I wanted to be coxswain.
Unfortunately, I was too tall and heavy. As a rower I gave it my all, but I was still fascinated with my coxswains’ ability to motivate us into performing our best. This power is one of the reasons I always preferred sitting in the bow, and why I enjoy coaching now.
In horse racing, much of the focus is put on the horse and their abilities. Yet, it is the jockey that gets the horse across the finish line. One miscalculation and the horse may go out too fast or too slow. Very rare do you have a horse like Secretariat or American Pharaoh that wills itself to win the Triple Crown. In NASCAR, all the focus is put on the driver. Much is written about their personality and their ability to maneuver around other vehicles at 200 mph.
Why should rowing be any different?
The coxswain is the driver. They need to manage the different personalities, behaviors, and talents of athletes who may or may not be on the same page. They must constantly be ready to follow and adapt their coach’s instructions. They are the ears, the eyes, and the nose (if they happen to be downwind) of the team.
Yet they get no love…
CHOOSE YOUR COXSWAIN
Just for fun, I want to share the six different types of coxswains you may have on your team. Coxing is not just about knowledge. Practice calls, drills, and race recordings are all important, but they can be memorized. A coxswain’s strength is their unique ability to connect and communicate this knowledge to the athletes. Each coxswain below motivates their teammates in different ways.
In December, I wrote about the Process Communication Model® and “which erg screen you would choose”. The coxswains below are the six “pure” personality types. Each of us utilize all of these six personality types, but to a different degree.
Even though I chose genders for each character, the characteristics of each coxswain is gender neutral. They are universal.
Riley Rebel – “Whose boat is this?”
Riley. When you read her name, you were not sure if it was a guy’s or gal’s name. It doesn’t matter; when she shows up, she is in charge. Riley does not cox the way other coxswains do. That is what makes her awesome. Stroke rates, erg times, and drills are not important, because she thinks outside the box.
Riley does not challenge your thinking process, but she will find more creative ways to get a boat moving as opposed to the way you approach it. She will use more exciting words like “NICEEEE!”, “WAAAY-Nuff”, and “ROCKIN’.” She sings in the boat, raps on cue, and is quick with an inappropriate joke to keep boat laughing. Riley makes rowing fun.
Needs to work on:
Riley needs to get with the program. She may struggle focusing on the daily grind. You may believe she is not serious because she does not hang out with the team all the time. She has her own crowd to hang with. However, Riley may provide the dynamic and balance you need to win. When working with Riley, keep interactions fun and interesting. Lead with humor if possible and she will stick around and get on the same page.
Otherwise, your best coxswain will prefer to stay the 3rd boat because they are more fun and laid back.
Theodore Thinker –“We are at 32 spm, and in exactly 5 strokes, we’ll shift to 34 spm.”
Theodore or “Ted” to his close friends is super organized and well prepared. He carries everything to practice in his backpack –tool kit, athletic tape, Dora’s Map and his cox box is always charged. Ted carries around a large notebook or iPad.
Ted remembers everything. He knows the erg times of every athlete on the team as well as other teams. He knows the race course like the back of his hand, and knows how the wind speed and direction affects the boat. He scribbles constantly in his notebook, which he will fill up in a week. If asked if there is a correlation between shin length, stroke rate, and protein intake, Ted will show up on Monday with a report complete with a TPS report cover sheet.
Needs to work on:
Sometimes Ted is so caught up in the numbers and drills that he may hesitate. Even though the training and race plan is solid, he needs to trust his instincts more and just let go. He needs the confidence to go with his gut. Ted is more prepared than anyone else. Make sure to highlight that strength, before asking him to take a risk. He will be more likely to respond.
Otherwise, your best coxswain will fail to call the sprint earlier, because it was not part of the original plan.
Peyton Persister – “Well Coach always says…”
Peyton loves coxing. She prides herself on her ability to “inspire” talent out of all the athletes. Like Ted, she will have an array of tools at her disposal to get you technically sound, however she is more focused on doing things the right way. Her way. Rowing has rules, and Peyton knows them all. She is passionate about her job, and she is extremely loyal to the coach and her athletes.
Peyton does practice right. She will know the best way to get you warmed up and prepared physically and mentally to race. She gives great advice on how to approach an erg test. When times are stressful, Peyton will know the correct way to get everyone focused. She will be at every practice, even when she is sick, and may even train with the team because she wants to know what the athletes go through.
Needs to work on:
Peyton can be a coach’s pet or a coach’s nightmare. No goofing off on Peyton’s watch. If you are talking in the boat, then she will call you out. She will report to the coach anything you should not be doing. It is great that she can be right 99% of the time, but if she disagrees with the coach or athletes it may affect her performance. Help her understand that her views and opinions are valued, and it okay to agree to disagree. As long as she can share her input, she will stay loyal to you and the team.
Otherwise your best coxswain will “take her talents to South Beach.”
Isabella Imaginer – “Let’s be calm…”
Rowing is an intense sport, so when Isabella arrives on the team, many may believe she won’t last. She is very quiet, and doesn’t get very excited. Yet, her calming presence makes her one of the steadiest performers. Isabella could be the difference maker when the boat is clicking.
“OHHMMmmm..” Isabella is a great listener, and she will be able to absorb many of the athletes’ woes. She gives excellent feedback to the coach how the boat is moving through the water. She will hypnotize you into focusing on the run of the boat instead of erg scores and the drama on the team.
Needs to work on:
Isabella can be too calm. You may need to snap her back to attention. Give clear and concise directions, or you will overwhelm her. Boat drama may cause her to shy away, and you may question her team loyalty. In reality, she needs time to recharge and process to find a solution that makes sense. Pick and choose the right moments to talk to her about your rowing. Ask a pointed question and you will get a profound answer. Isabella may be the “missing piece” you need at the end of a stressful season.
Otherwise your best coxswain will vanish, and you will never know that she was gone.
Preston Promoter – “You mad bro?”
Preston is a bro. He is the A-team. At least that is where he believes he belongs. Watch out because the V8+ is his boat. He is one of the most competitive athletes on the team, and makes up for his small stature with his big and commanding voice. To be honest, Preston can be a total %#&!?, but that is how he rolls…
“Why would you want Preston in your boat?” The answer is simple. He gets it done. He is aggressive, and is constantly scheming up ways to win. He is the coxswain that you need with 250 meters to go. Is there a race plan? Scrap it. It’s all about the battle. The chess match is on, and he has stalked and scoped out all the other coxswains and athletes before your race. If there was a publicly televised weigh-in for coxswains, Preston would fight all the other coxswains and the officials.
Needs to work on:
Slow down bro. We need you to focus. Every practice is not a race, and sometimes we need you start paying attention to details. When Preston is bored he may find ways to make things competitive or stir up trouble on the team. It is not that he is manipulative; it is just that he wants a challenge. Give him one. “Preston, practice this drill, and I want your boat to master it by the end of practice”. Let him work his charm. He can be the best, and you just need to direct him there.
Otherwise, your best coxswain may find a way to get you out of the boat.
Hunter Harmonizer –“We can do this…”
Hunter is the ultimate cheerleader. He lives for the team, and he will remind everyone why they row. He is the peace maker, and he will check in with each athlete before practice and competition to make sure they are ready. He is the pulse of the team, and knows what everyone is doing before and after practice.
Hunter is the pulse of the boat, and will be sure to tell the coach if anything is wrong. He gets fired up when an athlete performs, and will be exhausted after every erg test because he pours his heart out with them with every personal best and every failure. He trains with the team to stay in good shape and keep his weight down. Hunter wants to know what all the athletes are going through, because he constantly walks around in the shoes of everyone else.
Needs to work on:
Hunter may be so concerned with pleasing everyone he may forget what his real job is and his role. In the last 500 meters he may hesitate to act. Hunter credits the athletes for every victory, and blames himself for every loss. Remind Hunter why he is important to the team. Praise him for his compassion for his teammates and his passion for the sport.
Otherwise your best coxswain will take his heart and his sleeve to look for a better “team” to motivate.
Moral of the Story
I believe the coxswain is one the most important “athletes” and “coaches” on the team. When the boat shoves off the dock, we are putting the keys to our Ferrari in the hands of this Cameron.
Know your coxswains. Develop them.
Athletes may be strong, but they need a leader to lead them and a “captain” to guide them. Winning the race is not as sweet as tossing your captain in the water following your victory.
Remember, you are the only crew that has earned that honor.
Thank you coxswains…
For more information on Athletic Profiling, Individual Team and FMS Screening, Strength and Conditioning, Training Programs, Seminars, and Rowing Analysis – contact me!