Tag: leadership

Defining the role of the coxswain: Leadership


Defining the role of the coxswain: Leadership

It’s election day in the US so talking about leadership seemed like a fitting topic for today’s post.

I came across this blog post from the Harvard Business Review a few days ago that talked about the skills leaders need regardless of where they fall in the hierarchy of their organization. The original question was “are some skills less important for leaders at certain levels of the organization or is there a set of skills fundamental to every level?” and what the researchers found was that instead of there being different sets of “core competencies” for each level of management (ranging from first-time managers to senior executives/CEOs), the skills that were perceived as most important stayed consistent across the board. The conclusion they drew was that as you move up the chain the basic fundamentals aren’t changing but their relative importance does.

The parallels to coxing and the sport might not be exact but they are there so this should give you a good idea of where you can/should focus your energy if you’re an upperclassman who is trying to step it up as a leader on your team or if you’re an underclassman who is taking on your first real leadership position.

For each of the top three skills listed above I’ve included a couple examples below of how you can approach and demonstrate each one with your team and/or boat.

Inspires and motivates others

We all know motivation is a tricky subject for coxswains but the leadership side of it is less about calls on the water and more about how you keep your boat/team striving for more. This starts with being one of the first team leaders to step up and start proposing realistic goals to work towards over the next month, season, and year.

Showing appreciation for your rowers goes a long way too in keeping them motivated, especially in the winter. It’s as simple as sending out a quick group text after a hard workout and saying “you guys crushed it this morning, great job…”.

Keeping everyone focused (and staying focused yourself) on the bigger picture is also key. Put it in the context of doing side-by-side pieces during practice. You have to understand the goal of the workout and know that just straight winning a piece is rarely its entire purpose. The bigger picture is leveraging the technical focuses from that week with the fitness you’ve been developing over the course of the season to see where your speed’s at, amongst other things. You can row well and lose, you can have a good piece and lose, you can row 10x better today than you did yesterday and lose. Don’t let a lost piece derail the practice or kill the energy in the boat. Keep everyone focused by highlighting the improvements you’ve made throughout each piece and noting where you can/need to do better … and then get after it on the next one.

Displays high integrity and honesty

This can be interpreted in two ways. The first is pretty straightforward and has to do with communication. Basically, are you giving your teammates the information they need in a timely and accurate fashion? Between technical feedback, your position, time elapsed, and a whole litany of other things, there’s a lot of information that you’re responsible for passing along to the crew. The more honest you are about what’s going on, the more the crew will trust you and the less backseat coxing (at the very least) you’ll have to deal with.

The second interpretation has to do with how to conduct yourself. Are you showing up to practice on time (and by on time I mean early) every day? Are you putting personal relationships aside and offering constructive feedback to everyone in your boat? Are you matching the effort put in by the rowers both on and off the water in terms of development and becoming more proficient at your job?

Solves problems and analyzes issues

This is where your technical knowledge can be a huge benefit to you. You’ve gotta able to feel what’s going on in the boat and then quickly and decisively translate that to a call that works to improve boat speed. By developing your problem solving skills by way of improving your boat feel, educating yourself off the water on the intricacies of the rowing stroke, understanding the style of rowing your coach is teaching, etc. your calls will become clearer and your command of the crew will improve.

There will also be times where you’ve gotta do some creative problem solving to deal with, for example, a shortened or lengthened warmup time on race day. Being able to shift gears and have a clear plan in mind that you can then communicate to your crew (in a totally chill manner that makes it seem like this was the plan all along) will again only increase their trust in your ability to lead them through adverse situations.

If you’re thinking of doing coxswain evals at any point, this would be a great addition to help give you an idea of what the rowers value when it comes to the coxswain as a team leader. Rather than give them this entire list and have them rank all 16 skills in order of importance, I’d get together with the other coxswains (and your coaches) and collectively decide on five at most that you all think are important and then have the rowers rank them from there. Alternatively, you could pick three and have them rate each coxswain individually on a scale of 1-5 (similarly to how I’ve got other skills set up on the evals we use with our team) to net you some feedback on how you’re doing in those areas and where improvements could be made.

Image via // @remo_boledi
Defining the role of the coxswain: Motivation

Coxing Teammates & Coaches

Defining the role of the coxswain: Motivation

Despite not being that high on the list of things you’re responsible for doing, helping to motivate your crew is still an important part of your job as a coxswain.

Related: What do coaches look for in a coxswain + Motivation (tag)

I’ve talked a lot about motivation in the past and there’s definitely no shortage of inspiration in the quotes, videos, and recordings I post but if you want something simpler to go off of, here are the two most basic things you can do to motivate your teammates.

Lead by example

Be present because even on days when practice is boring, you can’t be. If you’re motivated by something, whether it’s a personal goal or a team goal, bring that energy to practice and on the water. Your interactions with the rowers, coxswains, and coaches, your engagement during team meetings, etc. are all things that might seem inconsequential but can actually be strong motivating factors for the people around you.

Know what your teammates want

If you’ve asked me any version of the question “what’s a good call to make to motivate my crew”, you’ll know that my first answer is ALWAYS to talk to your teammates. Everybody is driven by different things which means you have to pay attention and get to know the people on your team so you know where their motivation lies. Remember, your job isn’t necessarily to give them motivation, it’s to draw out what’s already there.

Both of these should be considered “non-negotiable” – you should be doing them every single day without thinking about it and without being asked. Given that most of us are in the midst of winter training and are likely to be stuck inside for at least another six weeks, doing both of these is a good way to start setting yourself apart from the other coxswains.

Image via // @spsbc_17
The bitch in the boat

College Coxing High School Teammates & Coaches

The bitch in the boat

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
Managing novice coxswains

College Coxing High School Novice Teammates & Coaches

Managing novice coxswains

It’s September, a new season is upon us, and with that comes a new batch of novices in all their naively enthusiastic glory. Let’s just assume, based on the majority of our own personal experiences, that your coaches won’t teach them a damn thing beyond “just don’t hit anything” and the onus will be on you, the experienced coxswains, to get them up to speed. Yes, it’s just as daunting of a task as it sounds like. Now you know what it feels like to write this blog.

There’s obviously a lot of things they’ve got to learn but you’re all good enough coxswains to know what to prioritize and what bridges can be crossed when you come to them. That’s not what today’s post is about. Today’s post was inspired by an article I read on Inc.com about how to manage interns. There were a lot of similarities between what they said and working with novice coxswains so I figured it’d be a good thing to put out there now before we get too far into the season.

Explain everything.

Everything that is super – and I mean super – obvious to you, tell/show them because none of it is obvious to them. The second you think “Should I tell them that? Nah…it’s obvious, they’ll know what it means/they’ll figure it out/etc.” … STOP. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Stop whatever you’re doing and explain to them whatever it is that you just thought was super obvious and self-explanatory. Trust me on this. It is worth you spending the extra two minutes going over it now than running the risk of something catastrophic and/or embarrassing happening later because they never figured out what this super obvious thing was or meant. Thing includes anything related to team protocol, where things are located within the boathouse, that sandbar about a mile and a half upstream, etc.

Give them constant feedback.

Positive or negative, feedback is an essential part of any learning process. Tell them when they’re on the right track, what they need to work on, etc. Obviously you’re not going to be in the boat with them but if you’re near each other on the water and you hear them calling a drill, let them know once you’re back on land that they sounded really engaged when they were going through “cut the cake”, which is great since it’s like the most boring drill ever … or give them some pointers on how to call it more effectively if they looked lost and were just saying “go…row” over and over. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) watch them like a hawk because obviously you’ve got your own stuff to worry about but if you can give them a quick glance whenever you’re nearby and then a tiny nugget of feedback later, you are doing so much for them when it comes to teaching them and building their confidence/self-awareness.

Don’t expect perfection.

It’s not going to be perfect. It just isn’t. You weren’t perfect when you first started and neither was I. Everybody picks things up at different speeds and the first few times they do something it’s probably going to be a little rough. Getting pissed or visibly annoyed at them isn’t going to work in the “negative reinforcement” way that most people like to think it does. All that does is make them timid, less likely to ask for help when they actually need it, and then by default … useless. (Harsh but true.) They’re just learning how to function as coxswains which means you have to be patient with them. Keep them accountable but don’t expect anything to look or sound pretty for awhile.

Give them real responsibilities.

Giving someone who is new to the job meaningful stuff to do is going to build their confidence and get them up to speed a lot faster than giving them nothing to do in the interest of someone else doing it because they already know how and can do it faster. I know that’s a wordy sentence so read it again. The new coxswains, if they’re any good at all, want to learn how to do stuff and if they’re being relegated to doing things they already know how to do or they’re sitting off to the side not doing anything, they’re  not learning. The most obvious example I have for this is trailer loading. There are numerous responsibilities that go along with getting ready to travel so don’t just relegate the novice coxswains to unraveling straps or packing up cox boxes. Show them where the oars, riggers, slings go and how they should be positioned in the trailer,  walk them through getting a boat on the top and middle racks and then walk with them as they do it, etc.

The bottom line is this: put some effort into educating them. It’s not your responsibility to be the only person cluing them into what being a coxswain entails but you should play a pretty big part in it.

Image via // @row_360

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

What are your thoughts on female coxswains for male boats? In your experience, does this result in drama or awkward social situations? How about the role of a coxswain in bringing a team together? Do you feel that the leadership position that a cox holds on the water translates to off the water and the social dynamic of the team?

Here’s the thing about drama and awkward situations. People who want to cause drama or make shit awkward are going to cause drama and make shit awkward. Plain and simple. I am all for women coxing men’s boats provided they’re not coxing them solely to flirt with them and/or because they want to hang out with a bunch of hot guys who spend the majority of their time with their shirts off. If that’s why you want to cox men just GTFO because you’re not going to be a good coxswain. Forget about being effective, you just don’t have the right attitude going into it and I guarantee nobody wants to deal with that. Same thing applies to women who think they have to be super bossy (and not the good kind of bossy but the annoying elementary school kind of bossy) to get the guys to listen to her. I think they think they’re coming off as super confident and in charge but they’re not – all they’re doing is undermining themselves. Most of the time people are just going to wonder why you show up to practice with a stick up your ass every day rather than thinking “wow, look how confident and in control of her crew she is!”.

Related: All the girls on my team are pretty good about the no crewcest thing, except this one girl, who keeps hooking up with many of the guys on the team and the team is slowly dying as a result. I’ve told her this would happen, but she doesn’t seem to care. The coach can’t really do anything, as its always after practice hours. Also, I feel for her, the team is more of a place to get guys than to actually improve her rowing and get faster. Any advice?

That aside, as has been asked before in the posts linked above and below, if you’re dating or hooking up with somebody in your boat and things end poorly then that’s naturally going to be awkward because that’s how most breakups are. If you’re both adults and can handle the situation maturely where no one else (meaning the other people in the boat, the rest of the team, etc.) is being affected by your personal issues then great. Unfortunately that tends to be the exception, not the norm, hence why crewcest is pretty looked down upon.

Related: What’s your opinion of rowing couples/coxswain-rower couples? Especially teammates?

As far as the coxswain’s leadership position translating off the water … it depends on the team. Most of the time it does and coaches will look to them and the captains to act as the glue that keeps things together (both on and off the water) but other times the coxswain will naturally take a backseat leadership position off the water in order to allow the team captains to manage things. You’re not considered any less of a leader it’s just that you’re not the front-and-center leader like you are when you’re on the water, if that makes sense. That’s kind of how I’ve always looked at it.

Related: Hey. I’m just beginning as a coxswain on the men’s team at a D3 college and had a question about the relationship between the captain and the coxswain. They’re both supposed to be leading the team, so where do their jobs differ? I understand that in the boat, of course, the coxswain is in charge but I was wondering more how you handle your relationship with the captain leadership-wise during practices, on land, for team affairs, other leadership functions aside from specifically coxing the boat, etc. How much captain control is too much? I’ve heard that coxswains are supposed to run practices when the coach isn’t around and during the offseason but my captain has been doing that. I realize I’m new so it makes sense, but if I weren’t, theoretically, is that atypical? Thanks for all of posting all of these things. It’s been really helpful.

When it comes to on the water stuff or things like trailer loading where the coxswain is kind of instrumental in getting things done, that’s my time to shine. The rest of the time I’ll leave organizing team meetings, handling interpersonal issues (unless it’s within my own boat), etc. to the captains and I’ll step up and help as needed. I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way to approach this though, as long as what you’re doing works for everyone involved.

Coxing Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Lessons on leadership from Canadian national team coxswain, Brian Price

Being a leader is one of the essential parts of being a coxswain. It’s important, especially if you’re just starting out, to learn, know, and understand that being a leader is so much more than just being able to yell louder than everyone else and tell them what to do. One of the biggest takeaways that coxswains should get from this is what he says about “earning respect”.

Related: Respect

For the older coxswains (particularly upperclassmen who may be coxing underclassmen) or anyone who is just getting into coaching (especially people like me in your mid-20s), one of the things you should think about is how your leadership style has evolved as you’ve gotten older and how it’s changed as you’ve started working with rowers and coxswains who are younger than you.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

OK regarding the coxswains working out, I’m a coxswain who typically does abs and stuff on my own at home to stay fit and this season I started doing the ab circuits with the team but I have very strong abs (I used to be a swimmer) so I tend to do all of the stuff correctly without slacking and some of the rowers started giving me dirty looks because it makes them look bad to the coach. What should I do? They feel insulted that I’m doing something better than them. Should I slack a little?

Oh come on. Like, just because the coxswain is the smallest athlete in the boat that automatically means that they should be sub-par at everything just so the “real” athletes can look fitter, stronger, etc? Absolutely not. I played softball for 10 years before I started coxing, in addition to a few other sports here and there. I was in pretty good shape in high school and was frequently able to do the exercises as well as the majority of the rowers and better than some. (By some I mean like, 5 or 6 at most out of 50.) Not once did anyone give me shit for it. Our coach would make good-natured remarks here and there like “guys, are you really going to let a 90lb coxswain do more pushups than you?” and that would end up motivating them to try to do more pushups than me or two of the other coxswains who were also multi-sport athletes. That’s exactly what would happen too – we would essentially challenge them to “get on our level” and they would do it. I can’t speak for the other coxswains but for me, I saw it as just another one of my responsibilities as their coxswain to challenge them just as hard off the water as I did on it. I’m a viciously competitive person but this was never about one-upping them or trying to make them look bad to our coach – all it was was me trying to push them to do better.

Does it make the rowers look bad in the eyes of the coach if someone whose physical fitness contributes nothing towards generating power in the boat is performing better than them at certain exercises? I can’t speak for every coach but for me, it doesn’t necessarily make you look bad but it does make me raise an eyebrow, especially if it’s obvious that you should be performing better than them. There’s no excuse when it comes to doing exercises correctly. I literally cannot comprehend, no matter how hard I try, how some people don’t understand how to properly do a pushup or a crunch or a plank or one of the many other ridiculously simple exercises that we do. If you’re performing them incorrectly after you’ve been show the right way to do them, yea, you can bet your ass I’m judging you for it. This has absolutely nothing with how well the coxswain or anyone else is doing it. If you can’t even do a pushup right, do you honestly think that makes me confident in your abilities to move an oar through the water? No, it doesn’t.

Circling back around to your question, no, you shouldn’t “slack a little” just to make your teammates feel better about themselves. Just writing that pisses me off. The looks they give you are the looks I’m giving them right now. Seriously, if they put half as much effort into doing the circuits correctly and pushing themselves a bit as they do getting pissed at you for doing just that they wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the coach was comparing them to you because there would be no comparison.

The bottom line is they need to step up and so do you. If I was talking to you as a group I’d be pretty damn stern with the rowers and tell them to either grow the fuck up or leave. I have no patience for stuff like this. With you, I would say that as much as I (as a coach and fellow coxswain) appreciate seeing you workout with the team, in this case I would rather see you standing up at the front of the room leading the workouts and ensuring everyone is doing them correctly and not half-assing anything. That means calling people out when they’re doing something incorrectly or when they’re slacking and pushing them to be at the level your coach (and/or you) expects them to be at. Instead of brushing it off when they give you dirty looks, assert yourself. Be a leader and lead your team instead of blending in with the crowd and letting them settle for anything less than excellence.


College Coxing High School How To Novice Teammates & Coaches


I get emails and questions from coxswains all. the. time. that read like lyrics from an Aretha Franklin song.

“All I’m askin’ … is for a little respect.”

They want to know how to get their boat, their coaches, the team, etc. to respect them because they are coxswain, hear them roar. I applaud the tenacity and enthusiasm but there are some things you’ve gotta understand first, starting with the fact that wanting, earning, getting, and deserving respect are four completely different things. You might want respect and feel like you deserve it but you have to earn it before you get it.

I’m not going to say this is a foolproof guide to gaining respect but it’s a start.

Respect is a two-way street

You have to give respect to get it in return. You’re in charge of the rowers but you’re not and they have to obey your commands but at the same time they don’t. It’s a respect and safety thing. It starts out as pure safety and then as you spend more time on the water together it blends to a mix of the two. This is really where it all begins. You get thrown in the boat as a novice after hearing from your coach that the rowers have to listen to you because you’re the coxswain, it’s your job to be in charge, etc. and we instantly develop this Napoleon complex and think we’re the shit because we get to boss people who are bigger than us around. Nope nope nope. If you get in the boat thinking that the rowers are your minions out to do your bidding, you’re setting yourself up for apocalyptic failure.

Related: Words

In the beginning they have to listen to you because they don’t know what they’re doing and by being in your position it’s assumed you do (even when you don’t either). Someone has to tell them what to do and they have to listen because…they just do. As you start coming together as a boat — as a crew — they start listening to you not out of necessity but because they trust you and your judgement (on everything…). In order for this to happen, you have to gain their trust and in order to do that, you have to afford your crew the same level of respect that you desire in return.

Be in control of every situation by staying calm and composed

The strongest leaders are the ones who can silence a crowd without raising their voice. Yelling or being loud just to be loud doesn’t mean you’re taking charge — it means you’re straining your vocal cords for no reason.

Show up

Show up physically (never on time or late, always early), emotionally (what happens outside of crew stays outside of crew, don’t start or perpetuate unnecessary drama, etc.), mentally (be ready to do work and get shit done), and spiritually. If you’ve rowed long enough, or maybe if you’ve only rowed for one season, you know what I mean by “spiritually”. It’s that feeling you have when you show up at the boathouse and get on the water that can’t be explained to anyone who’s never experienced it. This quality must be infectious in you — when your crew isn’t feeling it one day, they should be able to look at you and feed off your energy.

Experience “the dark place”

Have you ever seen a rower doing a 2k or looked into your stroke’s eyes during an all out, balls to the wall piece, and been able to see hell in their eyes?That is the place I’m talking about. Soldiers won’t follow a general into battle if the general has never been in their shoes before. It’s not about pulling a certain split or getting a certain time; if your 2:04 split makes you feel the same way your rower feels when pulling a 1:39, so be it. The numbers don’t matter. It’s about the toll being put on your mind and body.

One of the biggest ways to gain the respect of your crew is to never ask them to give more than you could give yourself. Don’t say “I know you’re hurting” if you’ve never experienced what they’re going through. Wherever and whatever the dark place is for you, go there every once in awhile to remind yourself of just how strong your teammates are. Every time you finish I guarantee that you’ll be newly enlightened with an even greater sense of admiration for what they put their bodies through. (Don’t make the fatal mistake of confusing hero worship and respect though.) Remind yourself of that “wow, these guys” feeling every time you call for a power ten or the build into your sprint or “everything you got, put it on the line, right here“.

No matter what the situation is, its never “you” and “them”, it’s “us” and “we”

This can not be emphasized enough. You are not eight rowers and one coxswain. There is not an invisible divide between the stroke seat and the ninth seat. You are ONE crew. That subtle change in linguistics says a lot and it’s something I really pay attention to as a coach. You want your teammates to consider you as part of the crew?Act like one. When talking about your boat, it’s never “they’re doing this”, it’s “we’re doing this”. “They” didn’t row poorly, “we” rowed poorly. “You” don’t want this, “we” want this.

When you say “they”, it’s as though you’re excluding yourself from whatever follows. “They” had a bad race. “They” had a great day on the water. Don’t you think you played a part in that? If you only include yourself in the positive and not the negative, what do you think that says to your teammates? That you only want to be involved in their success but never their failure. On the flip side, if you never include yourself in the positive it gives off the impression that you’re not considering your own contributions, which opens the door for the rowers to not consider them either. I’ll say it again — you are not eight rowers and one coxswain. You are ONE crew.

Always learn from your experiences, positive and negative, on the water and off

Every opportunity is a chance to learn something new or reinforce something you’ve learned previously. You should be soaking it in every chance you get. You can’t do that if you consider yourself anything less than a sponge at any given moment during practice. That glazed over, “kill me now” look in your eyes during winter training? Yea, stop that. Your coach is talking to 3-seat on the water about keeping his inside shoulder relaxed and you’re staring at the group of people picnicking on shore? Yea, stop that too. You can read about technique all you want but reading is only going to take you so far. It’s a book sense vs. street sense kind of thing. You need to be in the boat, in the launch, watching video, etc. Your rowers notice when you’re taking advantages of these opportunities and your coaches absolutely notice when they hear you make a call based off of something they said individually to a rower (or even to the crew as a whole). It shows that you’re invested, engaged, and doing your part to make the boat go fast.

Rowers add meters to their stroke by erging, lifting, etc. You add meters to all of their strokes by filling your brain with useful information that you’ve attained through every avenue possible, not just from reading a blog online (although that’s a good start, if I do say so myself), and then delivering it in the most effective way(s) possible. In a similar vein, don’t coach beyond your level of experience. If you’re a novice coxswain, don’t try to cox like you’ve been doing it for ten years. I understand the intentions but more often times than not it comes off as obnoxious and your coxing ends up being just plain bad. Don’t cox what you don’t understand.

Reaction time is crucial

One of the first things I was taught as a novice was that you have to be able to experience, analyze, and react to situations no less than five seconds before they happen. You have to anticipate everything and anything. Ten different scenarios have to be going through your head at any given time and you’ve got to have a plan for every single one. Something that hurts novice rowers in the earning respect department is having horrible reaction times to what’s happening on the water. This usually occurs more when they’re coxing experienced crews but novice crews can also tell when their coxswain is showing up to the party late (and not in a fashionable way).

Your rowers shouldn’t have to take control of the boat because YOU should already have it under control. If rowers are calling for something to happen or telling you to do/call something, that’s a problem because you should have already done or called it. You earn respect from your rowers by demonstrating an unwavering capability to take control of a situation if and, most especially, when the situation warrants. This also relates to what I said at the beginning — calm and composed, never freaking out. For clarification/elaboration, reaction times doesn’t apply only to a situation that could be considered dangerous. It also applies to you calling for the starboards to lift their hands immediately after the boat goes offset, telling the crew exactly what needs to happen in order to recover from a crab and get back into the piece, etc.

Stand up for yourself and always be confident in your calls, decisions, and actions

Your teammates, including other coxswains, are only going to be assholes to you if you let them. If they think they can get away with it, nothing’s going to stop them from telling you to shut up, stop being such a goody two-shoes, or to straight up fuck off. You are in a position on the team that invites a lot of criticism and you have to have a thick layer of skin to deal with it. Confidence is non-negotiable. If you question yourself every time you do something or you let people walk all over you, no one is going to respect you because you don’t respect yourself.

Something I heard a college coach tell a novice coxswain a few weeks ago was “don’t invite contradiction”. I’ve heard that phrase many times in many different situations over the years and have always liked it. A coach I worked with this year said that he’d rather have a coxswain steer directly into a bridge than debate about what to do to avoid it in the five seconds before they hit it. Sticking to your convictions, regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad, is important. Being able to defend why you did something is better than doing something and not having a reason for why you did it.

Coxing How To Q&A

Question of the Day

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. ?

The only time you’ll come off as a bitch instead of a leader is if you constantly yell at everyone and go on power trips. Treat other people how you want them to treat you. If you do that, you’ll earn respect from your teammates, which goes a long way when you’re in the position you’re in.

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 take your coach telling you there’s a “feisty” side to you as a bad thing. After the first week or so of going out with my masters 8+ we were at breakfast one morning and one of the women said “I love you as our coxswain but your personality is SO different in the boat – you’re such a bitch!!” At first I didn’t know how to take it until everyone chimed in and said that it was a compliment because my assertiveness, efficiency, knowledge, and most of all intensity make them want to be better rowers. If that’s what being a bitch is, then I’m not complaining. The important thing is knowing how to separate your in-boat personality and your on-land personality … you can’t take all the yelling you do into boat on land with you, otherwise people won’t take you seriously and they’ll lose some respect for you if all they ever hear you doing is yelling and bossing people around.

College Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hey. I’m just beginning as a coxswain on the men’s team at a D3 college and had a question about the relationship between the captain and the coxswain. They’re both supposed to be leading the team, so where do their jobs differ? I understand that in the boat, of course, the coxswain is in charge but I was wondering more how you handle your relationship with the captain leadership-wise during practices, on land, for team affairs, other leadership functions aside from specifically coxing the boat, etc. How much captain control is too much? I’ve heard that coxswains are supposed to run practices when the coach isn’t around and during the offseason but my captain has been doing that. I realize I’m new so it makes sense, but if I weren’t, theoretically, is that atypical? Thanks for all of posting all of these things. It’s been really helpful.

This is a great question and not one that coaches think about too much when they appoint captains. There is HUGE potential for butting heads if the responsibilities and expectations of both the coxswain and captain aren’t clearly laid out ahead of time.

From my perspective, here’s a brief synopsis of what I think the roles of each are:


The role of the coxswain, like you said, is to lead their boat while they’re on the water and when mandated during on-land practices. In the boat, the only person with any authority is the coxswain (not counting the coach, obviously). It’s as simple as that. While the team is erging, they’ll take down times, cox the rowers if necessary, and observe. Sometimes the coach will also ask them to lead a body circuit or calisthenics or something. When it comes to actual rowing stuff, coxswains are by default the go-to person. It’s also their responsibility to set a good example for the rest of the team – showing up on time (don’t ever be late, EVER), making sure everything is clean and put away at the end of practice, having a good attitude (regardless of the current state of your team, practice, etc.), etc.


Not every team has captains, so on teams where there aren’t any, coxswains sometimes absorb those duties in addition to their own. When a team does have captains, I look at them as holding more of an “administrative” (yet still very important) role. There’s probably a better word for it but I’m drawing a blank if there is. A captain’s role is to be a leader when it comes to general team management – at team and/or parent meetings, the captains usually go to act as a voice for the entire team. That’s their biggest role, in my opinion. Sometimes they’ll also be in charge of things like finding fundraising opportunities, making sure everyone has their pre-season paperwork turned in, etc. It’s also their responsibility to maintain communication with the coach and pass along any information from him/her to the team, most commonly something like a change in practice time, date, or location.

During the winter months, usually in between finals before Christmas break and the time before winter training starts when you get back to campus, captains can also be in charge of holding practices for those wishing to workout. These are usually optional practices since everyone’s schedule is all over the place in December-January. They’re informal and most likely involve a text or Facebook message saying something along the lines of “The captains are heading to the gym at 1:30pm today for a quick lifting session if anyone wants to join!” In this case, they are in charge of practice since the coaches and coxswains aren’t present. Coxswains can still go but they’ll take a backseat in terms of who leads things. In addition to all of that, like the coxswains, they must also set a good example for the rest of the team. Their desire to always improve, commitment to their teammates, and enthusiasm for the sport and their team should never be questioned.

In terms of how much control is too much, I would say that if one person starts infringing on the responsibilities of another, that’s too much. If a captain starts trying to tell the coxswain what to do in the boat or the coxswain starts trying to take over as “voice of the team”, that is when a power struggle tends to happens. This is why if your team has captains, it’s imperative that either you two sit down and figure out who’s going to do what or your coach lays out a specific set of guidelines before captains are voted on stating exactly what their responsibilities are. Maintaining a good relationship between captains and coxswains will make practice a LOT better for everyone involved. If they’re constantly trying to one-up the other, they’re going to lose a lot of respect really fast from their teammates.

Related: I know coaches are always looking for “team leaders” but there’s this one girl on my team who TRIES to be a leader but is just ignorant & bossy. Inevitably, she only hurts herself by getting on her teammates & even coaches nerves. She’s leaving next year (along with a huge majority of my team) & I want to be an effective leader but I’m afraid of being annoying to underclassmen like this girl is to me. How do I lead w/o being bossy and making people want to straight up slap me in the face?

As a novice coxswain, I would look to both the varsity coxswains and your captain(s) as you learn how things are done on your team. It might seem like your captain is being pushy right now but it’s likely that they’re just trying to help ease you into things or the coach has given them the specific job of running off-season workouts. Either way, I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now. Talk with them and ask what their role on the team usually is and what can you expect for yours to be. Getting that clarified right away, as if I haven’t said it enough already, will make things much easier for both of you.

Related: As a coxswain, I guess you could say this is my first actual leadership position. I’ve had a little experience with being in charge of activities, but never the safety of a 30 thousand dollar boat … or people. What would you say makes an effective leader? Most people if they are, are born leaders. How would you bring that out of someone, if that’s even possible?

PS: If you’re a coxswain and a captain, make sure you keep your ego in check. The “Napoleon complex” thing is meant as a joke when it comes to coxswains so let’s not ruin it by becoming tyrannical, power hungry gremlins.