One of the questions we most enjoy getting asked by coaches is, “What can I do to best coach my coxes?” Most coaches, understandably, are focused predominantly on coaching their rowers, and we most certainly will not argue that this should be the main application of a coach’s time and efforts. However, we have a few relatively straightforward tips you can easily add into your coaching routine that will result in better performances from your entire crew- rowers and coxes alike.
1) Make coxing feedback an everyday occurrence
Would you consider coaching a rower like this: shouting at them once or twice a session when they do something wrong (without offering constructive ideas about how to make a change), only giving feedback after the session is finished, or sitting down with them once every other month to go over their performance from the last 8 weeks? No? Well that is how many coxes are effectively coached. Whilst an off-water meeting can be useful when working with your coxes (more of this later), the most useful feedback you and your rowers can give your coxes is likely to come on the water. Give them feedback in the moment and then give them a chance to act on that feedback while it is fresh.
Think about how you can incorporate coxing coaching into every session – for example if you hear them make a call that has a noticeable positive effect on the boat, tell them – “that call worked really well, good!” If the steering doesn’t look quite right offer encouragement and advise an immediate change. Urge your rowers to do the same (especially those more experienced athletes), if something the coxswain is doing in the boat is or isn’t working for them it would be useful to know this at the water break, not after the session, as this gives your cox a chance to work on it during the latter part of the outing.
Remember that feedback to coxes can feel much more personal than feedback given to rowers – especially as it is often negatively based. You can normalize coxing feedback by making it an everyday occurrence, and your coxes are likely to respond much better as a result. This will also help the cox objectively engage with the feedback and make improvements faster.
2) Visualize how it would feel to be sitting in the driver’s seat
The best coaches can describe to their rowers not just what they should be doing in the boat, but how it should feel, sound, and look when they do it correctly. The very best coaches can also describe to their coxswains what they should be feeling, hearing, and seeing when the boat is moving well. Can you imagine what your cox would experience if there was less check, more direct catches, better timed finishes, or a well-coordinated leg drive? Can you articulate to your coxes what they should be feeling? Now, if you have never coxed, this will not be an easy ask, and will probably take a significant amount of thought. You can start by recalling what fast boats you’ve been in felt like or how rowers describe changes in a boat after you coached on them a specific technical change. The next step is to think about how those descriptions will be experienced by someone who is stationary in the boat. It requires work, but we guarantee that it will give you a better understanding of how a shell moves, and will provide you with a new way of looking at rowing technique. It will also mean that your coxes will be more self-sufficient, and able to coach your rowers within the boat much more effectively. A win-win all round.
3) Allow your coxes the same opportunities to practice as you do your rowers
One of the most frustrating experiences as a coach is the helplessness you feel after you boat your crew for a race, especially when you see something not going to plan – such as vital bits of the warm-up being left out, marshaling instructions being ignored, your crew arriving late at the start line, or (the worst) messing up getting attached to the stake boats. However, this aspect of racing is one that is often overlooked, even though it can often be the most anxiety-inducing part of the day for your coxes.
Make sure that your coxes have had an opportunity to practice these processes, preferably under some aspect of pressure to simulate race day nerves. Got pieces this weekend? Set a start time and make sure your coxes have a plan to get their crew there with enough time to get settled and prepared to work. Make sure you take the time to sit down and discuss with your coxes (and crews as applicable) what the warm-up should look like, how long they should spend on it, break it the components of the warm-up into places in the warm-up area so the cox knows what to do and where to do it, and what the most important exercise/bursts are just in case they get disrupted and have to cut out aspects to make the start on time. A key to remember: a good warm-up gets rowers to the line sweaty, with 10 good strokes at race pace under their belts. The goal is to get the entire crew to the line physically and mentally ready to race.
4) Take the time to talk
Being on the same page as your coxes, and talking the same language, is invaluable. Talk to your coxes whenever you can – talk to them about technique when your rowers are erging or lifting weights, have them ride shotgun when you are towing boats to regattas so you can go over the race plan and warm-up, and take the time when you can to sit down and discuss their goals.
Remember it’s a lot harder for a coxswain to have clear, actionable objectives for improvement as their performance is a lot more subjective, therefore it may take a little more effort to come up with methods of assessing their progression. If they are struggling with steering, maybe you can video from behind them to track their course. If they want to improve their technical understanding perhaps the rowers can be involved in providing everyday feedback about whether or not they found specific calls useful. The more you talk, the more your coxes have the opportunity to learn from you.
These are just some initial thoughts about how you can incorporate more coxing coaching into your everyday sessions. We would love to hear from you about your own best practices and ideas on the topic! If you think we can help you and your club develop your coxes (or you are a driver who would like us to come and work with your coaches on how to get the most out of you!) please contact us – firstname.lastname@example.org