Communicating with your coxswain

Communicating with your Coxswain – when is it not OK to talk?


Communicating well with your coxswains – when is it not okay to talk and when is it fine? Lets have a look what masters rowers say!

A friend of mine once told me that a sweep rowing program is only as good as its coxswains. Counterintuitive as it may be, great coxswains can elevate the status of their crews and drive entire clubs forward. Of course rowers are also essential to great crews, but without the so-called 9th seat, we are hardly capable of getting the boat to water, let alone rowing it.

Everyone on the boat makes mistakes

Despite this truth, coxswains are often under appreciated, or blamed for crew errors that may not be entirely their fault. Everyone in the boat makes mistakes, but the coxswain is the only one with a microphone to his or her face, literally projecting them for the whole boat to hear when they happen.

One way to avoid common coxing mistakes is to have a system for effective communication between coaches, coxswains, and crews. For example, if the coach is speaking to the crew while the boat is stopped, should the coxswain speak up to make adjustments to the boat? If the boat is drifting toward land or other obstacles, certainly – but this principle may not always be clear. Coaches should ensure that their coxswains know when they can speak up, even if it potentially interrupts instruction on the water.

Communication is key

Likewise, coxswains must be clear with their crews when it is not okay to speak up. For most boats, the silent rule is likely in effect: every rower is silent in the boat unless the crew or craft is in immediate danger. This rule is often broken, however, if rowers do not trust their coxswain to complete a task and offer criticism and questions while the cox is trying to execute a particular manoeuvre. This often creates a negative cycle: the crew cannot hear the coxswain over their teammate, the task is not completed successfully, and the coxswain loses confidence over the mistake or the lack of trust from his or her crewmates. To pre-empt this pattern, coxswains can make clear that they should be the only voice in the boat – barring emergencies – but that comments and criticism are welcome outside the boat and after practice. This gives rowers a window for feedback that does not undermine the coxswain, and ensures the coxswain appears confident and in charge before the crew.

Finally, members of the crew can communicate with their coxswains about what they like to hear in a race or what calls most help improve effectiveness. The role of the coxswain can be summarised as ensuring the crew gets the most of their work, which means that most coxswains want to hear what calls inspire their crew and when to use them. This gives rowers another opportunity to give feedback and allows them to help create a race or practice plan that makes the most of the individual and collective crew strengths.

It’s all about how a crew works together

It goes without saying that coxswains are integral components of great crews, but it is even more accurate to credit communication between all members of a team as a driver of success. True to the nature of the sport, no one role demands more respect than any other – it is all about how a crew works together that determines their abilities on and off the water.


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