Question of the Day

I’ve been having problems with one of the assistant coaches. Overall, his attitude towards me has been one of dislike/disappointment. Part of this may be due to him not knowing I’m a novice cox and expecting me to be at the level of an experienced one (I’ve been with the varsity a lot #coxswainshortage), but most of it is definitely due to a few bouts of incompetence earlier in the season.

Now, however, I’ve improved significantly, but he still has very little patience for me (compared to other coxes) when I ask for clarification on the water and is very reluctant and disdainful when I ask for advice (on land). In addition, there’s significant communication issues, as he (and the other coaches) use plastic-cone megaphones, and whenever I can’t hear clearly and ask for clarification (or can’t hear at all), they always interpret it as me not paying attention, which further reinforces his bad image of me.

Today especially was a terrible practice, as all these elements and more were at play. My boat and one other were under his sole supervision the entire time we were on the water. He was pissed at one of the other boats not with us at the time, and he was quite clearly projecting that anger onto us. Due to various factors (seaplanes, head coach not present, pointed his megaphone at other boat) the communication issues were at an all time high, and his short fuse made me afraid to ask for clarification. As a consequence, I felt quite helpless, especially as he seemed strangely angry whenever I did manage to do what he wanted. In addition, it seemed as if he were merely along for the ride, as said NOTHING other than the drills and pieces we were supposed to be doing. Help!

Dear coaches, you wanna know who can hear what you’re saying when you use those stupid cone things? NOOO ONEEE. No one knows what you’re saying because your words are muffled and not in any way whatsoever louder or clearer than if you just shouted them from across the river. Those cones suck. Stop using them, particularly if you’re the type of coach who gets pissed and/or irritated when your coxswains ask you for clarification or to repeat your instructions because they couldn’t hear you the first time you said them. And again, just to reiterate the point, the reason they couldn’t hear and/or understand is because – say it with me! – THOSE. CONES. SUCK. Seriously, just save everyone the frustration and buy a megaphone.

Have you talked to your head coach about this? I could tell you how to deal with each of these problems individually if it was like, a one-off situation but it sounds more like the issues you’re having with the assistant have turned into habitual problems. When it gets to that point, that’s when you need to consult whoever’s above them (in this case, your head coach) and bring to their attention what’s been going on. If you haven’t brought any of this up, I would try talking with your head coach privately and explaining the situation. Since he actually knows your assistant he might be able to give you some advice on how to work with him or what the best ways are to go about communicating with him. At the very least, hopefully he can talk to him and point out the fact that what he’s doing isn’t effective for anyone (and that he’s being an asshole).

If he doesn’t know that you’re a novice I would definitely point that out to him so that he does know. I can understand expecting you to cox at a higher level if you’ve been working with the varsity crews (that’s understandable and pretty reasonable, regardless of why you’re with them) but you’re also going to make mistakes simply because you aren’t experienced enough yet to know better. That’s to be expected of any novice coxswain, provided you learn from the mistakes you make and make an effort to not repeat them in the future. He should be making an effort to teach you how to avoid making those mistakes too instead of getting annoyed at you if/when it happens.

Whatever “bouts of incompetence” you had before really doesn’t matter now, particularly if you’ve stepped up your game and improved your skills. If he seems reluctant to give you advice when you’re just talking face to face, honestly, I feel like I can pretty much guarantee that it’s because he doesn’t know what to tell you. I’ve had plenty of coaches do that before and the older/more experienced I got, the more I realized it was just a way to avoid saying “I don’t know”.

I’ve definitely had days where stuff outside of crew has pissed me off enough that I’ve brought it to practice with me but I do try really hard to not project that on to the people I’m coxing or coaching. It’s just not productive or fair. If another boat does something that makes me mad or makes them worthy of being made an example of then I’ll try to explain to whatever boat I’m coaching why I’m mad, why what they did was wrong, and what they should have done instead. That’s a much better use of your time as a coach because at least the rowers will learn something.

The best thing you can do as the coxswain in that situation though is to keep your boat under control and not do anything to aggravate his already short fuse. Having to tip toe around your coach is pretty shitty but sometimes it’s the best thing for you and your crew to do. It might and probably will be very tempting to back talk him and just blurt out “dude, what is your problem” when he’s treating you unfairly due to something completely unrelated to your boat but you have to resist the urge and just keep your mouth shut. By no means does that mean you have to accept it, just don’t engage it at that moment.

One thing you should never be afraid of though is to talk to your coach about something and if you are, that’s when you need to go over their head and talk to the head coach about all of this. Feeling helpless as a coxswain is quite possibly the worst feeling you can experience (been there, felt that, it sucks), especially when you already feel like none of the coaches have your back or are willing to help you out when you need it. The best advice I can offer you in this situation though is to talk to your head coach, either on your own or with a couple guys from your boat, and let him handle this. It sounds like it’s gotten to the point where it’s more of a personnel problem that he needs to handle than anything else.

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