Question of the Day

Hi! I’m in my third year of coxing in college. I coxed the 2V my first two years but this fall I was moved up to the 1V. There are a few other coxswains on our team but honestly, most of them don’t know what they’re doing and won’t put in effort to improve. I’ve noticed that when I’m occasionally put back into the 2V (which is mainly made up of the same rowers as last year’s 2V) for practice, the rowers have lost a lot of technique. Stroke seat (who was my stroke in the 2V last year) has told me that the other coxswains don’t know how to correct technique and will either ignore it or tell them to do the wrong thing. She has also said that the coxswains don’t know how to call pieces and aren’t helping them get to the stroke rate or split they need to be at. I also found out that several of 2V rowers no longer trust coxswains because the other coxswains have constantly lied to them about stroke rate, split, distance, time, etc.

What can I do for them? I love the 2V; it has a special place in my heart and I’ve had some of my best races and practices in that boat. I really want them to do well this spring, because we were amazing last year, but they don’t seem to be on that track now. Several rowers have talked to our coaches about how those coxswains are negatively affecting their boat but our coaches don’t seem to be very concerned and haven’t done anything to help. They’ve also talked to these coxswains but they get offended and defensive when the rowers ask them to change things. I really want to see the 2V do well this year but I don’t know what to do at this point for them.

I have a lot of thoughts on this so it’s gonna be kinda long.

First, this obviously doesn’t have anything to do with you but to any coaches who are reading, if you’re seriously that lazy or unbothered by your athletes coming to you and saying “this is a problem … help“, you really shouldn’t have to think too hard at the end of the season about why certain crews underperformed. You’re part of the problem.

I agree with the point you’re getting at, that the coxswains play a  role in how good (or not good) the rowers technique is, but I do think a line’s gotta be drawn somewhere. The rowers regressing in their technique can’t totally be put on the shoulders of the coxswains, regardless of how inept they are. There’s a lot of personal responsibility that has to be factored in there and if they’re not making some kind of effort off the water to work on whatever technical issues they’re having, then their own inaction is just as much to blame as the coxswains not taking their jobs seriously in pointing this stuff out.

As far as wanting the 2V to do well – I get that. I respect the fact that you want to help them but keep in mind that they’re not your primary boat anymore, even if you are occasionally switching between them and the 1V. I’ve been in that position before too, as I’m sure plenty of other coxswains have, and all that willing your old boat to do well does is distract you from coxing the boat you’re actually in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t help them but it should be less about the 2V specifically and more about helping the other coxswains get their shit together. You can’t complain about other people’s ignorance and then contribute to it by not sharing what you know. You’re in the 1V, presumably you know what your team’s top 3-5 technical focuses are, how to compare and contrast what you’re seeing and feeling vs. what you should be seeing and feeling, how to call a piece, how to get the crew on rate, how to earn your crew’s trust, and most importantly, how to check your ego and learn the difference between critiques and criticisms. So … share that.

And yea, I get that you and half the coxswains reading are probably thinking “…but if they have shitty attitudes and aren’t even gonna try, then what do I do?”, to which I say nothing. You do nothing. I say this to our coxswains all the time: if it gets to the point where I’m putting in more effort than you are to help you get better, I’m walking away and you’re on your own. I actually did that with one of our coxswains this past spring and it sucked and I felt like a dick but the  point was made pretty quickly that they needed to get over themselves and actually take the advice and feedback that was being given otherwise they were gonna continue to be perpetually disappointed with their standing on the team. It’s my job to share my experiences, explain stuff, and give you the “tools” to figure it out on your own. It’s not my job to will you to care, tell you what you want to hear, or spoon feed you so you can avoid having to do any actual work.

Before you approach them, go to your coaches and get them on board with you working with the other coxswains. Don’t ask if it’s OK or if they mind or whatever, just put on your assertive varsity coxswain adult pants and say “hey, I wanna meet with all the coxswains at X time on Y date at Z location to go over some of the technical stuff we’ve been working on this week, can you make that announcement at the end of practice?”. That’s literally – literally – all you need to say. Hopefully having them say something will get the coxswains’ attention and add an air of legitimacy to what you’re trying to do (since that can sometimes get lost when you try to organize it on your own).

Whenever you meet with them, rather than trying to do a deep dive right off the bat, just talk to them. Sure, there’s a chance that they actually are as apathetic and pissy as the rowers imply but in my experience, at least a third of them are that way because no one’s ever bothered to sit down and explain anything to them. So, start by figuring out where they’re at. I usually try to do this by asking what 2-3 things they’re struggling the most with and then follow up by asking what I can do for them, rather than asking what they need help with. That’s what works best for me personally because it feels less burdensome on the other person than if I were to just ask for help outright. Plus, if you ask me what I need help with, more than likely I’m not gonna have any idea how to respond because I’m too frustrated to have any coherent idea of the stuff I don’t know … I just know that I don’t know it.

Once you’ve got an idea of where their weaknesses lie, parse it down into more manageable chunks (i.e. the basics of bladework, body positioning, etc. instead of just “technique”) and find a time that works for everyone so you can meet to talk about it. This doesn’t need to be some super formal thing either – when I do this with our coxswains we either hang out in the boathouse lounge during practice while the guys are doing steady state or we’ll grab breakfast afterwards and talk while we eat. You should make it clear though that you want to help them get better, not just for their own sake but for the team’s as well, and that you’re happy to be a resource but the onus is on them to actually apply the stuff you’re helping them with. Like I said before, if you start putting more work in than they are, walk away.

If after all that nothing changes, go back to your coaches and have a serious sit-down conversation with them. Explain the issues the rowers have with the coxswains and that you attempted a solution without much luck so now it’s their turn to address the problem. Obviously you can rephrase the latter part of that to whatever you think will make your point the best. At some point though they’ve gotta take the hint that they need say something to the coxswains directly about their performance and it needs to go beyond the same half-assed, immediately written off “you need to do better” platitudes that tend to get thrown out in situations like this.

Question of the Day

Do you have any advice on dealing with a coach pressuring you to continue practicing through injury?

Three things:

1. Communicate with your coach. (I just talked about this too in the QOTD I posted earlier.) Most just want to make sure you’re not confusing discomfort with actual pain (which happens fairly often, hence the cautious skepticism on their part) so you have to actually explain what you’re feeling, how long it’s felt like that, when you notice it the most, etc. instead of just saying “my back hurts”. The more details you put out there the more likely your coaches are to understand that this is something serious and not just some lingering soreness.

2. Go to your doctor or trainer and get some professional feedback on what’s going on. Tell your coaches too that you’ve got an appointment set up so they see that you’re actively working on a solution to the problem. Most trainers on campus will directly communicate with the coaches to let them know that you came in, this is what they saw, etc. but you should still ask them if they can pass along the info to the coaches and then follow up a day or so later. They see a lot of athletes so do your due diligence and take the appropriate steps to ensure everyone that needs to be in the loop is actually in the loop.

3. Advocate for yourself. No one’s holding a gun to your head and making you erg, row, run, etc. If you’re injured and the trainer/doctor has said to take it easy for a few days then that’s what you’ve gotta do. I’m not blind to the fact that people want to keep their seat in the boat they’re in or they don’t want to sabotage their chances of competing for a seat in a higher boat but you seriously have to take a step back from that and look at the bigger picture. Is it really worth causing more damage, being out longer, getting sicker, etc. just to go out and half-ass your way through practice because you’re not feeling 100%? There are absolutely times when you should push through stuff but if you’ve got even a modicum of common sense you know the difference between those times and the times when you need to say (to your coach, not just in your head) “no, I need to take today off” or “I need to take it easy today”.

I know it can be hard to push back when your coach is pushing for you to keep practicing, (especially when you’re like, 15 years old) but if you don’t, especially after doing all the stuff I listed up above, then I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Like I said, no one’s holding a gun to your head and making you practice so if you know that rowing, erging, etc. isn’t the best course of action based on where your injury’s at right now, you’ve gotta stick to your guns and not be talked or guilt-tripped into doing something that’s gonna prolong the recovery process.

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! I was just wondering in what universe does it make sense to increase work load a week before your championship race? We’ve been having one practice a day all year, then the Monday before our race we start going twice and by Wednesday we were all exhausted. The day before our race our coach has us do 14k of steady state rowing with some full pressure pieces thrown in. Then the day of the race our coach has us wake up early so we could do another 4K steady state before racing. How is this logical in anyway shape or form??

Hmm. I really don’t have a good answer because I don’t understand his approach either. Ramping up the volume the week of your race is the exact opposite of tapering, which is what you should have been doing going into the weekend. That’s what we did last week in the lead up to Sprints on Sunday – the intensity of the workouts was still up there but the volume steadily decreased as we closed out the week.

Did anyone ever ask your coach what his thought process was in doing this? Obviously you shouldn’t be all confrontational about it but if everyone is confused about the training plan and sore/exhausted 48-72 hours before your championship race, I think that at least justifies a conversation. I wish I had a better answer but I’m with you guys – this doesn’t make sense to me.

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh, I’m coming and asking you because at this point my team is desperate. I don’t want to give much away other than we are a college team with a head coach who is boarder line abusive with an assistant coach who doesn’t coach and knows way to much about our personal lives beyond way what we post on social media. Some people have gone to compliance and they didn’t do anything and when some went to the Title 9 office that ended badly for us. Do you have any advice on dealing with a bad coaching situation?

Yikes. If neither of those two things worked then you should probably consider escalating it to the athletic director or assistant AD. If things are that bad then there’s no way they wouldn’t want to know, not to mention the fact that they should know about it. Situations like this are always tough and the tendency to sweep it under the rug or side with the coaches over the athletes, even if there’s a valid reason to look into the coaches’ actions and behavior, can be frustrating (especially when the go-to response lately involves saying something about “entitled millennials” not being able to handle a coach being “tough” on you). That shouldn’t be a reason to not speak up though if you feel like lines are being crossed.

I’m not sure what you mean by “it ended badly for us” in terms of going to the Title 9 office but I feel like whatever it is, it’s probably not legal just based on what Title 9 is. For those not familiar, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Here’s an example of what a Title 9 policy looks like (this is ours):

“MIT is committed to providing a learning, living and working environment free from gender-based discrimination. Gender-based discrimination, including sexual misconduct (a term used to describe a range of behaviors including sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual contact/sexual assault, non-consensual sexual penetration/rape, and sexual exploitation), intimate partner violence, and stalking committed by MIT students, staff, or faculty will not be tolerated. This applies to academic, educational, athletic, residential, and other Institute operated programs.”

So … yea. Obviously I don’t know all the details but if the issue wasn’t addressed and you were retaliated against for speaking up (especially if it was by your coaches), that’s a pretty serious problem in itself. Like I said though, I’d start with scheduling a meeting with the AD or assistant AD and calmly, rationally, etc. explain what’s going on. Keep it as straightforward as possible (make a bullet-pointed list if you have to), don’t elaborate for effect or anything like that, just lay out the facts and let them deal with it. Don’t be afraid to stay on them about this too if you haven’t heard anything or it feels like things have stalled.

As far as how to deal with this during practice … tread lightly, get in, and get out. I’ve had bad coaches but nothing to this magnitude so I don’t know how helpful that advice is but whatever you do end up doing, try to keep a level head throughout the situation and just channel your frustration into your strokes.

Feel free to email me if you wanna share more details – sometimes understanding the context of the situation helps me come up with better advice. Definitely keep me updated though, I’m interested to hear how things turn out.

Coxswain skills: Working with a bad coach

As a coxswain, having a good working relationship with your coach is crucial. It’s the same as what I’ve said in the past about your relationships with the rowers – you don’t have to like each other but for two hours every day you do have to be able to work together. There’s no foolproof way to do this either … some coaches just suck, plain and simple. What I’ve laid out below probably won’t work for you if you have a coach that is really disagreeable, has a huge ego, etc. but short of telling you to just quit and go join another sport, this is the best I’ve got.

Related: “Coach problems” tag

Most of this I learned the hard way my senior year when I had a coach who refused to coach my eight, constantly made disparaging comments towards me and my teammates, and refused to be questioned by anyone because he was the coach (which he reminded us of literally every chance he had) and there was absolutely no conceivable reason why we shouldn’t just blindly follow every instruction we were given. I, to the surprise of pretty much no one, rebelled hard against all of this because I thought it was bullshit and, to the surprise of pretty much no one, he responded by taking me out of the varsity eight, not just because I questioned him (which was my first mistake) but because I handled it with the same level of maturity that most 17 year old girls would … which is to say, in hindsight I could have handled it a lot better.

Like a lot of things I’ve put on this blog, I didn’t have anyone telling me “this is how you deal with this” and the only advice I got was everyone basically telling me to just keep my head down, do what I was told, and don’t do anything that would, for lack of a better phrase, rock the boat. That kind of “advice” doesn’t really work for me so below are the things that I eventually came up with (some during the season, some years after the fact) that should hopefully make working with or around a bad coach a little easier.

Do what you say you’re going to do

If you’re going to be a coxswain then you’re agreeing to a lot of rules and expectations that are often unwritten and unsaid. Even if your coach isn’t explicitly telling you what you need to do, you still have a pretty defined set of responsibilities that you know you have to execute on a daily basis. If you aren’t doing these things they’re going to draw a lot of attention and the target on your back is going to become even bigger, which is why it might seem like your coach is always picking on you. It’s up to you to go directly to them and ask “what are your expectations of me…” so that you know what’s expected since they’re probably not going to take you aside to tell you themselves. Don’t expect it to be spelled out for you either … you’re probably going to have to read between the lines of whatever vague non-answer they give you in order to figure out what they really want.

Be transparent

I’ve talked about this before but if you screw up, own it and don’t be that guy that tries to cover it up or make excuses. You can save yourself a lot of grief by taking responsibility right off the bat and avoiding the fallout that comes with a coach who not only has to deal with damaged equipment and wasted practice time but on top of that, a coxswain who’s lying about whatever role they played in the incident. If you have a coach who is prone to kicking people out of boats seemingly on a whim and that’s what you’re trying to avoid having happen, you’re playing yourself. If/when you screw up, say “this was my fault, I take full responsibility for it” and accept whatever happens without making it a bigger issue than it already is.

Provide solutions, not complaints

It’s really easy to complain when you have a bad coach but as the coxswain, you can’t get sucked into that and you sure as hell can’t be the one starting it. When my coach would purposely drive his launch close to us so he could wake us out during practice, my default response every time was “are you fucking kidding me…” because … who wouldn’t respond that way? During one of our many post-practice therapy sessions, our assistant told me that it wasn’t worth getting frustrated over when we could instead just focus on rowing better so that the next time it happened we could row through the wake like nothing happened.

“Rowing better” is obviously always the goal but for us it became “we’re gonna do it because we know that you think we can’t”, which isn’t always the best mindset to be in (I hate the idea of feeling like you have to prove something just to get people to back off) but it really worked for us. We doubled down on handle heights, body prep, carrying the blades six inches off the water, etc. and literally every single opportunity we had, we rowed square blades. There were practices where, if we were on the water for 90 minutes, probably 60 of them were spent rowing square blades, regardless of what we were doing. If the weather was bad, even better – we’d row square blades through white caps if we had to. Our bladework got so good that the next time we got waked by his launch we didn’t even flinch and he actually stopped to watch us row by. Our assistant yelled over to him, smile on his face, “lookin’ pretty good, huh?”, which to this day remains one of my favorite moments ever.

That whole situation was pretty defining for me as a coxswain and reinforced the notion that every challenge or hurdle is an opportunity to step it up and showcase your leadership skills. You can take the easy route and complain, which I’ll admit is really tempting to do sometimes, or you can be the one that provides a solution by saying “nope, we’re not settling for this, this is what we’re going to do to turn this distraction into a tool that makes us better rowers”.

Anticipate and over-prepare

This was something I learned early on in my career but it’s benefited me the most when I’ve had to work with erratic, unorganized coaches who thought “coxswain” was synonymous with “mind reader”. Getting in the habit of talking with your coaches before practice about what the plan for the day is, what drills you’ll be doing, and what the technical focus will be is just part of being a good coxswain but if they don’t tell you (or you just don’t ask), it’s gonna feel like you’re constantly being put on the spot.

One way to combat this is to pay attention to patterns. For example, on Mondays you do AT pieces and the drills are almost always catch/front end related. Tuesdays and Thursdays are steady state days and you’re usually left to your own devices. Wednesdays are sprint work and the drills typically relate to whatever you struggled most with during the race on Saturday and during steady state yesterday. Fridays you do a race walk-through. If you can recognize the patterns in your training plan then it becomes a lot easier for you to execute practice with little to no direction or instruction given by your coach. It also helps you prepare your calls ahead of time, familiarize yourself with drills, etc.

The best way to not be caught off guard is to be prepared for whatever might get thrown at you, which means you should know every drill, forwards and backwards, and the purpose of every workout (general rule of thumb: steady state = technique, sprints = power).

The final thing to keep in mind is that the most mature (and hardest by far for some of us) way to deal with a bad coach is to not talk back to them. You will be tempted but don’t. It might make you feel better in the moment to argue or get the last word in but in the long run it’s just gonna hurt you because you’ll essentially be undermining your own authority. Be cooperative, try to be cordial and pleasant (even when it means gritting your teeth to do so), and always, always be on top of your game. The lighter you keep the overall atmosphere by doing those three things, the better the rowers (and you) will be able to focus on the task at hand in spite of the fact that your coach is making it harder rather than easier.

Question of the Day

Hi! I am a freshman walk-on coxswain at a competitive D1 Ivy League program on the men’s lightweight team. We currently have 4 boats and I am the 5th coxswain, so in the coaches’ eyes I am obviously the worst although the rowers tell me they prefer me to the 4th coxswain (also a freshman walk-on) and the third is over the weight minimum by 10 pounds. The thing is, I am always messing up, always going to be behind because I never coxed in high school and never really learned (they put me in a boat the first day and told me to go) and I feel like I’m just never going to be good enough. I also feel like, no matter what I do, the coaches will never see me as better than the 5th coxswain even though I feel like I’m better than that and I’ve worked harder than the other coxswains and improved so much.

I love this sport and the team, but it has become such a negative thing for me. I often feel like shit after practice and I don’t feel valued or needed by the team or coaches. At this point the frustration is exhausting. I’m considering quitting, but I know that I would be ostracized by the team if I did, and I have become really good friends with some of them and don’t want to lose those relationships. Do you have any advice or have you ever been in a similar situation?

PS I can’t really talk to anyone about this because no one on my team understands, and I don’t feel comfortable addressing my concerns with my coaches because I feel like if they know I’m apprehensive, they’ll permanently “bench” (put me on the launch/kick me off the team) me–it has happened before.

Please help! Also I love your blog so thank you.

So … a couple things to start. Just because you’re the fifth coxswain  doesn’t automatically or obviously mean that you suck … and I don’t mean that in an “every kid should get a participation trophy so their feelings aren’t hurt” kind of way, I just don’t think you should assume you’re the worst just because you’re not being boated. That kind of mindset almost predisposes you to make more mistakes on the water because you feel like you have to prove yourself more and that can cause a lot of anxiety which in turn causes your confidence to take an even bigger hit every time something goes wrong. If there’s four boats and five coxswains obviously someone’s gonna draw the short straw but ultimately it’s up to you to make the decision as to whether or not you’re going to settle for the short straw or you’re going to work your ass off to get in one of the boats (lack of coaching and experience be damned).

Secondly, if you feel like quitting you should quit. I’m never going to be that person who tries to talk people out of quitting, mainly because if it’s something they’ve already thought about doing then their minds are probably already made up and they’re basically just looking for validation or someone to say that it’s OK for them to do it. I think your reasons for wanting to quit are pretty valid … it’s your reasons for not wanting to quit that I think are … less valid. I get not wanting to lose the friendships you’ve made but to counter that argument, if the guys on the team are really your friends and put an equal amount of work into the friendship as you do, do you really think they’ll just let it fall to the wayside if you’re no longer around? Real friends won’t/don’t let that happen. You know the time commitment all of this takes so obviously it’s going to take a little more effort to make plans to hang out but if I were in your shoes, I’d rather quit and have this weight off my shoulders all the while knowing that I might not see my friends as frequently than stay on the team and continue feeling shitty and undervalued just for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Also, you should talk to them about this. Maybe not the coxing part of it specifically but the social aspect of it. Like I said, if they’re really your friends then they’ll probably be able to dispense some insight/advice that I can’t as an outsider looking in.

OK, so on to the coxing stuff. I understand why you’d say that you can’t talk to anyone on the team about this because I’ve been in that situation too. I felt the same way in college about pretty much everything because that whole four and a half years was like Murphy’s Law for me – if it could go wrong, it did (epically). Every time I’d talk to my professors, advisors, etc. it just made me even more upset because their advice sucked and I attributed it to them just not getting it … which I still think is true but it’s really only been recently that I realized I wasn’t approaching the situation in the best way. It’s scarily easy to fall into that “woe is me, this is bullshit, why is this happening” mindset and if what you’re saying or the questions you’re asking communicate that vibe, then yea … no one is gonna get it because they’re not experiencing what you’re experiencing. If you want some legit feedback/advice you have to put all that aside and approach it with a “this is where I’m at, this is where I want to be, what in your opinion should I do to get there?” attitude rather than a “I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone thinks I suck, HELP” one. The latter’s not gonna get you anything more than a fake “what, nooo, nobody thinks that” response whereas the former might get you a few nuggets of gold that you can then mold into an action plan.

Assuming making your way into a boat is your goal, you should schedule a meeting with the coaches. Being in the launch – as boring as it is – really isn’t the worst thing that can happen (our sophomore coxswain literally spent March-May (every day) this past spring in the launch and I honestly believe she’s a better coxswain because of it) and if they kick you off the team (which is easily the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week) … who cares. If you’re already on the fence about quitting then them kicking you off probably isn’t going to phase you that much.

Do you have to say you’re thinking about quitting? Well, no, obviously. I’d keep that to yourself, not out of fear of retaliation but because it’s not relevant. Neither is the rowers’ preference for you over the fourth coxswain or the fact that the third is 135+ pounds. You’ve already listed some good talking points so use those to drive the conversation and help you get what you want. If I were you, I’d go into this “spring season goal-setting” meeting (<– email subject line) prepared to say two things:

1. You’re the fifth coxswain now and while you know you still have areas to improve on, you’re really proud of the effort you’ve put in to improve over where you were when you started. [Confidence is key. If you feel like you’ve gotten better, own that shit.] Making your way into the fourth boat is your goal so what one or two things do they feel you should focus your efforts on so you can better compete for that spot?

Make sure you have a couple things on hand that you are already planning to work on, i.e. steering, practice management, etc., that way you can either pre-empt them by saying “I know I need to get better at managing practice when we’re on the water” so they hopefully don’t say the same thing or they can elaborate on it further. Additionally, if they ask you what you think you need to work on you can say XYZ. If I were your coach I’d take you a lot more seriously if you come prepared having thought about this stuff ahead of time.

2. You want to make sure you’re being a productive member of the team, regardless of whether you’re in a boat or not, so what can you do on land or in the launch that would help them out, help practice run smoother, etc.?

You can ask the rowers and coxswains this too, framed exactly the same way. Both groups will say different things so you’ll be able to get a ton of info out of one simple question. This addresses the whole feeling undervalued/not needed thing too without directly saying so and it makes you sound proactive instead of whiny, which is how saying you feel undervalued can come off to some people. Whatever they all say though, even if it’s the most mundane task possible, embrace it and execute it so flawlessly that Beyonce herself would be proud. Find situations where you can create value for yourself and eventually people will start appreciating what you have to offer. That’s what I did last year with working with our coxswains. It was already something I was planning on doing in addition to coaching the rowers but because we were such a small team, I didn’t have a boat to coach which meant I would have been showing up every day to essentially do nothing. If I wanted to be taken seriously and not be seen as that hanger-on wannabe coach who just rides in the launch every day, I had to create value for myself so that even if I wasn’t coaching the rowers I was still contributing to the team and helping to make them fast. Coxswains are obviously my thing so I tapped into that and now anytime something comes up with them, on our team or any of the other three, I’m the one that people go to. Find something similar that you can do for your team. It might not be glamorous but don’t underestimate how much rowers appreciate always having a full water bottle during erg workouts or being able to get started right away because the ergs, weight-circuit stations, etc. are already set up because you showed up early to take care of it.

So .. to summarize all of this (sorry it got so long), if you want to quit then quit but if you want to give coxing a shot then approach it proactively and come up with some goals and a plan. Get your coaches on board by discussing this with them and as I said, tell them where you’re at, where you want to be, and get insight from them on what you can do to get there. You’re a novice, you’re obviously not expected to know everything so use your teammates and coaches to help you fill in the gaps. At the end of the day if you want the right answers you’ve first gotta initiate the conversation and ask the right questions.

Question of the Day

Hey, quick question: I’m a coxswain on a collegiate club team and lately we’ve been having some issues with sick people missing practices. Our (very old-school) coach’s opinion is unless you’re dying, you’re at practice, but some of my teammates want to stay home if they’re feeling a little sick because they think rowing while sick will make the illness a lot worse and take them out for longer. I’ve also heard that it’s safe to row if the sickness is below the neck but that you should stay home if there’s an issue with the head or throat, but I’m not sure if that’s medically accurate. So I was just wondering, at what point is someone “too sick to row” in your opinion?

I’ve got a post on this exact subject scheduled for next Thursday so keep an eye out for that. The “above the neck/below the neck” adage is pretty standard and what most athletes tend to follow (typically on the advice of their athletic trainers, coaches, or family doctors). Runny noses and sore throats are generally OK to practice with (just back off on your workouts for a day or two and you’ll be fine) but if you develop a fever or your cold makes its way into your chest (like with bronchitis), then you definitely need to take a step back and rest for a couple days.

We’ve got several guys on the team sick right now (one with mono who is out for the fall, one with bronchitis who I haven’t seen in like a week and a half, another who found out last week that his persistent cold is actually asthma (on top of him actually having a cold), etc.) and as tough as it can make putting lineups together, it really is in everyone’s best interest that they take time off to recover and get back to 100%. The guys that have a standard cold will come and erg, row in the tanks, bike, or go for a run in lieu of rowing so they’re still getting a decent workout in but they’re able to go at a more “relaxed” pace (or stop midway through if necessary) based on how they’re feeling. No one abuses the coaches understanding and generosity when it comes to giving them time off or an alternate workout when they’re sick and in return, the coaches trust the rowers when they say they’re sick and as such expect them to follow up with our trainers/doctors accordingly.

As far as what defines being “too sick to row…” … I don’t know if you can say what being too sick to row is because it’s going to be different for everyone. Obviously if you have a fever, a cough that’s making it hard to breathe, or something like that then you should definitely not be at practice but if it’s just a regular cold then I think you have to trust the person who’s sick when they say how they’re feeling. I would give them the benefit of the doubt if they say they need a day off because faking your symptoms just to get out of practice or whatever is just pathetic (especially as a college student/adult) and if they’re an otherwise committed member of the team, you don’t really have any reason to not believe them when they say they’re not feeling 100%.

Since you’re a club team, I assume that the majority of the policies in place are enacted by team-elected student officials…? It might be worth discussing with them some sort of official “sick” rule that lays out when people should and should not be at practice, what the alternative workouts/plans are if you’re not well enough to go on the water but still OK to practice, and then present that to your coach so that there’s no (or at the very least, fewer) issues going forward. Old-school coaches tend to be very set in their ways (I had two in high school and while they were great in so many ways, we did occasionally have issues similar to this) and of the opinion that if they can survive all the ailments and maladies they had to deal with growing up (without the benefits of modern medicine), then the rest of us should be able to do that too. Different times call for different measures though so sitting down with the team leaders and hashing out a “team sick policy” is probably your best long-term solution.