Given that it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week I thought this was an appropriate video to share. It’s from a talk on weight management that was given during the Sparks coxswain camp this past December. It’s only about nine minutes long so I encourage you to set aside some time to watch it (in addition to sharing it with the other coxswains on your team). There’s some great info, advice, and anecdotes in here but beyond that, at the very least I hope this serves as a wake-up call for those of you who are or are considering employing unsafe methods of losing weight.
Last spring when we were in Florida for spring break the coxswains decided they wanted to update the evals we’d been using with questions that were more specific and kinda forced the guys to think deeper about what they wanted in a coxswain and how our current group measured up to that. We spent about two hours in my hotel room tossing around ideas for what to change, add, etc. and came up with Eval 2.0, which I’ve linked as a PDF below.
Related: Coxswain Evaluations 2.0
With the exception of one or two questions we didn’t really eliminate that much from the original eval but there were a lot of changes and additions made. Here’s what we added:
More specificity to most of the questions
Sometimes having open-ended questions is necessary but there’s a thin line between open-ended and vague so we tried to make the questions as direct as possible in order to get more targeted feedback that we/I could more easily translate into actionable goals.
Added a section on communication
This was an area where we struggled last year (to the point where the rowers noticed, which was a wake up call for the coxswains over spring break) and after strategizing on ways we could improve (individually and collectively) they wanted feedback on whether or not the changes were coming across. (We also added a section for calls – previously it was tacked onto motivation but there weren’t any specific questions for it so we separated it and made it it’s own section.)
Added several new questions
Many of the questions carried over from the first eval but we also added a couple new ones to address specific areas of concern/interest. For example, under “execution” there weren’t any questions that directly addressed the coxswains’ knowledge. It’s one thing to say you know what you’re doing or talking about but when it comes time to call drills, make technical corrections to an individual’s stroke, etc. can you actually do that or no? (This has consistently been one of the questions that gets the best responses too.)
Knowledge and communication of technique issues – do the coxswains appear to have a good understanding of the rowing stroke, as well as the ability to pick out technical problems during practice and provide the appropriate feedback?
How well do you feel the coxswains manage practice in terms of running warm-ups, understanding what the coaches are looking for, what the goal of the practice/pieces are, etc.?
How would you describe the energy the coxswain brings to the boat? Are they someone that can lift the boat when they’re having a bad practice and maintain a positive atmosphere when things are going well?
Conciseness of calls – are the calls too wordy (5), just right (3), or too vague/ambiguous (1)?
Clarity of calls – how clear is the coxswain when making a call and how well do you understand the calls that are being made? (This question has two meanings – are they clear as in (1) not mumbling and (2) do their calls make sense and can the rowers easily process and translate them into actions.)
What calls do you like, what calls do you think aren’t effective, and/or what calls do you not understand?
Do you feel the coxswains communicate effectively and work well with each other, the coaches, and the crew during practice? Are there any areas in which you think they can/should improve?
Expanded on which coxswains are best in racing + practice situations
Asking which coxswains they prefer for races and practice is helpful for the coaches but it never really did much for the coxswains other than create animosity. Adding in an open-ended “why” component helped them see why the rowers chose who they did and where they could make improvements. There was also some … ok, a lot of … debate on what makes a good varsity coxswain last year so to settle that we came up with two questions that addressed not just the specific qualities the rowers want in their coxswains but also asking who they felt could get in the boat and maximize the crew’s potential.
Both questions were initially a little self-serving (one of the coxswains definitely thought their point was going to be made and the responses would lean in their favor … which didn’t end up happening) but the underlying thought behind the latter question was that it’s not just about being a good coxswain because not all good coxswains can get in a boat and make it faster (which happened last year too). The question about maximizing potential looks past all the “surface aesthetics”, their weight, etc. and focuses solely on who can pull something out of the boat when its needed the most.
In the fall I go over the evals individually with the coxswains but in the winter/spring I like to go over them as a group. This winter we did a combination of both (at their request) and started off by going over them individually (three coxswains = three practices to go over them, roughly an hour each) before meeting as a group to discuss everything and address some particular points that came up. (We spent about two hours doing this during one of the team’s steady state days.) Instead of doing individual sheets like I do in the fall (you can see an example of those in the original evals post linked at the top) I just put all the comments on one page and color-coded them for each person.
This was then shared with them the night before the first one-on-one so they could see not just the comments they got but what was said about everyone else as well. I have my reasons for letting them see each other’s comments so use your best judgement since that approach obviously won’t work for everyone.
So, what do the guys think of these new evals? Surprisingly, they like them. They’re obviously a lot more labor-intensive than the original ones are (those usually took 15-20 minutes to fill out whereas the guys tend to spend 45-60+ minutes filling these ones out – seriously) but the quality of the feedback also matches the amount of time they spend on them so the trade-off is worth it. Naturally they all complain about how long they are but I think they recognize that the coxswains really look forward to the feedback they get so it’s mostly in jest at this point.
If you don’t have a ton of time to spare then definitely stick with the original ones but if you do, I’d consider doing a longer eval like this at least once a year. I’m mulling the idea of making these into a Google Form for next time and having the guys fill them out that way but the downside to that is they don’t get donuts if we aren’t doing them at the boathouse sooo … there’s that.
Pro tip: bring the rowers donuts and they’ll do whatever you ask. FACT.
Image via // @mitmensrowing
This might seem like an unconventional topic to put under the “things you should know how to do” umbrella but after spending many hours on coxswain evals over the last year and a half and occasionally feeling like pulling teeth would have been a more enjoyable experience, I think learning how to handle negative feedback/constructive criticism is an important skill that coxswains need to pick up sooner rather than later.
Feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to your growth as a coxswain. When communicated properly, it should touch on three main things – what you’re doing well, what you need to improve on, and areas where you’ve made improvements since your last evaluation. This is a big reason why I revamped how the info on our evals is communicated to the coxswains. Before the coaches just handed them the 20+ pieces of paper and left them to their own devices but now it’s all laid out in a single spreadsheet that hits the three points I mentioned before.
Where going over evals becomes a contentious and unproductive process is when you take the negative feedback personally. Being told you aren’t doing something well can sting because of the amount of time we put into coxing but if someone is critiquing your coxing, they’re not critiquing you. You have to be able to separate you the person from you the coxswain and look at these situations objectively. On the flip side though, if you’re not putting in the necessary extra effort outside of practice (or hell, even at practice…) or you show up every day with a shitty attitude then you really have no right to complain about whatever’s being said, which I think more coxswains than not need to understand.
With that in mind, here are eight things (some of which may or may not be inspired by our coxswains 😬) that you shoudn’t do when going over your evals.
Don’t get defensive
In most cases it’s the natural reaction to have but it can also come off as pretty immature. There’s a difference between defending your actions or making a case for why you did something a certain way and straight up making an excuse. You can defend something you’ve done one time (i.e. going through the wrong arch because you were unsure of which one to use due to construction on the bridge – a common problem on the Charles where this is always changing) but if you’re trying to defend something you’ve done multiple times (i.e. hitting the dock when coming in at the end of practice) then you’re just making excuses for why you haven’t adapted your steering to account for whatever was causing you to run into the dock in the first place (i.e. your speed, angle, line, etc.).
Don’t have an attitude or be sarcastic
Full disclosure, I started putting this post together after a particularly … uh, heated … meeting with one of our coxswains this past fall where this was the biggest issue I faced in trying to communicate with them the feedback that was on the evals. The bottom line is that you can be annoyed all you want but don’t be an asshole to the person taking time out of their schedule to go over this stuff with you because I promise, it just makes them not want to do it in the future … and if you have someone willing to go out of their way to discuss all of it with you, you are foolish if you don’t take advantage of it.
Don’t apologize 47 times for whatever mistake(s) you’ve made
Mainly looking at you, high school girls. Say it once sincerely and move on. Don’t make your coaches coddle you and have to keep saying “it’s fine” – I’ve had to do this recently and eventually it gets to the point where I’m like “I literally do not care if you’re sorry or how sorry you are, just do something different“. The more times you say sorry (especially for really trivial things that don’t require an apology) without actively changing your actions or behavior, the less your apology is going to mean when you really do screw up.
Don’t react immediately
If your immediate reaction to the feedback you’re getting is to blurt out “that’s not fair”, “I completely disagree”, etc. you will look so immature, even if the comments are unfair (which they rarely are) and you do disagree (which is fine but see point #1). Absorb the comments and think about what’s being said so you can try to understand why someone made that comment and then say that you’d like to come back to it later, either at the end of practice, tomorrow, etc., after you’ve had time to think about and process it.
And coaches, if your coxswain goes this route … respect it and say “OK, let’s touch base later”, even if that means spending an extra 20 minutes at the boathouse. If you force the issue by saying”no, we’re gonna do this now” you’re just gonna make them resent the whole evaluation process and their confidence/abilities will suffer as a result.
Don’t dwell on it, let it affect future practices, or use it as a reason/excuse for why you have a bad practice the following day
If you were caught off guard by the comments then that’s fine and you should take some time to deal with that but you also need to commit to letting them go, particularly when it’s time to get on the water. No pity parties or “woe is me” attitudes because the rowers don’t give a shit and the coaches are just gonna get annoyed because we have other stuff to focus on.
Don’t ignore comments you disagree with
Not all feedback is useful but disagreeing with a comment doesn’t mean you can straight up ignore it, particularly when getting any kind of feedback is so tough in the first place.
Don’t waste the opportunity to discuss, strategize, etc.
It’s like at the end of a job interview when they ask if you have any questions. You should always ask questions. I’m currently in the process of going over our winter evals with the coxswains and I told them ahead of time to bring questions, comments, things they wanted/needed clarification on, an action plan for the rest of winter training, a list of goals based on the feedback that was given, etc. because this is the prime chance to discuss all of that stuff with me. I see and talk to them every single day but direct one-on-one time like this is rare, as I assume it is with most of you and your coaches, so don’t waste the opportunity to pick their brains when it’s offered.
Don’t be resentful
If your coach(es) or the rowers have been telling you something for awhile and then it comes up again in the evals, you can expect that they’re all thinking “well … we told you so”. This shouldn’t piss you off or give you cause to be bitter towards them, it should instead act as a wake up call (or a “come to Jesus” moment, as our head coach calls it) that you need to do some serious self-analysis and get your shit together. They are telling you this stuff for. a. reason. Don’t ignore them just because you don’t think it’s important because it will bit you in the ass later.
Obviously these critiques are about what’s being said but ultimately their effectiveness is measured by how you handle and respond to them. This will also dictate how future evals go – the more receptive you are to feedback and the more diligently you go about addressing whatever issues are brought up, the more likely the rowers will be to continue giving you feedback because they can see that you’re taking it seriously. If you come off as aloof or combative in response to what’s being said, you’re not going to get better because the rowers will stop giving you any sort of feedback because it looks like you’re not taking it seriously. It’s your call.
Image via // @merijnsoeters
Hi! I’m a junior in high school and I just moved up to the girls varsity team in September. I was on the novice team for fall and spring of my sophomore year and I was in the top boat but now since I moved up to varsity the playing field is a lot more competitive and I am worried about being recruited later this year. I’m also around 5’5 and 140lbs and I wasn’t sure if I should drop to 135 to be considered for “lightweight” considering my height. I was invited for winter training on our team (just finished our first full week) and I feel like I’m already burning out. My family and I are making over a 40 minute commute to get to practice each day, 6 days a week and I just feel like I cannot get, well, my shit together fully. The days are getting shorter and we have practice at 5:45 to 7:45 three days a week and its just a little tough. Mostly I just needed some re-assurance that all this hard work and commuting will be alright and I will get recruited. I was also wondering if its even possible for a 5’5 girl to get into a D1 program in college? I’m also looking at D2 and D3 possibly, but it seems if I want a scholarship D1 is the choice to go. Also I’m taking my SAT’s and ACT’s in about 2-3 weeks and I’m worried that this too late for colleges to see my scores? I heard some girls my age sending them in October for colleges but I think if I send them in December it’s still pretty early…? And should I shoot some coaches an email now about being interested in their team for the fall of 2017 before I even have my SAT scores? Thank you thank you thank you.
There’s no way I can reassure you that this will all work out and you’ll get recruited. There’s a lot that goes into being recruited (if you haven’t been following along check out all of these posts), not to mention getting a scholarship, so it’d be impossible to say whether or not this is all worth it. I know that’s definitely not the answer you wanted/needed but I can’t imagine anyone else out there would say differently.
If you’re 5’5″ I think you might have better luck (in terms of the boats you’d be able to compete for) at a D3 school but I definitely know of some women at D1 schools that are your height or shorter and they do fine. They usually settle into the 2V or 3V, which can be tough if you’re super competitive and being in the 1V is your goal, but of the ones I’ve talked to through here it’s just something they’ve accepted (in a positive way, not that they feel like they’re settling or something) and they’ve refocused their personal goals to suit the lineup they’re currently in. Regardless of where you are I think that’s a good mindset to put yourself in but when you’re in high school and looking at colleges it’s definitely something you need to consider. You might talk to your current coach and get their opinion since they obviously know a bit more about you as an athlete and can probably give you more specific advice based off of that.
Related: College recruiting 101
The recruiting process for most people tends to start in their junior year so you’re not super late to the party since that’s where you’re at now. If you already know the schools you’re interested in then I’d fill out the questionnaires on the athletic departments’ websites and then shoot an email to the coaches introducing yourself and letting them know when they can expect your test scores. Once you receive them, forward them on to the coaches and keep them updated on your progress from there. (I talk about contacting coaches a lot in the recruiting posts I linked before so I’d really recommend spending some time reading through those, as well as any of the posts in the “recruiting” tag since there have been lots of similar questions asked in there.) The only time it’s really too early to be contacting a coach is if you’re a freshman or sophomore (or a junior with little to no notable results) so you should be fine assuming you have a solid rowing resume and appear recruitable on paper. That’s something else you should discuss with your coach too – based on what they see in you as an athlete, your 2k time, your grades, etc. what do they think your chances are at being recruited by the schools you’re interested in.
As far as getting burned out, I get where you’re coming from. Obviously it’s a little different but when we were practicing in the afternoon this fall it would take me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to drive eight freaking miles across town to get to the boathouse. By the time October rolled around I was beyond over it because it just ate up so much time … 45+ minutes to get there, 2 hours at practice, and then 45 minutes to get home. Like I said, obviously it’s not the same but trust me when I say that I get how mentally exhausting a long commute can be. Eventually you’ll get into a groove where it doesn’t feel so overwhelming but you do have to spend some time planning out what you’ve gotta do, how you need to allocate your time, etc. Since you’re not too far into winter training yet I’d try to do that sometime this week when you’ve got some free time. Take advantage of your commute to/from the boathouse too – if you’re not driving, bring some earplugs to block out the noise and get some reading done in the car. When I was at Syracuse I would review flashcards for my anatomy + physiology class on our 25ish minute drive back to campus. It didn’t require a ton of mental effort to do and it was something I wouldn’t have to find time for later in the day when I was a lot busier (and a lot more tired).
I wouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket as far as all this being worth it though. If your only measurement of success is whether or not you get recruited then I think you’re most likely setting yourself up for disappointment. If you make that a big picture goal though and set smaller goals for each month of winter training (i.e. drop your 2k by 2 seconds by New Year’s, increasing the length of your planks by 10 seconds per week over the next six weeks … stuff like that) then I think you’ll be less likely to feel burned out and more likely to feel like the sacrifice was worth it if you see yourself achieving in other areas that are more relevant to where you’re currently at in your career.
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.
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.
Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1 || Contacting coaches, pt. 2 || Contacting coaches, pt. 3 || Contacting coaches, pt. 4 || Highlight videos + the worst recruiting emails
There are three main rules regarding recruitment that you should be aware of, regardless of whether you’re looking at men’s teams or women’s teams.
1. Most athletic departments apply NCAA bylaws to all sports, including men’s crew even though it is NOT an NCAA sport due to Title IX.
2. Depending on what division the school/program competes in (Division 1, Division 2, or Division 3) the bylaws can/will differ. There may also be variances across different leagues (i.e. no “dead periods” for men’s rowing in the Ivy League).
3. Outside of providing general info, contact from the coach to the athlete isn’t allowed until July 1st following the completion of your junior year of high school. This means that coaches are not allowed to initiate contact or return phone calls to students who are not seniors. (You however, as has been mentioned many times before, can initiate contact.)
There’s a lot of comprehensive and limiting rules that govern the different types of permissible contact and evaluations during the recruiting process and while it’s good to be aware of the rules, it’s not imperative that you know all the nitty gritty details. (And trust me, after having to read the NCAA handbook (all 470+ pages of it) and take a test on it all last year, be thankful you don’t need to know a lot of this.)
Alright, so official and unofficial visits. I’ve talked about these before and given details on what each is, what they entail, etc. so since the majority of the info shared at camp is the same as what I’ve already written, I’ll link that post down below and you can check it out on your own.
Related: Official vs. Unofficial Visits
There were a lot of good questions that came up outside the general stuff, most of which had to do with unofficial visits. As long as the school isn’t paying any of your expenses, you can stay with friends on campus, sit in on classes with them, watch practice, etc. as many times as you want at any point during your high school career.
One thing that many of the coaches (and college athletes) said was that visiting when school is in session is your best opportunity to see what real student life is like and get a general sense for the pace of people’s daily routines. It also gives you another chance to meet the people who make up the overall community. As convenient as going over Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring, or summer break is, you won’t get to experience the same “energy” that you would if you went when classes were going on so it’s worth it to miss a day or two of school if you can make it happen.
Related: Can a coxswain back out of a verbal commitment? I want to tell a very good D1 school that I will commit to go there but my coach said I should wait until after HOCR because I might be able to go to a better school if I do well. What should I do? Can you still go on an official to another school if you verbally commit?
If/when you go on unofficial visits, reach out to the coaches to let them know you’re coming too. Do this at least a week or two in advance of your trip (the sooner the better) and try to look at the team’s schedule before contacting the coaches instead of sending an email asking “will you be around”. If they’ve got a race lined up for that weekend, bets are that Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun aren’t going to be ideal days to visit because the coaches will either be busy prepping or on the road. You can obviously still go on your trip if it’s something you already have scheduled but just know that you might not be able to do anything rowing-related while you’re there. (And if the coaches are able to make time for you, thank them.)
One of the athletes on the NRC panel who rows for the women’s team at Yale said that she sent a short email to each coach of the schools she “unofficially” visited that contained a brief intro (who she was, where she rowed, filled out questionnaire on [date]) and said that she’d be coming to visit campus on [date], would it be possible to meet up, see the boathouse, etc. From the coaches point of view, one (from the women’s team at Bates College) said that unofficial visits are a good opportunity for coaches to put faces with names and learn more about your interests in a slightly more low-key environment than an official visit provides (since they’re not just learning about you on that trip, they’re learning about 3-5 other people as well).
Something that was stressed by several of the coaches was that not being offered an official visit doesn’t necessarily mean they’re uninterested in you. Some teams can’t afford to bring kids out because they’ve either maxed out their budget or the money wasn’t there to begin with. I heard several stories from coaches who had to deal with situations like this during the recession when their budgets were cut. Keep in mind too that even though that was seven years ago, not all programs are back to the level of funding they were at before the downturn so if a coach tells you it’s not in the budget, don’t automatically assume that they’re just trying to soften the blow or feed you a line because it’s very likely they’re telling you the truth.
Related: What can I do during an official visit that will help my chances of being a recruit? I am one out of 35, and they choose about 10. Also, do you have any links for previous posts on this subject? Thanks!
At the end of your official visit(s), you should spend time talking with the coaches about where you stand, the role they feel you could play on the team, and the likelihood that you’ll be admitted and/or supported through the admissions process. Coaches should be up front and honest about this so don’t be afraid to straight up ask them these questions – just be respectful and casual about it. Coming off like an entitled douche is a great way for a coach to go from interested to uninterested really fast.
Next week: Recruiting without scholarships
Image via // @joseph_hollow
This is kind of an off-topic(ish) post so just bear with me here. This particular issue has come up a lot lately in conversation and emails so I wanted to touch on it here and get your thoughts.
I don’t know if any other (female) coxswains get annoyed with this but it’s really starting to rub me the wrong way when we’re told to “be more bitchy” when we’re coxing. I was told this in high school and college, my friends have been told this, girls I coach have been told this, and I’ve had numerous emails over the last few years from women of all ages who have been told this.
Related: I was told to be more “bitchy” in the boat, but I want to make sure I’m constructively assertive and not mean or unnecessarily aggressive. Do you have any suggestions for how to talk to my coaches about this or to get back into a higher boat, or tips for being “bitchy” in a helpful way?
Instead of saying “be more bitchy”, why not just say “be more authoritative, assertive, confident, self-assured, etc.” in relation to whatever specific part of her coxing you’re referring to? There’s a big difference between asserting yourself to get shit done and straight up being a bitch and I don’t think it’s right to conflate the two and make it seem like in order to accomplish something you have to be (or are) a bitch.
There’s obviously plenty of instances where being called a bitch isn’t a big deal and like most people I think it’s a total non-issue when used in that context but telling a 14, 15, 16 year old girl (who doesn’t know or understand the pop culture appropriation of the word) that she needs to be bitchier in order to do her job just sends her the wrong message about what it takes to be a leader … and that I’m not cool with.
Related: My coach says that there’s “a feistier” side in me that my rowers may not know about me. I can see why, I seem a little timid at times, but on the water when I make calls, I guess my voice changes and I get really into it/competitive. She also told me I should work on being even more of a leader-esp. on the water. As in I could throw in some challenges like out of shoes rowing at the end of practice or something. How do I become an effective leader without coming across as a bitch, rude, etc. ?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first one to admit that there are times when we are being bitches and we are being bossy in the negative sense and that’s something that we deserve to get called out on. Outside of those occasions though, there are better and more empowering ways to communicate to teenage girls how to be more assertive and confident when they’re in leadership roles (like what comes with being a coxswain).
The question that was in the post I linked to asked if I had any tips for “being bitchy in a helpful way”. I like the way that coxswain explained it too because she said she wants to “make sure I’m constructively assertive and not mean or unnecessarily aggressive”, which I think is the perfect way to describe what people mean when they call someone a bitch because they either want the former or think they’re being the latter. Here’s what I said in response to that and going forward, if somebody tells you to “be bitchier in the boat”, know that this is probably what they want you to do.
“If your rowers are speaking in a general sense, I tend to interpret that as them saying they want you to be more on top of them about the little details – aka hold them accountable for the changes they need to make, the rate/splits they’re supposed to be at, etc. I was just talking about this with our coxswains yesterday when we went over their coxswain evals and what I told them was that they need to know not just the standards and expectations that we (the coaches) have for each crew but they also need to know the standards and expectations that the rowers have for themselves and then aggressively hold them to that. That combined with knowing the appropriate technical calls to make (and when) and understanding the focus and purpose of each drill/workout so you can cox them accordingly is how you present yourself as a “constructively assertive” coxswain.”
I know topics like this can be eye roll-inducing and easy to write off but I hope what I said makes sense and you see where I’m coming from. Also, because I know someone somewhere will think/say this, this has nothing to do with male coxswains and stuff like this never being said to them. I purposely avoided going down that road because I don’t think it’s relevant. Maybe it is but it’s not the point I’m trying to make.
Being a coxswain helps you develop so many great and important life skills, especially when it comes to leadership, so in the interest of encouraging more girls to step into similar roles let’s do our part as coaches and teammates by using the right language to communicate the traits it takes to accomplish that.
Image via // @tristanshipsides
I am a girl and I recently joined a new club team that has a very small group of girls and a very large group of guys. I started out coxing the novice guys so I know them pretty well and we work well together but recently I was switched to coxing the for girls. I feel like I work better with the guys and would like to go back to coxing for them. How do I approach my coach about this without sounding like I am complaining or being a team player?
I would first talk with the guys coach to see if there’s even a spot available for another coxswain on the team before you talk with your coach. (Even if you think there is, don’t assume anything until you’ve heard confirmation from the coach.) It’s like looking for a job – you shouldn’t quit your original job until you’ve landed another one otherwise you’re probably gonna get screwed. Same general principle applies here … at least in my opinion. You don’t have to go into all the details but I’d say something along the lines of you enjoyed being on the guys team, felt you worked well with him (the coach) and the rowers, and wanted to know if you were to switch back to the men’s team in the spring season (not mid-season, because that’s a shitty thing to do and not indicative of a “team player”), would there be a spot open for you and would you be able to compete right away for whatever boat it is you want. I’d let them know that you haven’t talked to your coach about this yet either but plan to do so within the next few days, just so they don’t end up saying something to them that puts you in an awkward position by giving your coach the impression that you’re going behind his/your team’s back.
If the men’s coach says there’d be a spot for you then the next step is talking with your coach. I would ask to meet with them one-on-one before or after practice and just lay out that when you started with the club you coxed with the men’s team and really enjoyed it because of XYZ. Explain to them your reasons for wanting to switch back to coxing them and try to avoid throwing anyone on your current team under the bus or saying something that implies you just like the other people better. Doing that is just going to come off wrong and won’t do you any favors. You don’t want to burn any bridges in the process of switching teams so you have to be as professional as possible about it and frame everything so that your reasons are about how/why you’ll thrive and have the kind of success you want with the other team and not about just liking a certain group of people more than another.
If the men’s coach says there isn’t a spot for you, accept that and figure out a way to work with your current teammates. Try talking with some of the varsity coxswains to see if they have any advice or if there’s something more serious going on, talk about it with your coach and ask them what advice they have for developing a better working relationship with the girls in your boat. Figuring out how to work well with people that you don’t necessarily get along or see eye-to-eye with is a solid life skill and this is a good opportunity to figure out some strategies for how to do that. (I always felt it came in handy in high school and college when working on group projects since group projects, you know, suck…)
I’ve always been of the opinion that a coach can’t tell you that you’re not allowed to switch teams – I just don’t think it’s within their power to do that – so talking with them is more of a courtesy thing to let them know what’s going on more than anything else. I do think they have the right to be a little annoyed though but that shouldn’t really stop you from doing what you think is best for you/your rowing career. Like I said, you don’t want to burn any bridges but I also think you need to stick to your guns in situations like this. Coaches have a tendency to guilt trip people into staying on their current team and I personally don’t think that’s fair, for coxswains in particular since how well we work with the people in our boat can literally be the make-or-break factor in determining how well that crew does. Whatever you decide to do, be mature about how you approach things and you should be fine.
Whenever I have to write a legit email to someone that isn’t blog or team-related, figuring out what I want/need to say is always the hardest part. There’s an annoyingly fine balance between being straightforward with why you’re contacting them and giving them all the relevant information so that they don’t automatically discard your email for lack of details (or too many details).
The same goes for contacting coaches, which I think is why I get asked so often what coaches want to see in these emails or what info should you include and what should you save for later. The latter we’ll talk about next week but today we’re gonna go over what coaches want you to include in your introductory emails, as well as the other conundrum people face when contacting coaches … what should the subject line be?
First things first: before you send any emails or reach out directly in any way to a coach, fill out the recruiting forms on the athletic department’s website. If you’re unfamiliar with how this works, each team has their own individual page on the AD’s site that lists the roster, schedule, highlights, etc. Sometimes the questionnaires are easy to find, other times they’re a little hidden but it shouldn’t ever take you more than 30 seconds to find.
To use ours as an example, all you have to do is click on the “recruit me” button at the top of the page, which opens a new page where all the MIT athletic programs are listed. From there you just select “Crew – Heavyweight” which will open up our questionnaire.
Ours, like most, is pretty comprehensive and as most coaches will tell you, the more information you include in the questionnaire itself the better. The less information you include, the more the coaches will fill in on their own and that’s the last thing you want. If you leave your 2k PR blank they’ll either assume it’s not good, you’re not proud of where you’re at, or you’re not on top of things and haven’t done one in awhile (which is just lazy because you can literally do a 2k at any time.) So, step one, before you email the coaches spend some time filling these out in their entirety. They’ll get an email saying you completed the forms and will likely be waiting for you to reach out from there.
Pro tip: To make the process go faster, gather all the info you need first (that includes academic test scores, erg scores, contact info for your coaches and guidance counselors, GPA, class rank, academic/athletic honors, etc.) and then fill everything out. This might take a couple days but it’s worth the time spent doing it. I remember my dad and I making a matrix for all this stuff (similar to the one I posted a few weeks ago, linked below, for college visits) and it made the process of filling all the questionnaires out a lot simpler.
Related: College evaluation grid
One week later (give or take – I’d say no less than five days later and no more than ten), send an email introducing yourself. Don’t regurgitate everything you included in the questionnaires and don’t try to sell yourself – just keep it short and to the point. You should include…
Your name, rower/coxswain, height/weight, and your 2k PR (obviously not applicable if you’re a coxswain)
“Really interested in the rowing program at _____” + one or two specific questions
“Would really like to speak with you” + “what’s the best time/number to reach you”
…and that’s IT.
Two points that the coaches at camp made that I thought were worth noting are that they read a lot of emails on their phone and don’t want to see an endless wall of text on a tiny 5″ screen, which is why succinctness is key . I fully admit to procrastinating on replying to emails if I open one up on my phone and have to keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling to get to the bottom of it. It’s not that we’re uninterested in what you have to say, it’s just a little “ugh” inducing. If you’ve ever been assigned to read like, 100 pages of something before class the next day, it’s pretty much the same feeling.
The other point is that including a question mark in your email gives them a reason to contact you, hence the “what’s the best time/number to reach you” question. If you just rattle off a bunch of info but don’t give them any reason to reply, they’ll just say “mmk, cool” and file your stuff away … aka forget about it for awhile because you didn’t give them a reason to hit reply as soon as they finished reading.
Going back to the timing of when to contact the coaches after filling out the questionnaires, there’s also a “time limit” for when to reply after they’ve reached out to you. Once their email hits your inbox you’ve basically got a max of one week to respond. Anything beyond that and their level of interest starts to drop because you appear uninterested.
Outside of the “technical” info, what else do coaches want to see in your emails? Not all of this is mandatory stuff that you must include and a lot boiled down to each individual coach’s preferences but it’s good food for thought.
A short 30-second video clip of you on the water or erg
Again, obviously not applicable to coxswains.
No life stories, why you love rowing, etc.
I don’t want to say no one cares but … at this stage in the game no one cares.
Did you use spellcheck, address it to the right school/coach, etc.
This should be common sense but seriously, it takes two seconds to double check so just do it. To piggy back off of this too, write in complete sentences and for the love of god, use proper grammar and punctuation. I get emails from people all the time that make me seriously question if your elementary teachers just completely skipped over that part of school because the writing is THAT awful. Don’t think for a second that this doesn’t have an immediate impact on my (and other coaches) first impression of you, especially if you’re a coxswain. You’re in high school, there is literally no excuse for you to still be writing like a third grader. None whatsoever. If your writing skills aren’t up to par, fine, but at least get someone to proofread what you write before you send it.
Show you’re interested and paying attention by mentioning results
This refers to the college’s results, not your own. HOCR is next weekend so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to include a “PS, congratulations on winning the Champ 8+ at Head of the Charles!” or whatever if the team you’re contacting did particularly well. If you email them during the off-season you can mention their winter training trip – “I saw the video that the team linked on Twitter of the winter training trip in Clemson and it looked like you guys had a really productive week! Is Clemson where you go every year or do you cycle through different locations?”.
Don’t include links to your BeRecruited page
This was split 50-50 but one coach did make a point that they get emails whenever someone has noted that they’re interested in a particular school so it’s not like they won’t see it if you don’t include a link. A few coaches said that they just don’t have time to look at them, particularly if you’re contacting them when the teams are in-season, and one said that rowers/coxswains who use sites like that aren’t the type of athlete they want anyways. I’m still confused by that statement but the point is that sites like that, while useful, tend to be hit or miss with coaches. Knowing that I’d probably leave it out of my emails.
Indicate what year you are in school. Don’t assume that they will assume you’re a junior
When applying to Ivies or similarly academic-heavy schools (MIT, Stanford, etc.) in particular briefly highlight your GPA in your intro email
“Hi, I’m Sam, I’m a 3rd-year starboard rower from Boston, MA with a 3.8 unweighted GPA and a 6:19 2k PR.” …or something to that effect.
Last but not least, the subject line. The first sentence of the body is the most important part of the email so keep the subject simple and do NOT leave it blank. Coach-endorsed examples include “Interested in rowing at [name of the school]” and “Prospective rower/coxswain – [your name]”.
Next week: How much info is too much?
Image via // @harvardheavies
One of the questions that comes up a lot has to do with the general timeline of the whole recruiting process and when you should be doing what. If you’re trying to slide into a coaches inbox as a freshman or sophomore … chill. I’ll touch on contacting coaches when you’re not an upperclassman in a later post but for the purposes of today’s I’m just going to focus on what you should be doing your junior and senior year.
The first thing you should do is figure out your list of schools. This is really the only thing you can actively do before your junior year rolls around but once school starts as a junior, that’s when you really want to start solidifying it. This is in no way your final list though since it’s just going to be the schools that you’re interested in learning more about. The number of schools will vary but 7-10 is usually a good number to start out with. (I think I initially had seven or eight on my list that I eventually whittled down to three by the time I applied to schools.)
I don’t remember which coach said this but as you’re making your list, don’t just throw shit at a wall and hope it sticks. You should have three general categories for the schools you’re interested in – “locked in” (aka your safety school – if you can spell your own name right, you’ll get in), “baseline” (you’re a good candidate for this school and have a realistic shot of being admitted), and “reach” (the Harvard to your Elle Woods – you’d love to go here but it’s gonna take a lot of work on your end to get you up to par with the rest of the applicants). Once you’ve got this laid out, you can fill out the recruiting forms on the athletic department’s website and send a quick email to the coaches introducing yourself (which we’ll get into more later).
Now that you’ve had a couple of months to learn about the universities, their academic programs, and their crew teams you can start getting serious in your talks with the coaches. Throughout the winter you should be continuing to send them updates on your progress while at the same time beginning to narrow down your list of schools to your top 3-5. This is the time to be seriously thinking about which school/program is going to give you the experience you want. By mid to late spring you should know who falls under that umbrella and be letting the coaches who aren’t know that you’re no longer interested in that school.
As Marcus said, “don’t push for an official, just ask for a visit”. Officials are offered by the coaches, not requested by the students, which is why the “pushing” can be a real turn off. Since the summer tends to be a little more relaxed you don’t necessarily need to do this right away either, especially if you’re busy doing other things like dev camp, JNT, prepping for Club Nats, etc. Don’t wait until the week before school starts though to sort this out because the two week period before classes begin can be and usually are pretty hectic.
If you weren’t in contact much with coaches over the summer this is when you should be, to quote Marcus again, “re-solidifying your relationship with the coaches” and setting up your visits if you were offered any. Based on what I’ve seen/heard/experienced this tends to happen in early to mid September and then later in the month and throughout October, that’s when you actually go on them. If you weren’t offered an official, you should still utilize this time to go on unofficial visits so you can learn about the schools and meet with the coaches.
Related: Official vs. Unofficial Visits – If you’re unfamiliar with the differences between the two, check out this post.
Pretty simple – decide where you’re gonna go. (If you applied early decision you’ll have already done this in December and if you applied early action you’ll have done this in either January or February.)
Now that you have a general idea of what the recruiting timeline looks like, I want to quickly touch on the things you should consider when looking at schools. There were three main points that were mentioned this summer that I think covers pretty much all the bases but if there’s something you think is important that isn’t listed here, feel free to leave it in the comments.
What do you want and where do you want to be?
Urban vs. rural, small vs. medium vs. large school, size of the rowing program (i.e. on the men’s side, do you want to be at smaller program like Stanford that typically puts out 2-3 eights or a bigger school like Wisco that fields 12…), culture of the team (i.e. partying vs. studying – if the team leans more heavily one way or the other, will that work for you?), etc.
Where do you see your ideal four years?
You have to pick a school that fits your needs. This entails the academics (not just what you choose to study but the rigorousness of the program too), the overall college environment, and the rowing program itself (ideally you’ll be on a team where you feel competitive and challenged).
Would I be happy here if I stopped rowing/coxing?
This is the bottom line and probably the most important question you’ll ask and be asked during this entire process.
At Northeast there was a handout that the kids got that included a “college evaluation grid” to help keep all this info organized so I threw that into a Google Sheet for you guys to use if you think it’d be helpful. You can find it linked below. My dad and I put together something similar when I was looking at schools and it was so helpful because all the information I had (or wanted to find out) about each school/team was in one place.
Related: College evaluation grid
In that Google Sheet there are two tabs – a blue one that has the grid in it and a green one that includes some more info on what early decision I and II, early action, and regular decision entails if you’re not sure of the nuances of each one. If you’re considering early decision I would definitely recommend doing your research since it is binding and can have some pretty unfortunate consequences if you violate the rules that are attached to it.
Next week: What do coaches look at?