Category: Q&A

Coxing Q&A

Question of the Day

I went to school to cox for guys but due to an incident that happened a few years ago regarding another coxswain, I only got to cox first semester a few times and not at all the next semester. The coach had me switch to the girl’s team, which is great but I feel very out of practice. I have had really great practices when I have gone with assistant coaches but the other day I went with our head coach and top 2 coxswains. I was in the middle boat (a boat on each side) and had a truly horrible practice. It started off badly when I bumped one of the other boats on the first couple of strokes because the power was uneven. Later, as I have just joined I did not know a drill so I was slightly behind the other coxswains because my stroke had to tell me the sequence. Then after we did a 15, as other coaches have had me done before, I stopped thinking out coach would want to weigh enough after it. Then when doing ss, he had us do a pause every stroke while the other coxswains went ahead, they ended up moving to the right but my boat was so far behind I didn’t see and just went straight. He ended up yelling at me because the other coxswains were in the other sides then he said stop moving that way and I only heard stop so I weighed-enough. Apparently he never yells.

After that the rowers began to tune me out completely and no one was really even “trying”. The whole team talked about how bad my coxing was after. One of the coxswains literally came up to me and said she heard from everyone how the coach never yells and how bad my coxing was. How do I recover from this? I felt very novice-y and I need to manage practice better, how do I accomplish this? Additionally, when I steer I feel like I am constantly moving the rudder slightly? This sounds so silly but how do I just go straight? Should I be making constant adjustments? I have coxed for over three years and while I have put every ounce of energy into working really hard to be the best coxswain (and even won my final at Nationals), I feel like I am still not a great practice coxswain and steerer. We also have 10 coxswains on our team and I have never not been able to work my way to the top. My coaches aren’t big on communicating/advising/teaching the coxswains so I am struggling to get guidance on how to achieve being a more effective and efficient coxswain. Thank you so much.

How much time did you spend prior to going on the water with the top two coxswains and/or the head coach to figure out what the practice plan was, how that coach likes to run practice, asking questions about drills/workouts you’re unfamiliar with, and gather intel on the boat you’d be coxing?

I get what you’re saying about coaches not being big on communicating or teaching coxswains and I’m not saying that that isn’t a valid problem but unless you’re actively and consistently taking the initiative to talk to them yourself and gather all the info I just listed before you go out (which is practically the bare minimum of what your communication with your coach should be anyways), you’re discrediting almost immediately any argument you make about why practice went poorly (in this context). It’s one thing if you do all that and you’re ill-prepared because they give you ambiguous, brusquely explained instructions but it’s another if you’re straight up unprepared because you didn’t make the effort to talk to them in the first place and then stepped in the boat unsure of 17 different things.

Related: Coxswain skills: Running a smooth practice

cannot stress this enough that you have to be the one actively seeking this information out because it’s rare you’ll find a coach who just freely offers it up to you. Some definitely do and they’re awesome for doing so but they’re also the unicorns of the rowing world. And especially if you’re feeling out of practice and/or are going out with a coach who you don’t normally practice with, that doubles – maybe even triples  – the importance of you communicating with them rather than waiting for them to come to you.

Recovering from this will probably be a long process if things went as poorly as you said. I say that because when I’ve worked with (or been coached by) coaches who “never yell” and then something happens that causes them to react uncharacteristically, that coxswain tends to stay on their shit list for awhile before that coach feels like they can trust them again (or at all, if they’re a coxswain they haven’t really worked with before). The length of time can be accelerated or prolonged too depending on the coxswain’s willingness to admit fault/responsibility (and then actually do something different) and the rate at which they do so. There’s a big difference between apologizing immediately after practice and waiting a few days to do it. Your situation might be different but that’s how it’s played out in my experience 99% of the time.

Moving past this starts with you apologizing to your coach, the other coxswains, and your boat for having a negative impact on the quality of practice that day. And not in that fake way where you emptily say “I’m sorry” 830592 times thinking the more you say it the more people will believe you. (See the “don’t apologize” bullet point in this post and the second paragraph of the post linked below for more on that.) From there, you need to get in the habit of talking with whatever coach you’re going out with (or at the very least, the other coxswain(s)) as soon as you get to practice every single day so you can hear what the plan is and ask any questions that arise before you launch.

Related: The overall point of this whole story are my questions: do you have any tips on how to improve my coxing over the summer (during which I’m not doing any sort of summer rowing programs)? And, are there any specific things you think I should do to help gain the varsity coach’s trust back? I want to prove to him that I’m good enough for second boat or for the lightweight V8 even as a junior with only a year of experience because I really think I’m not that bad of a coxswain now and that any sort of improvement could boost that. Anyway, thank you so much for this blog and for whatever answer or advice you can give!

As far as on-the-water practice management, there’s a lot of stuff in the “practice management” tag that I’d encourage you to read through. Obviously it’s impossible to incorporate everything that’s pointed out or suggested in there so start off by picking 2-3 things that are relevant to the areas you’ve struggled with and incorporating those changes into your coxing.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 2

For steering, check out the post linked above – it covers the exact question you asked about whether or not you should be making constant adjustments. One thing that I got in the habit of doing whenever I’d take out a boat I hadn’t been in before was just playing with the rudder and strings while it was still in the racks. This helped give me a good idea of how big or small my “small adjustments” needed to be in order to actually get the rudder to respond, which in turned helped me understand the difference between making constant adjustments vs. anticipating what adjustments needed to be made. I got into more detail and try to explain it a little more thoroughly in that post I linked to though so definitely check that out. I also find that how you hold the strings makes a big difference so check out the photo and middle few paragraphs in this post for an explanation on what’s worked best for me.

Coxing Q&A Racing

Question of the Day

Hi! I’ve been coxing in high school for 3 years and coxed Head of the Charles last year with my school team. This year however, I was told that I am going to cox an international team that had done well last year. I do not really know anything about them and I will only have the day before the race to practice with them. I was wondering if you had any advice about what I should do to prepare. Thank you!

That’s pretty cool, albeit definitely nerve-wracking. Your best bet would be to reach out to them via email (somebody has to have the contact info for one of the rowers) to introduce yourself and get a sense of their experience levels, if they already have a race plan in mind (or at the very least, certain things they want to do at specific points along the course), what they’ve been doing during practice, etc. The four I’ve coxed the last three years is from the PNW so I stay up to date with what they’ve been doing through an email chain that generally starts sometime in the late spring. Once we meet up to practice that Friday morning before HOCR, I’ve usually already got a good idea about what they want to do so all I’ve gotta do is fill in the gaps based on whatever I see/feel during that 90 minute practice. It’s definitely an unconventional approach but as long as you communicate beforehand, even if it’s only over a couple emails, you’ll pretty much have all the info you need to have a decent race.

If for whatever reason you can’t connect over email or Skype or whatever, just plan on asking those same questions before you launch. I get why coxswains are nervous about going out with a crew they’ve never met before but your job is still the same (steer effectively, don’t hit anything, etc.) so all you’ve really gotta do is just execute whatever practice/race plan they give you. And if they don’t have a plan (which is unlikely but still possible), just say “This is what I did when I raced here last year and it worked really well for us, are you guys open to trying it today and then we can tweak it if necessary once we’re back on land?”. That’s basically my go-to whenever I’ve encountered that situation and the crews are usually happy to default to what I’ve done in the past with minimal adjustments to fit the current lineup.

It’s highly unlikely you’re gonna have to come up with any sort of plan solely on your own though, which I think is what trips a lot of coxswains up. Nor should you, since you know nothing about them. Either they’ll already have something they want to do that they’ve been doing for awhile or you can just default to something you’ve done previously. When you’re jumping in a boat like this nobody expects “perfection” the way our actual crews do so don’t think too hard about all this.

Since you mentioned that they’re an international crew, I’m assuming there’s not a language barrier of any kind but even still, the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you use the terminology they are most familiar with when it comes to basic stuff like port vs. starboard, calling for them to stop or hold water, etc. I know in some places it’s more common to say “easy” or “easy oars” instead of weigh enough, port/starboard are more frequently referred to as “stroke side” and “bow side” outside the US, etc. I talked to a coxswain last year who collided with another crew on the course because the people she was coxing didn’t immediately process that when she said “ports, ease off” she meant stroke side (or whatever one it is, I really don’t know…) and when she said “weigh enough, hold water” she meant hard stop.

Related: Head of the Charles

Beyond all that, just prepare the same way you normally would. Review the bridges and turns, listen to your audio from last year, and … that’s pretty much it.

College Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

I’ve been coxing for a little bit over a year now in my college crew, and we are currently working on prepping our guys for head race season. There are three coxswains, including me, but two boats so right now I’m fighting for my seat. I feel like all three of us have about the same collegiate coxing experience and have about the same capability of steering correctly for that race, so all that really differs are our styles. One of the cox’s is super happy and upbeat and really cheers the guys on to race better while the other one is really technically savvy and gets really aggressive whereas I’m pretty much smack dab in the middle of their styles. I have a feeling that my coach prefers them over me but I don’t want to change and be something I’m not. What should I do?

I get what you’re saying but I also think it’s important to point out that when you’re in the boat, even though you’re “in charge”, you’re still working for eight other people (nine, if you count your coach). If there’s something that’s preferred by the majority, you have to be the one to adapt, not them. I’m not a super peppy, cheery type of coxswain but I’ve coxed boats where that’s the style they’ve responded best to, so even though it’s not my style or personality at all, I had to incorporate some of that into my coxing because it’s what made the boat faster. I’ve also had coaches who pushed me to be a more technical, drill sergeant-y coxswain that I was prepared to be given that’d I’d only been coxing for a year or so. I wasn’t thrilled about adapting my style of coxing to be more of either of those things but I also had no right or reason to say “no, I’m not doing this”. Even now, I’ve been coxing for 15 years and I still adapt to whatever the crew wants (even when they say they’ll default to my style) because saying “I don’t want to change and be something I’m not” just fundamentally feels like I’m going against the most basic role of coxing, which is to serve the crew.

Anyways, to answer your question, you should talk with your coach. Say that you want to make sure you’re staying competitive for one of the two spots that are available and you wanted to see what observations they’d made about your coxing through the first few weeks of practice. If you’ve been working on stuff, like refining your steering or increasing your technical feedback during drill work, say that and ask if there are any other areas where they feel you could stand to make improvements that would give you a better shot at being placed in one of those two boats.

I don’t typically think you should bring up other coxswains in conversations like this but I do think a good question to ask every once in awhile is what they’re doing well that you could incorporate if it’s not something you’re doing already. At MIT our varsity coxswain the last two years was always great about keeping things running during practice, not wasting time, responding immediately when we’d ask him to do something, etc. and that was huge in ensuring we were using our time effectively. Our 2V coxswain was OK at this but still left a lot to be desired so this was something I talked about with her a lot, especially in the context of things she could do to make a case for being boated higher. Bottom line, if you get the feeling your coach prefers the other coxswains over you, talk to them and see if that’s the case … but approach it by asking what they’re doing to make things run better, faster, and smoother, not in a whine-y “why do you like them better than me” kind of way. (I’ve been in the room when college coxswains have done that and it just makes me roll my eyes so hard.)

I can’t remember what the context of this story was but a coach I worked with a few years ago said that one of the best things a new varsity coxswain asked him was “what did [the last varsity coxswain, let’s call him Jake] do that made your job easier?”. (He was similar to you, pretty much in between two other coxswains and was trying to figure out how he could get an edge over the other two in order to become the permanent 1V coxswain.) Obviously all the standard stuff applied but the primary thing was Jake’s coachability and adaptability, meaning that he took feedback, reflected on it, and found ways to immediately tweak his coxing based on what he was seeing/hearing from others. He also was able to get into any boat, be it the 1V eight or the 4V four and make it go fast, even when the boats varied wildly in the style of coxing they responded to. If you can get into a boat that likes cheerleaders and get them to respond and then get in a boat the next day with a crew who likes an in-your-face hardass and do the same thing (and steer straight on top of all of that), you’re basically worth your weight in gold.

Basically what you need to do is, one, like I said, talk to your coach and two, whenever you’re in the launch, observe the styles, presence, etc. of the other two coxswains to see what they’re doing well and then try to incorporate some of that into your own coxing the next time you go out. The absolute dumbest reason for losing your seat in a boat is “I didn’t want to change what I was doing”. You’ve only been coxing for a year so while I get that you’ve probably established a style of coxing, it’s definitely not going to be the one you stick with for your entire career so use this opportunity to identify the areas where you can ebb and flow a bit with your approach in order to give you the best shot at making one of the boats.

Coxing Q&A Technique

Question of the Day

Hi! I just finished my first season of coxing and am now on the varsity team. Due to a shortage of coxswains, I got put on a pretty good boat by default and the girls expect a lot. My novice coach didn’t really teach me how to spot and correct poor technique and my current coach has not been super helpful about it either. Do you have any advice on what to look for or any videos to recommend? The general problems in the boat are rush and set. Do you know any specific problems that could cause this that I could make corrections on? Thank you!

As far as what to look for, check out the post below. There’s a couple different issues addressed in there, including the set, that should give you a good starting point. A couple other posts that might be helpful are these three from the aptly-named “things that affect the set” series on handle heights, timing, and bladework.

Related: “So, what did you see?”

When it comes to rush, it starts with timing out of the back end – getting the hands and shoulders out together first so that when the slides start, people aren’t already behind and having to play catch up (which then checks the boat’s run). I’ve always found double pause drills to be a good drill to do because it gives you a couple checkpoints throughout the recovery to collect yourself as a crew and ensure you’re all moving into the next phase of stroke at the same pace. (I talked a lot more in detail about this in this post and the “top 20 terms” post linked below.) Definitely ask your coach if you can throw some pause drills into your warmup if you feel like the rush isn’t getting addressed elsewhere throughout practice.

Related: Top 20 terms: Rush(ing)

All of those links should put you on the right track to being able to spot and correct some of the basic issues you’re seeing but what’s going to help a lot more is keeping track of what you’re doing and seeing during practice, making note of any questions you have (either on what you saw, technical stuff you’re unsure of, etc.), and then spending a few minutes going over it with your coach a couple times a week. It’s unlikely that they’re gonna ask if you understand or have questions so you’ve gotta take the initiative and approach them yourselves in order to get the info/clarification you need.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh! I’m a coxswain coming out of my novice year into varsity (I’m a sophomore in high school). There’s 3 total varsity coxswains, one of whom came out of my novice year with me, and my coach told us that she’d be rotating us in and out of the 2V for some practices to see which one of us would be long-term coxing it. The first day of this, she put the other coxswain in, which at the time was no big deal as we’d be rotating, or so I thought. She has never rotated me into this boat or rotated the other girl out. Even this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but the boat I’m coxing, the ‘3V’ if you could call it that, is composed entirely of girls who row only scholastically (not for our actual club), and a few of the more advanced novii. A few girls in the 2V have mentioned that they prefer my coxing style and want me to cox them, but I have been given – quite literally – no chance. It’s really bothering me as I feel that I am capable and even if I can’t say right off the bat I deserve that boat, I was promised a chance to try and I know I deserve that much. Since the novices of the 3V will go back to racing novice once regattas start to strengthen that program, and the girls who row only scholastically will compete for their schools, I will be left without a crew. How should I handle this? Would it be too forward to discuss the matter with my coach?

Absolutely not. If she already told you that she’d be rotating you in then you should hold her to that. Talk to her before practice, remind her that she said she’d switch you guys out, and ask if you can take the 2V out today.

One thing I’ve always found to be helpful (not just in this context but whenever I have to remind people that they said they’d do something…) is to include as many details from the original conversation as possible and avoid making “you said” comments that could make you sound accusatory or impatient (though tbh you have every right to be impatient in this case). Rather than just saying “Hey, you said I could cox the 2V at some point, can I take them out today?”, say “Hey, during the first week of practice we’d talked about rotating the three of us through the 2V to determine who was gonna cox it for the rest of the season and I wanted to see if I could hop in there today or tomorrow since I haven’t had a chance to take them out yet. I’ve been working on XYZ with the 3V over the last few weeks and can see where I’ve made improvements that I think make me competitive for the 2V but I’d like the chance to show you and get your feedback before a final decision is made on who’ll be in the boat the rest of the fall.”.

The reason why I think this works (and this is just my own personal theory) is because it shows you were paying attention when that initial conversation happened because it’s something that is important to you and if you can communicate that by repeating back to whoever you’re talking to verbatim (or as close to it as you can) what was originally discussed, they’re much more likely to take your request(s) seriously and hold up their end of it. I also refuse to let people make me feel like a nagging asshole for bringing up something they said they’d do and haven’t done yet so if they feel awkward because they’re getting called out, even when it’s done in normal conversation with no negative or passive-aggressive undertones … *shrug*.

(Granted, I also fully recognize/admit that that’s because I’m in that phase of your late-20s where you realize some stuff is just not worth giving a shit about anymore. Thinking people are going to get mad or offended because I’m standing up for myself, in whatever aspect, is just not something I can allocate one of the few fucks I have to give towards.)

I’ve worked in tandem with enough coaches over the last four years that it’s become obvious when they’ve just gotten into a routine with one coxswain + crew and it’s slipped their mind that they said they’d switch someone else in there … and also when they’ve decided they just really like a certain coxswain and hope that the other ones will forget that they said they’d give them a shot (sometimes because they were never going to give them one in the first place). The former is mildly annoying but not at all malicious or ultimately that big of a deal. The latter is just a dick move and frankly, lazy AF on their part. I totally get why some coxswains are apprehensive about saying something too (in either situation – I’ve been in both and felt the same way) but you really do have to hold their feet to the fire if you’re serious about wanting a shot. If you’re not following up with them (in a timely manner), nothing I say is gonna help you.

If you’re getting a sense like they’ve already made their decision and are just hoping you forget or don’t notice that you never actually got to go out with the 2V then, again, talk to them before practice and say “I wanted to see where you were at with regards to who’d be coxing the 2V. I’ve been working on XYZ and would really like a shot to show why I think I’d be good in that boat. I don’t know if you’ve already made a decision but one way or the other, I just wanted to see if the opportunity was still there to go out with that boat for a practice.”.

The thing you have to remember – at practice, at school, at work, etc. – is that you have to be your own biggest advocate. This has always been one of the biggest lessons I took away from coxing too. I know that it’s awkward to feel like you’re calling out someone in a senior position but sometimes it’s gotta be done. It pays off in the long run too because if you can get over that feeling of thinking you can’t or shouldn’t do this while you’re young (and in relatively low-consequence situations like this), it makes it a lot easier to stand up for yourself (especially as a woman) when you’re older and in situations with actual real life ramifications, like salary negotiations, promotions … even stuff like harassment. Look at this as just another skill you’ve gotta develop and add to your arsenal. And hey, if you end up getting to go out with the 2V for a couple days, consider that a bonus.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I was talking to my coach about what boats I was in consideration for going into the following year, and I got some really great news – he’s looking at me for our V8+ (top boat at my club)! The only bad thing is what came after that. Basically he said, “you could be coxing the V8+ … if you get your anxiety under control.” At first, I thought that was way out of line, but honestly, the havoc my anxiety wreaks on my overall mental health and well being is debilitating, and there’s really no way improving that could hurt in any capacity, so I’m realizing he’s probably got a point. How do you suggest dealing with overall rational requests of a coach when they entail changing something a bit more personal than technique like this?

This is a great question. I definitely see how your first impression was that it was out of line but if you’ve got a good (or at least cordial) relationship with your coach and they didn’t say it with any biting undertones then I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. I’ve said pretty much the exact same thing (with varying tones of empathy and frustration depending on the situation) to one of the MIT coxswains but we’ve had a great relationship for the last three years so even when she’d get pissed at me for saying it, she knew it was coming from a friend who genuinely had her best interests in mind.

I deal with anxiety too and agree that it wrecks havoc on pretty much everything … and the fallout from that just creates even more stress. When it comes to managing it in the context of coxing for example, it seems like a common mistake (that I’ve definitely made too, numerous times) is finding ways to deal with it only in the context of coxing rather than trying to identify and address the actual underlying causes/issues. Like, you can get better at steering or whatever if that’s something you’ve struggled with but if you still suffer sudden and intense bouts of anxiety when you’re on the water, basically all you did was the equivalent of putting a band aid on a bullet wound.

Here’s a couple suggestions – some traditional, some anecdotal – that you might consider.

The first approach is to talk to someone. Not just anyone either, someone who ‘s trained in dealing with stuff like this. If you’re in college, reach out to student health or whatever your version of student support services is and make an appointment. You typically get a certain number of free appointments each semester or year before your insurance takes over so take advantage of it. Similarly, most athletic departments will have a sport psychologist on staff or they’ll have a relationship with one in the local community that they can set you up with.

If you’re still in high school, on your parent’s insurance, etc. … basically if you’re in a situation where you can’t seek treatment without their consent/approval … that’s obviously tough. And yea, it’s probably tempting to not say anything at all because you think it’s embarrassing or whatever but you’ve gotta gauge your personal situation and make that call. Some parents are cool about working with you on stuff like this (and not making a big deal out of it, which is key), others not so much. I think most parents are decent enough though that they’ll get you the help you need if you talk to them about it (as frustrating or awkward as that conversation might initially be).

The second approach ties into the first but in terms of managing your anxiety, behavioral therapy or medication are two options. I know people who utilize CBT, others take medication, some do both, and a couple do neither. One of those friends was a coxswain and he took medication to manage the day-to-day symptoms while also working with a sport psychologist and doing CBT during the school year to help him develop strategies to deal with the rowing-specific symptoms.

Another friend (who didn’t row but did track & field for four years in college) takes a very #millennial approach and uses two apps – Headspace and Pacifica – to help her keep things under control. She said she’s been using Headspace since her senior year but just started using Pacifica after her anxiety got worse while studying for the bar exam two years ago. She didn’t have time to make regular appointments with a doctor or deal with any potential side effects from medication (on top of not having health insurance) so that’s why this approach made the most sense for her.

The bottom line is that stuff like this is just as much of a normal medical problem as any other illness we encounter and we should treat it as such. Have you ever gotten a cold and ignored it because “it’s not like I have pneumonia, it’s not that serious” but you were miserable as fuck for the duration of it, even though you could have knocked it out in two or three days if you’d just gone to the doctor? Whatever preconceived notions you might have about whether people will take you seriously, judge you for asking for help, or think you’re “just not tough enough”, you’ve gotta put that out of your head and not let that keep you from doing what’s best for you. Coxing only lasts for a short period of time but you’ve gotta live with yourself forever so, like you said, it’s not like taking steps to improve your overall wellbeing can hurt.

Below is an email I got from a college coxswain about her experience with anxiety, how she handles it, and how having less-than-supportive coaches can undermine your efforts to get better. There’s a whole “devil’s advocate” discussion to be had about taking someone out of the boat for a short period of time vs. actually kicking them out of it permanently that I won’t get into right now but for the coaches that are reading, seriously, don’t be dicks about shit like this. If your athletes are confiding in you, especially on the recommendation of their doctor, maybe work with them instead of kicking them while they’re down. I can’t believe that’s something that even needs to be said.

“I’ve been coxing at the collegiate level for over two years now..and I’ve had my current coach for two years. I was encouraged by the sports psychologist at school to tell my coach, as she said he couldn’t use it against me. Despite my better judgement, I went ahead and told him. Things were great at first, but I went from being with the top two boats to not having a boat.  He brings up my anxiety every time we talk, and I have come to feel as though he’s put me in a corner as a result. My psychologist at school is actually going to be talking to him about this because the fact that he always brings it up, makes me anxious. It sucks and it’s not fair.

I have really bad anxiety and have played sports competitively my entire life. I’ve always managed to “face my fear” and have learned that by doing so, it makes my anxiety a little more tolerable. It’s not something that goes away(even though I take medication for it and use various techniques as well), but rather something I’ve come to accept and make the most of. I try to remember that they’re only feelings, although easier said than done.

I don’t recommend telling teammates, as they have never been able to understand and basically have just used it against me and underestimate my ability to cox. Especially when it comes to racing, which is one of the times I know how to handle my anxiety best(from experience and sports background). I kick ass when it comes to racing, but it’s more so practices that are a bit of an issue. I tend to second guess myself a lot because of my anxiety, and don’t allow myself to take as much credit as I should. For example, I am notorious for my ability to steer a great course, however if I think about it too much, I start worrying and begin to snake.

Anxiety is a real bitch, but I’m learning to “stay in the present” which has been really helpful. There’s a super short and helpful book that I recommend to just about everyone (those who have anxiety as well as those who don’t) called “F*CK Anxiety; Hardcore Self-Help” by Robert Duff. He’s so funny and down to earth, yet helps you better understand your anxiety regardless of the type. He provides helpful tips for what to do when you are anxious and how to essentially prevent your anxiety from taking the joy out of things. For those looking to understand anxiety a little better, I highly recommend it. This book has changed my ability to cox and has helped me better cope with my shitty anxiety.

But as far as whether to tell coaches and teammates, that depends. Just know there’s a big risk in doing so, as I have learned the hard way. My last coach used it against me as well. I have one year of coxing left, and I’m determined to get a good boat. I wish someone had been able to provide me with this info back when I started, which is why I felt so compelled to share my experiences.”

A couple other coxswains (four collegiate, two junior – two guys, four girls) also emailed to say that they deal with varying levels of anxiety that have at one point or another kept them out of a boat they were in competition for. Even though the situations differed (coxing people they were unfamiliar with, feeling underprepared and overwhelmed, not feeling confident in a given skill (steering and technique being the main ones), etc.), the common symptom, side-effect, whatever you want to call it … was that they’d just shut down and not talk for the majority of practice. Two of them said they were actively taking medication and the others said they weren’t doing anything for it (either because they aren’t sure what to do, don’t want to bring it up to their coaches/parents, etc.).

So … you’re not alone in this. I think we all experience anxiety to some extent during our careers but not all of us know how to get help or handle it so hearing the perspectives of our peers can make a huge difference. Like you said, your coach’s request was a rational one that can only benefit you in the long run so I hope there’s something up there that helps. Feel free to shoot me an email though if you wanna talk more about this and if anyone else has any other advice they wanna share, please leave it in the comments!

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! Over the last year I have become very close with my coach. He has helped me improve into the coxswain I am today. I coxed our V8 and V4 all year and my team just got back from nationals. The reasons I was in these boats is because he believed in me all year and helped to improve. Today however, at our end of season wrap up practice, he dropped the news that he would not be coaching next year. I still have two more years on the team and we don’t know who the new coach will be. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with losing a coach? And how to adapt to a new one? I’m afraid they won’t understand the fun loving environment my team is and it will be hard for me to create that good coach and coxswain relationship like I had with my previous coach. Any helpful tips would be great.

Why would you assume they wouldn’t understand the team culture/environment? That’s kind of an unfair judgement/assumption to put out there. Just because your current coach was dope and you had a good relationship with him doesn’t mean that the same can’t be true with whoever’s taking over for him.

I luckily only had to deal with one major coaching transition while I was in school and the best advice our team got came from our assistant coach – “accept that the change is happening and keep an open mind”. I’d say the same to you too. It’s happening so you kinda just have to deal with it but the important thing is to keep an open mind and not automatically resign yourself to being anti-whatever new things he/she brings to the team just because they’re different than what you’re used to.

Whatever you did to cultivate the relationship you have with your current coach … do that with the new one. The new coach isn’t going to be a carbon copy of your old one (nor should you expect that) so obviously you might have to tweak a few things here and there but it’s not like you’re starting back at square one. You already know what made your current coach-coxswain relationship great so make time to have a one-on-one with the new coach so you can communicate that stuff to them. This applies to pretty much everything you’ll ever do but the more up front you are about how you work/communicate best, the easier it’ll be for everyone in the long run.

That was actually one of the questions I was asked when I was interviewing for my current job and having worked with some incredible coaches at MIT the last three years, I had a pretty rock solid idea of what I needed to feel confident and empowered in executing whatever I was doing. I specifically used the example of how they gave me a pretty unprecedented amount of freedom to work with our coxswains and really integrate my philosophy on all that into the broader team culture. I could have stopped there (and if I was less experienced in the interview game I probably would have) but what “sold” it was following it up with specific examples of how that helped me grow as a coach (in terms of building my confidence, refining my communication skills, and developing relationships with everyone on the team) and why that kind of “management style” is what I respond best to. Out of all the back and forth we did, I think the conversation we had around that one question was one of the main things that eased some of the doubt I had about joining a new coaching staff.

I get where you’re coming from because I honestly felt the same exact way when I left MIT for Columbia. I’d grown (and thrived) so much in that environment with those specific people and I was worried that it wouldn’t be the same here and I’d be miserable but, like I said earlier, while that can be a valid concern, it’s also an unfair assumption to make. Keep an open mind, be (even more) flexible in your approach to whatever situations you encounter (new and old), and communicate early and honestly about what you need from them to help you continue developing as a coxswain (with, I assume, the goal of staying in the V8 and V4).

As for everything else … just go with the flow and trust that whoever the new person is has the team’s best interest in mind. Most coaches do.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hello, I am a junior in high school and I am a rower but I’m on the shorter side (5’4) and my erg scores aren’t anything to brag about. I actually started out as a coxswain in my freshman year but one day my coach had me sub in and I just never subbed out. The thing is that I don’t really enjoy rowing all that much (I still like it but it isn’t what I think I’m good at) but I was really passionate about coxing and I want to try and walk on as a coxswain at college. I don’t really know how to go about it though. Should I try to cox at my high school again? Also, should I reach out to college coaches and, if so, when should I consider doing that? Thanks.

Bring it up with your coach before the start of next season (or now, if you’re still practicing or see them around). Just be honest and say that you feel like you were making a stronger contribution to the team when you were coxing vs. when you’re rowing. Don’t be afraid to say that rowing’s not where you feel your strengths lie either. It’s one thing to be like, “I’m short and my erg scores are lame so I’m just gonna switch to coxing”. I hate when people take that route because it just screams laziness. You can get stronger and fitter and improve your erg times if you just put the work in. On the flip side though, if someone says “I genuinely don’t enjoy rowing as much I do coxing”, that’s a different story because, in my experience, the people that say that are the ones that worked their asses off to be good rowers (and most of the time were) but just didn’t have the same passion for moving the boat as they did driving it … and that’s OK.

Related: What it means to be a “walk on”

If you’re planning to walk on, especially as someone who already has experience, it’s always worth reaching out to the coach just to let them know you’re interested. It helps them get a good idea of what their numbers will be and they can lump you in with the rest of the freshmen when they send out compliance paperwork for you to fill out over the summer. The sooner you get that done the better because you’ll be able to get on the water faster once practice begins in the fall.

As far as when to reach out to them, just wait until you know where you’re going and then shoot them an email in the spring saying you were accepted, are interested in walking on to the team, etc. and include a bit of info about yourself (i.e. height, weight, what boats you’ve coxed, your intended major, etc.) to wrap it up. Doesn’t need to be more than a paragraph or so at most.