College Coxing High School How To Teammates & Coaches

Coxswain Skills: How to handle a negative coxswain evaluation

Previously: Steering, pt. 1 || Steering, pt. 2  || Boat feel 

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.

Related: Coxswain evaluations + my system for organizing them

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

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