I tend to interrogate people about their coxswains a lot. What do they like, what don’t they like, what do they do well, what’s something they can improve on, what do you think is their most effective call, which call will you pay them to never make again … stuff like that.
By the time we get to the “what’s the worst call” question, everyone starts rapidly chiming in and it almost becomes a contest to see who’s coxswain made the most-agreed-upon worst call ever. It’s funny to see how these conversations differ when you have them with men vs. women too. Guys tend to be pretty straightforward with what they don’t like but also a little sympathetic at the same time, usually because their coxswain is their bro and dude you don’t just throw your bro under the bus like that or their coxswain is a girl and hell hath no fury like a female-coxswain-of-a-men’s-crew scorned. Women tend to be (sorry girls) straightforward behind other people’s backs. For whatever reason, saying “I didn’t like this” to another girl’s face almost always results in some Miranda Priestly-esque pursing of the lips and eye rolls. I mean, I get it, I hate being told that something I thought was great wasn’t as well received by everyone else, but at the same time … suck it up, take it, and adapt, not only for your own benefit but for the good of the crew as well.
Inevitably everyone has seen the lists of “things your coxswain should never say” but satire or not, they are so not helpful. I’ve actually seen coaches cite this when teaching – “teaching” – novice coxswains what to do and it pains me to know that some coaches think that list is genuine. The problem I have is that rowers and coaches complain about the calls a coxswain makes but they make little to no effort to talk to them about why it’s a bad call, why they didn’t like it, why it wasn’t effective, etc. Rowing is a sport that is pretty deeply rooted in communication – if there’s no communication, the boat won’t function like it should. Goofy lists like those ones aren’t going to cut it.
The question of “what’s the worst thing you coxswain could say” was posed on a Reddit thread the other day and that, combined with what I’ve heard recently, gave me the idea to come up with a new, slightly better, more informative list. Some/most of these I’ve probably mentioned before (and can be found strewn about in the “calls” tag) but for the sake of having everything in one place, here’s a short list of “things you should never say”.
“Row faster and/or harder!” Classic rookie mistake. Never say this if you’d like your vocal cords to remain on the inside of your body.
Anything about you working harder than them.
“I know it hurts!” No, you don’t. Even if you’ve rowed before, no.
Anything involved the word “oops” followed by nervous laughter or “oh shit”.
Any call that the crew has repeatedly said does. not. work. for. them.
Calls that separate you from them. Nothing should be “you guys”, it should be “we”, “us”, “let’s”, etc.
“X” number of strokes left when there is blatantly not that many strokes left, meaning you say “last 10” and it’s actually the last 23. (This is actually something you should practice but never attempt until you’ve got it down cold.)
“You’re losing!” How motivating of you.
“Almost there!” If this is said anytime before the last five strokes of the race, you’re wrong.
“You’ve worked harder than this before, come on!” In theory, I get why people say this. I’ve said this. But, there are things to consider in relation to the “before” you’re comparing them to. What were the conditions? What was the wind/temperature/current like? What did the rest of the workout up to that point consist of?
“You can pull harder than that!” Technically there’s nothing wrong with this call but if you just say this with no follow-up, that’s where rowers get pissed. Most likely they’re already pulling as hard as they can. If you’re not feeling the power though, figure out why and tell them what needs to change. Are they missing water, washing out, not connecting with the legs…? If you’re not feelin’ it, you should be calling them out but don’t just automatically assume that it’s because they’re not giving 100%.
Anything that isn’t true. Just don’t. Rowers know when you’re lying to them.
“Don’t die on me!” Well, yes, that’d be nice, but you’re most likely saying this at a point in the race when they wish they were dead. Saying this is just going to make them wish for it more.
“Power 10/20!” …over and over and over again. Bursts are strategy moves and 95% of them shouldn’t be straight for power.
Dead silence, either for an entire practice or during a race.
Anything that might make the rowers laugh and/or lose focus. Keeping the mood light is fine but in the middle of a race, it’s just not appropriate. So many rowers I’ve talked to have said that they appreciate what the coxswain is trying to do but it takes them out of the zone, which once you’re out of is hard to get back into.
What are your “nope” coxswain calls? Why was it bad and what about it made it not work for you? What would you have preferred your coxswain to say instead?