Objective Standards for Coxswains

By Sparks Editorial Staff | August 11, 2012

As coxswains, we are constantly being evaluated by coaches, rowers, and other coxswains.  The frustration is that the rubric by which we are being evaluated is inconsistent, even down to each individual rower in our boat.  If we’re lucky, we will get occasional feedback from our coaches and rowers but more often than not it comes in passing, or worse, in a team meeting as the coach is naming the boats for the season and it’s too late for us to make any changes.  The most irritating thing to hear from a coach or rower is “coxswains won’t change much over the course of the season (or summer/selection camp).”  How can they expect us to improve when we have to beg for feedback at the end of each session and the most valuable response we hear is “just shut up and steer straight”?  We give our rowers feedback at least once per minute (some of us significantly more…) and we might get one form of constructive feedback per hour.  To be fair, rowers have enough to worry about without coming up with feedback for us after every practice.  The main issue is that there isn’t a system in place to objectively declare one coxswain as better than another.

It is much easier to objectively qualify one rower as better, or faster, than another.  There are several tests we use to determine the physical profiles of rowers, starting with your standard ergometer tests: one stroke max watts test, one minute average watts test, 500 meter test, 1k test, 2k test, twenty minute or 6k test, thirty minute test, 10k test, hour of power, the list goes on and on.  Each of these tests tells us a unique physical attribute about our athletes and can be used to directly compare one rower to another.  Beyond that we have on the water results: time trials, pairs matrices, seat racing in straight fours, seat racing in coxed fours, seat racing in eights.  I have been coxing for over a decade and I have been “seat raced” twice.  TWICE!  And not only that, the reason for the switch was “not to determine which coxswain can make the boat go faster over 2,000 meters, but an opportunity for the rowers to experience both coxswains under racing conditions, one immediately after the other.”

So how do we improve?  How do we know what qualities are more desirable than others for coxswains?  Sure, anyone standing on the shore can tell the difference between a terrible coxswain and a great one, but how do we distinguish a great coxswain from a phenomenal coxswain?  Most importantly, how do we develop the skills required of our position to make the leap from average to good, good to great, or great to phenomenal?  Ultimately, we want to acquire the skills necessary to make any boat we cox perform to their highest potential.  The first step is to come up with a list of skills that can be assessed quantifiably for each coxswain.  The next is to create a hierarchy of these skills to determine which attributes have the greatest effect on boat speed.  The third step is to have our coaches and rowers use this standardized rubric on a regular (monthly?) basis so that we can track our improvements over the course of the season or from one year to the next.  The hope is that we can establish a consistent method of “rating” coxswains which can be used as a teaching tool and a selection tool.  Just as rowers who pull faster 2k’s aren’t guaranteed a seat over someone who pulls a slower 2k, a higher rated coxswain isn’t guaranteed to win out over a lower rated one, but… it’s a start.