By Howard Aiken
At most rowing clubs, coxes are in short supply. This being the case, whenever someone new joins the coxing rota or even when a rower agrees to take on coxing duties, club members would do well to bear in mind that they are dealing with a valuable resource and reward them accordingly. If most clubs held on to more of the people who have ‘tried out’ the coxing seats they would have more coxes available then they do. So why do so many new coxes not last long?
Sadly, part of the reason may be that novice coxes don’t always get the attention from coaches that they deserve. One aspect of this is the tendency to put novice coxes with novice rowers. While I can see why this would happen, it really is like putting a novice rider on an unbroken pony – albeit a rather slow one. The more inexperienced a crew is, the less likely they are to row consistently and a crew which rows inconsistently will be harder to steer. Add to this the problems which beginners have manoeuvring a boat safely when spinning or landing and you can appreciate what a challenge we present new coxes with and why so many of them get discouraged and leave as a result.
I would suggest that it would be a good idea to provide newly recruited coxes with a mix of boats to cox, some beginner/novice boats certainly, but also some more capable intermediate boats which will provide a more rewarding experience from the cox’s seat. I’m NOT suggesting that new coxes should be asked to cox high-speed pieces, but if a more experienced crew is rowing a ‘technical’ outing, a new cox can learn what their exercises and drills look like when they are executed correctly. They are then in a much better position to help the novices and in the end the whole club benefits.
Another idea worth trying is the ‘cox squad’. How many clubs, before travelling to row in a regatta on someone else’s river, get their coxes together as a squad for a briefing on the rules of navigation and safety applicable to the venue? A simple way of passing valuable information from experienced coxes who have rowed that particular river before to those who will be seeing it for the first time – and again the whole club benefits.
Rowers also have a role in making a new cox feel welcome and valued. It really isn’t hard to understand that without the cox the outing doesn’t happen. Help make their experience a positive one, one they will want to come back to. Welcome them as part of your crew and help make every new cox into a good cox and an asset to your boat and your club.
Lastly, considering the safety of the crew and the care of the boat, it is the skills of the cox, not of the crew, which determines the river / weather conditions in which you can run a safe outing. No matter how good the crew is, don’t put a novice cox on the water when the conditions (stream, visibility, traffic) make the risks unacceptable.