Tag: team culture

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches

Question of the Day

Hi! Over the last year I have become very close with my coach. He has helped me improve into the coxswain I am today. I coxed our V8 and V4 all year and my team just got back from nationals. The reasons I was in these boats is because he believed in me all year and helped to improve. Today however, at our end of season wrap up practice, he dropped the news that he would not be coaching next year. I still have two more years on the team and we don’t know who the new coach will be. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with losing a coach? And how to adapt to a new one? I’m afraid they won’t understand the fun loving environment my team is and it will be hard for me to create that good coach and coxswain relationship like I had with my previous coach. Any helpful tips would be great.

Why would you assume they wouldn’t understand the team culture/environment? That’s kind of an unfair judgement/assumption to put out there. Just because your current coach was dope and you had a good relationship with him doesn’t mean that the same can’t be true with whoever’s taking over for him.

I luckily only had to deal with one major coaching transition while I was in school and the best advice our team got came from our assistant coach – “accept that the change is happening and keep an open mind”. I’d say the same to you too. It’s happening so you kinda just have to deal with it but the important thing is to keep an open mind and not automatically resign yourself to being anti-whatever new things he/she brings to the team just because they’re different than what you’re used to.

Whatever you did to cultivate the relationship you have with your current coach … do that with the new one. The new coach isn’t going to be a carbon copy of your old one (nor should you expect that) so obviously you might have to tweak a few things here and there but it’s not like you’re starting back at square one. You already know what made your current coach-coxswain relationship great so make time to have a one-on-one with the new coach so you can communicate that stuff to them. This applies to pretty much everything you’ll ever do but the more up front you are about how you work/communicate best, the easier it’ll be for everyone in the long run.

That was actually one of the questions I was asked when I was interviewing for my current job and having worked with some incredible coaches at MIT the last three years, I had a pretty rock solid idea of what I needed to feel confident and empowered in executing whatever I was doing. I specifically used the example of how they gave me a pretty unprecedented amount of freedom to work with our coxswains and really integrate my philosophy on all that into the broader team culture. I could have stopped there (and if I was less experienced in the interview game I probably would have) but what “sold” it was following it up with specific examples of how that helped me grow as a coach (in terms of building my confidence, refining my communication skills, and developing relationships with everyone on the team) and why that kind of “management style” is what I respond best to. Out of all the back and forth we did, I think the conversation we had around that one question was one of the main things that eased some of the doubt I had about joining a new coaching staff.

I get where you’re coming from because I honestly felt the same exact way when I left MIT for Columbia. I’d grown (and thrived) so much in that environment with those specific people and I was worried that it wouldn’t be the same here and I’d be miserable but, like I said earlier, while that can be a valid concern, it’s also an unfair assumption to make. Keep an open mind, be (even more) flexible in your approach to whatever situations you encounter (new and old), and communicate early and honestly about what you need from them to help you continue developing as a coxswain (with, I assume, the goal of staying in the V8 and V4).

As for everything else … just go with the flow and trust that whoever the new person is has the team’s best interest in mind. Most coaches do.

10 simple things you can do to be a better athlete

College Coxing High School Rowing Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

10 simple things you can do to be a better athlete

When I was at Penn over the summer, Wes Ng, who is the women’s head coach (and also the women’s U23 coach), came and gave a talk on the simple, ordinary things you can do to make yourself a better athlete.

What’s the plan for the week?

If you’re gonna row at any level, it takes a solid amount of commitment. When you’re a collegiate athlete, rowing needs to be a priority (not necessarily the #1 priority but still a pretty high one) and that will probably require moving your lives around to make it work. Up front communication with the coaches, your professors, etc. about what you’ve got going on is important.

We send our yearly training plan out at the beginning of the school year so that the guys can see what we’re doing each day, when we’re testing, when our races are, when our training trips are, etc., that way they know where they need to be, when, and what the time commitment is so they can plan everything else accordingly. Obviously it’s a given that there’s some flexibility when it comes to academics, job interviews, etc. but it’s made clear up front that frat stuff or other extracurricular activities should not be put above their commitment to the team.

Always arrive early

You’re not prepared if you’re only thinking about performing when you arrive on time. Wes spoke about the U23 women that he’d see arriving early who would spend that time before practice going through their own personal checklists of the things they needed to do to perform at their best, which included warming up on the erg or bikes, rolling out for 15-20 minutes, or just closing their eyes and doing some meditative breathing. Regardless of what each individual routine entailed, they knew that it was worth coming in 30-40 minutes early for because it was setting them up to have a good row.

Rolling into the boathouse at 6:25 for a 6:30am practice might not hurt you but it’s not going to help you that much either … and it could set the wrong tone for the underclassmen who are looking to the senior members of the team to set the example.

“How can we help?”

Rather than being accusatory towards someone who, for example, consistently shows up late to practice, instead ask them how you can help. Wes used this example because they had a rower who said she was having trouble getting up in the morning for their AM rows and the response from the team was to buy her a lot of instant coffee and share their morning routines with her to help her figure out something that would make waking up earlier easier.

It’s really easy to just get pissed at someone who’s showing up late or constantly making the same mistake in the boat but getting pissed doesn’t help anyone and it doesn’t fix the problem. This goes hand in hand with the “don’t punish the symptoms, address the cause” or whatever that adage is.

Take care of the equipment and the environment you row in

This is simple – it’s about pride. If you have pride in the space you row out of, as well as the equipment you use, then you’re more likely to take your training seriously.

Make pre-row stuff light and fun

I loved the question that Wes posed when he brought up this point – “Who are you gonna be? Are you gonna make atmosphere better or wait for someone else to do it?”

Know when to shift gears from fun to intense focus

One of the things I really appreciate about our team is their ability to shift from loose and chill before practice (during which some of the most ridiculous conversations I’ve ever heard happen) to completely dialed in and ready to get shit done the moment they finish their warmup. It makes things easier for the coaches, it gets us on the water faster, and it sets the tone early on (for practice, for the underclassmen, and for the team as a whole…) that regardless of whatever else everyone’s got going on or whatever riveting debate you were having earlier, all of that is put on pause until 8:30am so that we can all collectively focus on accomplishing that day’s goal(s).

Ask questions but don’t ask just to be heard

This is all about maturity. Everybody can relate to this one because we’ve all been in class with that person who says something, not because they actually have anything to contribute but because they want to be heard so they can get their participation points (or just disrupt the conversation). This is an easy trap for coxswains, particularly younger ones, to fall into because they know they’re expected to know things but rather than just asking a question or saying they don’t understand, they blurt out and rattle off a hundred different things that are all wrong and wildly off base because they think that’ll give off the impression that they’re making an effort.

If you have something important to say or contribute then you should absolutely put it out there but don’t waste your or everyone else’s time if whatever you’re gonna say isn’t relevant, is grasping at straws, or is just disruptive to the flow of practice.

“Thanks coach, see you tomorrow.”

Wes phrased this well – “we’re all in this together to try and be the best we can be”. You might not always agree with your coach’s decisions but you’re both working towards the same goal of having a successful season so you should, at the very least, be appreciative of their efforts and respect the time they spend helping you become a better a athlete.

Saying “thanks coach” after they’ve spent time on the erg with you or going over evals or just after a regular practice row … it’s a simple gesture that can strengthen the bond between the team and the coach(es). Some of the moments that have meant the most to me at MIT have been when someone’s said “thanks for working with the coxswains, all the work you’ve put in is really paying off” because it motivates me to work harder to help them get better which in turn motivates them to work harder because they know someone’s got their back. If you put in effort your coaches will too and that’s only going to help you get better.

Use rowing to make your life better

This has been a big topic of conversation this week between myself and one of the other coaches. Everyone gets something different out of rowing but you’re more likely to get something out of it if you’re actually making the effort to get better. If you’re open to being coached and getting advice/feedback from other people, you’ll start seeing that stuff manifest in how you act and carry yourself in your everyday life.

“How can I do my thing better?”

You have to take care of yourself first before trying to help others get better. This is huge for coxswains because you can’t help the rowers or the boat if your own skills are subpar. If you want the boat to get better, look first at what you can do to improve and then find a way to translate the skills you’ve been developing to your teammates.

None of them are groundbreaking but that’s also probably why they’re easily overlooked when someone (rower or coxswain) asks the question of “what can I do to get better?”. It’s the little things…

Image via // @uvicvikes

College Q&A

Question of the Day

Hi Kayleigh, I’m entering my senior year of college and 8th year of rowing. Our team has 1.5 coaches, 3 coxswains, no academic advisor or AT and once our class graduates our team is going to be half the size it is now. Do you have any advice on how to make the best of a seemingly crappy situation?

Not to diminish the situation or anything but that doesn’t sound that crappy, unless there’s something I’m missing. It actually sounds like what a lot of club teams experience each year – minimal resources, coaching inconsistencies, varying class sizes, etc. I guess what I’m saying is that it can be done, it just might take a little more work, flexibility, and sacrifice than in years past.

I think the best thing to do is work with what you’ve got and be very clear in your goals, priorities, and responsibilities this year, in addition to making sure the classes below you (particularly the juniors) are prepared enough to take the reins next year. The current team leadership is definitely gonna have to step it up on all fronts to make all that happen.

If you don’t have trainers you can go to when you’re sore or injured then the team needs to make sure they’ve got a recovery plan in place that minimizes residual soreness and prioritizes injury prevention … and you’ve gotta make sure everyone buys into that and actually stretches, rolls out, etc. before and after practice. Everyone also needs to commit to acting like athletes outside the boathouse too, not in the how you carry yourself kind of way but in how you treat your body. That’s one of the big things our captains want to focus on this year is making sure the guys are sleeping and eating enough so that their bodies are consistently ready to go and not always on the brink of crashing and burning. We’ve already got some strategies in place to make this happen so that might be something you do as well, come up with something that holds everyone accountable and consistently reiterates the importance of recovery, sleep, good nutrition, etc.

If you don’t have advisors from within the athletic department then you’ll need to rely on the advisors you have within your individual colleges to help you navigate your classes, requirements, etc. There’s a lot of discussion on our team about classes, professors, which academic track to follow, etc. so using your teammates as a resource if/when necessary is always a great and easy option too. (I assumed when you said you don’t have academic advisors you meant ones that the athletic department assigns you in addition to your regular one. That’s how it was for us at Syracuse but I know not everyone does that. I can’t imagine you meant that you have no advisors at all though … that doesn’t even seem possible.)

Only having 1.5 coaches – by which I assume you mean a full-time head coach and a part-time or volunteer assistant coach – can be tough but ultimately the responsibility is going to fall on the coxswains to pick up the slack and help the coaches out. Your practice management skills have gotta be on. f-ing. point. this year in order to maximize your time on the water and ensure you’re actually getting shit done. Communication is gonna be even more imperative between the coxswains and coach(es) so that if the coach says they’re going off with Boat C today so A and B are gonna be on their own for most of practice, the coxswains know exactly what the plan is and can execute it accordingly.

I wouldn’t focus on the things you don’t have though, otherwise that’s just gonna make you bitter and introduce a lot of stress and resentment to the overall atmosphere … and ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when you’re a senior.

Coxing Teammates & Coaches

Qualities of a Varsity Coxswain

One of the last questions on our coxswain evaluations asks the rowers what skills and qualities they believe a varsity coxswain should have. What follows in this series (going up every other Wednesday throughout the summer) are some of their responses to this question from the last two years. Consider these food for thought as you start thinking about your goals for the upcoming year.

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
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.

“Do you really need that?”

Coxing Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

“Do you really need that?”

Over the last few days I’ve been emailing with a coxswain who initially wanted some advice on what to do over the summer to make sure they’re in shape for the upcoming fall season. As most of you who have asked me the same or similar questions over the last few weeks know, my response was and has been to just make sure you’re within a healthy range (which gives you plenty of leeway) of your respective racing weight by being smart about your diet and doing something  like running, cycling, etc. a couple times a week. Really simple stuff, nothing too crazy.

Related: I know it’s silly but staying a lightweight is consuming me. Literally every moment of the day I’m thinking of ways to be smaller and I hate myself for even worrying about this so much, like 123 is a FINE weight but at the same time … I hate being like this. It’s really worrying and I’m not eating as much anymore and I just need advice. 

Now, as most of you know, I have zero patience when it comes to coaches and rowers who openly disrespect coxswains and make unnecessary (and often times, pretty hurtful) comments about their weight when their weight isn’t an issue. I totally get being pissed when your coxswain is far, far over the minimum but seriously, speaking in general here, you guys have got to stop doing this. Below are some excerpts of the emails this coxswain sent me after our initial ones where we talked about getting in shape for the fall (shared with their permission).

“…Our coach is generally just impatient with us while we’re on the water and they complain about it more than I do. And to top it off, whenever we went to a meal during races, our coach would scrutinize what I ate and tell me things like. “Hey you need to fit in the seat…” Or “Do you really need that” but then tell me that she would prefer I didn’t starve myself.  She mentioned me losing weight before going into summer and said that “then we can actually go fast”.”

They told me that they’re a vegetarian so a lot of what they eat when they’re traveling is fruit or something else light.

“… I honestly have never had an eating disorder, like EVER. But after being treated like that I have been so vulnerable and not confident and it is so horrible because it made me not confident in other things too, so much that when I came home I asked my mum if I could talk to a therapist about it, like I’ve been struggling to bring myself back to the person I know I am, which yeah, is completely shitty.”

Making comments like that is not cool, it’s not funny, and it’s not appropriate. There’s a difference between playfully ragging on a friend (which you can really only get away with if you have a solid relationship with the person and even then, there are limits…) and being a jerk. I don’t want to get too into this because I’ve talked about all of it numerous times on here before but consider this another reminder/plea to just think before you say anything like what’s posted above to your coxswain(s). You don’t know how it’s going to affect them and if an eating disorder is something they’re already struggling with (which you most likely wouldn’t know about), hearing someone say “you need to find in the seat” or “do you really need that” can be pretty damaging. For more on that you can check out the posts in the link below.

Related: National eating disorder awareness week

I would also stop for a sec and consider this: I get a lot of emails from coxswains and when I find them serious enough to post on here I keep the details as vague as possible so as to not give away who they are or who they cox for. There are obvious reasons for doing that but I also do it because I want everyone who reads this to assume that it was your athlete and your coxswain that emailed me because, for all you know, it was. So … if you’re reading this and are thinking “wow…that sounds like something I said to my coxswain this year…”, this post is probably about you.

Image via // @schurwanzpics