What makes a Good Coxswain?


It’s important to acquire a deep knowledge of your sport in order to acquire mastery and eventually become an expert.  Here’s a video (transcript notes below) of Marcus McEllenney the US national mens 8 coxswain at 2008 Olympics explaining What makes a Good Coxswain.

Becoming a good coxswain – everything boils down to awareness. Most coxes think that if they go out every day they get better and they think learning to be a good cox is linear. This may be the case for rowers but it is not for coxswains.

Acquiring skills is important – but when you start off you only have a few skills – some are missing and our goal is that you get an improved skill set and become a stronger coxswain.

Awareness is the centre of your skill set.

Most coxswains are not a good “student of the sport” they are very passive about the sport of rowing.

There are things good coxswains do or do not do which improves their coxing skills.

If you just show up and sit in the cox’s seat you WON’T get better.

Take the proactive steps to have a good training session. e.g. do you check the traffic patterns for a new river or lake before going rowing there?  do you know what boats will get rowed today?

When cox are you going to just react to everything or are you going to be the one setting the tone and setting the pace?

If you want to be a good coxswain you need to be a student of the sport.

Have you taken quizzes and prepared and studied for school or for exams? Do you take notes for each outing and use the resource when you need to refresh your knowledge?  You should.

“My rowers think I’m way smarter than I am because I write down all my rowers’ personal bests, their weights, their splits.  I come across knowing much more because I had my notes. I’m studying to become a better coxswain for this crew. The best coxes are students of the sport.”

The calls, the motivation for a crew are the EASY stuff.

A black belt means you are a master of the BASICS….. you aren’t the best karate karateka on the planet.

Elite coxswains have mastered the basics. they don’t hit things, they don’t make mistakes – that’s what a good cox is… you are never going to be told how good you are because of something you are doing right. It’s more about what you do WRONG that gets you deselected… if the coach can’t think of any mistakes you make, then you are a good coxswain.

You don’t need to be perfect – just don’t make mistakes by being a good student of the sport.

h/t to Kayleigh Durm for the video link

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jens koerner

    Morning Rebecca,

    my boy has taken up rowing and as he is a lightweight he has become the cox. Rockhampton Grammar
    Queensland. In his first year he has tasted some success winning silver medal at the 2018 Queensland School Championships.
    He is very keen to learn more and again some ideas about what he needs to do to become the cox for the national titles next year ( at least have a crack).
    Wonder if you would be kind enough to suggest what he should be looking at to be well prepared. He has signed up the the Rowing Pathway 8 so is very committed even doing the summer camp over his holidays.

    Appreciate your time

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Jens – firstly congratulations on your son’s achievements. To be a good cox you need to be able to do three things really well. 1) become the coach’s eyes and ears in the boat 2) Interpret data accurately and make decisions based on data and 3) Lead the crew and gain their trust.

      1 – Coaching the crew. Teach your son to listen to what the coach says; to use his EXACT words when relaying to the crew; observe their reaction [did it work, do they make a change, do they fall back to old patterns of movement, what gets the crew to stick to the new thing]. Buy him a cheap voice recorder and get him to record outings and then listen to what he said and decide if he’s being effective as a communicator. (youthful coxswains talk WAY too much).
      2 – Data interpretation – if you can afford to buy him his own cox amplifer with GPS data and the ability to download, graph it and interpret offline. He will learn things like Distance moved per stroke, what stroke rates the crew moves well / breaks down, what is a good time over 500m or 2k for his crew and what he needs to say to the crew to get a good performance out of them.
      3 – Leadership and trust…. Be the BEST INFORMED person – know the answer to EVERYTHING. Speak to the coach before each outing about what’s happening, what he should be doing. Know what’s happening for the regattas – what time to meet, what to bring so the athletes learn to ask him. Always have tools with him in the boat – learn to rig, learn how to use a pitch gauge, learn how to fix electronics so you can maintain all your own gear.

      And read, read, read.
      There are books on coxing,
      there is a US Coxing magazine http://www.coxingmagazine.com/ ,
      there is a training course on how to cox http://www.coxnschool.com/,
      read coxing blogs https://readyallrow.org/,
      Send him on a rowing camp for Coxswains http://www.rowingrecruiting.com/2014/06/how-to-make-the-national-team-as-a-coxswain/ and https://sparksconsult.com/rowing-camps/coxswains-only-camp/
      Take him to meet Australian coxswains, phone them have a video consult with them, (Renae Domaschenz in Canberra is an AMAZING coach as well as a cox)
      buy him the videos of the world champs and the Olympics and watch YouTube videos of coxes during races including what the cox says. Sit with him watching the videos, pause the video and ask – did the crew do what the cox asked? Was it effective as a race strategy?

      does that give you some idea of how to develop his skills?

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