Question of the Day

My friends don’t really understand coxing and think I just sit there and do nothing, or it’s a ‘wimps job’ (this girl’s not my friend) and I was just wondering if you have an eloquent way to describe the importance/difficulty of coxing and how it’s not actually an easy job?

To preface this, I’m going to tell you something that one of my coaches told me … at some point, you just have to stop defending your role on the team, forget the people who question you, and go out and do what you do.

My friend (who coxed for the guys) and I were having a heated debate with some of the guys in her boat (like, seriously??) about how coxswains actually have a role on the team and we were both really irritated because it was the same thing. We don’t do anything, we just sit there, only un-athletic people are coxswains, etc. Let’s ignore the fact that I’d played sports for at least 10ish years before I started crew and the same with my friend. Granted, our first mistake was even trying to reason with them but our second and possibly bigger mistake, as my coach later pointed out, was thinking we had to defend ourselves at all.

If you really want to spar with people and get into this conversation, first ask them why they think what they think. What led them to come to that conclusion? Do they have some kind of experience with coxing and that’s how they felt or have they never been near a boathouse before? Get their side first so you can see what you’re working with. Then, go through all the responsibilities you have … just rattle them off. Some of the ones I always say include:

Safety – You’re in charge of eight other people. Lives are actually at stake, including those of people not in your boat, if you’re not being safe on the water. You have to know traffic patterns, watch out for kayakers, be able to gauge the wind speed and how that’s going to effect your steering, etc. amongst many other things.

Equipment – In your care every day, you have responsibility for … a $40k boat (assuming it’s fairly new) + 8 oars (8 x 800 = $6400) + 8 riggers (8 x 400 = $3200) + 1 cox box ($500) + maybe a Speed Coach ($200) = $50k in equipment. What other sport can say that?

Practice – Once you’re out on the water it’s your job to manage practice and keep everyone focused and on task. You’ve gotta run them through warmups, execute drills, and communicate effectively so that they can make the technical changes necessary to help you get faster. You’ve gotta have a solid understanding of the stroke in order to do this, which means having spent time off the water reviewing video and educating yourself so you can bring that knowledge into the boat and make the appropriate calls when someone needs to make a change.

Multi-tasking – Have you ever stopped to think about all the things you do at once when you’re on the water? You’re steering, calling warmups, drills, or pieces, talking to the rowers, constantly looking around to ensure you’re not going to hit anyone or anything, listening to your coach, watching your cox box, etc. If they say “oh, that’s easy”, tell them to stand up and hop backwards on one foot, eyes closed, while patting their head, rubbing their stomach, and reciting all the Presidents, last to first, and the states they were born in. Oh, and don’t hit anything when you do it.

Mental gameRowing isn’t a game but coxing is. It’s a game that tests your wit, strength, toughness, ability to process things, etc. This is the hardest for me to explain because only those who have experienced it can really understand what it’s like or how to do it. You’ve got to be able to see things, process them, and then spit out whatever the corresponding call is all in less than a second or two. It’s not easy. If they say that’s easy, tell them to go stand by a busy intersection and name the first eight cars they see (make, model, and color), how fast they were going, and whether or not the driver was talking on their cell phone. Oh, and don’t forget to tell them they’ve got a 20 second time limit.

Athleticism – I don’t think I’ve ever seen an un-athletic coxswain, especially when looking at coxswains who are guys. Most, if not all, of the coxswains I know lift, run, erg, and work out with their rowers, sometimes when they don’t even have to. One of the reasons why I started doing the circuits and stuff with my rowers was because I realized how much I was using my core when I coxed, especially during races. The stronger your core the easier it is to project your voice and communicate with the people in the back of the boat. Granted, sometimes there are things coxswains can’t do (for me, it’s running, for other people it might be because of other injuries they’ve suffered), but it’s certainly not an indication of being a “wimp” or whatever other word you want to use. Please, call me a wimp and then let me cox you for a 2k. I guarantee you’ll be the one crying at the end of it, not me.

The reason why I prefaced this by saying at some point you’ve got to stop defending yourself is because even after going through that whole monologue, there are still going to be people who don’t get it. Whether or not they actually don’t understand or they’re just being assholes because they enjoy seeing you get pissed (I’ve dealt with both), it doesn’t matter. No one questions a rower’s role on the team, which blows my mind because … I mean, they just sit there and move back and forth, right? How hard is that?

My coach drilled this into me and it’s one thing I’ve never forgotten – you know how important you are, the coaches (hopefully) know how important you are, and if you’re lucky, your boat knows how important you are. At least, mine did. Our coaches constantly praised us (we had to earn it obviously…) and told us how they wouldn’t be able to do what they do or how our team wouldn’t be nearly as successful if we didn’t have such high-quality coxswains leading the boats. You’ve got to take that positivity and reassurance that your contribution means something and think of it every time someone says otherwise.


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