You don’t have to search that far back in the blog (like, 24 hours maybe…) to find a post from a coxswain asking how to deal with rowers (or coaches) who are treating them like shit, disrespecting them, and all in all being pretty unappreciative of their contribution to the team. I was also pretty annoyed in a “I shouldn’t be this annoyed but I am” kinda way on Sunday when I saw that this whole week of “appreciation” was being being promoted by an organization that doesn’t really do much for coxswain education. Sorry but piggybacking on someone’s idea to make it seem like you “appreciate” and “support” coxswains is bullshit when you do little to nothing for them the other 360 days of the year. I’m not saying that every day needs to be “kiss your coxswain’s ass and make them feel like the super special snowflake they are day” but actions speak louder than words. You can hashtag as many tweets as you want but at the end of the day, is that really going to be what makes coxswains not feel like an afterthought on their own teams or in the sport in general?
I’ll spare you the rest of my rant and skip ahead to the list that I’ve been thinking about of ways that you could actually show your appreciation for your coxswains – things that they would actually notice and appreciate themselves.
If your coxswain doesn’t have a basket or bucket-like contraption to carry down/up everyone’s water bottles, 43 layers of clothing, shoes, hats, sunglasses, and whatever the hell else you bring down to the dock with you, maybe consider not piling one more thing on top of their arms and making it even harder for them to carry everything while they try and cox the boat. If you can see they’re already trying to juggle six wattle bottles, their cox box, and whatever else you’ve given them, stick your water bottle in your spandex and carry it up yourself. It kills me when rowers pile tons of crap into the coxswain’s arms and then yell at them when they have to drop everything to grab the bow ball or a rigger to keep the boat from hitting something.(Technically their hands should be free at all times for this exact reason but at most they should be carrying their cox box and that’s it.) If this sounds like something your coxswain experiences, consider going to the store and buying them a 17 gallon tub so that they have something that will actually carry everything they’re expected to transport on and off the dock for you.
Stop acting like you’re god’s gift to the sport and you’re the only ones that do anything just because you have an oar in your hands. If you’re not going to take the time to learn about the coxswain’s role on the team and what their responsibilities are (not what you think they are but what they actually are) then keep your mouth shut. Coxing is not an easy discipline to master. Shocking, isn’t it, that two things can be equally hard but for their own very different reasons? If you see your coxswain is struggling with something (particularly if they’re a novice), don’t harp on them even more. That’s not even your job anyways, it’s the coach’s. Instead, throw a compliment their way when you get off the water and say “hey, I noticed you were struggling with finding the right calls today but you held a great point and did a really good job steering throughout practice”. They spend so much time trying to find the right words to keep you going during practice, the least you could do is reign in your own egos a bit and do the same for them once in awhile. (Coxswains, don’t ruin the moment and shrug off their compliment. Accept it and say thank you.)
Know that your coxswains are doing a lot of work outside of practice in order to get better and help make your crew go faster. Stop assuming that your coxswains aren’t putting in just as much work as you are and understand that the way they put work in is different than how you do it. Improving for you guys involves erging, rowing, and other fitness-related things while improving for coxswains involves a lot of research and trial-and-error (more like trial by fire). Don’t discount the behind the scenes work they do just to prepare for what you might think is a relatively simple, no-different-than-usual practice.
Set aside time once or twice a week specifically to sit down with just the coxswains (UNINTERRUPTED), either individually or as a group, and talk about how the week is going, ask if they have questions on anything, give them feedback on their recent performances, etc. Crazy idea here but maybe actually coach them instead of treating them like an inanimate object that you don’t have to pay any attention to until something goes wrong. If they say they don’t understand how this drill works or they need clarification on what you were talking with stern pair about the other day, spend a few minutes actually explaining stuff to them instead of giving them vague, useless answers. If they ask you about something related to coxing (or anything, really) and you don’t know the answer, just say “I don’t know, but I’ll look into it. Remind me tomorrow and we’ll talk about this more then.” That’s a hell of a lot more helpful than you just giving them some transparent answer that totally gives away the fact that you have no idea what to say to them. (And yes, based on the emails I get, coxswains are a lot more aware of this than you think they are.)
If/when something does go wrong, think about the part you played in it and recognize that 99% of the time, that part is indirect rather than direct. So your novice coxswain is taking forever to turn the boat around and the way he’s doing it is like, the stupidest, most inefficient way ever. Instead of getting frustrated with him and yelling at him to hurry up, ask yourself “did I ever teach him the correct/most efficient way to turn the shell around?”. Regardless of whether you did or didn’t, say something like “Hey Greg, I may not have taught you this but when you’re spinning the boat, the best way to do it is to have everyone row with just arms and bodies and alternate back and forth when each side is rowing and backing. This’ll get you spun around much faster so we aren’t wasting so much time spinning.” Simple as that.
Ask their opinion on things and actually take into consideration what they’re saying. They have a completely different vantage point than you do and can actually feel what’s going on in the boat. You’d be foolish to not take advantage of that. Not only does this let you know how lineups are working, how effective certain drills are, etc. but it also empowers the coxswains and helps build their confidence if they feel like the coach genuinely values their opinion. It also forces us to start really paying attention to what’s going on in the boat so that when you say “Hey, so how did you think Lou did moving from stroke to 6-seat today?” or “What’d you notice about the port blades today when we were doing that drill? I didn’t get a chance to get over to that side so I couldn’t see what their catches looked like.”, we can actually give you an informed, thorough answer. Being able to do this and know that you’re actually listening to them works wonders for maintaining good lines of communication between the two of you.
USRowing: Do something … anything … for coxswains that isn’t about making as much money as possible while providing them with as little useful information as possible. You want to host clinics? Awesome. Live stream them on YouTube so more people can get in on the action and not feel like they’re getting left behind because they can’t afford to go in person. I fully understand that these things cost money and you’ve gotta charge something but I really think there needs to be a point where you ask yourselves if it’s more important to make a profit or impart some wisdom on these people that we’re entrusting with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. You’re the national governing body for the sport, shouldn’t it be up to you to be setting the standard when it comes to educating coxswains?