Coxswain Rivalries, Part 2

By Sparks Editorial Staff | August 31, 2013

So what can a coxswain do about her non-cooperative peers, besides react to their rude behavior?

Well, if a reaction happens after the offense, then the obvious alternative is to act before the offense. And no, it doesn't solve the problem to be the first offender.

The trick is to derail the offense before it even happens.

Suppose that two boats are both sent to dock at the same time. What happens in this situation? Coxswains race to dock first. But what if something else happened?

What if one coxswain offered for the other one to dock first instead?

What would be the long-term negative impact of giving up the first docking? Oh wait...there isn't one.

Or, suppose that two boats are asked to line up evenly to start a piece. What if the coxswain who was slightly ahead backed up her boat instead of expecting the coxswain who was behind to pull it up? Especially if both boats are right on the starting line, the coach will really appreciate this.

After all, the coach is definitely going to notice this. In years and years of coaching, he has rarely seen a coxswain do something to get even that created more  space for him to run his practice. He is accustomed to coxswains giving him less space than he needs, and he'll be thrilled that he doesn't have to back everybody up after the coxswains are done with their one-upping. He will remember what you did because so many other coxswains have done the opposite - to poor effect.

Now, when coaches are deciding which coxswains to put into their faster boats, they need to consider which coxswains are the most helpful about running practice. After all, they'll need to work closely with this coxswain because each practice is critical to going as fast as possible on race day. A good practice requires the coxswain to understand what the coach needs and make it happen with no frustrations on the part of the coach or the rowers. Very, very few coxswains do this really well - so the ones who do it will get noticed.

Let's take another example. Suppose you're racing another boat on your team, and that boat is positioned next to shore. You can offer to give that coxswain more room by scooting toward the middle of the river. If you do this, then the next time you're in a tight spot, the other coxswain is more likely to listen to your request for more room.

This example takes the reaction discussion and flips it on its head. When coxswains talk about all the mean things that other coxswains do to them, they ask how to react, and they admit to reacting hostilely. Now, isn't it likely that the other coxswain also feels like she is reacting to your uncooperative behavior? It's a downward spiral.

So, why not create an upward spiral instead? What if you start off being accommodating, considerate, and polite? How do you think the other coxswain will react to that? You would be surprised how often you get a positive response. Like you, the other coxswains expect to be antagonized by competing coxswains on the water. And like coaches, they notice when that antagonism doesn't happen. Rather than attempt to take advantage, they'll often clean up their behavior, too.