So I saw still another one of these "the coxswain is the coach in the boat” articles, and could not resist – let's call BS on this once and for all. It's worse and lazier than a "row, row, row your boat" headline – but this time the laziness is our own fault, not the local newspaper headline writer's.
Here is just a sampling of what a coxswain is expected to do in a practice or race:
- Get the crew assembled for a boat meeting
- Take care to make sure all their electronic tools are working
- Get the crew launched on time
- Run a full warmup, usually from memory
- Understand and deal with rowing on new and sometimes unusual waterways
- Get the crew to the line on time
- Get on the stakeboat without drowning any volunteers
- Execute the race plan
- Motivate eight very different people to work together
- Steer straight!
Is this not enough? Is this not hard enough? How many coxswains are truly GREAT at these things?
In over 35 years of singing, I have had one or two coxswains who edged up to the level of a "coach in the boat.” One was good enough that he could truly influence the outcome of seatraces - to the extent that he was pretty much disallowed from, well, coxing, during seatraces. He could change race plans mid-race, calling audibles that I saw win races that seemed lilke lost causes. But even then, maybe he was more like an offensive coordinator – or how about a truly great coxswain?!? Why is that not enough?
But let's ignore the very best coxswains as outliers; it is probably true that your average college coxswain only really becomes even a good coxswain after several years of effort. Kind of like a rower, eh? Rowers have plenty of information on what is going on in the boat, as much or more than the coxswain. So what if every rower figured they were the coach in the boat as well?
If the bow seat, who can also see most of the same stuff the coxswain can see, but also has the added information of actually rowing for a few years, and even more is actually going up and down the slide, started spewing about how seven-seat does this, and how the stroke should fix this, and why the crew should row a 33, not a 33.5, and who should sit here - in short, started COACHING - they’d be run out on a rail. Their job is to row the bowseat. And the coxswain's job is to coxswain.
Does a franchise owner say "the French fry kid is like the McDonald’s owner covered with vegetable oil and animal fat?”
Or much more charitably, does an orchestra leader say "the first violin is like the conductor in the violin section?” No – the first violin is the first violin. It’s a hard job, and few can do it well.
So how come every second-year coxswain thinks (and is told) they’re the coach in the boat? How come, every spring without fail, newspapers from east to west run article about a second boat coxswain who is "the coach in the boat?”
If that's the case, WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO BE THE COXSWAIN?
The goal for a young coxswain should not be to become the "coach in the boat;" a coxswain might want first to try to be a coxswain. Steer straight. Make your calls concisely and clearly. Call the race plan. Read the coxbox correctly. Say where the boat is on the course. Tell where the other boats are. Tell whether the crew is moving on the field or not. It is plenty hard and rare enough - almost impossible, on the evidence - to do all of these well as it is.
So let's call BS on "the coxswain is the coach in the boat," and maybe, if you're as nice a guy as I am, three cheers to simply good coxswains.