Some things to know as a novice coxswain

One of the most frequent emails I get from novice coxswains is some form of “I’m new, tell me everything I need to know, kthxbyeee“. Well, first of all, I can’t do that because everything you need to know isn’t always (or ever, really) at the tip of my tongue and even if I could, you’d remember maaaybe 5% of it. Second of all, stop it, it’s really hard to help you if you ask super general questions like that. Like, I understand that you’re clueless about this stuff but you’ve gotta narrow down your cluelessness to a few specific things at a time.

Related: So I’m going to begin coxing this coming spring season, and I am constantly reading about experienced coxes getting annoyed with the newbies. Any recommendations for things I should do to avoid pissing everyone off?

About a year ago someone posted a thread on Reddit asking “what are some things a novice coxswain should know” and then specified by saying “what are some things that I should learn, bring, and do to carry out my job better?”. I initially wasn’t going to reply because, as you can probably tell, generalized questions really irritate me but I liked the follow-up question so I responded with the following three pieces of advice:

Learn

The drills the coaches like to do before you get in the boat. This means asking them directly what the drills are, what their purpose is, what you should be focusing on when you do them, etc. Talk to the experienced coxswains about how to call them. Bring a notebook and write it all down because you. will. not. remember it if you don’t and then you’ll have wasted everyone’s time.

The names of the people in your boat and what seat they’re in. This might change day to day but it’s your responsibility to know who is where before you get on the water. Calling people by their seat number kinda gives off the impression that you don’t really care enough to learn their names or who’s in what seat.

How to keep your personal relationships with the rowers off the water and outside of practice. (Elaborated a bit on here.) On the water and at practice you’re not their friend or enemy, you’re their coxswain. That means that you need to learn how to treat everyone equally regardless of your relationship with them (positive or negative).

Bring

A positive, “let’s get shit done” attitude every day, even on the days when you feel like shit.

A recorder every single day you’re on the water. Listening to yourself and getting feedback from others is how you improve.

One more layer (for top and bottom) than you think you’ll need and a waterproof jacket and pair of pants to put over everything. You’re stationary for pretty much the entire duration of practice which means you’re going to get colder faster than everyone else. You can always take layers off if you get too hot but you can’t put on what you don’t have. The waterproof stuff is great even when it’s not raining because inevitably there will be some splashing, waves if it’s windy, etc. In May when it’s warmer it’s not such a big deal but you don’t want to be sitting in the coxswain’s seat, not moving, with wet clothes on.

Carry (in something like this, this, or this)

A notebook (and writing implement of your choice). Before you go out, write down the lineup and get the workout (or at the very least, the warmup) from the coach. Ask questions and take notes on anything you don’t know/understand once they give it to you. After practice is over, write a quick summary on how it went, what you did, what did you specifically work on (calls, steering, etc.), etc. When you get home, go through it again and fill in any details that you didn’t write down before. Refer back to this frequently so you can see the trends with your boat(s), keep track of any technique issues that individual rowers have problems with (and how/what to say to fix them), etc.

A 7/16 wrench because you never know when a nut and/or bolt will need to be tightened.

Spare band-aids, alcohol swabs, Neosporin, and athletic tape because when rowers get a blister they rival toddlers in their ability to whine incessantly so having stuff on hand to take care of them will just make your life easier.

Something else that someone said that I think is especially important to learn and internalize early on in your career is that yelling as loud as you can is not the same as having authority or being a leader. You’re not automatically a “leader” just because you’re named a coxswain – it’s something you have to embrace and grow, nay mature, into and negatively embracing the Napoleon complex mindset is only going to hurt you.

In that same vein, don’t be that coxswain (or rower) that tries to rally your teammates against the coach because you think after three or four weeks you suddenly know more than us. Everyone has their own leadership style that they grow into with time and experience so don’t dig yourself into a hole right off the bat by assuming that everyone will look up to you just because you yell loud and tell them what to do.

That pretty much covers the basics but if you want to know more, check out these posts.

Making improvements as a novice coxswain

Body language, coxing, etc.

Steering and docking

Earning respect and how not to piss off your rowers

Basic gear for novice coxswains

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