Fall crew season is well underway, and with it, many of you are entering new high school or college rowing programs under new coaches, and are facing new expectations. You might even be approaching your first coxing season (perhaps because your older sibling, or your roommate, may have talked you into it).
First, put yourself mentally in your coach's position. Be aware that coaching -- especially coaching more than one boat at one time -- can be very stressful. The coach wants to be able to concentrate on the rowers; the more you as coxswain can do to relieve your coach's worries about the handling of the shell, the more productive the practice will be. If you are a freshman cox, your freshman coach has probably been given the oldest, most cantankerous launch in the fleet, which only adds to the complexities the coach has to juggle.
"Keep 'em apart and keep 'em together." The first bedrock rule is not to hit other boats or bridges. The second is to keep the boats close enough to make it easy to coach two (or more) of them at once. When drilling, you can add pauses or lengthen them if your boat is drawing ahead, or shorten or eliminate them if your boat is falling behind.
Communication: Coaches (and race officials too) like assurance that you will execute their instructions reliably and immediately. For that reason, always acknowledge their instructions by raising your hand (preferably the one closest to the launch) to acknowledge that you have heard and understood. That way, even if takes you a few strokes to drop out a pair or execute a maneuver, your coach can be sure that it is in progress, and doesn't have to keep shouting and wondering if you have heard.
Anticipation. Learn your coach's "handwriting" and the pattern of drills, so that you and your coach begin working instinctively together. Warmups tend to be somewhat standard, so within a few practices you will probably find yourself calling them without requiring specific guidance from your coach, thus freeing your coach to concentrate on the rowers' technique.
Do not usurp the coaching duties. Yes, the coxswain has a valuable role as on-board coach, but be cautious in assuming it until you have learned the "handwriting." Never talk to your boat (except for the normal administrative calls) while the coach is talking to the rowers, and it's a good rule of thumb not to talk while the coach's launch is close to the boat. Practice ways of pitching your voice and intensity lower so that you can give necessary commands without interfering with the flow of the coach's information.
As the season progresses, and you and your coach build up a rapport, chances are your coach will be happy to know that he or she can rely on you to drill the boat -- especially if they need to concentrate on another boat. However, wait until you have a clear indication that this stage has been reached (most coaches have a way of letting you know when they want you to shoulder this responsibility).
Remember that most coaches are former rowers. Their job is to work with the rowers. Time spent coaching the coxswain is time taken from the rowers, so you probably will not receive much direct coaching on your coxing technique. If you do, consider yourself fortunate, but expect to learn primarily by talking to the other coxswains on your crew. The coxswains who tend to be most highly valued by their coaches are the ones whom the coaches do not have to think about much, or at all. To be invisibly reliable is to be loved.