Question of the Day

In the past, I’ve had a lot of trouble with my coach thinking I’m talking back to her which ended up bumping me down a boat (I’m a coxswain). Last week she told me to have the rowers pause at arms and body and didn’t tell me how often so I just had them pause every 3 which is typically how often we pause and then she yelled at me that I wasn’t listening and that she told me to pause every 5 … what do I do? If I tell her she didn’t say it then she’ll think I’m talking back again.

I totally get what you’re saying. I’ve done my fair share of “talking back” too and I get why it came off as talking back but I just really, really hate when people don’t give me the information I need and I end up looking incompetent or whatever in the end because of it. Yea, I’m probably going to get pissed if you tell me to do something, leave out a crucial detail, and then jump on me for not doing it the way you wanted. I think anyone would.

In high school I had a coach just like this who I butted heads with a lot, over practically everything. It got to the point where my boat thought he was doing stuff on purpose just so he’d have a reason to yell at us, tell us we were talking back or being rude, and then speed away in his launch, waking us out every single time to the point where we’d have a few inches of water in our boat as a result. At one point I got so pissed about it that we got into an actual yelling argument with each other on the dock about how I thought he was a shitty coach and how he thought my/our boat’s attitude sucked.

Luckily my other coach came over and calmed things down enough to where we could have an actual conversation. I told him that he’s saying things on the water that I either can’t hear or don’t understand (because I can’t hear him) and then when he doesn’t give any clarification or response at all, I just go with what I’ve done before because I don’t want to waste any more time trying to figure out what he’s saying. It’s not me ignoring you, it’s not me undermining you, it’s just I. can’t. hear. what. you’re. saying. When I repeatedly tell you that and you instead interpret me saying “what?!” all the time as not listening or just plain sucking as a coxswain, you can rest assured that I’m going to develop a chip on my shoulder from that.

Related: Ok but seriously I probably hear 0.2% of anything my coach says ever while my crew is out on water. I believe this is a recurring issue with coxswains… I think my primary conversations with her consists of “WHAT!? WHAT!? WHAT!? WHAT!? …oh… WAIT, WHAT!?

The next day before we went out he apologized and said that he didn’t realize how difficult it was to hear what he was saying, he’d make more of an effort to use a megaphone or speak louder, he was sorry for interpreting my frustration as having an attitude, and that he’d like for us to make more of an effort to work together instead of against each other all the time. I apologized for voicing my frustration the way I did and for making it seem like I wasn’t listening to what he was saying. Our (meaning the boat’s) relationship with him was by no means friendly or anything after that but it was for the most part, civil and cordial, whereas before it definitely wasn’t. I don’t think that whole exchange would have happened though if my other coach hadn’t said something to him after practice. He had witnessed nearly every incident and knew that my boat and I weren’t just making things up to cause a problem. Before hearing a fellow coach’s perspective I think he just thought we were being pains in the ass for no reason.

My point with this story is this: talk to your coach after practice one day, preferably once everything’s been taken care of and people are leaving. Explain that you’re not talking back and you’re sorry if that’s how it comes off but _____ (fill in the blank with whatever issue it is you’re dealing with). Try to look at it from her perspective to see if you can understand how you might be coming off as talking back to her and say that you’ll make more of an effort to not do that in the future but at the same time could she please talk louder when giving instructions, be more clear, etc. Avoid getting frustrated, especially if/when your coach gets accusatory and says “you always do this”. It’s really easy to turn around and put it back on them by saying “I do that because you always do this” but ultimately that’s going to put you in a worse off position (been there, done that).

No matter how you do it, the conversation will be awkward and uncomfortable because no conversation where you have to tell someone in a superior position that something they’re doing isn’t working for you is easy. It’s a give and take situation though and your coach has to realize that too. You’ve got to go into it being willing to make some concessions on your end while staying firm on what you need from the other person (regardless of the position that person is in).

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