Five things to do as a novice coxswain

If you’re new to the sport of rowing and got tapped to be a coxswain, here’s a few things you should do to help make sure your first few weeks go smoothly.

Establish a relationship with your coach.

Don’t be intimidated by them. Communication and trust are intangible assets when it comes to the coach-coxswain relationship so establishing them early on in your career can only help you. Talk to them regularly before and after practice and find out things like how they like to run practice. Coaches will vary on how much involvement they have, as well as how much involvement they’ll want from you when you’re just starting out. It’s definitely their responsibility to tell you this stuff up front but some won’t or will forget so take the initiative and ask yourself.

Listen and learn.

Observe everything. Ask lots of questions – even if you think they’re stupid, you get a pass because you’re new. Engage. Seek out and accept feedback/critiques on a regular basis.

Related: Advice from a former novice

Use your time wisely

As a novice you’re not going to have a ton of responsibilities right off the bat so use any “down” time (i.e. when the rowers are erging or you’re riding in the launch) to talk to the other coxswains and learn about the boathouse (where stuff is), procedures (getting the boat in/out), equipment (which boats/cox boxes you use), team culture, etc. Don’t be a wallflower or you’ll fall behind fast.

Reflect.

There’s a lot you have to learn and be in command of so establishing what your personal goals are (why you’re doing this, what you want to get out of it, etc.) and prioritizing the skills you need to master ASAP (steering…) will give you a framework to go off of, which will give going to practice every day an added sense of purpose that you might not otherwise have right off the bat.

Find a mentor.

Ideally this would be a varsity coxswain but it can also be a coach, team captain, etc. Basically you want to find someone who can help you get up to speed, answer questions, and just be a resource when needed. We did this in high school and we do it here at MIT too. It’s great because you have single source of contact so you never have to worry about who to ask if you have a question. Here we try to pair the guys off with other guys in their major so that if questions arise about classes, professors, advisors, internships, jobs, etc. they’ll be able to ask someone who’s experienced it all while also being a full-time student athlete. Plus, it helps with retention if people feel like they’ve got a friend on their side from the beginning vs. feeling like they’re going at this on their own.

Keep in mind too that this doesn’t only apply to novices, it applies any time you join a new team, even if you’re an experienced coxswain. If you’re a week or two into your freshman year of college and haven’t done any of the above yet, make it a priority this week to, at the very least, have a conversation with your coach and find a peer mentor on the team if they’re not already assigned to you.

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