BY KAYLEIGH DURM | PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
The season is over, and summer is here. Now what?
You could cox for a club or summer program, go to a couple of camps, try your hand at coaching, go for crack-of-dawn swing rows with the local masters team … or you could not. All of those, including not thinking about coxing at all for three whole months, are valid options with their own unique set of benefits.
Coxing for a competitive club or summer program
Since this option requires the most prep work in terms of signing up in advance or going through an application process, you’ve already made the commitment if this is what you’ve got on tap for the summer. The benefits are obvious and likely why you chose this route. It’s an additional season of on-the-water experience, you’ll have several opportunities to race, and depending on the team you’re with, you may be racing with athletes and working with coaches who aren’t from your home team. As far as your professional development goes, this is about as direct and hands-on as you can get.
The downside is that you’ll have very little downtime between the end of the spring season and the start of the fall season. What coxing lacks in physical exertion (relative to the rowers) it makes up for in how mentally taxing it can be. Burnout is just as real for coxswains as it is for rowers, and being able to identify and recognize when the symptoms manifest themselves is crucial if you plan to cox year-round.
Coaching can take many different forms, and the skills you develop can help you both on and off the water. There are three options you could pursue: learn-to-row programs, mentoring, or shadowing. Learn-to-row programs are a great way to get your feet wet as a coach, but there may be limited options for junior athletes. Some programs will accept athletes with a year or two of collegiate rowing under their belts in lieu of previous coaching experience, so it never hurts to ask. It can be like drinking from a fire hose when you first start out but it’s a great way to hone your team-building, leadership, and communication skills.
Another option is mentoring the younger coxswains on your team. This is one of the best and easiest things you can do to establish and maintain a positive coxswain culture in your boathouse. Just think about all the things you wish someone had told you when you were a first- or second-year coxswain and all the knowledge you’ve gained since then. There’s nothing to be gained by gatekeeping that information. Not only does this improve your working relationships with your teammates but it also allows you to leave your team in better condition than when you joined, which is something we all have a responsibility to do as stewards of the sport.
The third option is shadowing a more senior coach. As much as we bemoan riding in the launch, it really is one of the most valuable learning opportunities you’ll get as a coxswain. Being able to do so in a low-stakes environment over the summer when you’re not responsible for coxing the crews you’re watching affords you the chance to process and internalize what you’re seeing and hearing at a more relaxed pace. Whether it’s with one coach for the summer or a variety of coaches for a week at a time, it’s as simple as reaching out and asking if you can ride along in the launch. While it may not be coaching in the traditional sense, the best coaches out there will treat you like a peer and ask for your thoughts, talking through how you would approach something, etc. The confidence gained from being exposed to that level of professionalism sticks with you and is an invaluable thing to take back into the boat with you.
This can be hit-or-miss, so it helps to have your goals and expectations laid out clearly going in. If you’re coxing a competitive masters team, then it won’t be much different from coxing your junior or collegiate team. If you’re coxing with a recreational or learn-to-row masters team, this isn’t going to be the time probably to work on your steering skills or race calls. It can be a great opportunity, however, to work on your technical eye and connecting what you’re seeing with the feedback the coach is giving the rowers in a low-stakes environment. That’s not to say that it’s not serious; just that the turnover in processing what you’re seeing and making a call to fix it typically doesn’t need to happen as rapidly as it does with your home team.
The downside is that masters rowers row in the mornings before work typically, which can take some getting used to if you’re not accustomed to 5:30 a.m. launch times. Another thing that can be a challenge is giving directions to adults who are, more or less, the same age as your parents—and, in some cases, are your parents. Don’t let the age gap intimidate you, though. Coxing necessitates being able to communicate with a wide range of people and personalities, both on the water and off, and this is an opportunity to develop your assertiveness and people-management skills.
Coxing is like riding a bike; you’re not going to forget how to do it if you take some time off (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that….). There’s nothing wrong with needing or wanting a break, and ultimately you may come back stronger and sharper in the fall as a result. I empathize with the need to feel like you’re doing something tangible and visible to prove that you’re just as committed as everyone else but I also urge you to take a step back and consider what that’s really doing for you. There is a time to review race footage and a time to forget that the sport of rowing exists. It doesn’t mean that you enjoy the sport any less than the people who choose to cox full-time for a competitive summer team.
There’s more to life than coxing, though, and the summer months are a great time to reacquaint yourself with the hobbies and interests that you don’t always have time for when you’re in-season. Saying you want/need a break and acting on it is an under-appreciated skill that will benefit you just as much long-term as all your leadership, communication, problem- solving, and critical-thinking skills combined. As the flight attendants exhort: You need to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others with theirs.