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/
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.
I 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.