Question of the Day

Hi. I am a newly converted college coxswain. I have been researching like crazy about how best to motivate my rowers and I was wondering what you thoughts on this are. I have seen several videos and articles (probably some on here even) that say its on a boat-to-boat basis, but would you possibly have any bits of generic advice on how best to motivate my boats?

Interacting with the boats you cox is very similar to how you interact with your different social circles – you follow the same basic principles but you tweak it to fit the individuals you’re with. Once you start rowing with a boat on a regular basis and get to know the rowers better, you can start asking them what they want/need to hear during a piece. My default is to get one general thing from each person, something like a boat-wide or an individual technique issue (aka something easily addressed) and one personal, specific thing. Make sure you’ve got a notebook so you can write down and look back on what they tell you otherwise you’ll never remember.

My generic advice is less about the calls you make and more about you.

Be present, physically (obviously) and mentally. If you’re invested, they will be too. Even if you’re doing drills and are bored out of your mind (which you will be at some point), stay engaged and don’t let your tone convey anything else.

Be honest. If something isn’t going the way it should be, tell them. Don’t gloss over it in lieu of not hurting their feelings. They’re big kids, they’ll survive. If you see them doing something good, point it out. If it’s something that you’ve been working on for awhile and they finally got it, get hyped. Your enthusiasm will translate to them (just like your lack of enthusiasm will too). If something isn’t going right, point it out and tell them what they need to do to fix it while also throwing in a casual compliment on something that they’ve consistently been doing well. (You know the phrase “compliment sandwich”? Similar to that but less cliche.)

Don’t assume that you have to be the sole thing motivating eight individuals. You don’t. I tell every coxswain this but you cannot motivate someone who is not inherently motivated themselves. If they’re not already motivated by something internal to show up everyday and strive to succeed at the highest level, it’s going to be extremely difficult for you to help them out. If someone seems unmotivated to you, that should be your cue to take them aside and say “dude, what’s up” instead of doing the opposite and thinking “Well, if some motivation is good, cheerleader-level of motivation must be great! I’ll do that!”. The more you try to motivate them without finding out why they’re unmotivated in the first place, the more it’s going to backfire in your face. Each crew’s motivation is different so if you’re coxing multiple boats, make sure you’re not coxing your JV8+ the same way you’re coxing your V4+. One crew can find demoralizing what another finds encouraging so it’s important to recognize that motivation in general isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing.

Tone of voice is everything. I alluded to that in the first bullet point but it really is one of the most important aspects of coxing. How you say something is just as important as what you say. Know what tone is appropriate for what you’re doing at the moment and adjust as necessary. Do not be a monotone robot.

Always tell them what’s happening around them. Ideally they’re not looking around trying to figure out where they’re at, where the other crews are, how far they are from the line, etc., so in race or practice-piece situations, they’re relying on you for that information. It might not seem like it’s that motivating to hear their location and stuff but when done properly, it is. If you say “100m down, 1900m to go” you better hope your legs move fast once you get back on land because they will eat. you. alive. Something like “We’re crossing 750m now, this is where we dig in to make our move and take back that seat from FIT. I’ve got bowball on two seat, gimme their bow man…” would be more appropriate. Never underestimate the power of these kind of calls to motivate your crew. They are an essential part of your repertoire.

Other than that, the last generic tip I can offer is to not force anything and don’t try to do everything right away. Learning how to best motivate your crews, even in the general sense, takes a bit of time. Listen to some of the recordings I’ve posted and read what I’ve said about them (click the individual “parts” at the top to see this) too. I typically try to note what I think is motivating, what doesn’t, how it could be done better/differently, etc. so that should help you come up with some calls to try the next time you go out.

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