Coxswain Tips: Self-Evaluation

By Sparks Editorial Staff | June 4, 2013

Unless you are one very lucky coxswain, you have learned a sad truth about coxing: most of your coaches won’t (and can’t) teach you how to cox. They might be excellent people, great teachers, and (at least once upon a time) fast rowers as well. However, the majority of rowing coaches never coxed and, when they became coaches, never put in the work to learn about coxing. Exceptional coxswains differ from mediocre ones because they can teach themselves.

Self-teaching is not the same as “learning from experience.” To learn from experience is passive – it is to let events happen and, occasionally, pick up something that will be useful in the future. All coxswains learn from experience. Only the best ones self-teach: they seek opportunities to find or craft a better way of doing things.

Teaching oneself to cox is not the same as teaching oneself, say, history. History is a corpus of knowledge: a set of stories. We learn history by reading, listening to, or talking about the stories. Coxing, however, requires skills: you have to be able to do things. That requires practice, but practice isn’t even enough. You have to assess your practice and look for ways to improve. That requires you to be able to honestly evaluate how you did.

In order to self-evaluate effectively, you have to be able to do three things:

1. Take responsibility for what happens in the boat
2. Admit to yourself when you make mistakes
3. Brainstorm solutions to the problems you face in the coxswain seat

Let’s look at an example. Suppose that I sometimes execute drills incorrectly because I couldn’t hear the coach’s explanation. I have to recognize that it is my responsibility to execute the drill correctly and consider the possibility that there is something I can do better to make that happen. That is the difficult part , but luckily, thanks to DOCS Secrets 1 and 2, we already know how to do that.

The next step is to look for solutions. Maybe I need to ask the coach for clarification when I cannot hear what he says instead of pretending to know what’s going on. Maybe I should ask the coach (after practice, away from the rowers) to please use a megaphone during practice. Maybe, when the boats stop, I tend to hunker next to the shore while my coach sticks to the middle of the river in his launch, and I should stop closer to the middle of the river to reduce the distance between me and my coach.

You can test these solutions and figure out which one works best. Though you might think this example trivial, your coach absolutely will notice if you never mishear his instructions or mess up his drills. That’s an example of the type of problem that plenty of coxswains just allow to continue to exist for all the years that they cox. When you can eliminate problems like those, you put yourself ahead by miles.

Inspirational Coxswain Quotes:

#5: “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
- Buddhist nun Pema Chodron

#6: “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anyone else expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
- clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher

- Chelsea Dommert