Coxing Novice Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  1. Hi. I am a novice juniors coach at my club. Just last week I had a similar situation. When we carry boats from the dock to the boathouse, we have to make some intense swings to avoid dock poles (and walking straight into the water). While they were carrying the boat they weren’t listening perfectly and almost sent the front person into the water. Off the dock they started walking before being told. After we racked the boat I gathered everyone and very sternly explained the importance of listening to every word of every command and waiting for exact instructions before moving. What I did with that was surround that speech with what they did well that day so they knew I wasn’t only there to yell at them. I hope this helps some.