From the novice boat: Coxing for the first time

If you’ve just joined the team (I just joined in June) or if you think you might want to join the team (trust me, you do!), you might be able to guess from the title what part of this deal scared me the most:


With very few exceptions, everyone on this team takes a turn in the ninth seat, and that includes us newbies/novies. Once you’re solid enough on the basics, it’s time.

cox boxYou put on the headset, and you sit facing the teammates you’ve had your back to for months (and whose backs you’ve stared at). You switch port and starboard in your head, because your whole perspective just changed. Again. You squeeze into a “seat” built for a jockey, and off you go.

Well, off you go…when you say it’s time to go. The biggest shift is realizing that you’re the one calling the shots. You’ve just settled into the routine of, for the most part, just following instructions and doing your best, and now it’s your turn to drive.

(Were you one of those kids who couldn’t wait to get your driver’s license? I wasn’t.)

The good news is that the only surprise is when you’ll cox a boat, not if. And if you know you’re going to have to do it eventually, you have three practices a week to learn from those who go before you. Our squad benefited from the goodwill of volunteer coxes from the intermediate and advanced teams, and we’ve all had tremendous support from our own team-within-a-team; ain’t no shame in a boat full of novices. We’re all learning, and next practice, it could be be you up there.

That morning, it was me up there. Knowing that the day was going to come, here’s what I tried to do to prepare:

  1. I listened to how the coaches describe the drills and land commands. I tried to get familiar with how they were being called so I wouldn’t stumble too much and confuse everyone with weird commands.
  2. When I’ve been impressed or frustrated by a cox, I’ve tried to step back and figure out why. If they did something I thought was great, I tried to remember to steal it. I also tried to remember to avoid the stuff that didn’t feel helpful.
  3. I worked to build up some good karma by supporting my fellow novices as they took the rudder before me. For real — this is a team sport, no matter where you’re sitting.

I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t sign up to be a coxswain. You signed up to row. Think of it this way: Trust is at the foundation of EBRC. The club trusts you to handle tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Your teammates trust you to guide them safely through the water. All you have to do is trust yourself. (And don’t run into anything.)

Fellow novies and those who’ve been around the estuary a few times, what was your first coxing experience like?

~Jen Gingras

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