Question of the Day

Hi. So I am one of 4 coxswains on my team. We primarily have 3 boats: 1 V8+, 1 N8+ and 1 V4+. I have the second most experience coxing of the four of us, yet my coach is putting me with novices. Over the last few weeks I have only been coxing the V8+ and V4+. Our first race is on Sunday, and I have only been in the Novice boat one time since we got back on the water. The coxswain who has the least experience is practicing with varsity this week, but I feel like I should be there since I’ve been working with them the most, and we seem to have found a good rhythm. I want to talk to my coach about it, but I don’t want to sound like I think I’m entitled just because I’m older than the other coxswain. Thanks!

I’ve been in that exact same position before, as the novice coxswain and the experienced one. When I was a novice my coaches put the new coxswains with the 1V, 2V, and JV8s and the varsity coxswains with the N8+, F8+, and whatever fours we had. The purpose for doing that was to give the novice coxswains an opportunity to learn how to steer, practice the basic commands, etc. with people who already knew what they were doing. (Novice coxswains + novice rowers = the deaf and blind leading the deaf and blind, leading to verrrrry frustrated coaches). Learning to steer is infinitely easier if you can practice with people who can already row reasonably well and know how to maintain the set.

Practicing the basic calls is easy too because if you make a mistake the coach doesn’t have to worry about everything going to hell as a result. In most cases, the stroke can talk the coxswain through the warm ups or drills and answer any questions they have, which is also really helpful. It also gives the coach peace of mind that if they somehow get in a bad situation (on the wrong side of the river, stuck in some branches on shore, coming into the dock wrong, etc.), the rowers can talk themselves out of it while the coxswain absorbs what is happening so they know in the future what they should do instead (alternatively, the stroke can tell the coxswain what needs to happen and the coxswain can repeat those calls to the crew, thus learning what they need to say and who they need to say it to).

As the varsity coxswain in the novice boat, this is really for the coach more than anything else because it gives them the chance to work directly with the rowers without having to worry about the coxswain not knowing what to do and/or steering them off a cliff. They can also have you go through the drills with the rowers without having to explain every detail of how it’s done first, which allows them to concentrate their focus on developing the rowers’ technique. Having really good communication skills and lots of patience are also qualities that would entice the coach to put you with the novices. My patience was never that high but I made up for it with my ability to explain what we were doing, how it was done, etc. in a way that new rowers could understand.

Since it seems like a couple of the coxswains are switched around and not just you, I would maybe wait until after this weekend to say something if your coach maintains these lineups through the end of the week. My assumption would be that he wants both the novice eight and the novice coxswain to get a race under their belts without being hindered by one another, meaning the novice eight can focus on rowing their race while being coxed by someone who knows what they’re doing and the novice coxswain can practice steering a straight course with a crew that has good enough technique to not get in the way of that. That way when they eventually get in the same boat, both will know roughly what to do thanks to having the opportunity to first work with people who actually do know what to do. This will also give you the opportunity to work on your communication skills and introducing the novice crew to what racing is really like, in addition to explaining some of the things that you learned as a novice that the coach might not be able to explain.

After this weekend if your coach doesn’t switch you back to your normal boats, then you can approach him and ask if the lineups you’re in now are permanent or if they’re just temporary. I feel like that’s a pretty normal thing to want to know so I don’t think posing that question makes you appear entitled at all. As long as you don’t come off all “WTF this is BS, I’ve been here longer, I deserve the top boat” and get all whiny about it, you should be fine. I asked my coaches the same question two years in a row and they answered it pretty casually both times.

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