Question of the Day

Yesterday a friend of mine told me “You’re definitely a men’s coxswain. That’s where I see you. That’s your coxing style.” I agree with her (good thing, because I AM a men’s coxswain!) but I’m not sure how to articulate what it is about my style that makes it more geared toward men. What do you think makes that distinction? What makes someone’s style better for men or women?

I’ve never really given much thought as to what made the distinction between men’s and women’s coxswains. Even though I coxed women all through high school and when I was in college, I always knew that I was better suited for guys just based on my personality. A lot of people have told me that too. I talked about this the other day with someone – I think the reason why I enjoy coaching and coxing guys is because the way I push people resonates better with them than it does with women. With women, as this person said, they have a natural tendency to take that and internalize it too much and ultimately end up getting offended, upset, or insecure about themselves or their rowing. I truthfully just don’t have the patience for that, not because I dislike the person or am insensitive to what they feel but because I don’t know how to react or deal with it because I’m the complete opposite. This is a huge reason why I like guys because, for the most part, they don’t do that.

Like I’ve said before, this isn’t saying that women can’t be pushed or that they are somehow weaker compared to men. That’s not it at all. My boat senior year was one of the most driven, laser focused, no-nonsense boats I’ve ever coxed and they were women. They learned quickly how I coxed and learned to accept the criticism, intensity, etc. and know that it was all coming from a good place.

Related: I’m a guy who almost exclusively coxes women at the moment. However, I rowed for an entire year up to this October and I’m pretty naturally athletic. I still run and cycle pretty quickly. When we do land training, I feel like if I got on an erg and joined in I wouldn’t be helping as I’d be faster than most of them – and your cox being quicker than you would be pretty demoralizing. The only time I’ve joined in was when we did a 5k run and I agreed to be a backmarker and make sure nobody got left behind the pack by encouraging them to keep running and not give up. Do you think I’m right that it would be demoralizing for the girls if I joined in or do you think joining in would have a “leading from the front” aspect which would be beneficial for the squad?

How women are motivated though is different and that’s where coxswains have to make that distinction themselves. Everyone I’ve known that has coxed men have all been extremely confident (borderline cocky), ferociously outgoing, brazen people who don’t take shit from anyone. I think that’s an unspoken requirement for coxing guys, especially if you’re a girl. You’ve got to be able to take their shit at times and be able to throw it right back without blinking.

Everyone I’ve known who has coxed women has been equal in skill when compared with the guys’ coxswains but their personalities are calmer and their focus is more based around praise and reassurance. Guys can take the “your rowing is shit right now” call, make a change, and then think nothing of it two strokes later, whereas girls, in my experience, internalize it and start overthinking things, which can cause their rowing to get worse instead of better. When I cox women I’ve always found myself holding back just a little bit because I know saying “are you kidding me right now with these splits?” would cause a huge problem whereas with guys, I can say that and they instantly go at it harder and keep it there.

There’s definitely a psychological thing that goes along with it too. Sometimes people are just naturally better at coxing one sex or the other and it can’t be explained. Some people know why they’re better with one than the other and can easily pinpoint why. Other times, some coxswains just aren’t comfortable coxing certain people. Girls might have a hard time coxing fellow girls but find they’re great at coxing guys or they might be uncomfortable coxing guys and prefer to stick with the girls because it’s less intimidating. It changes from person to person.

Related: Advice from a coxes perspective would be great. I’ve been lucky enough to have the same cox for 2 years & he used to be amazing. Recently, it’s felt very much like he’s lost interest. He’s just in the boat, not part of the crew. He’s going through the motions. It makes it very hard to stay motivated, given everything else that’s crappy. He’s also coxing the elite men, maybe he sees them as his chance to win & we’re just the disorganized cranky old women he coxes sometimes. Should I call him on the change?

Regardless of who you’re coxing you obviously can’t be a dick about how you’re communicating. There’s a fine line between calling the rowers out and saying “this feels like shit, we need to fix XYZ now” but doing so in a positive way that communicates a sense of urgency and focus and doing the same thing but in a negative way that just brings down the mood of the  boat. Some people will get in a boat with guys and think they have to be super macho or tough or whatever and the latter is what ends up happening. Regardless of who you’re coxing, your style, etc. your singular focus has to be on unifying the crew with whatever you’re doing.

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3 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. anon says:

    I’m a female master’s rower, so perhaps not exactly the perspective you’re looking for, but here goes.

    Last fall, we had one of the juniors coxswains (a young woman) cox our W4+ in a regatta. Long story, but she’d never been in our boat before. This was a head race — 5K-ish, if I remember. As we’re warming up, I was thinking she’s going to be great, going to be that motivational voice, it’ll be good.

    Now, on the whole, she *was* good. We came in second. She steered well. No complaints.

    However. When we finished and she made a comment that made it clear she’d never coxed a women’s boat in a race, it all made sense. I bet the guys love her.

    See, as we were racing. I just kept thinking that in a different boat, she’d be even better. Some observations…she never shut up. Not one stroke. “Oh, my word”, I kept thinking, “Seriously? 20+ minutes of you YELLING at me?!” From my perspective, I want to think in a race (or a practice). Not a ton, and yes, when you’re in that race mode, brains don’t work as well so I need you to be that voice that overrides the “you can take a break now” voice in my head. I know that. But, even so…say something, then give us a couple of strokes. Then say something more.

    Her choice of language was also not my style. A few too many swear words (“does your momma know you yell like that?!” 🙂 ). It might be motivating, or at least not bother the guys, but I found it distracting and unnecessary.

    And, finally, there was “something”. Something hard to put words to. It’s like her words were more ‘whipping’ than ‘inspiring’. Almost punative, rather than supportive. Probably more than my other observations, this is as close as I get to how you describe the difference between coxing men’s vs women’s boats.

    Again, she was pretty good. We did well. But I left the water thinking that I would have had more FUN if I had a coxswain that could inspire me in the way that isn’t distracting, that let’s me focus on my every stroke (rather than respond to another command, more words, etc).

    I have no idea if all of this is really a general description of the men vs women’s coxes, but that very long 20 mins or so sure had me thinking it might be. Now if only she’d keep quiet for a few seconds so I could think some more and give you some more thoughts 😉

    • beantownkmd says:

      This is GENIUS. I never would have thought about coxing masters rowers so I’m glad you commented. You bring up some really good points to about how masters rowers might like to be coxed in general too. Currently I cox a masters 8+ of women who are about 2.5 times my age (I’m 24), so it sounds like your coxswain and I are/were in similar situations. The women I cox are all hilarious, bubbly, crazy women who I’d never guess were 50+ if I didn’t already know their ages, so our personalities work perfectly together. My coxing style is similar to the coxswain you had too – I talk continuously. It works with my boat though. They’ve all said they like it and it helps keep them engaged, focused, etc. I think the girl you had and I cox that way most likely because that was what we were taught to do from the very beginning, so it’s all we know HOW to do. Not talking for a few strokes can throw us off just as much as it might throw some rowers off. It actually makes me really nervous if I’m quiet for more than a nanosecond during a race.

      I love how you described her style as more punitive than supportive. When I was writing my response to the original question I was trying to think of a way to describe men’s and women’s coxswains and couldn’t think of the right way to phrase it. What you said is exactly what I was thinking though. Men can handle that hard, ass-kicking tone whereas women (some of them, not all) need to be supported, told they’re doing well, etc. Swearing is something I’m pretty OK with but I’m also 24 years old. I think it comes with the territory. Although I swear (probably too much) in day to day life, I very rarely ever swear during races. It’s got to be a seriously intense, heat of the moment situation. Practice is a little different, but for the most part I don’t swear much there either. I don’t know how differently it goes over with men vs. women in general but the one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started coxing my eight is any swearing I’d do with rowers my own age, I’m apprehensive to do with my boat because some are the same age as my parents and some are close to my grandparent’s ages. Even when they tell me they don’t mind, it fires them up, etc. I don’t usually swear at them, even when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

      Thank you for commenting!! Like I said, this wasn’t a perspective I’d considered, so it’s good (and definitely informative) getting this different point of view. 🙂

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