I’ve been reading your blog for nearly a year now and I attribute pretty much all of my “success” to you. I have a few things to ask. Firstly, this is my first varsity year (I’m a freshman) but I was in the V4 in the fall due to all the coxswains except for one sophomore graduating last year. Reading this blog definitely let my coxing grow by leaps and bounds. Recently my coach has told me that he’d like for the coxswains to work on positive reinforcement and that being critical of the rowers was more his job. We should keep technical calls to a minimum and only “say things pertinent to boat speed”. I’m a person who uses a *lot* of tech calls. The thing is, we have another coxswain who uses very few tech calls and I know a significant portion of the rowers dislike the way she coxes, some more strongly than others. I have rowed in her boat before and agree with them a lot so I have tried to tailor my coxing to be as different from hers (almost) as possible. She often comes off as patronizing, so I was wondering how I might provide positive reinforcement without sounding patronizing or dumb, especially when some of my rowers really just want me to be critical all the time.
This is a good question. I think your coach makes a valid point in that being critical of the rowers – though I’m not 100% settled on if that’s the right or best word – is more in line with his role than it is ours. We’ve definitely got a part to play in that but it can be tough to know how much, especially if it’s never explicitly laid out.
I’m curious why your coach wants you to keep technical calls to a minimum since those make up like, the bulk our calls. That’s definitely something I would talk to him about and get clarification on so that there’s no confusion or ambiguity on your part about what he’s looking for. Alternatively though, it’s possible you might be hearing the extremes of what he’s saying and not what he’s actually trying to get you to do. My interpretation as a coxswain (and also how I’d try to communicate it as a coach) is that his job is to outright say “you’re doing this incorrectly” and then follow it up with how it should be done. Your job is to reinforce the latter part of that with positive reinforcement by making calls like “Let’s draw in level – elbows up – and hold the finishes here. Yea, that’s it, we’re pushing the puddles back an extra half a seat now…” (vs. “you’re washing out, we need to get more run”).
It’s not that you should keep the technical calls to a minimum necessarily, it’s that whatever ones you are making should a) largely be in line with whatever his technical focus is for the day and b) less about telling the rowers what not to do (which can come off as condescending, patronizing, etc.) and more on communicating what they should do and how it’s impacting the boat speed. There is a balance when it comes to your technical calls – if it’s all you make then you’re just gonna get drowned out because it’s a lot to process and not always that engaging – but you can’t really positively reinforce anything if you’re not making the initial calls to correct the issue in the first place.
Don’t overthink what qualifies as “positive reinforcement” either. A simple “yea, that’s it…”, “there it is…”, “Sam, good change from yesterday, catches are looking a lot smoother…” etc. is all you need. You’re only going to come off as dumb if you start sounding like a cheerleader or patronizing if you start saying everything with an air of “I don’t know what’s so hard about doing XYZ, I could do it…”. When it comes to actually taking a stroke, there’s literally no logical reason why any coxswain should feel superior about their ability to do it compared to a rower. I’m not saying we can’t all be good rowers in our own right – I know plenty of coxswains who are – but rowing’s not our thing. We’d get pissed (and most of us do) if rowers acted like that about steering or whatever other coxswain-specific thing so … just something to keep in mind.
Related: Hi! Recently I’ve taken a bigger role on my team as a coxswain and have made some definite improvements with my confidence. But, I’m still struggling with how to handle frustration. When a boat feels really good and my rowers are being super responsive I feel as though I make really good calls, but when my rowers aren’t being as responsive to me or they’re tired, I feel like I never know how to motivate them without sounding mean. The other day a rower told me to work on saying more positive calls instead of negative calls, but I’m having trouble thinking of what would be considered a negative call. What do you think I should do to improve on this?
Check out the post linked above – I think it touches on roughly the same stuff you’re asking here and goes into a lot of detail about positive calls vs. negative calls, which kinda parallels what you’re asking about how to balance positive reinforcement with calling out the rowers when it’s necessary.