Question of the Day

I consider my crew to be very lucky. We possibly have one of the best coxswains around. She can steer like a BOSS and has the patience and the nature of a saint. However I think we pushed her to her limits at one point and I don’t think I have ever seen her that angry. I often read this blog and I always read tips on what makes a great coxswain, how to deal with your rowers, and things not to do however I would like to hear from a coxie’s point of view is what are the things that rowers do that really sets you off edge and how we can avoid those things. I know coxies are all different (…and I have had some interesting ones at times) but it would really help if you could give some pointers from a coxswain. As rowers our biceps are sometimes bigger than our brains so it would help if you could give us some insight. Thanks…oh, and great blog!

This is the best question ever. It’s great that you recognize how lucky you are to have a such a skillful, knowledgeable, and personable coxswain. Out of curiosity, how did you push her to her limits? Were there any repercussions? How did you apologize? (You did apologize, right?)

Things that rower’s do that irritate coxswains:

Talk or screw around in the boat, especially if you’re in bow pair.

This drives me nuts. There’s a time and a place for it and 99% of the time, while you’re on the water is not it. The reason it annoys me is not because I think that the boat should be some kind of rigid, military-like atmosphere while we’re out but because if I’m trying to get you to do something and you’re not doing it because you’re talking or screwing around with someone else, time is being wasted. If we say “bow six, row” we mean bow six, not bow, 2, and 5. Me telling you to take two strokes so I can get my point should not be something I have to repeat three times, especially when my already-loud voice is amplified through a microphone. Plus, my number one job is to maintain the safety of the crew. If I see something that could potentially be or is a dangerous situation, it’s my responsibility to get us away from it as quickly as possible. I can’t do that if no one is paying attention.

To avoid pissing off your coxswain in situations like this, don’t start a conversation with the four people around you as soon as you’re told to weigh enough, always be listening for your coxswain’s instructions (especially if you’re in bow pair), and in general, use your common sense. If the conversation can be had off the water, don’t have it on the water. Also, regarding safety, If we’re rowing and you start yelling things out, please know that I have no clue what you’re saying and I’m basically going to assume that a shark just jumped into the boat and ate your face off or we’re about to hit someone or something. I will stop the boat, ask you what you said, and then get royally pissed at you when you say you were saying something stupid like “set the boat”, “pull harder”, or whatever. Do. Not. Do. This.

Not carrying your own water bottle.

If you can see that your coxswain’s hands, basket, etc. is full or looking particularly heavy, don’t walk over and toss your full water bottle in it just as she’s about to pick it up. Stick your water bottle in your spandex and carry it yourself.

Assuming we know everything the coach is thinking and then getting pissed at us when we don’t.

To quote the person that sent this, “”Will I be rowing today? Will today be hard? What erg piece is he going to make us do next? Will I be in the boat this weekend? What are his plans for ‘X’ boat? Who’s he considering?” While some of these things are stuff coxswains SHOULD know, there is a lack communication, and/or coaches can change their minds in a heart beat if the need be.” Feel free to ask your coxswain these questions but know more often times than not that they are just as clueless as you.

Assuming you’re not doing something your coxswain (and/or coach) says you are and/or not making a change when it’s called for.

If your coach tells you to make an adjustment or points out something you’re doing, it’s our job to remind you to do it and then reinforce it as we row. Don’t assume that you’re not doing something that two people are making an effort to point out to you that you are and please don’t actually say out loud to us that you aren’t doing it. We’re looking directly at your blades so if we say that you’re skying, digging it in, late to the catch, washing out at the finish, etc. you can bet that you’re doing it.

Don’t be that guy in the boat that has such an ego that he refuses to make any changes either. If we say your name or seat number or “bow 4” or “stern 4” or “starboards” or whatever part of the boat you’re a part of, make. an. effort. to make the change we’re calling for. We can see and feel when people make those changes and as you get more experienced you can tell who specifically did and didn’t do it. I haven’t had this happen too often to me when I’ve coxed but the few times it has it’s made me feel a little disrespected and like you don’t think I actually know what I’m talking about. I understand “getting in the zone” and tuning other things out but your coxswain should not be one of those things.

Unnecessarily taking control of the boat/backseat coxing.

There are only two reasons that I can think of (as a coach and coxswain) of why it would be acceptable for a rower to take control of the boat. One is if the the coxswain is legitimately unable to cox (99.9% of the time due to a medical reason – I’ve seen this happen once) and the other is if they’re a novice and genuinely don’t know the right things to say and/or are inadvertently putting the crew in a dangerous situation. At that point the only person in the boat who should be saying anything is the stroke.

If you are shouting at your coxswain or the rest of the crew to do something, you’re undermining the coxswain’s authority. If they’re a novice, this can really hurt them in terms of trying to gain the respect of the crew. If they’re experienced it can actually make the rowers lose respect for them because it comes off as them not knowing what to do or what’s going on or more importantly, not being strong-willed enough to stand up to the rowers (who, by the power vested in them by the coach, they are technically in charge of while on the water).

Yelling at your coxswain after the fact.

Sometimes coxswains do things that piss the rowers off and you are well within your right to call them out on that. Waiting until you’re off the water and the boat and oars are put away to lose your shit on them though accomplishes absolutely nothing and only makes you look like an ass. Instead of screaming at them about whatever happened, ask them when you get off the water if you can talk to them after practice and then go down on the dock away from the rest of the team and have a conversation with them. I’m not saying the conversation has to be friendly or anything because emotions happen and I get that, but at the very least it does have to be civil. Explain what the issue is, why it’s an issue, and what you’d hope they could do differently in the future.

If the issue is really serious, talk to your coach and let them do the yelling. That’s their job. (Well, not really but you know what I mean.) If you’re more experienced than your coxswain (i.e. varsity vs. novice), you have a responsibility and a duty to help teach them and yelling is not how you go about doing that, even if at times that seems to be the quick, go-to, natural reaction. Don’t shatter their confidence before they’ve had a chance to even build any.

Bringing up a past bad race, piece, or loss to your coxswain.

That shit isn’t funny. I promise you – promise you – with absolute certainty that coxswains take these things way harder than any rower. For me, I feel a personal sense of responsibility whenever something goes wrong because it’s my boat. I’m in charge. Regardless of whether whatever made it bad was my/our fault or something completely out of our control, it eats at me and takes a while to move past, even if it seems like I’ve gotten over it pretty quickly. If we’re in a similar situation or about to do another piece or racing the same crews, I guarantee that I was already thinking about that “last time” 20 minutes before the thought even crossed your mind. I’m going over everything that happened previously so I can make sure we/I do things better this time. I don’t need you putting on your “snarky rower” hat and saying “don’t fuck up!” because I’ve been saying that to myself since I first got in the boat.

Trying to get them to be a clone of your old, last, or favorite coxswain.

I hate when coaches switch lineups and who’s coxing who each week because it causes issues for everyone. What makes things especially awkward though is when you get in a boat with a new coxswain and ask them to do everything the exact same as another coxswain on the team. The person who sent me this said that asking a coxswain to call, say, or do things the same way as another coxswain feels disrespectful and like you’re just putting up with them being in the boat because the coach put them there and not because you actually want them to be there.

I’m a big proponent of collaborative coxing while still maintaining your own individual style and way of doing things. If you had a coxswain that had this one call that you really responded to, by all means, absolutely  talk to your new coxswain about it and ask if he/she would mind trying to incorporate it into their calls. Explain why so they can get a bit of background on why it works and why you like it. If they’re smart though they’ll have already talked with the previous coxswain of their new boat to see what works and what doesn’t when coxing them, what they respond to, what they like, etc.

I hope that helps. Coxswains, feel free to leave a comment and elaborate on something I’ve said or add something I didn’t mention.


9 thoughts on “Question of the Day

  1. tigerleaf66 says:

    Absolutely spot on!

    I’ll add something that I get sometimes and irritates me to no end: back talk.
    I tell a rower they’re doing something wrong (skying, late, missing water, etc.) and they’ll yell back “I can’t get my blade off the water” or “I AM”– which is a personal favorite of mine because HAH, I can see and feel what you’re doing, trust me you’re doing it.
    Essentially they’ll yell something like an excuse or an unnecessary explanation. If they don’t do it during the piece– when they do I sometimes start calling for a lower split because, hello, if you can yell excuses at me then you definitely have some energy to row properly with pressure (at least in my opinion as a rower-turned-coxie)– then they’ll do it in-between pieces or off the water. Often times when I tell them the typical ‘thanks for the explanation, I really don’t care why, you were doing it, you need to fix it, here’s how you fix it, now do it right’ they launch into something like “oh yeah, well just wanted to let you know.” Typically after that I just tell them how to fix what they were doing, tell them to not talk in the boat, and start the next piece.
    Also, when the water starts getting shallower and they see me sitting up and gauging my surroundings and yet someone still yells “It’s getting shallow.” I mean, yes I appreciate that they actually are paying attention and could potentially warn me if its becoming dangerously shallow but I find it highly irritating when it appears to be simply for the sake of yelling. Sometimes it comes off as not trusting the cox enough to not steer the boat onto a sandbar. Sometimes I do tell them ‘thank you for the warning, I can see its shallow, we are fine, I know where the sandbar is, trust me’ but then I get the “oh well, I didn’t know if you noticed.” Typically at that point I just say “I got it” and move on.

    Anyways, this is a perfect post.

  2. Kent says:

    Hey,thanks for taking the time to answer my question. It has been more than helpful.So much so that my coach wants to have a session on how we treat our coxswains (I emailed him the link as well as the rest of my crew.)To answer you question,one morning we were messing about in the boat house and not really being constructive before we needed to get onto the water. Our coach was going to be late due to a family problem so the coxswains were left in charge,we kind of saw this as an opportunity to be a bunch of assholes and take advantage of the situation.She got incredibly upset and rightly so.At the time we chalked up her response to her being a ‘girl’ but the more we though about it the more we realized we had been massive d*cks. We apologized and all was forgotten but I kind of feel it’s something we need to address as a team. A good coxswain is really hard to find and I would really hate to lose her or any the others on our crew because we are unable to be empathetic and appreciative. As for the other stuff I must say we are pretty guilty of the the whole water bottle issue and the “Yelling stuff from the back of the boat” needless to say we will be putting an end to this. Thanks again for your insight and help

    • beantownkmd says:

      No problem! I definitely understand your coxswain’s frustration after that incident. It does kind of take something out of you. It can make you apprehensive to take charge because what if they just said “no, fuck you” again? It’d also make me question what I had done to give the impression that they could walk over me like that. I think if I’d been your coxswain in that situation though, what would have pissed me off the MOST was “chalking up my response to being a girl”. I know it doesn’t seem that bad but for girls coxing guys, that’s HARSH.

      I’m really glad this helped and that your coach wants to meet with everyone. Sounds like you not only have good coxswains but also good coaches. Like I say with most other situations, use this one as a learning opportunity so you can avoid similar issues in the future and, in your case, be the catalyst for change on your team. You’re lucky to have your coxswain but she’s also lucky to have a crew like you who would go out of your way to make sure she feels just as much of a part of the team as anyone else.

  3. Rory says:

    This is the most true post I have ever seen on here. My guys think I am crazy that I don’t want them to talk when we are getting the boat off the water, but when they could possibly injure themselves or the 30,000 dollar boat, I feel it’s completely reasonable to care. We all know who would be blamed if anything were to happen, even if it was because they weren’t listening.

  4. Kim Degutis says:

    “I promise you – promise you – with absolute certainty that coxswains take these things way harder than any rower. For me, I feel a personal sense of responsibility whenever something goes wrong because it’s my boat. I’m in charge. Regardless of whether whatever made it bad was my/our fault or something completely out of our control, it eats at me and takes a while to move past, even if it seems like I’ve gotten over it pretty quickly.”

    BANG ON on this point. I honestly don’t think some rowers really get how personal we can be about mistakes made on the water. We don’t just “get over it” – we internalize and think about that shit to fix it so it will never happen again. I have missed one race in my Masters career by being late to the starting line. Want to guess how many time since then I’ve been early? EVERY time.

    A mistake is made and we own it until we can do it right the next time. It sucks but that’s how we roll. I wish the men on my team could understand that.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s