The bitch in the boat

This is kind of an off-topic(ish) post so just bear with me here. This particular issue has come up a lot lately in conversation and emails so I wanted to touch on it here and get your thoughts.

I don’t know if any other (female) coxswains get annoyed with this but it’s really starting to rub me the wrong way when we’re told to be more bitchy when we’re coxing. I was told this in high school and college, my friends have been told this, girls I coach have been told this, and I’ve had numerous emails over the last few years from women of all ages who have been told this.

Related: I was told to be more “bitchy” in the boat, but I want to make sure I’m constructively assertive and not mean or unnecessarily aggressive. Do you have any suggestions for how to talk to my coaches about this or to get back into a higher boat, or tips for being “bitchy” in a helpful way?

Instead of saying “be more bitchy”, why not just say “be more authoritative, assertive, confident, self-assured, etc.” in relation to whatever specific part of her coxing you’re referring to? There’s a big difference between asserting yourself to get shit done and straight up being a bitch and I don’t think it’s right to conflate the two and make it seem like in order to accomplish something you have to be (or are) a bitch. 

There’s obviously plenty of instances where being called a bitch isn’t a bad thing and like most people I think it’s a total non-issue when used in that context but telling a 14, 15, 16 year old girl (who doesn’t know or understand the pop culture appropriation of the word) that she needs to be bitchier in order to do her job just sends her the wrong message about what it takes to be a leader … and that I’m not cool with.

Related: My coach says that there’s  “a feistier” side in me that my rowers may not know about me. I can see why, I seem a little timid at times, but on the water when I make calls, I guess my voice changes and I get really into it/competitive. She also told me I should work on being even more of a leader-esp. on the water. As in I could throw in some challenges like out of shoes rowing at the end of practice or something. How do I become an effective leader without coming across as a bitch, rude, etc. ?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first one to admit that there are times when we are being bitches and we are being bossy in the negative sense and that’s something that we deserve to get called out on. Outside of those occasions though, there are better and more empowering ways to communicate to teenage girls how to be more assertive and confident when they’re in leadership roles (like what comes with being a coxswain). 

The question that was in the post I linked to asked if I had any tips for “being bitchy in a helpful way”. I like the way that coxswain explained it too because she said she wants to “make sure I’m constructively assertive and not mean or unnecessarily aggressive”, which I think is the perfect way to describe what people mean when they call someone a bitch because they either want the former or think they’re being the latter. Here’s what I said in response to that and going forward, if somebody tells you to “be bitchier in the boat”, know that this is probably what they want you to do.

“If your rowers are speaking in a general sense, I tend to interpret that as them saying they want you to be more on top of them about the little details – aka hold them accountable for the changes they need to make, the rate/splits they’re supposed to be at, etc. I was just talking about this with our coxswains yesterday when we went over their coxswain evals and what I told them was that they need to know not just the standards and expectations that we (the coaches) have for each crew but they also need to know the standards and expectations that the rowers have for themselves and then aggressively hold them to that. That combined with knowing the appropriate technical calls to make (and when) and understanding the focus and purpose of each drill/workout so you can cox them accordingly is how you present yourself as a “constructively assertive” coxswain.”

I know topics like this can be eye roll-inducing and easy to write off but I hope what I said makes sense and you see where I’m coming from. Also, because I know someone somewhere will think/say this, this has nothing to do with male coxswains and stuff like this never being said to them. I purposely avoided going down that road because I don’t think it’s relevant. Maybe it is but it’s not the point I’m trying to make.

Being a coxswain helps you develop so many great and important life skills, especially when it comes to leadership, so in the interest of encouraging more girls to step into similar roles let’s do our part as coaches and teammates by using the right language to communicate the traits it takes to accomplish that.

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