Managing novice coxswains

It’s September, a new season is upon us, and with that comes a new batch of novices in all their naively enthusiastic glory. Let’s just assume, based on the majority of our own personal experiences, that your coaches won’t teach them a damn thing beyond “just don’t hit anything” and the onus will be on you, the experienced coxswains, to get them up to speed. Yes, it’s just as daunting of a task as it sounds like. Now you know what it feels like to write this blog.

There’s obviously a lot of things they’ve got to learn but you’re all good enough coxswains to know what to prioritize and what bridges can be crossed when you come to them. That’s not what today’s post is about. Today’s post was inspired by an article I read on Inc.com about how to manage interns. There were a lot of similarities between what they said and working with novice coxswains so I figured it’d be a good thing to put out there now before we get too far into the season.

Explain everything.

Everything that is super – and I mean super – obvious to you, tell/show them because none of it is obvious to them. The second you think “Should I tell them that? Nah…it’s obvious, they’ll know what it means/they’ll figure it out/etc.” … STOP. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Stop whatever you’re doing and explain to them whatever it is that you just thought was super obvious and self-explanatory. Trust me on this. It is worth you spending the extra two minutes going over it now than running the risk of something catastrophic and/or embarrassing happening later because they never figured out what this super obvious thing was or meant. Thing includes anything related to team protocol, where things are located within the boathouse, that sandbar about a mile and a half upstream, etc.

Give them constant feedback.

Positive or negative, feedback is an essential part of any learning process. Tell them when they’re on the right track, what they need to work on, etc. Obviously you’re not going to be in the boat with them but if you’re near each other on the water and you hear them calling a drill, let them know once you’re back on land that they sounded really engaged when they were going through “cut the cake”, which is great since it’s like the most boring drill ever … or give them some pointers on how to call it more effectively if they looked lost and were just saying “go…row” over and over. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) watch them like a hawk because obviously you’ve got your own stuff to worry about but if you can give them a quick glance whenever you’re nearby and then a tiny nugget of feedback later, you are doing so much for them when it comes to teaching them and building their confidence/self-awareness.

Don’t expect perfection.

It’s not going to be perfect. It just isn’t. You weren’t perfect when you first started and neither was I. Everybody picks things up at different speeds and the first few times they do something it’s probably going to be a little rough. Getting pissed or visibly annoyed at them isn’t going to work in the “negative reinforcement” way that most people like to think it does. All that does is make them timid, less likely to ask for help when they actually need it, and then by default … useless. (Harsh but true.) They’re just learning how to function as coxswains which means you have to be patient with them. Keep them accountable but don’t expect anything to look or sound pretty for awhile.

Give them real responsibilities.

Giving someone who is new to the job meaningful stuff to do is going to build their confidence and get them up to speed a lot faster than giving them nothing to do in the interest of someone else doing it because they already know how and can do it faster. I know that’s a wordy sentence so read it again. The new coxswains, if they’re any good at all, want to learn how to do stuff and if they’re being relegated to doing things they already know how to do or they’re sitting off to the side not doing anything, they’re  not learning. The most obvious example I have for this is trailer loading. There are numerous responsibilities that go along with getting ready to travel so don’t just relegate the novice coxswains to unraveling straps or packing up cox boxes. Show them where the oars, riggers, slings go and how they should be positioned in the trailer,  walk them through getting a boat on the top and middle racks and then walk with them as they do it, etc.

The bottom line is this: put some effort into educating them. It’s not your responsibility to be the only person cluing them into what being a coxswain entails but you should play a pretty big part in it.

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