Question of the Day

Any suggestions for how to handle differences in rower-coxswain experience levels, i.e. when the coxswain is more experienced than the rowers or the rowers are much more experienced than the coxswain? I’m a rower in a boat in the latter situation currently and want to be able to give the coxswain suggestions on what to do specifically but because all the rowers are new to the team (and because I’ve never coxed), it’s a little hard.

I’ve touched a bit on this previously in the post linked below. That question wasn’t exactly the same but it’s similar enough that I think most of what I said there can apply here too.

Related: Thoughts on stroke seats yelling at coxswains and telling them to do things during pieces?

If you’re an experienced rower in a crew with a novice coxswain or one who is inexperienced by comparison, I do think that you should feel a sense of responsibility to help get them up to speed. Obviously it’s not solely your responsibility (let alone a primary one) and you shouldn’t interpret it as such but if you want them and by extension, the boat/team to get better, taking the initiative to help them out will go a long ways. (That being said, this is a lot easier to do when you’re the stroke vs. if you’re like, 3 seat because you can talk about this stuff in real-time on the water vs. having to wait to talk about it off the water to avoid yelling from one end of the boat to the other.)

Think of it like a wide receiver and somebody who just started at quarterback. The WR might not be able to help much with some of the more nuanced QB skills, like moving inside the pocket, scrambling to escape a blitz, or the proper hand placement to ensure a clean ball transfer from the center but they can help with the broader foundational stuff, like running through passing drills to help them work on their accuracy and spending time talking through the playbook so they can learn the plays, coverages, etc.

The same thing applies here – you might not be able to help them with coxswain-specific stuff like how to steer but you can help them understand the purpose of the drills you’re doing (and how to execute them) and the basics of the rowing stroke and general technique. Even if you’ve only been rowing for a year, you should have a decent enough understanding of those three foundational things that you can communicate the bare minimum of each one.

This is what my coaches in high school did with us and I still credit it as being a big part of why I and the other coxswains were always able to pick up coxing so quickly. Novice coxswains went in varsity boats and the experienced strokes would guide us through how to call a drill or explain how on that last piece they felt X which translates to Y so on this next piece, try to look for Z with the blades and see if you can make the connection between what you’re feeling and seeing. It wasn’t like they were holding our hands either, the majority of the responsibility was still on us to make the effort (and make mistakes) in an attempt to learn how to do stuff but on the water they were our biggest resource if/when we needed it and the ones we relied on to hold us accountable if we screwed up (without being dicks about it).

If you have trouble doing that, for whatever reason, then talk with the experienced coxswains and explain to them whatever it was that you wanted to say and see if they can bring it up with your coxswain. I wouldn’t get in the habit of doing this because you’re the one in the boat with them so you should get comfortable communicating with them (and it gets super frustrating having to be the middle man for a boat you’re not even in) but if there’s something that you can’t figure out how to explain that they might be better able to do, by all means ask for their help.

Best advice I can offer to you or anyone in a similar situation though is to get over feeling like you can’t say something because of some arbitrary reason like “I’ve never coxed”. Don’t get me wrong, I fully get where you’re coming from when you say that and I can see how that might make you apprehensive about speaking up but you don’t need to be a coxswain to explain why certain tones of voices are more effective in different situations or that if the boat is falling to starboard, XYZ needs to happen. Be humble enough to know when something is out of your “area of expertise” and what’s best left to other coxswains to explain but don’t be so concerned about stepping on toes that you inadvertently hold them (and your boat) back just because you don’t think you’re qualified enough to offer up a suggestion.

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