How (NOT) to piss off your rowers

Previously: Steer an eight/four || Call a pick drill and reverse pick drill ||  Avoid getting sick || Make improvement as a novice || Protect your voice || Pass crews during a head race || Be useful during winter training || Train when you’re sick (as a rower) || Train when you’re sick (as a coxswain) || Sit in the boat || Lose vs. how to win || Cox (and coach) novices

About two weeks ago I wrote a lengthy post in response to a question I got that basically asked what rowers do that piss off their coxswains and how they can avoid doing such things in the future. After putting that post together I wanted to give rowers the same opportunity to tell coxswains what they do that pisses them off.

Related: 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!

Over the last week I’ve gotten even more feedback than I did for the first post (read into that however you want) and even though a lot of it is really obvious stuff, I think it all bears repeating, especially for novices who might not know to not do these things. The fact that it is so obvious though means that it should be an easy fix.

Keep repeating things that aren’t working

Meaning you’ve been saying “stop rushing” for about 10 minutes and everyone is still rushing. You need to be able to recognize the problem, say how they should fix it (which means you’ve got to have a solid understanding of technique), and what specific changes they need to make to get back on track. Repeating the same thing over and over is lazy, not to mention whatever you’re saying loses its meaning and leads to you getting tuned out.

Aren’t mindful of their weight or of athletes in their boat who are trying to make weight

Obviously no one’s saying that you shouldn’t eat or that you should hide all traces of food when the lightweights are around. What they’re saying is that it’s a real asshole move to stuff your face with food in a “haha I get to eat and you don’t, suckers” kind of way.

In that same vein, another thing that came up, regardless of whether you’re coxing lightweights or heavyweights, is not being aware of your own weight (or straight up not caring). I’ve talked about the issue of coxswains and weight before and the fact of the matter is, we are expected to be as light as possible because we are literally dead weight in the boat. It’s part of the job and a responsibility your teammates will expect you to take seriously (especially if you’re coxing lightweights).

Yell at the rowers for talking in the boat while you carry on an unnecessary conversation with the stroke seat

I talk pretty frequently about how you need to talk to your stroke seat and communicate with them throughout practice – obviously you should keep doing that. What this rower was getting at is that everyone else in the boat gets really irritated when you tell them to stop talking but then you immediately turn around and start talking with your stroke about stuff completely unrelated to practice.

While you’re on the water, try to keep everything focused on whatever you’re doing that day and not on anything that isn’t related to rowing. Along this same line, when you are talking to your stroke (or stern pair, really), don’t talk into the mic, regardless of whether you’re talking about rowing related stuff or not. It’s distracting to everyone else and can sometimes generate a lot of opinions on something that don’t really require everyone’s input. If you’re talking about something that effects the entire crew, talk about it with your stroke first (with the the volume off), determine what needs to happen, and then give the rest of the boat the pertinent information.

Related: So I’m going to begin coxing this coming spring season, and I am constantly reading about experienced coxes getting annoyed with the newbies. Any recommendations for things I should do to avoid pissing everyone off?

No aggression during races or pieces

The rowers feed on your energy and if you’re not engaged in what’s going on, how do you expect them to be? Don’t worry about sounding silly or stupid or whatever. If that’s how you feel about getting louder during pieces you’re probably in the wrong sport.

Getting distracted

You are the eyes and ears for eight other people – you can’t be ogling whatever is happening on shore or pointing out things that have nothing to do with practice. Stay focused and present in your boat.

Messing up the count or sides

Starboard is right, port is left. It’s OK if you accidentally skip a number – as in one – when you’re really into a piece and doing a power ten but that’s about all the leeway you get. I occasionally do it and I know it immediately but the rowers don’t tend to notice it because they’re focused on whatever I’m telling them to do. If you go from 4 to 7 though, that’s an issue.

An even bigger issue with messing up the count that someone brought up is calling “x” number of strokes to the line multiple times. Don’t. Just don’t. Start practicing judging distances while you’re at practice so that when you’re racing you can gauge how far you are from the line and call the final 20 appropriately.

Related: Judging distance

Talking down to the crew

This is the fastest way to lose the respect of your boat. Respect is a two way street and if you’re not willing to give it, you sure as hell can’t expect to receive it. You’re not perfect and as much as we’d like to think we don’t, we make mistakes too.

Being a coxswain requires a lot of self-control too because it’s easy to get an ego when you’re 14 or 15 years old and you’re given the responsibility and power that comes with being a coxswain. We all have shitty practices but it’s never any one person’s fault. It’s not your right or place to act like the quality of practice or a race rests solely on the shoulders of the rowers.

Related: Words

Not giving or withholding info about the race

You have to relay to the crew what is happening during the race, specifically and most importantly where they are, how far in they are, and how many meters are left. They don’t want to feel like they’re rowing an endless race because eventually their minds are going to give out. You have to keep their brains in the game (or race, rather) and tell them what’s happening. Withholding info because you think it’ll bring them down doesn’t help either. If they’re down, tell them. They don’t want to know that they’re not in first, obviously, but at the same time, they do.

Blaming the rowers for your mistakes

Big mistake. Big. HUGE.” If you make a mistake, who cares? Admit it, learn from it, don’t do it again. There’s never an excuse to blame something you did wrong on someone in your boat.

Have boat meetings to discuss what to call during a race and then not calling what the rowers asked for

There’s a simple way to avoid this: write. everything. down. Try to hold these meetings ahead of time (at least a day or two before the race) so you can start incorporating the calls when you do practice pieces, that way it becomes ingrained into your “muscle memory”. If you can’t do that, write it on a post-it note and tape it beside your cox box. If you ask your rowers to tell you what they want and then you ignore it, that’s going to cause a rift. Saying “oh I forgot” isn’t an excuse either because, like I said, you can easily write it all down and bring it into the boat with you.

Being indecisive

Commit to something. Don’t debate and go back and forth because each time you do it, the confidence your boat has in you goes down exponentially. They want to know that you have control over the situations you’re in and if you’re constantly questioning yourself or what you should be doing, that makes it hard for them to focus on what they should be doing. It’s better to commit to running into a bridge than to debate back and forth and then hit it because you couldn’t decide which side to pass the pier on.

Letting rowers walk all over you

Pretty self-explanatory, I think. You’re expected to act like and be a leader, which means being assertive and, like I said in the post about respect, not inviting contradiction.

Related: RESPECT

Checking the boat to get a point while people are rowing

Whoever sent this, bless you. Seriously though, who taught you this?! If you do this, stop. You have cables attached to a rudder for a reason. Use them to steer and get a point while you’re moving, not the rowers.

Related: Checking it down vs. backing it

“Be pompous assholes.”

The Napoleon-God complex thing is just a joke, guys. Don’t take it literally.

In addition to these things, I would encourage talking with your individual boats and asking them if there’s something you do that they’d prefer you didn’t. Don’t take what they say personally – remember, it’s coming from a helpful place. If your rowers aren’t comfortable saying stuff to your face, talk to your coach about doing regular coxswain evaluations so the rowers can anonymously provide you with some (presumably more honest) feedback.


4 thoughts on “How (NOT) to piss off your rowers

  1. Kim Degutis says:

    Knowing all the crap that’s on my microphone, I’d rather be beaten with gym socks. But that’s good reinforcement for a very bad habit I’ve seen (who does that anyway??).


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