Hello everyone. I’ve got an interesting subject for today’s article. What does a coxswain do, and what are they yelling to their crew?
A coxswain is practically a coach in the boat, acting as the eyes of the crew who sit with their backs to the finish line. It’s more than just directing team members and helping rowers push past obstacles and their opponents because the coxswain also acts as the crew’s tactician, a job that is vital in winning races for a team.
Some people think that the coxswain is just shouting at the crew to pull harder, but the truth is multi-faceted, to be honest. To a crew, the coxswain’s voice is extremely important, and in this article, I’m going to explain why.
Do Coxswains Do Anything?
While to a novice it might appear that the coxswain isn’t doing anything but yelling at the crew, this is not true.
The cox is more than just a coach yelling encouragement, they also tell the crew members who are winning, and where their boat is in the lineup (are they currently in 3rd place? second place?). This coach-on-board directs the boat’s trajectory and should know how and when to use both the rudder to steer the boat and give orders to the crew.
Now, this is the last and the most important. A good coxswain can convince crew members to give it all they’ve got, even when they are physically spent, such as when he yells, “Power Ten!”
Think about it this way— While it’s the rowers who are physically powering the boat, it is the coxswain who makes them believe they can do it!
The coxswain needs to know everything about the team and the boat. As such, a cox is part psychologist, part friend, and the part of the team that many rowers say they can’t do without.
In Olympic Games, only an 8-person crew has a coxswain, but in collegiate rowing, fours can also have a cox.
You will notice the coxswain as the person sitting at the rear of the boat, hunched down so as to not take up much space or add drag to the shell. There’s a minimum weight for coxswains, depending on the age and gender of their crew.
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What Does the Coxswain Shout to the Rowers?
One of the main jobs of a coxswain is to give commands. While each club may have some of its own commands, many are similar in nature.
For example, if the cox yells “Oars Away!” this means that the crew should prepare to start rowing.
A coxswain may yell “Even Up” when one side is rowing harder or faster than the other side. When the cox wants the crew to stop rowing and just let the shell use its own momentum, they might yell “Let It Run!”
Rowers will do nearly anything the cox tells them to, but cox’s commands need to sound authoritative enough to convince the crew that what they’re about to execute is the best thing or the correct trajectory at the moment. If a crew has no confidence in their cox, the race will be lost.
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How Do You Become a Coxswain?
Most people become a coxswain when they realize that they are too short and/or too lightweight to be a good crew member.
The US Rowing requirements only list the minimum weights. The female coxswain must weigh at least 110 pounds and a male must weigh at least 125 pounds. It is not uncommon to see all-male rowing teams use a female coxswain because they weigh less.
When you love rowing but you are a small person, this can lead you to become a coach and/or a coxswain. This job is always in high demand, and if you join your local rowing club, chances are that you can train on the site.
It takes lots of practice not only to learn how to motivate your crew but also what works for your crew since everyone is different.
Being a cox for a group of 60-year-old women will be one thing and quite different from being a cox for a group of 25-year-old men.
Some people have equated being a coxswain to being a jockey on a horse. The jockey isn’t doing any of the running, but what they do is guide the horse and encourage it to keep going.
Everyone wants to be better, and learning to help others go just a bit further is what a coxswain does.
The coxswains focus on stroke rates and other technical details and stay calm so that the crew stays calm, too. During the race, they sometimes get loud and occasionally even a bit foul-mouthed as they try to squeeze every ounce of energy out of the crew.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Coxswain?
A good coxswain needs to have more skills than just being a good rower. In fact, many coxswains recognize that they are too short and too loud to be a good crew member, but those skills work well for a coxswain!
Here are just a few of the skills that a coxswain needs to have:
- A good sense of judgment
- A calm demeanor even when under intense pressure
- Endless amounts of patience
- Confidence in their own abilities
- Knowledge about how to motivate and encourage the crew
- An understanding of how to keep both equipment and crew safe
- A good assistant to both the coach and crew on and off the water
- Knows how to provide feedback
- A good leader and example
One thing is certain—crew members value the cox’s commands and role in the team. As a sign of respect, it is not uncommon to see crew members throw their coxswain into the water after winning a regatta. FYI: Read more and learn what is a team of rowers called
Is It Hard Being a Rowing Coxswain?
While the cox isn’t actively rowing, that doesn’t mean the job doesn’t require hard work.
The coxswain has hundreds (well, ok, maybe just one hundred) of responsibilities. Everything from recording the data about each team member and the crew to which exercises they did, how many meters they rowed, who was injured, who is out for other reasons, who can they be replaced with, and even who is in a bad mood this morning.
Coxes need to have a full and complete understanding not just of their crew, but the shell, the weather, and the tide. And they must know how to best implement the cox box. (Learn more on Crew Shell Classes here)
The cox box looks like a big stopwatch with a speaker on the side. This device measures the stroke rate and speed of the rower on the stroke seat. A good coxswain can read this information and make vital decisions that can help the crew win the race.
It seems as though anything that goes wrong will be blamed on the coxswain, so they tend to be overthinkers, nitpickers, and pay great attention to detail.
Some say that you need to be a perfectionist to be a coxswain, and I would tend to agree.
Are Coxswains Athletes?
Yes, they are.
While coxswains may not row on race day, and they may not look as muscular as the crew, they still do most of the same out-of-the-boat workouts that crew members do, including lifting weights and running or using the erg.
In fact, coxswains are considered dead weight. They don’t make the boat go faster and they don’t row, so you don’t want your coxswain to be beefy or bulky.
You do want the coxswains, however, to understand every nuance of rowing and what it takes for an athlete to win. They need to have an athlete’s mentality about physical fitness and winning.
Think of coxes as diet doctors. The doctor themselves do not need to be on a diet, but they better not be caught eating a box of donuts or weighing 20 pounds more than they should!
The coxswain is who athletes come to for advice, and the cox also makes demands of the crew, so coxes not only better know what they are talking about, they also need to walk the walk if they are dishing out the talk!
The Bottom Line
While the coxswain may not show it, they are responsible for nearly everything that happens. They help train and motivate the crew, check out the race site, steer the boat to its correct trajectory, and encourage the crew to push past exhaustion so they can win the race. At the same time, coxes need to use their own good judgment on how to get more out of the crew.
Being a coxswain is a difficult and taxing job, but many get tremendous pleasure and sense of achievement from the task.
To be a good coxswain, you need to be significantly smaller in stature, but you want the larger crew members to tremble at the thought of being criticized by their coxswain’s voice.
Good or bad, winner or loser, this is the life that all coxswains lead.
Keep rowing, friends, and enjoy steering, coxie!
Written by Petra Amara – RowingCrazy.com
CEO & Founder of RowingCrazy, National Rower, Coxswain Womens Eight Team, Rowing Coach & Writer
Petra is a Mother of two and owner of Rowingcrazy.com. Petra lives and breathes rowing, she also has a passion for writing which lead her to start RowingCrazy.com to share her rowing experience and expertise with others.