Coaching Coxswains

By Marcus McElhenney | January 8, 2014

How do you coach coxswains?

Coaches regularly ask me how to coach their coxswains.  Most coaches have never been in a coxswain’s seat or steered a boat.  They have no idea how to actually make their coxswains better.  They can tell them what not to do, but they have no idea how to tell them what to do.  The answer is fairly simple, coach them and treat them like you do any other member of the team.

I know that this sounds a little over simplified, but stop and think about it for a second.  How much coaching do coxswains receive?  Next to none.  How much coaching to rowers receive?  It is constant.  To be more specific, how much feedback do they all get?  Rowers are getting feedback from coaches and coxswains constantly.  What they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, how the boat feels and looks.  On the other hand, most coaches (and rowers) never say anything to a coxswain…good or bad.  There is no feedback, there is no instruction.  It has nothing to do with being positive or negative, it has everything to do with guidance.  Even if you do not know how to do something, coaches can still tell a coxswain what they are doing right and wrong.  Stop sending them to the internet to do ‘research’ and to books to figure it out on their own…actually tell them.  Engage them regularly, every day the same way you would a rower.  It has to be regular, constant and often.  Coxswains do not need anything special, they just need a coach.

That being said, there are better and easier ways to actually coach a coxswain.  First you need to raise their awareness.  This is best accomplished by not letting them speak for a while.  I mean, no speaking at all.  This allows coxswains to focus in on what is going on around them.  They can listen to their athletes, listen to coaches, feel the boat, notice what the weather conditions are doing, steer, etc.  Many coaches already do this, but the trick is taking it to the next step.  Coaches need to ask and engage the coxswain to find out what they are feeling and seeing.  Getting feedback from them allows the coach to see whether or not the coxswain is actually figuring it out.  It promotes a conscientious coxswain that will constantly improve themselves though the guidance of the coach.  Then slowly add the talking and calls.  The coxswains will use phrases that they know work because they heard the coach use them for the preceding weeks of silence.  They will be able to incorporate what they have heard from the athletes and their own boat feel to make the boat faster.  They will also be steering better.  Only by quieting down can we really focus on what is going on around us and improve.

So to make a seemingly complicated topic simple, if you want better coxswains…just coach them.  Treat them like everyone else.  Regularly engage them and ask them what they are thinking and feeling in the boat.  Ask them to quiet down and actually work on getting better.  If you challenge them, they will rise to the challenge.  All coxswains want to get better, but they need your help.