Question of the Day

Hi! I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to cox rowers who seem to not be willing to push themselves? I cox the novice girls and there’s this one really tall girl who I know has great potential and probably tons of power in those long legs of hers but she just doesn’t seem to try at all during erg pieces. How do I help her live up to her potential?

As a coxswain I’ve always thought (and heard my coaches say) that each rower has to already be motivated when they get on the erg or in the boat, otherwise how can you be expected to motivate them? If you’re not going to motivate yourself first and I can see that you’re happy with settling for mediocrity, there is a 99.9% chance that I’m going to just shrug my shoulders and be done with it.

Looking back to the times in college when I had to do things that I wasn’t been totally thrilled about, I’ve asked myself the following questions:

Why am I doing this?

Is it because I have to do it (i.e. someone’s making me, it’s required, etc.) or because I wanted to do it? The answer to this usually dictates my level of enthusiasm for the activity. If it’s something I have to do then I’ll do the bare minimum to get by and get out of there but if it’s something that I want to do, I throw myself into it, heart and soul, if you want to be cliche. I’d start by asking your rower the same thing. Why did she join crew? Was it at her parent’s behest or was it something she wanted to do? If she wanted to do it, why did she want to do it? What persuaded her to sign up?

How committed am I?

When I sign up for something, I’m automatically committed 100%. It’s like a rule I have for myself. If I don’t want to do it at the end of the semester, month, year, or whatever that’s fine but until that specific time period ends, I have to stick with it and give my best efforts. If I’m not going to give at least 100%, the question then reverts back to the previous one – why am I doing this in the first place? I like to assume that there is always someone depending on me, even if no one is, thus I can’t quit. With crew, there are at least four or eight other people depending on you at any given time. You have to assume that they are giving 100% at all times and are counting on you to do the same. The next question I’d ask your rower is how committed she is – is she willing to give her all or is she just trying to make it to the end of the season?

What are my goals?

Goals are a requirement of crew. I really believe that it is just not possible to be a part of crew and not have personal and team goals. Ask your rower what hers are. If she doesn’t have any, ask her why and then maybe help her come up with some. Maybe the reason she’s not trying hard on the erg is because she has nothing to try hard for. If she doesn’t have a goal of pulling 7:45 on a 2k she’s certainly not going to try just for the hell of it. Help her figure out a goal or two and give herself something to work for.

I’d also tell her that she has potential and you can see it but are sure of what it’s going to take to make her see it. I don’t want to say that you should say that in a guilt trip-y kind of way but I know for me, I always hated when someone would say that they can see my potential, why can’t I? That was always motivation enough for me to get my ass in gear if need be. At the coaching conference I went to last week, something I heard that I know will stick with me forever was: “At the beginning of every season, the best thing a coach can say to you is ‘you have a tremendous amount of potential.’ At the end of the season, the worst thing a coach can say to you is ‘you have a tremendous amount of potential’.”

Talk to your rower one-on-one, somewhere away from all the noise of the boathouse. Sometimes just taking an interest can make her want to try a little harder because she knows that there’s someone on her side rooting for her. Figuring out why she’s there, what she wants to get out of it, and how hard she’s willing to work can be of huge help to both you and her.

When I was in high school I had a similar situation and looking back on it, if the girl I was coxing had had a personality different from mine, this wouldn’t have worked at all, but knowing that we were fairly similar I relied on the fact that I knew if someone did this to me, I’d go balls to the wall on whatever we were doing. She was doing a 2k and I knew she could go harder than she was going. I was pissed because she was in my boat so I went up behind her and yelled “harder” every. single. stroke. She’d take a stroke and I’d say “NO, not good enough, HARDER“…”NO, you can do better”…”NO, I’ve seen you give more than this”…”NO, more“…until she was pulling what I knew she could pull. When she reached that split, I’d say “YES, do it again”…”again”…”again“…”AGAIN”. I was right in her ear at every finish. After half-assing the first 1000m she kicked it into gear for the last half and ended up pulling a pretty decent time (and when you can do that and still end up with times that are up there with the fast girls on the team, you know you can be good if you just try).

After she’d cooled down (physically and mentally) we went outside and sat for awhile and talked about the piece. I told her that I never wanted to have to cox her like that again because I knew what she was capable of and more importantly, so did she. She was tall, strong, athletic … everything you want in a rower … and it shouldn’t take me yelling at her to pull harder for her to get a good time. For the next two months, her 2ks were some of the best on the team and she said that whenever she felt like quitting she’d imagine me yelling in her ear “NO, harder”, “NO, you can do better”, etc. Sometimes the motivation someone needs is as simple as a little tough love.

The best thing you can do is just talk to her. Let her know that she has potential and you want to know what you can do to help her reach it. I think framing the conversation that way is a lot more effective than pretty much anything else because it lets her maintain some control over the situation without feeling like she’s being pressured or guilt-tripped to give you an answer about why she’s not doing better.


2 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. Dillon Winegar says:

    I feel like I was the same way my novice season on the Stony Brook University Crew team. I mean we were all fighting for a seat in the novice A boat (there were about 19 novice men trying to seat in two 8+ boats. I loved the sport and the team and I really wanted to be there, but until my coach made me stroke seat of the B boat, I don’t think I put in as much effort as I should have. They later told me when I was captain of the team 3 season later that I was good enough to have been in the A boat, but they thought my technique would help the others in the B boat. Once I sat in that stroke seat, even before my first race, I felt responsible for that boat, more so than the coxswain. I instantly felt like that was my boat and it was up to me to give them a good race. We came in DFL every race, and it was really happy to be in the A boat 4+ the next season, but every time I was put into the stroke seat, race or not, I felt responsible for that boat and put in infinitely more effort. Try that with your rower! Hope this helps. If not, she will realize the effort you need to put in about 10 strokes into her first race.

  2. organizednowplease says:

    I’d try to get to know her past experience with rowing and other sports. It may help figure out if she is new to this level of competition or if she has experienced it in other sports. I grew up with little sports or exercise experience. It took me a while to figure out how much effort/training was needed to see improvements and to feel that I had what it take to take it to the next level.


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