Question of the Day

This might be a tough one: I’m a coxswain on my college team. After years, I’m finally coxing our first varsity boat. That’s the good news. The bad news is I’m dealing with a lot right now – I’ve been suffering from anxiety and depression as well as dealing with losing a best friend to suicide roughly a year ago. My anxiety is generally much worse during spring season because races where I have to weigh in freak me out. I am about 110, 5’4″ but a lot of our coxswains barely come up to my shoulders and I worry my coach will replace me if they weigh less than I do!

I’ve been seriously considering taking this season off to get my head together, but every time I decide to do it, I become convinced my coach will question my competency or tell me not to come back. As a side detail – I really love crew I’ve been part of the sport since eighth grade, I rowed up until college. I really want to coach high school or juniors rowing after I graduate and I’d hate to do anything to undermine my position on the team and I’m afraid to let my teammates down! Any ideas? Thanks!

At the start of this school year my brother, who is a sophomore in college, also lost a good friend to suicide. It took him quite awhile to get over the initial pang of guilt, anger, and sadness that he felt and while I can’t presume to know what that feels like, from the outside looking in I know that it was a really rough situation for him, as I imagine it is for you. One of the things that helped him through it was talking to one of the counselors in the student health center as his school. Everybody deals with stuff like this in their own way but it’s something I’d recommend looking into, even if you’re a little weary about it at first. He wasn’t too keen on the idea when I initially brought it up but it ended up being a good thing for him to do. Even if you only go one time, you never know … it might help.

Same goes for dealing with anxiety, depression, etc. I think everyone, myself included, feels one of three things when it comes to stuff like that: a) if you ignore it eventually you won’t “feel” it anymore and you won’t have to worry about it, b) you have to hide it from other people to avoid being judged, pitied, mocked, ridiculed, diminished, or brushed off, or c) we’re old enough that we should be able to figure out how to deal with it on our own without outside help.

Regardless of which of those three categories you fall into, everyone can probably agree that no one ever comes out better on the other side as a result of following one of those paths. Most, if not all, colleges and universities have mental health services (or just student health services in general) already factored into your tuition, meaning that you’ve essentially already paid for X number of sessions with a counselor simply by being enrolled. I’d look into that and see what it’s like for your school. If that’s the case, take advantage of it.

As far as your weight goes … this is such an unbelievably infuriating topic. For starters, weighing in should never cause anyone any kind of anxiety. Sure, if you gorged on burgers and mozzarella sticks the night before you might wake up feeling a little nervous but that’s a lot different than experiencing an all out panic attack over it. You’re 110lbs, which is the minimum for coxswains. If you’re under that you have to carry weight in the boat with you anyways so that you meet the minimum, THUS your coach replacing you with someone lighter than you is completely redundant because they’re just gonna have to fill up a sandbag so the scale reads 110lbs when they get on it.

Height has nothing to do it with it. Yea, pocket-sized coxswains are the norm because you don’t normally see tall women rocking a 110lb frame and it’s hard/uncomfortable to contort your body to fit in a seat made for someone several inches shorter than you. Tall coxswains do exist though because the more important variable is your weight (i.e. your ability to be as close to racing weight as possible on race day), not your height. I know saying “don’t worry about it” doesn’t mean much but on your list of things that you should be concerning yourself with, this really shouldn’t even be on there. Besides, weight isn’t a measure of how skilled a coxswain is, which is where the real focus should lie.

Here’s the thing about coaches: they’re supposed to assume that you are competent and capable rather than assuming the opposite. They’re supposed to be there for you outside of practice to be someone to talk to or offer advice if you’re having problems. They’re not supposed to be some hard-nosed person that you can only see for 15-20 hours a week and are afraid to talk to because you think their immediate reaction is going to be scoffing at your question or telling you to leave and not come back. I hate that there are coaches out there that act like that but what I hate even more are the coaches that tell other coaches that’s how they should act. It sets a bad precedent and frankly, it’s bullshit. I refuse to coach like that.

Everybody goes through things in life that cause you to have to make certain choices … take time off, walk away from an opportunity, etc. In this context, your coach (and teammates) should be supportive of your decision, even if he’s not happy about it or it messes with his lineups, because presumably he wants the best for you. If he questioned how competent of a coxswain you are or told you not to bother coming back after you said everything you said in your original question, I don’t know why you’d want to row for someone like that.

If you think that taking time off would be the right decision for you then try approaching it with your assistant coach first (with an agreement ahead of time that whatever you discuss stays between the two of you). Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt that they will be supportive and will welcome you back in the fall. When I was in school I was surprised at how many student-athletes would take time off to study abroad, deal with personal issues, focus on school if they were taking particularly hard classes that semester, etc. It’s not a ton of people but it’s more than you think. If that is what you’re planning on doing though you’ve gotta let your coaches know ASAP. The only time I would truly justify a coach getting upset over something like this is if you told him/her at the last second, right before or after racing season started. I wouldn’t let that affect your decision but just know that they might be initially annoyed that you waited so long to say something.

With coaching after graduation, I’ve found that I get more shit from other coaches (not all of them, just a few) about having not coxed the entire way through college than I do from the people I’m coaching. No one I’ve coached has ever thought it was a big deal or detracted from my ability to teach them how to row or cox. As long as you make an effort to relate to them, treat them with respect, don’t act like you’re superior to them in every conceivable way, and are able to communicate what you know, they will most likely embrace you as their coach. I try really hard to learn about the stuff I’m not as familiar with and think I do a pretty good job of conveying what I do know.

I’ve had other coaches make really snarky comments towards me, treat me like I’m completely new to the sport, or blatantly parade the fact that they’re a “four year varsity athlete at such and such school” every time the topic comes up but honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m starting to just not care. If you think you’re so much better than me or any other coach because you’ve got a few years of racing on us then so be it. I’ve also worked with coaches who couldn’t care less that I didn’t cox all four years. Someone I met last year started rowing when he was a junior in college and only had two years of experience in the sport before he started coaching. I can totally understand wanting to hire someone with X number of years of experience but I think as long as you can demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, you’ll be fine.

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