Does/Can/Will the coxswain steer straight?
I've heard from a lot of coaches that they don't know how to coach a coxswain to steer straight. Well, I say that you can.. and.. that you can't. First, let's explore 'the can't.' I recently was talking with a coach whom I really respect and admire about one of their coxswains who is a well respected senior, team leader, but can't steer. So I rolled up my sleeves and put on my coxswain coaching hat and went through my 'go-to' tips for steering. The coach kept saying, yes, already tried that, it didn't help. At first I was at a loss and bummed because I couldn't have the mind blowing answer. I took a moment and then came to the conclusion that maybe this coxswain simply can't steer straight. I mean, how many bad drivers do you know out on the road right now? I put a coxswain who can't steer in the same category as a rower who can't get their catch in on time. Both will make their boats move down the course, just not as fast and efficiently as athletes who steer straight and row more direct and longer.
With that said, there has to be hope. Coxswains just have to be coached and mentored the same amount of time as your rower with the big P word, potential.
Not teaching coxswains to maneuver their boats forward, backwards, sideways, and together within the first weeks of practice is a coaching mistake. Taking the time to lay a solid foundation of how to maneuver efficiently with other boats and on your water way will only increase the efficiency of practice. Next time you are on the water, give your coxswains a boat maneuvering challenge. As the season progresses, keep giving them challenges.
Ex: Give your coxswains a location of a start line. Give them lane assignments and a time to meet. Then observe how long it took for them to maneuver their boats into their lanes with enough distance between each other and behind the line. Take notes and then discuss either right then and there or off of the water on how well they handled the wind, other crews and timing.
Ex: Have your coxswains back into a stake boat. It can be your dock or your coaching launch or a buoy on the water.
Ex: Video their course from behind then review it with them on land.
Ex: Critique how they executed the traffic pattern, where they are physically on the water and where they need to be.
Ex: Have them dock multiple times in a row on both sides of the dock.
Now think back to this season's or last season's first week of practice. I bet no one will remember what drills you worked on, what the coxswains said, what you said, or how well/bad everyone rowed. Take this time to coach the coxswains on where they need to physically be on the water, how the traffic pattern should be executed, and where the meeting points should be during practice. Building awareness of steering the traffic pattern and where to physically be on the body of water will help train the coxswains awareness and ability to maneuver their boats. As a coach, you need to stress the importance of maneuvering and steering well and that it will help the coxswain build trust and credibility amongst the team. As a coach, remove the coxswain's pressure of speaking to fix technique and have them speak to communicate what they need from their rowers to maneuver their boats on the water and into the dock. I hope you are realizing that a coach needs to dedicate skill and drill time for coxswains in the same way they design skill and drills for rowers. I also hope you realize that you have to train your rowers expectation of their coxswains. The most important thing a coach can do when giving coxswains opportunity to perfect their boat maneuvering skills is to validate when they have done a steering skill right. Not only will you give them confidence, you will give the rowers confidence in their coxswains as well.
Is there a conclusion?
My opinion is still out as to whether you can teach a coxswain to steer straight. I do believe you can make time within your practice to teach them order of importance to their coxswain seat craft and build awareness. Steering, or rather, boat maneuverability needs to be at the top of the list for coxswains to prioritize. Their rank amongst the team needs to reflect this importance. More importantly, the team and rowers need to know that a coxswain's number one priority is to maneuver their boat and prioritize their decision of what to say towards steering their boat correctly down the race course and on their home body of water. Empower coxswains to feel pride and to take ownership of how they maneuver their boats. Reward coxswains who take pride in staying aware of where they are and where they need to be on the water. Stay diligent in your expectation, reminders, and quality of boat maneuverability.