Top Advice for Coxswains Seeking to Make the Varsity 8+

By Marcus McElhenney | March 1, 2014

“Keep your mouth shut. Don’t tell me–Show me!”

The number one thing most coxswains (including me) like to do is tell everyone just how good we are at coxing. We like to talk,  because it is part of our job. So we talk, and talk, and talk some more. We tell our parents that we are better then the other coxswains, we tell our coaches that if they give us that shot, we will show them. Heck, when standing in line at the movie theater, we’ll tell anyone who will listen that we’re coxswains and how good we are at our job. The problem is we spend too much time talking about it, we don’t do what is required to get better.

My freshmen year at Temple University, I was invited to practice with the Varsity team. The top coxswain at the time had junior national team experience and three years of college varsity under his belt. His problem was, he liked to remind everyone of that fact. Being new to the team and very young, I was nervous, shy and quiet. Whenever we were doing anything on or off the water, he was running his mouth while I sat quiet and observed him, the team and the rowers. By being quiet and watching, I started to really get to know the coach and what he wanted and expected. I also started to understand what the rowers wanted, expected, and needed. My coach and rowers were teaching me how to make boats go faster. I then started to use this knowledge to make my own boats go faster. The better my boats went, the more the rowers came to me with feedback. The more feedback, the better my boats went. This cycle continued and we as a team continued to get faster. So while I was busy being quiet, paying attention to the needs of those around me and making my boats faster, the Varsity coxswain was busy trying to sell himself to anyone who would listen.

Did I make the varsity boat overnight? Of course not. The other coxswain had the varsity eight the entire fall season. But by the first spring race, the tides had changed. All his clamoring was not enough to keep him in the boat. I had gotten better with the help of my rowers and coaches. I was quiet and listened. When the varsity eight was announced for the San Diego Crew Classic, my name was on the top of the sheet. I then spent the next three and a half years in the varsity eight and continued with that mantra while I pursued the national team. It is a slow process but one I found to be the most effective in getting better as a coxswain. Don’t tell me how good you are…show me. The goal was never to make the Varsity Eight. It was to get better as a coxswain. The by-product of getting better as a coxswain is placement in the top boat. Walk softly and carry a big stick.