Coxswain skills: Dusting off the cobwebs

We’ve been on the water for about a week now and although the majority of the days have been great, yesterday was … not so much. Personal responsibility by the coxswains was, to say the least, lacking. While we were in the launch the other coach and I were consistently making comments to each other about things the coxswains should have been doing but weren’t. Some of the stuff seems like really obvious “coxing 101 basics” that we shouldn’t have to say either, which was the really frustrating part.

We told the coxswains what they needed to be doing (it honestly felt like we were spoon-feeding them) but we eventually just stopped because it was one of those situations where it’s like if you’re not gonna bring the boats even or you’re not gonna communicate with each other then fine, you can start the piece a length and a half back and on the complete wrong side of the river. There should never be a practice where the coaches spend more time talking to the coxswains about finding their point, keeping the crews together while maintaining space between them, trying to get lined up, etc. It’s such a colossal waste of time, amongst many other things.

It got me thinking though while we were out there of the things I try to do when I get back on the water after an extended period of time. Most of this I “perfected” in my own way over time but I pretty much learned all of it my sophomore year of high school though since that was the first year of going on the water after winter training as an experienced coxswain.

One of the messages that the coaches tried to get across to us is that we need to be able to separate our coxing responsibilities from our individual responsibilities, which took awhile for me to understand. Coxing responsibilities refer to things that are part of your job as a coxswain, things you need to do to ensure practice runs accordingly. Personal responsibilities are different in this sense compared to how I used it at beginning because here it refers coxing-related skills that you need to work on. I’ve marked each of these as one or the other so you know the difference.

Steer more, talk less (PR)

When you first get back on the water, you shouldn’t be trying to call pieces and drills and warmups like you were in mid-May. If you go out there during the first week with the goal of fixing everyone’s technique problems during that practice or explaining complex things to novices who are out there for only the second time, you’re not accomplishing anything and you’re more than likely getting on your coach’s nerves (personal experience, yes, you are).

Most coxswains, myself included, have an aversion to being quiet while on the water but during the first week back out your focus needs to be more on steering a good course than on making calls. This time is when most coaches are going to start evaluating your skills to see where you fall in terms of lineups and the biggest way to separate yourself from the other coxswains is to steer well right off the bat.

Slow down and listen to instructions (CR)

On land, do this while being mindful of the fact that we only have a limited amount of time on the water. Slow down doesn’t mean move at a snail’s pace. Don’t run around trying to be the fastest one to get your boat out either because honestly, no one cares, and that’s when mistakes happen. You’re still gonna have to stop and wait for the other crews to catch up so you might as well take your time, talk to the coach to figure out what the warmup is if you don’t already know, and figure out exactly what he wants you to do (where you’re to go, where to stop, what to do while you’re waiting for the other crews), etc.

Keep the boats together (CR/PR)

For the love of coxing, this is not that hard. Really, it’s not. It is your responsibility to keep your boat next to the other crews at all times or at the very least, no more than a length ahead or behind when you’re doing drills and warmups (obviously pieces are different). If you do get behind, you need to get on the rowers and say “we’re falling a little behind the other boats, let’s add some pressure/add in 3 and 4 to go stern 6/go all eight until we get caught up” or “we’re getting a little too far ahead, let’s take it down to half-pressure/let’s drop out 3 and 4 to go to stern 4/add in a pause at bodies over for five”. The coaches should not have to tell you to do this, it should be an automatic reaction/judgement call by you.

Communicate with the other coxswains (CR)

It’s easy at the beginning of the season to get sucked into your boat’s bubble and forget that you’re not the only ones on the water. If you’re out with other crews you need to talk to the other coxswains and figure out which lanes you’re going to row in (and then actually row in them), whether that be lanes 3, 4, and 5 or inside, middle, and outside.

If someone’s encroaching on your lane then say something. Don’t just passive aggressively sit there and then smirk at them when the coaches say to keep some distance between the crews. Also don’t decide that you’re going to ignore the lane you said you were going to row in or the lane the coaches told you to take.

Communicating with each other also applies to starting drills at the same time and making sure the boats are lined up evenly so the coaches can start everyone together. If you can see that you’re two seats behind someone at the start of a drill, put your hand up, have your stern pair row, and get even. Don’t wait for the coaches to tell you this stuff.

Ultimately all this goes back to you doing the absolute basics of your job. Keep that in mind as you get back on the water to start the season.

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