Defining the role of the coxswain: The type of coxswain you DON’T want to be

We always hear about the types of coxswains you should aspire to be like but rarely, if ever, does anyone ever tell you about the coxswains you don’t want to be like. Part of the problem with no one pointing them out ahead of time is that by the time someone thinks to say something about it, you’ve already got two or three of those coxswains on your team.

I know people are always like “oh we can’t say anything negative otherwise no one will want to join crew” and I get that but at the same time, why wouldn’t you want to just get everything out in the open and say “here’s what we’re looking for, here’s what we’re not looking for, if the former applies to you then you might be a good fit and if the latter applies you might not be a good fit”? It would probably save the team a lot of headaches down the line if that’s the way things were done, at least in my opinion. At the very least it’d save a lot of you the time spent writing me emails asking how to deal with your coxswains who fall into one or more of the categories below.

The incompetent one

This one literally has no idea what they’re doing. One of two things tends to prevent them from asking for help (either their ego or their shyness) and as a result, things are done incorrectly, inefficiently, or not at all.

If you’re that person: Suck it up and ask for help. Do your own research and educate yourself on the things you’re unsure of and/or don’t know how to do. Don’t assume that you’re the only one that can see that you have no idea what’s going on because, trust me, it’s way more obvious than you think.

The wallflower

This one is shy, quiet, and unauthoritative. The only time they say anything is when they absolutely have to and even then it’s hard to take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously. It’s unknown why they joined the team but the reason they got stuck coxing probably has everything to do with their physical stature and nothing to do with their actual personality or potential.

If you’re that person: Not everyone is outgoing and in-your-face and that’s fine … but if you’re gonna be a coxswain you’re going to have to adjust a little when you’re at the boathouse. Being authoritative and sometimes loud (OK, most of the time…) are requirements of the job. If those aren’t things you’re used to being that’s fine when you first start out but you need to step outside of your comfort zone and be a little more bold.

The basket case

These ones are the ones that freak out about everything, constantly say “I don’t know what to do, what do I do, I can’t do this, OMG I can’t do this…” and in general just get on everyone’s nerves due to their sheer inability to just get. a. grip.

If you’re that person: Assess the situation and why you’re freaking out. If it’s because you aren’t sure what to do, ask yourself how freaking out is going to make things any easier for you and the eight other people you’re on the water with. If you know that you’re a relatively high-strung person in general, figure out the best way for you to become calm and maintain a more level head when you’re at practice.

The indecisive one

This one is non-committal about pretty much everything, regardless of whether it’s what warm-up to do with the crew, who they want to row, how many strokes they need to take, or how much distance they have left to cover. Usually this coxswain is a combination of the incompetent one and the basket case – they don’t know what they’re doing so they panic and then can’t process or decide what the next course of action should be.

If you’re that person: The first thing you need to do is figure out is what you should be doing and how it should be done. Ask someone if you don’t know. If you start to feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next, take a deep breath and make a decision. Don’t debate with yourself. Either it’s going to be the right one, an acceptable one that works for the time being but could be done better next time, or the wrong one. Just pick one though and at least pretend that that’s what you were planning on doing all along.

The dictator

These are the ones that let the power go to their head, take themselves way too seriously, have an “I’m better than you” attitude, and/or think that their sole purpose is to run practice like boot camp. What they were either not told or selectively chose not to hear was that being given a certain amount of responsibility and power doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from being coached or given feedback.

If you’re that person: Contemplate this picture for awhile and consider how your style of “leadership” is coming across to your teammates.

To be clear, none of these have anything to do with any amount of coaching they may or may not received. I know I talk a lot about where coaching falls short when it comes to coxswains but a lack of instruction can only be blamed for so much – at some point it’s going to come back to the person behind the mic and that is what this post is getting at.

Additionally, this post is mainly geared towards coxswains who are new to the sport or have only been doing it for a year or so, mainly as a way to say “don’t be that person and if you are that person, recognize it and do something different otherwise you’re wasting your time, your coach’s time, and your teammates time”.

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