Tag: teammate problems

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! How would you recommend handling other coxswains that believe in “dictatorship”? I’m in my 3rd year of coxing and have always had the thought process that I am not a dictator or boss, or that the rowers work for me, but that I work for the rowers so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. As long as we are working hard and accomplishing our goals, I see no reason as to why we can’t have fun. My boat last year had this mindset and we always did extremely well and had good attitudes most of the time. However, this year the coxswains who have been with our team for a shorter time than myself (I am the oldest cox) believe that they can be dictators and that it’s alright for them to force the rowers to perform workouts the way that they want them done, rather than what works best for the rowers. How can I handle this? I’ve already talked to the other coxes but they don’t care. 

It would probably also be helpful to add that our coaches don’t really care about this situation either. I know that it bothers several of the rowers but I don’t know what I can do at this point.

If you’ve pointed out the problem, explained why that approach doesn’t work and how it ultimately hurts the team (and themselves), given suggestions on how to act/lead in a more effective manner, etc., all while getting zero support from the coaches … I don’t really know what else you can (be expected to) do. I’ve been in similar positions, both while coaching our coxswains right now and when I was on my own teams, and it’s frustrating as hell to be in a leadership position and know that there’s this expectation that you’ll take the initiative to address the problem but then see absolutely nothing come of it when you do. It’s like the personification of the “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink” saying.

I can’t even get into the coaches not caring. Like … seriously? I said this to someone else a few weeks ago (linked below – a lot of the advice in there I’d give to you too) but if the coaches aren’t going to do the bare minimum in addressing shit like this then they really have no room to be annoyed when certain crews underperform as the season gets underway.

Related: 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.

I don’t think it’s your responsibility to handle this. I think it’s your responsibility as the oldest coxswain on the team to address it, which it sounds like you have, but you can’t be the only person trying to get them to adjust their approach. The rowers need to speak up too and let them know that their way of communicating isn’t working. It’s really easy to bitch about stuff like this behind their backs but nothing’s going to change unless you address it head on and part of the responsibility for doing that lies with them.

A good way to go about that is to have the rowers direct their feedback towards one of the older rowers (even better if they’re a team captain) and then you and that rower can talk to the coxswains on your own after practice one day. In this situation you can let the rower lead the discussion so that they can explain why their attitudes are a problem and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. From there you can offer yourself up as a resource if they want help in figuring out better ways to communicate with the team but I also think you need to take a hard stance here and let them know that all they’re doing is undermining themselves by acting like this. If/when they get pissed because they suddenly realized no one on the team respects them, they’ll only have themselves to blame and that sucks but that’s the hole they dug themselves into.

I know that seems like a harsh thing to say too (it really isn’t though) but I honestly feel like if more people (coaches, captains, whoever…) made points like that to coxswains early on, situations like this would way occur less often. It obviously won’t prevent everyone from getting drunk with (perceived) power but if they realize it’ll take twice as long and five times as much effort to overcome this than if they’d just acted like a normal person to begin with, they might make a bit more of an effort to be self-aware with regards to their actions and interactions with the team.

College Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

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.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi!:) So, I have been quite “upset” with my boat. You see, I’m a very competitive coxswain but half of my boat is … not, you could say. Anyways, I want to share my feelings and tell them that I leave practice feeling pissy because of their lack of motivation and the fact that it was such a horrible practice. But I also don’t want to add drama and tension in the boat. I’m that always nice, sometimes getting pushed over, type of coxswain but I have been learning to stand up and put them back in line but it always makes me feel guilty and thus kind of “sucking up” (hugging them, compliments) to the rowers. I want to be feared AND loved but I just can’t balance it out. There’s also a few girls who always WHINE and COMPLAIN every single time we do workouts. I just want to shut her up and tell her to suck it up. But my mind tells me no and just ignore it. Any advice? I so need it! Thanks!

I have no time for people who bitch just for the sake of bitching. It’s one of those things that annoys me on a deeply personal level. If you’re going to complain every single time we do a workout you can pretty much count on me telling you to shut up every single time in response. It just makes no sense to me that you’d join a sport (or any activity really) and then complain about the work that’s associated with it. So yea, I’m all for telling her to deal with it but my approach is to do it one-on-one first and then if it continues (and I know it’s distracting or pissing off other people in the boat) then I’ll say it to them on the water going forward. (This also prevents someone in the boat from saying something, which usually ends up causing more drama than if the coxswain says it.)

Usually what’ll happen is I’ll just lean out of the boat, look at them, put a hand in the air, and be like “Dude … seriously? Stop.” and that’s all it takes unless they’re hell bent on acting like a brat that day … which happens with college athletes more than you think it would. I can really only think of one time off the top of my head that it progressed past that and at that point my coach stepped in and told them that they could either grow up and stop wasting her, my, and the boat’s time or we could turn around, go back to the dock, and they could leave. She quit not long after that.

I know that in the long run I’m going to irritate more people by not saying something than I will by calling them out so that’s a big part of my rationale for how/why I address it. Basically I’d rather have one person be pissed at me for two hours than have the other four, five, six, or seven people think I’m a pushover who can’t handle having tough conversations with a teammate.

Related: Is it better for a cox to be feared or loved?

I get not wanting to create drama or add tension but I also think you’re undermining yourself by just brushing it off and hugging it out with them afterwards. That, to me, just says to those rowers that it’s OK for them to keep complaining and not putting the work in because you’re never going to actually say anything to them about it. If you want something to change in this situation you’re gonna have to be the one that makes the first move, which is to hold them accountable for their lame attitudes and not coddle them afterwards because their feelings might have been hurt for a whole fifteen seconds.

Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi!! So what should you do if you think a teammate doesn’t like you? All I’ve been getting is bad vibes, and whenever I try to be nice and talkative she just like doesn’t even listen. I really don’t wanna start something, but all I have been is nice to her! I can deal if she doesn’t like me, but man I don’t want that to affect the boat you know? And it hasn’t except for sorta today maybe? Not exactly sure but just wanted tips on how to deal/work your way around if someone may not like you for no reason at all. I might be viewed as competition but I have NEVER said anything hateful, rude, or bad to her at all. I keep my mouth shut at the right times and I am a very laughable, comfortable, relaxed person to talk too. In the conversations we have had (only a few), she’s barely said anything and I just end up not getting an answer. And she gives off really, really dirty looks to me. She seems like thats her face, but she likes some other girls on the team real well so I’m not sure … I don’t wanna push it because I got bigger, better problems to attend too but just kinda putting this out there.

My initial thought when reading this was … who cares? I don’t mean that in a mean way either, but does it really matter if someone (in your boat) doesn’t like you? As long as you’re not at each other’s throats or spreading rumors about the other one or whatever, it really. doesn’t. matter. I get what you’re saying about not wanting to have it affect the boat but unless you keep forcing the issue, I don’t think it will. Keep it cordial and casual when you’re together but if you feel like she’s made it clear through whatever means that you’re not destined for friendship then just leave it at that and, like you said, don’t push it.

Also, remember that resting bitch face is a thing (seriously) so just because it looks like she’s giving you dirty looks doesn’t necessarily mean she is. I feel like you’ve gotta give people the benefit of the doubt too because you never really know what’s going on behind the scenes that could be putting them in a bad mood or upsetting them and causing them to act distant or off-putting towards those around them. It probably has little (or nothing) to do with you specifically so like I said, just be cordial in whatever interactions you do have with her and beyond that, just focus on being in the boat and making it go fast.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! I’ve asked you plenty of questions before, and your blog is so helpful for me to be a better rower and coxswain. Recently, my team voted for women’s varsity captain. The girl who won is in her third season on the team, and her second season coxing. I love her as a person but I am not a fan of her coxing – I’ve raced with her before. (Just for some background.)

I personally don’t agree with many of the decisions she makes. For example: on our team, if the rowers aren’t cooperating, the coxswains have the authority to assign pushups. If ONE rower in her boat is unable to roll their oar up, then she gives her entire boat pushups, and one day, she was coxing my boat (a mixed NOVICE eight) who has just recently been learning how to roll-up, and she gave them pushups for not being able to do something that they haven’t learned.

Also, there have been several instances where a boat has needed to be put away and one more person was needed to carry it. I offer to help and then she tells me that the rowers need to be the ones carrying the boats. I don’t agree with this because the rowers bring their boat down and up, they bring oars down and up, and they help other boats. If each boat was carrying their own boat on their own, I’d agree with her. But if you just need someone else to put it in the racks, what is the problem if it is a coxswain (formerly a rower; perfectly able to lift a boat) versus a rower?

Thirdly, there are many cases where she has to ask me what we’re supposed to be doing, who’s going out first, etc., and that just seems very backwards to me. This along with the fact that the novices (who didn’t get to vote) wish that I were captain and believe that I am a better coxswain than her, handle myself better under pressure, etc.

I obviously cannot change the fact that she’s captain, and I am happy for her. My question is, how do I respect her even though I have more experience and frankly more leadership skills than she does? (I don’t know if this sounds totally jerky or not… I really do like her as a person, I just feel that she isn’t fit to be captain – at least, not yet.)

There’s a lot of flawed logic in “coxswains can assign pushups if the rowers aren’t cooperating” but power, responsibility, or whatever you want to call it like that in the wrong hands is basically just giving them a clear path towards becoming a full on Napoleonic personality. This is one of those situations where I think it’s in the best interest of everyone, including her, to have someone (you, another captain (if there is one), her stroke seat, etc.) take her aside and basically have a “you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself” conversation with her. Throwing your weight around like that, especially with novices, isn’t the best way to earn your team’s respect and if she wants to actually be a captain and not just wear the title like a crown she needs to chill.

I agree that if you need somebody to help carry a boat it doesn’t matter who it is as long as they’re actually capable of helping (aka your 5’0″, 114lb coxswain probably won’t be of much help but your 5’6″, 127lb coxswain might be). This is one battle though that probably isn’t worth fighting. In this case I’d probably go to one of the people carrying the oars and say “hey, let me grab those and you go help them take the boat up”. You still get to help out and she gets to have a “real” rower carrying the boat … practically a win-win.

When it comes to her asking you what you’re supposed to be doing, who’s going out, etc. I don’t think it’s a big deal to occasionally fill her in if you know the answer to her question (particularly if she was legitimately occupied with something else while the coach was telling the team what the plan was) but more often then not I think you have to default to saying “you should talk to [your coach]”, “[your coach] posted the workout/lineups on the cork board upstairs”, etc. At some point you might just have to say “it’s not my responsibility to know this stuff or communicate it to you”, which might come off as passive aggressive or whatever but it’s true. I don’t expect the people in my boat or the guys on our team to tell me or our coxswains what the plan for practice is because it’s just not their job to do.

Looking at this from her perspective though (and to give her the smallest benefit of the doubt), it’s possible she’s asking you because she sees that you have more experience (both as a coxswain and a leader) and she’s looking for some guidance without having to outright say so. I’ve done that (and sometimes still do) but whoever I’m asking usually catches on and is like “you know you can just ask for help if you need it, right?” and it’s like … OK, they’re willing to help and don’t think I’m a total idiot. When you’re put in positions like she’s in, not just as a coxswain but with the added responsibility of being a captain too, there is a lot of pressure to have your shit together and if you don’t it can be pretty overwhelming (which in turn some people compensate for by going a little over the top with how they handle things … aka the pushups incident). Basically what I’m saying is don’t misattribute her attitude as being one thing when it might actually be the result of something else.

Like I said earlier, I think it’d be beneficial to have a quick one-on-one to address how she interacts with the novices and how she handles assigning pushups (which I still think is stupid and ineffective but if it’s a team policy then I guess you’ve gotta find a way to work with it … which basically means only using it as an absolute last resort). From there I’d just put it out there that you know having all this responsibility on your shoulders can be overwhelming at first so if she wants/needs advice on anything you’re willing to listen but, as previously mentioned, she’s gotta figure this out on her own and not rely on you to give her the lineups, workouts, launching order, etc. In situations like this I really believe the best thing you can do is just offer your support and if she wants it she’ll ask for it and if not, you just have to accept that and move forward. It’s hard – like, grit your teeth and cringe hard – when you want to tell someone how to do something or a way to do it better so they can avoid shitty situations but you also have to recognize that they’ve gotta make their own mistakes if they want to learn anything. That’s probably been the hardest thing for me working with our coxswains is just knowing when to sit back and not help. To the untrained eye I think it probably comes off as being a jerk for not helping (because obviously if a coxswain screws up it doesn’t just effect them, it effects the whole boat/team too) but I’m not about to force my knowledge or way of doing something on someone, even when I know it’s unequivocally right, just because they haven’t figured it out on their own yet (within reason obviously). So instead I’ll put it out there that if they want help, want to discuss something, etc. all they have to do is ask and we’ll find time to talk … otherwise, they’re on their own for better or worse.

I don’t think it makes you sound like a jerk to say all that. I think the only thing you’ve gotta be conscious of is not overstepping or undermining her authority when you interact with the novices. You can try to temper situations if a problem arises but they still have to respect the fact that she’s the captain, even if/when she does thing they don’t agree with. Even if you disagree with it too, it’d be better for you to try to help them understand where she might be coming from or why the team does things a certain way vs. saying “I don’t know why she’s making you guys do that…” or bickering with her in front of the team about who’s allowed to help carry the boats. If you want to be seen as a leader or theoretically in the future if you wanted to be captain, you’re not going to achieve that by badmouthing her or getting sucked into the groupthink where all the novices praise you while at the same time hating on her.

So … best way to respect her when you don’t (yet)? Find ways to work with her so you can better understand where she’s coming from. At the very least you’ll pick up some strategies for dealing with this type of personality so that if you encounter someone similar in the future (which you most definitely will in college, at work, etc.) you’ll know the most effective ways to deal with them.

Coxing High School Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi I’ve been recently reading your blog and have really enjoyed your posts. I have a question to ask you. I am in a high school crew and last year was my novice year. I spent the whole fall season rowing and also did winter conditioning, but I hoped I could become a coxswain. About half way through spring my coach realized that we needed a coxswain, and since I was light and eager to cox he used me as coxswain about once a week and I was able to cox four 4+ races, but they were always B boats because I was only the “part-time” coxswain. In the summer I rowed. Then this fall, my first varsity season, all but one of our coxswains, a girl who had coxed the guys novice last year during the spring were gone, participating in other activities. The coaches decided to make me the head girls varsity coxswain and, we’ll call her Maddie, the head boys varsity coxswain. At first I struggled a lot because I had hardly any instruction, and I was basically a novice varsity coxswain. Many of the rowers became exasperated with me. They would talk bad about me in the boat and at the boat house, and they would frequently decide to tap or back seat cox. About two weeks into the season, Sarah, a coxswain who has been coxing for 5 years and just last spring took a lightweight men’s 4+ to Nationals and placed 2nd, returned after being begged by one of our coaches. Instantly my problem became worse and the rowers would compare me to Sarah and wouldn’t take me seriously. Sarah and Maddie became close friends and have been excluding me and telling the rowers I am the worst coxswain to ever exist; they don’t take me seriously and think of me as a rower. The problem has only gotten worse as I’ve improved because Maddie seems to feel threatened by me because we are both in the same grade. So, my question is: how can I gain the respect of my fellow coxswains and the rowers after rowing for a year? Thanks for reading my long question, and I really hope you can answer it and help me gain some respect.

Check the “respect” tag as well as the post linked below. There’s plenty of stuff in both those links that’ll give you ideas for how to earn respect from the rowers.

As for the coxswains, you kinda just have to be the bigger person, ignore their bullshit, and find a way to communicate/work with them. Icing out another coxswain because you’re “threatened” by them or don’t like them or whatever is just petty and I get that you’re in high school so that’s like, the norm for that age but at some point you have to wake up and realize that doing that isn’t just hurting whoever’s on the receiving end of it, it’s hurting the entire team. You can say exactly that to them too (nicely but still firm enough to make your point) and to be honest, you probably should. Maybe part of the reason why they say this stuff about you is because they think they can get away with it because (they think) you won’t stand up for yourself or say anything back to them. I don’t think you need to engage them in any way but you shouldn’t let them walk all over you either.

Related: Some things to know as a novice coxswain

If Sarah is a good coxswain, which it sounds like she is, then presumably you have stuff you can learn from her so try to get on her good side by asking her questions, talking to her about how she’s coxed the boats she’s had in the past, proposing hypotheticals like “how would you deal with XYZ if this was your boat…”, etc. Sometimes that’s the best/easiest way to deal with a difficult person … flatter them and make them feel like you getting to learn from them is the greatest experience ever. Don’t be over the top about it or come off super fake because then they’ll just think you’re being passive aggressive (which in turn will only ramp up their collective attitude problem) … just approach it like you would a normal conversation with any other person. Hopefully doing that will give you a chance to develop a better working relationship with her and let her see that you’re not the enemy just because you’re a new-ish coxswain who’s still learning the ropes.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hello! I was wondering if you have any tips for when you feel burned out with coxing. I just don’t feel like I’m really doing my best in the boat and I feel like I have rowers who do not appreciate me or all the stress that I’m putting in to be the best I can be. I’m not getting any feedback even though I repeatedly ask for it and just don’t feel like a respected part of the team and while I love this sport I don’t really know what to do.

It’s easy to get burned out on coxing, especially when you’re trying to get better and feel like you’re hitting a wall with every attempt you make. When it comes to asking feedback, more often times than not the reason you’re not getting any is because you’re not asking the right questions. That may or may not be the case here but whenever you talk to your rowers (or coaches), ask them about one or two specific things rather than just “how did I do today”.

Related: Okay. I know you have gotten questions like this before but how do I get people to respect me as a coxswain? I mean I’m fairly knowledgeable, I know how to correct people’s technique and how to work with them to improve. I do most of the workouts with the team but I feel like there is something about me that makes them not respect me. I’m a camp counselor over the summer and I feel like the campers don’t really respect my authority either.

For example, if you’ve been working on your technical eye say something like “I’ve been trying to get better at spotting and calling out technical issues, particularly when we’re going through drills. Today I was focused on the catch and wanted to know if you had any feedback on the calls I was making – were they still too vague or do you think they were better at pointing out the issues and what changes had to be made?” The caveat to asking the rowers stuff like this is that there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll say “uh…I wasn’t paying attention sooo…” or “I don’t remember…”. To combat that it’s best to talk to a couple rowers before you go out and say “this is what I’m working on today, can you give me some feedback after practice?” and then approach them again later once you’re off the water. The same idea applies to your coach when it comes to stuff like steering, developing a better understanding of drills and workouts, etc. The more specific your questions the better the feedback you get will be.

Related: Hey, This past spring season was my first season and I am a novice coxswain. Now I am training with mostly varsity kids for the summer. I want to be be able to get them to respect me but I am really short and weak. I have already tried working out with them. Is there any other way to get their respect? Also, what are some drills that I can do on the water when I am waiting for my coach so my rowers aren’t just sitting around? Thanks for the help!

As far as not feeling like a respected member of the team, talk to your team captains about this (if you have any) and explain why you feel that way. If you don’t have team captains or a varsity rower/coxswain you feel comfortable talking to, approach your coach and ask to meet with them one-on-one. Tell them how you’re feeling and that the result of everything is that you feel really burned out and aren’t sure where to go from here. Hopefully they’ll be able to give you some advice on ways they feel you can improve that you might not have thought of yet and how to work towards earning the respect of the rowers. The thing about coxing is that you have to accept early on that pretty much no one is going to know what you’re doing off the water to get better so you have to take all that behind the scenes work and manifest it into actual actions  on the water … otherwise you’ll just come across as all talk and no game and people will wonder why you’re so stressed for seemingly no reason.

Related: This kind of sounds weird, but I’m a novice coxswain, how do I get my boat to respect me? I feel like (with the exception of calls related to steering and drills) they don’t listen to anything I say in the boat. They talk a lot and I tell them not to but they continue to. They point stuff out to me on the water that I can clearly see and I just feel like they are always yelling at me and telling me what to do. Sometimes I just need to make a decision but I can’t if everyone is yelling at me. I don’t know what to do. I’m learning but the coaches don’t really help me out. Most of the things I’ve learned about coxing I’ve learned from other coxswains on the team or your blog. Do you know how to fix this and get the rowers to listen to me?

If worst comes to worst, you can always take some time off to clear your head and figure out what your next move is. Sometimes taking time off is a good solution because it lets you look at things more objectively whereas when you’re stressed and irritated it’s harder to see where you can do things better/differently. You might also come to the conclusion that as much as you love coxing, the team environment isn’t giving you what you need to make continuing to cox worth it and that walking away from the sport is your best option. The good thing is that we’re nearing the end of the fall season which means you’ll likely have some time to do this before winter training picks up or if your team doesn’t do winter training, you’ll have plenty of time to think about all this before the spring season rolls around.

Coxing Novice Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! This is my second year as a coxswain on a girls’ high school team. We just had some novices come in so they’re relatively new to the sport. I’m worried that I may be too mean/harsh with the rowers. Earlier today I was coxing a quad back to slings to wash it. It is difficult to move the boat from the dock to the slings – there are quite a few poles on the dock and around the slings area. I’d already told the rowers not to move and the next thing I hear, one end of the boat had come in contact with a pole (not exactly a crash but the boat had hit the pole). While the sound wasn’t too loud I immediately yelled, “I said, DON’T MOVE until I give a command!” I feel like I may have been too mean but at the time my only concern was to not wreck the boat. What is your opinion and how should I effectively take control calmly in this situation?

I’ve been dealing with similar stuff all week so I totally get where you’re coming from. I have a really hard time understanding how someone can be told to follow this instruction or not do something or whatever and then they go and do literally the exact opposite. Especially if we tell you to do something, directly ask you if you understand, and you say YES, indicating to us that you comprehend what we said and will do whatever we said to do/not do whatever we said not to do.

Admittedly, I’m a pretty impatient person in general and when instructions (not requests … instructions) not being followed leads or has the potential to lead to a dangerous situation (like, oh I donno, rowing against the traffic pattern in the basin in a Tubby or rowing 500m away from the launch to the point where we can’t see you after we specifically said “stick with the other Tubbies”), I become very tense and on edge. I know that as soon as that happens anything I say is going to reflect the “WTF ARE YOU DOING” feelings going through my head and I do question sometimes if I’m going to come off as being too harsh as a result. I care but at the same time I don’t because it all comes back to if you had just followed the REALLY, REALLY, REALLY STRAIGHTFORWARD AND SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS that I gave you in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this position. I’m guessing you probably felt the same way. A lot of people say “you can’t get too mad, they’re just novices…” but I think that’s bullshit because you don’t need to be a varsity rower to be able to follow an instruction as simple as “don’t move”.

I don’t think that getting frustrated in situations like this means you’re being too harsh or mean with the rowers. Others might disagree, which is fine, but that’s my opinion. Safety is your number one priority and protecting the equipment falls under that umbrella so as long as you’re not actually yelling at them and calling them a bunch of idiots (out loud), I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

After your next practice, I’d recommend taking them aside and apologizing if you came across overly aggressive but make it clear that as a coxswain safety is your top priority and it’s very frustrating when people don’t listen and jeopardize the safety of the equipment, other teammates, etc. Traffic patterns, how to stay safe in the boat, etc. are not suggestions, they’re rules and protocols that are in place for. a. reason. Going out and blatantly ignoring what we said after previously indicating they understood puts them and anyone else on the river in danger.

Explain to them why you said don’t move and point out the poles you have to navigate around so they can see why it’s important that they listen to you. Also say that you try to make sure your voice is heard (which hopefully you do) but you know that when there’s a lot going on around you it can be harder to hear so you’ll make more of an effort in the future to talk loud and make sure everyone on the boat hears what you’re saying so there’s no confusion on what you want/need them to do.

Hopefully that explanation will clear things up and you won’t have this problem again but if you do, ask one of the varsity coxswains or team captains to address them. If the issue persists after that, talk to your coach and let them know that you and the other coxswains/captains have already addressed this several times but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. If it gets to that point it’s best for you to take a step back, not say anything, and let your coach address it because if this is a regular thing you’ve been dealing with you’ll probably be pretty pissed off and that’s when you’re more likely to say something that is too mean/harsh.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi I am a coxswain, my coach is not afraid to show his disdain for coxswains but the girls in my boat for the most part do make some backhanded comment or when needed, stand up to the coach. That being said I feel like coaches and novices should have some sort of coxswain sensitivity training. Like a portion on being a decent human being in the cheesy safety video. But seriously coaches need to remember that often these PEOPLE are young impressionable girls who will take what you say to heart.

Not just girls – guys too. Granted, I do get more emails about the stuff I talked about today from young women but I do get a handful throughout the year from guys (mostly college ones) too.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think coxswains are a bunch of super special snowflakes that have to be praised every second or are incapable of taking/handling criticism (and if they are, GTFO because this isn’t the role or sport for you). I don’t think they deserve any more or less respect than anyone else on the team either just because they’re a coxswain. What I do think they deserve is an equal amount of respect and it’s pretty clear that that’s not a common practice.

It’s ridiculous that you even have to make the suggestion of “coxswain sensitivity training” because it’s not something that should be necessary in the first place. The whole “being a decent human being” thing should come pretty standard, regardless of whether you’re dealing with a coxswain or another rower. Who it is shouldn’t matter. I know some people will read this and think “OMG suck it up, it’s not that bad” and I get that – there are times when I think coxswains take things way too seriously or personally (note, this isn’t one of those times) and I say the same thing in my head but like the other person who messaged me said, the overall attitude that coxswains don’t do shit and are responsible for everything that goes wrong is way too prevalent. It seems to be more of a thing at the junior level than anywhere else (although it’s not exclusive to them), which makes sense because you’re a teenager and teenagers aren’t the most socially graceful people on the planet but again, that’s why having coaches, captains, and other team leaders not let it get that far in the first place is important.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

I swear to god, with all the shit coxswains have to put up with, ya’ll deserve a whole month of appreciation, not just 1 week. I see the way my coach treats coxswains and basically says he hates coxies in front of them. It sucks because that attitude is too prevalent in the community.

Yea, I agree that that attitude is too prevalent. It’s frustrating but in theory it’s also an attitude/culture that can be changed … it really only takes the leaders on the team saying something and shutting down that behavior as soon as they see or hear about it happening (and obviously not partaking in it themselves). Granted, that can be hard to do when your coach is also involved in it but nobody ever said calling people on their shit was an easy thing to do.

That was something else that the coxswain from today’s post (linked below)said in her emails, that it became clear that the rowers saw the way the coach treated her (in addition to making the weight comments) and got the idea in their heads that it’s OK for them to treat her like that too. It’s not and it shouldn’t take the athletes to point out that everything starts from the top down. The team itself was a relatively new one and the majority of the rowers were total novices, which makes it even more frustrating that the coach would be the one spurring all this on because novices are like babies – they’re sponges. They soak up everything to get a sense for how shit works and if they see you doing something, they’re going to assume they can do it too.

Related: Do you really need that?

I’m all for calling coxswains out when they need to be called out (I think I’ve been pretty vocal about too) but it’s also basic common sense to know when you’re crossing that line and your “feedback/criticism” is crossing over into personal attacks, either blatant ones (telling them you hate them or blaming them for everything that’s going wrong) or subtle ones (making snide remarks about their weight).