Spectators unfamiliar with the sport of rowing, may just see eight individuals in a boat and one person sitting in the front yelling. The official title of that person sitting in front of the boat is a coxswain. Amanda Smith, a four year rower with the women’s team, compares the importance of a coxswain to that of the quarterback position for a football team.
“The coxswains are the ones that make the plays, direct the team and once they make a call they can get the boat to move on the next stroke,” Smith said.
Ruoxi He, the first year president and fourth year member of the club, is also the coxswain for the women’s varsity team. She joined the club with the mindset of being a rower and getting a good workout. But the idea of being a coxswain was something she was very open to.
She said that the most important trait of a coxswain is that they are leaders.
“You need some form of leadership skills because you are technically the person that is leading the eight people that are in your boat.”
Frank Leng, a third year rower with the men’s team, said the coxswain stereotype is the type of person who has to be loud and in your face. Leng finds that the most helpful trait of a coxswain is during the middle of a race they remind him to keep good form during the difficult parts. Leng recalled a moment when the coxswain really pulled through during their nationals race in Georgia last year.
“We were against boats we really didn’t know,” Leng said. “Since us rowers didn’t know how other boats are doing, the coxswain was especially key because she knew what to say at the right time.”
“During the last 200 meters of our race (last year) I said ‘well do you want to be that crew that wins by a couple of inches or do you guys want to be the boat that loses by that half-second,’” He said.
He said that the best parts of being a coxswain are the races.
“Races in general can be nerve-racking, but I just have to make sure that I stay in a calm mindset so my rowers aren’t feeling frantic, but I know that they get nervous before races,” he said. He found that a useful strategy to motivate his racers is to give them individual attention.
“They like it when I call them by name because I think it checks them back into the race,” He said.
For Smith, who is seated right in front of the coxswain, she said that during a close race the coxswain would call for a seat and that’s a signal to the rowers that it’s time to get aligned with that seat in the opposing boat and pass them.
“(Coxswain) motivate us to move on boats because we can’t see what’s happening in the race. We are just supplying the power,” Smith said.