I’m only calling this a “hack” because I couldn’t think of a better title.
I think I’ve talked about this before but it’s come up a few times over email lately so I thought I’d write a quick post going into a bit more detail about a trick I used in high school to keep me from being too hard on myself if/when my confidence was taking a hit.
When my coach initially suggested this to us, I thought it was so cheesy. Rather than seeing it as a practical tool, it just seemed like a way to put yourself in a bubble and make it easier to block out any sort of criticism and ignore the mistakes you were making. If you have the wrong attitude it can absolutely be both of those things but if you use it the right way, it’s a great way to help you figure out processes that work and develop your confidence, objectivity, and self-awareness (all of which are, obviously, critical traits for a coxswain).
Related: Tracking progress in your notebook
My approach to this exercise admittedly started off pretty weak. I’d occasionally write down “steered a good line today” or “were the fastest ones to launch after getting hands on” but things like that never actually made me feel better after a bad practice. I told my coach this and he basically said “well yea, no shit” (very nicely though, as was always his style). Everything I’d written down was stuff that I was expected to be doing anyways … so why should I get credit or be patting myself on the back for that? This was one of those critical points in my coxing career because it was when my coach pressed me to start asking “why” and “how”.
Why were we the first ones to launch? Because I’d spent time before practice figuring out what the plan was (drills, workout, were we going upstream or downstream, etc.) so I wouldn’t have to do it at the same time as the other coxswains after the warmup or while we were on the dock. Because I’d used my time better during the warmup to get my tools together and talk with the other coxswains about what order we wanted to launch in. Because I got over thinking that the rowers would think I was being a bitch if I more assertively said “let’s get hands on” instead of just waiting for everyone to make their way over to the boat.
How did I steer a good line today? I trial-and-error’ed the most effective way to hold the cables to minimize unnecessary movements of the rudder and put into practice the one I felt worked best. I held myself to a higher standard because we went out with the 1V and 2V and I was the middle crew when going three across. I was assertive and confident (and didn’t have to fake it!) when communicating with the varsity coxswains about our points.
Related: Coxswain skills: Race steering
The how’s and why’s were always the most labor-intensive because they made me think, which admittedly is sometimes the last thing you want to be doing after a long practice or a bad row. More times than not I’d keep it super simple (sometimes all you wanna say is “got a high five from the men’s V8 stroke after subbing in for them today” and leave it at that) but I know unequivocally that the few minutes I’d spend doing this after practice made me a stronger coxswain and helped me keep in perspective that even if I had a slip-up, I was still on the right track and doing a lot of things right.
To keep myself accountable and out of that bubble I mentioned earlier, I always acknowledged the less than stellar days when practice didn’t go well or I screwed up because, as I’ve talked about plenty of times before, there’s a lot to be gained from that, even if it’s just being self-aware enough to admit that you handled this situation completely wrong and now you know for the future that XYZ is a better approach.
Related: Keeping a notebook
This was always the messiest part of my notebook because it was just a season-long haphazard list of all the little things that I felt were tangible representations of the fact that I was getting better. When I started feeling like I’d hit a plateau or like my shortcomings were outweighing my strengths, I’d look through what I’d written and use that as a confidence boost to remind myself that I’m actually turning into a pretty good coxswain and one shitty practice isn’t the end of the world or as a kick in the ass to come up with the plan to do better. It also made assessing my progress at the end of the season with my coaches a little easier because I’d already subtly been keeping track of it over the past few months.
Like pretty much everything else on this blog, everything I’m telling you works … it just might not work for you. If you like the idea but not the method, by all means adapt it to whatever works for you. One of my friends had a very rigid approach to doing this (his was kind of bullet journal-y, if you’re familiar with them) whereas I recognized that if I wanted this to work for me, it needed to just be a simple, not over-analyzed list with the occasional expansion on topics when it was warranted. If you find yourself looking for ways to get better or feeling like you’re burning out or plateauing, don’t overlook little things like this as a way to help you through (or out of) those situations.