In order to become a successful coxswain, you have to be more than competent. You need to understand the nuances of the sport, how to call a race plan, and how to motivate your team to victory. And in order to acquire these skills and traits, you have to be fully committed to honing your craft. Here are some helpful tips and suggestions:
1. Spend Time With Your Crew
You can’t just show up on practice days and race days and expect your crew to respond to your leadership – you need to get to know them in all aspects.
When it comes to knowing them outside of rowing, learn about their upbringing, family life, and other hobbies. Ask them what they like to do in their personal lives. Learn the names of their friends, siblings, and significant others. Not only does this help you understand what makes them tick, but it also increases their trust in you. When they see that you care about them as individuals, they’re more likely to respond to your leadership in a positive way.
In terms of knowing them within the context of rowing, you’ll want to find out what fuels them. Are they adrenaline junkies who are looking for a rush? Or do they prefer the careful rhythm of the boat as the blade plunks at the catch? The more you know, the more you’ll get out of each crew member.
2. Be the Best Teammate You Can Be
While you certainly have a unique role as a coxswain, you have to view yourself as just another member of the team. This is something the most successful coxswains do.
It can be tempting to mentally separate yourself from the other rowers on your crew, but you have to force yourself to switch from an “I” and “them” approach to a “we” approach. This tip goes hand-in-hand with spending more time with your crew and forming those bonds.
3. Learn From Those Ahead of You
You become the average of the people you spend the most time with. If you’re only spending time with people who are at your same skill level, you’ll have a harder time improving. Instead, you should surround yourself with people who are slightly better and/or more advanced than you are.
One way to do this is by attending camps and other programs that are dedicated to coxswains. The Coxing Leadership Program by Sparks is a great example. It’s a two-week opportunity where experienced and committed coxswains get a chance to train with rowers to enhance their teamwork, technique, and leadership skills.
4. Practice Your Script…But Be Flexible on the Fly
While most good coxswains are going to have a planned script in place before a race, you have to be willing to evolve beyond this. Race conditions and situations are unpredictable. You’ll need to respond to what’s happening on the water in real-time, which means deviating from your script. This is a skill that typically only comes with experience, but it’s worth thinking about. Adaptability is a good thing!
5. Learn to Diagnose Errors
The best coxswains are able to diagnose errors on the fly and make corrections to get their crew back on track. Learning how to diagnose errors is another thing that typically only comes with experience. This is why it’s important to spend hundreds of hours on the water each year.
In some situations, you’ll be able to tell there’s an error from the way the boat feels. Other times, you’ll have to use your eyes to spot the problem. Practice feeling, watching, and listening so that you’re able to quickly diagnose errors in real-time.
Adding it All Up
Coxing a good race requires proficiency on all fronts. There’s the hard, technical side of things, and then there’s also the softer side that requires you to build relationships, motivate your crew, and project confidence before, during, and after races.
If you want to be the best possible coxswain you can be, competence is the bare minimum. You need to excel in both areas. Use this article as a starting point for improvement.