How a collegiate coxswain earned her crew’s respect

After yesterday’s post on respect went up, I got an email yesterday from a coxswain that I wanted to share. I think most of can say “yup, been there…” and relate to what she’s saying. She brings up a lot of excellent points so I hope everyone is able to take something away from reading this and apply it to your own situation.

Related: RESPECT

“Here’s my story on how I gained respect on my team.

I rowed three sprint seasons at an all-girls’ high school prior to becoming a coxswain in college.  When I joined the team, they were so short on coxswains that they bumped me right up to varsity – in the men’s boat.  Now, I realize that my coxing style is definitely one that works best with men’s teams, but when I joined the team, I was a shy first-year student trying to adjust to life in college who only had experience with women’s rowing and sprint races, and who had clocked in only a few hours in the coxswain’s seat previously.  I was terrified, and although I like to think I didn’t show my nervousness to an extreme degree in the boat, I certainly did not sound sure of myself, and that led to a bumpy season with regards to team dynamics.

Later on in the season, we had a really bad race.  The crank that turned my rudder had corroded to a point at which it would not even turn the rudder to port slightly.  Pair that with steering that still was at a novice level, and you get a race that left us all, including myself, even more unsure of my abilities as a coxswain (I won’t go into details – but it was hairy).

That was when I talked to my coach, who told me to meet with my stroke seat to come up with a game plan and a list of goals; my coach’s logic was that if you have one of the rowers on your side, the rest are more likely to follow suit, especially if it’s the stroke seat who naturally assumes a leadership role in the boat.  There, he told me something that has stuck with me.  This particular comment only applies to my situation, but the general sentiment, I think, applies to all crews.  My stroke seat didn’t mince words, looked me straight in the eye, and said:

“We are a boat of eight big, cocky guys who all think we’re better than everyone.  We’re bigger than you, stronger than you, older than you, and we don’t give a shit that you rowed longer than most of us have.  So we’re not going to give you respect; you have to take it from us.”

Let me first say that the guys I coxed that season are not the brand of asshole that you would think after reading that comment. And obviously it wasn’t meant to be – nor was it taken as – an enumeration of my flaws. It was just a glimpse into the mind of a college men’s crew.  But it was exactly what I needed.I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that within a week of having that conversation with my stroke seat, my coxing did a total one-eighty turn.  I started as a timid little freshman and ended as a coxswain who would kick her crew’s ass and push them to their limits. And, more importantly, I finally understood something really important about coxing that I think all novice coxswains have to realize, one way or another: you have to know who you’re coxing.  It’s obvious, and you say that on your blog all the time, but that was when I learned it, and it made all the difference in learning how to deserve and earn the respect I wanted.

In my case, I had to (for lack of a better term) sack the fuck up and be willing to get a little mean, because I was coxing men who respond best to (constructive, not over-the-top) aggressiveness and a no-bullshit coxing style.  In cases like yours, it might be figuring out how to bridge the age-gap, if a coxswain is much younger than his or her crew.  In all cases, it’s a matter of being flexible and letting WHO you’re coxing inform you HOW to cox them.  For me, I gained respect by yanking it away from them and claiming it as my own, making it absolutely clear that I am not to be messed with.  For someone else, it might be totally different.  But the underlying principle is the same no matter what: respect has to be earned, not just given, not because “ree-rah I have the microphone so what I say goes” and not because of some divine right thereto.”

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