get put in the varsity boat, does it help you? When you get out of the boat, do you feel like you’ve had the opportunity to do something to improve your skills like your coach is intending? Or, are you stressed, annoyed, and not feeling like you did anything constructive? If the latter is the case, which is sounds like it might be, I would talk to your coach. Explain that you understand why he wants you to go in with the varsity boat but the attitudes of the crew (yelling, complaining, swearing, etc.) make it hard for you to actually achieve anything. Instead of going with this varsity boat, can you go out with the 2V or whatever the next varsity boat is? See if you can figure something out that works for you and the crews.

I have no patience for rowers who act like that. At one point, you were a novice or JV rower too so your attitude is pretty hypocritical right now. If I were the coach I’d just tell that if they want your team to continue improving and being fast, the less experienced coxswains have to be nurtured and given chances to improve their skills. They need to hop down off their high horses and recognize that if they want boats to succeed, they need to suck it up and tolerate the younger coxswains when they get put in their boats. Yea, admittedly it can be really annoying because they probably don’t know as much as your regular varsity coxswain but that’s the point – that’s why they’re being put in your boat, so they can get the experience and LEARN.

Related: So, what did you see?

If you’re in this boat again and the rowers do something like this, SHUT. IT. DOWN. Do not let it happen. Regardless of your experience level, you are the coxswain and you are the leader of the crew when you’re on the water. If somebody starts talking when they shouldn’t be or yelling expletives for no reason, tell them to stop. You have to suck it up too and deal with whatever intimidation you might feel from them. There’s really just no other way to say it. Suck it up, tell them to shut up, and get on with practice. If you let them continue to push you around they’re going to keep doing it because they know you won’t say anything to them about it. Don’t be that coxswain that let’s her rowers walk all over her. Take charge of the situation and get it under control.

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