Coxswains and their tasks for Big Boats

Coxswains are an unreplaceable part of the rowing family. Non-rowers can easily underestimate them because of their small size (compared to trained rowers), however, these people have BIG egos and HUGE characters! Without the cox, an eight won’t go far… an experienced coxswain is like a diamond, very difficult to find! So why are they so important?

Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats

Task number 1: Steering

Frankly, a coxswain’s main task is to steer the boat in the right direction. Whether it’s an eight, four or pair, they have to keep it as straight as possible while rowers do their best to move that boat as fast as they can.

It may sound funny but steering actually isn’t so easy. You have to know when is the right time to change the boat’s direction without interrupting the rowing flow. Also, you have to make sure that the boat isn’t moving sideways and you have to do all that in a way that won’t affect the balance of the boat. Quite often novice coxswains are told by coaches to stay quiet (not in the most polite way but necessary) and do their job properly, which is to steer the boat…if not, the results tend to be disastrous…

 Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats

Task number 2: Coxing

The second task is the actual coxing and that can make or break the race! Nowadays coxswains have their own technically advanced so-called "coxboxes". These allow everyone in the boat to hear what they say because the speakers are placed under the rowing seats…and rowers have no choice but to hear it all.

 Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats


Task number 3: Selective Coxing

This is probably the most important part of this article.

At some point during a very long workout or a demanding race, the rowing mind can quickly drift away! This is when all of a sudden the coxswain’s voice replaces your inner voice (very sneaky) to bring you back to 100% focus. If a rower doesn't fully understand the coxswain, the rowing team spirit will quickly suffer. Here are a few things you don’t want to hear from your cox:

  • Endless stroke count especially at the beginning of the race…it’s a true brainwash of a rower
  • Lame motivational phrases like “Pull harder - in the name of love!!”
  • Unclear repetitive calls like “punch and hold” or “and row..and row..”
  • False statements especially during the race “We just pasted the 1000 meter mark! ” and then you see the 500-meter mark on your right...that’s really a bummer
  • Personal stories in the middle of a piece like “omg I have a midterm today”.
  • Unemotional commands “Portside lower, starboard higher, how many times do I have to tell you?”
  • Lack of understanding - Cox to the stroke after the coach’s strict and clear directions about the practice -“so what do we do?” or “what did he say?”.
  • Singing - there is really no need to explain why we don't need a singer in the boat...

 Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats

Task number 4: Watching the team

Coxswains are crucial in mediations between coaches and rowers. They listen to both sides and translate so everyone stays on the same page. They help out with logistics and plan the racing strategy. Coxswains are very outspoken, they will always have an answer to everything. During racing don’t listen to a coxswain from the boat next to you.. if they talk about you it’s certainly nothing polite.

In addition, they give suggestions (sometimes annoying and unnecessary). They act as private psychologists and rower’s best friends. They tend to be persistent, complicated and sarcastic yet deep inside they are amazing and they are an integral part of every rowing team.

 Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats

Bonus Task number 5: Only for TOP coxswains

Top coxswains, outside of having to do everything that was mentioned above do another great thing - they carry the rower’s stuff around the field. From clothing, water bottles, shoes, sunglasses to EVEN oars, they do it and they don’t complain. They are kings of teamwork and they keep the rowing team together!

Coxswains And Their Tasks For Big Boats

Author: Anna Wierzbowska


Photographs:Anna Wierzbowska

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