How Top Coxswains Develop Razor-Sharp Judgment

By Sparks Editorial Staff | January 5, 2014

We've been looking at the core skills that top coxswains use, but don't talk about. In the last article, we discussed how top coxswains collect rower feedback to establish their priorities for technical calls in the boat.

This time, we'll talk about how top coxswains ask questions to sharpen their judgment.

As coxswains, we all wish we knew exactly what calls to make, and when. We sometimes wish that we received more coaching to correct this.

But even as we wish that, are we asking our coaches questions about why they call what they call? About why they choose the drills they choose? Are we asking ourselves those questions? Are we coming up with hypotheses, and asking our coaches to confirm them off the water? These are not conversations for on the water, perhaps, but any good coach will gladly discuss these things with his coxswains later on. Good coaches know that savvy coxswains make practice run smarter, easier, and more smoothly, and they're happy to invest in having that kind of coxswain.

Coxswains can also ask older coxswains on the team why the team does things a certain way, or in a certain order. Of course, most coxswains would stick a fork in their hand than ask for help from other coxswains on their teams. This is where top coxswains differ.

In fact, top coxswains are constantly talking to one another, bouncing ideas off of one another, and asking each other questions. By making each other better, all the coxswains get better themselves - and at a much faster rate than they would if they tried to keep all of their calls secret. Newsflash: the rowers share your calls with the other coxswains. So the secrecy game doesn't work anyway. Now that everyone knows that, it's downright advantageous for everyone when one coxswain approaches another and asks "Hey, why did you make that call instead of this call?" The asker gets the benefit of a new perspective on the issue, and the answerer gets to practice for the inevitability of a rower asking them that same question.

The common lore is that coxswains are supposed to know everything, and if they don't know everything, they should pretend they do. That's totally bunk. If a top coxswain is asked a question to which she doesn't know the answer, she would rather admit that she doesn't know than get caught in a fakeout where she gives the wrong answer. No one knows everything. Wouldn't she rather be honest  than be dishonest and wrong? This is one of those places where the pros do the exact opposite of tradition.

By the way, once the coxswain answers "I don't know," she'll make a note to find out the answer from a coach, a rower, or a peer, and she'll be a better coxswain for it.

- Chelsea Dommert