Now that the fall season is coming to an end and you’re beginning to look ahead to spring, it’s time to do some reflecting—not just on this season but on last spring as well. Coxing your team’s top varsity boat is an aspiration for many coxswains, and when you’re in contention and don’t make it, it’s natural to wonder why.
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Sometimes, there is no reason. You can do everything right and still not get it, and that’s just life. It’s important to recognize when that’s the case and when objectively you could have done something better or different that would have put you in a more competitive position.
Sometimes, that means just putting the time in on the water to improve your skills; other times, it means confronting some harsh realities, such as the ones listed here. Control the controllables, as they say. You don’t have control over the whims of your coaches but you do have control over you. As you read through these, consider if any are applicable and use the time between seasons to craft a plan of action so that when spring rolls around, you can hit the ground running.
You’re not being proactive.
Showing up every day isn’t reason enough to make the 1V. It’s one small piece of the puzzle. You need to be proactive every single day (even, and maybe especially, in the winter) about learning the required skills, striving to perfect them, and communicating regularly with your coaches. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not doing anywhere near enough.
Your task: Talk to your coaches about where you succeeded or failed in this area last season. What does “being proactive” mean to them (and you)? What are one or two things you can be more proactive about as a coxswain on and off the water and as a team leader?
You seem uninterested.
You don’t have to be the peppiest person in the boathouse but you do need to convey some level of energy, enthusiasm, and engagement. If you go about practice with an apathetic demeanor, you’re hardly signaling to your coaches that being in the 1V is something toward which you’re motivated to work. Apathy is not a leadership quality, either, so if that’s your general attitude, the coaches are unlikely to consider you.
Your task: As the Snickers ad says, “You’re not you when you’re hungry. Maybe you just need a Snickers.” Maybe all it takes for you to be more lively at practice is to have a snack beforehand. In some cases, knowing what it takes to show up as your best self might necessitate more self-examination (which may lead to the “Do I even want to do this sport?” and “Am I really that into it?” conversations—both normal and fine.)
You don’t make a case for yourself.
You need to know your strengths and weaknesses objectively and be able to sell yourself if and when your coach asks why you should be considered for the top boat. Regard it as a job interview. Your coach, like a prospective employer, wants to know what you can do for her and the team, not how this is going to benefit you. Confidence and humility are key; acting smug and cocky can and will make it easy to dismiss you.
Your task: Be your own best advocate. This is a skill that has to be learned just like any other. Whether you’re in the initial learning stages or you’re refining your approach, Harvard Business Review has dozens of articles about this and is a great resource.
You haven’t researched the job.
Find out what the coaches and rowers want in their top coxswain in terms of skill, ability, and personality and talk with current and former coxswains to get a sense of the expectations and what it takes to be in that position.
Your task: Treat this like any other research project. Engage others in the conversation, take notes on what you learn, see where the commonalities are, note your strengths and weaknesses relative to those skills and traits, and prioritize the ones on which you need to work.
You’re not good enough or are under-qualified.
It’s fine—good, even—to aim high, but you need to be realistic and not get upset or discouraged when someone says you’re not ready. If you’re just coming off your novice year or you’re a junior who still hasn’t come to terms with what a straight line looks like, you’re not ready to be in the 1V. It’s not a dig or a microaggression, demeaning or bullying, to be told that. It’s an objective fact based on your current skill level and should motivate you to figure out where you can and should improve so you can make a stronger, more grounded-in-reality case for yourself next year.
I also recommend not making the same mistake I did when I misinterpreted positive feedback from my coach and teammates as their saying, “You’re a lock for the 1V.” I was confused more than anything else about not being in the lineup because it seemed to contradict what I’d been hearing, which led my coach to give me the famous “listen to what’s being said, not what you think you heard” speech. I was doing well in light of my current level of experience, but there was still tons of room for improvement, not only for my own growth as an athlete but also to meet the lofty standards our team set for varsity coxswains.
Your task: Again, assess your skill level objectively. How does that compare to what your team expects of a varsity coxswain? This is a good opportunity to do coxswain evaluations, too, so you can get feedback from the athletes to incorporate into your plan of action.
You’re not learning from your mistakes or you get complacent easily.
When you make a mistake, accept what happened, learn from it, and apply it in the future. If you’re making the same mistakes consistently or you get cocky and stop paying attention, your judgment, decision-making, and self-awareness (all critical qualities for a coxswain) are going to be called into question. The saying “Once is a mistake; twice is a decision” tends to be true.
Your task: Mistakes are part of the learning process, so when you make one, debrief with your coach or the other coxswains to talk through what happened and how to approach that thing differently. Understand the steps necessary to achieve your desired outcome, reset, and try again. Or, in more simple cases, just don’t do that thing again. Not making a mistake for a second time also means distinguishing between a blip and something more rooted, such as a fundamental misunderstanding of the task at hand.
Technical things aside, this is a top reason you’re not in the premier boat. You don’t deserve the 1V because you’ve been on the team the longest. You don’t deserve the 1V because some of the rowers like you better than the other coxswain. You don’t deserve the 1V because you did this inconsequential thing that anyone with two neurons firing and an ounce of common sense would know to do. If you spent half as much time on improving your skills as you do complaining about why you’re not being given the 1V on a silver platter, you’d be in the 1V already.
Your task: Humble yourself, put the work in, and be intentional and deliberate about the steps you’re taking to develop yourself as a coxswain.