Back home in Los Angeles, rowing was not a well-known or well-understood sport. Frankly, in high school, I had not even considered becoming involved. It was during orientation week here at Rice when one of my peer advisors, the then acting men’s captain of Rice Crew, introduced me to the sport. He pitched it to me in a rather captivating manner, as he said that the team was actively seeking a coxswain. What was a coxswain? I didn’t really know. What he did tell me was that I fit the physical requirements perfectly with a 5’2″ stature and weighing 120 pounds and that I have a booming voice and aggressive personality to yell at a bunch of male rowers.
Not really knowing what to expect, I went out on the water for the first time with a bunch of other eager novices, plugged the headset into the “cox box,” and shouted some generic commands, adjusting as necessary. The first practice went very smoothly, and it was encouraging to receive positive feedback from the team leadership and my friends.
While many future practices ran just as and even more smoothly than the first, many were long, tiresome, and frustrating (yes, even for the cox who doesn’t row). Morning practices normally begin with a 5:30 corral of the rowers at Rice’s Sallyport to drive 30-40 minutes to Clear Lake, TX. Imagine working on problem sets until 3 am the night before and having to get up at 5 am for a water practice. Yeah, difficult. Not to mention we lose practice time because our practice location is a considerable distance from campus. Moreover, on any given day, attendance varies. It is always hard for the coaches to assign consistent boat line-ups with different people of different levels of experience inconsistently showing up to practice. And as a cox, adjusting to the boat’s new strengths and weaknesses and attempting to build coordination between a new set of rowers each practice can also be frustrating. And while your rowers should essentially follow your command just as a team of horses blindly obeys the commands of the carriage driver, sometimes, they get frustrated at you too and don’t respect your authority in the boat.
Obviously, there are numerous challenges to overcome in order to get better at the sport and in order to improve the efficiency with which our team runs. However, I have gained numerous invaluable lessons and positive character attributes from pursuing rowing and being a member of Rice’s team.
1. My O-week advisor had a lot to do with why I initially joined the team, but besides by his encouragement, I sought to join the team, specifically as a coxswain, because I fell in love with the idea of being a “peer coach.” I derive a lot of satisfaction from being able to motivate others to maximize their potential. It’s exciting to be able to watch my friends grow physically and mentally stronger and to be able to contribute to this personal growth. I am learning more and more about myself and how I thrive off of interacting with others in a positive, encouraging, and constructive manner, similar to how I strive to run drills during practice and compete during regattas.
2. While focus is important during drills and the races, since coming to Rice, and especially since joining crew, I have adopted the mindset of taking what I do very seriously but not taking myself very seriously. Rowing is stressful, and I consider part of my job as cox to keep the mood light and cheerful when appropriate and to entertain the rowers in order to build social fluidity. This camaraderie will only translate onto the water. From a broader perspective, I strive to always be happy and to make others happy when they are around me. Positive emotions fuel passion for the sport and for the team.
3. My skin is getting thicker as we speak. It’s common for me to make mistakes in the boat house, on the water, at the regatta, etc., but my ears are always perked for feedback. I have learned not to take any negative-sounding feedback too personally, especially from rowers. If a comment is being said, it’s at least worth listening to and assessing whether you can improve your own performance with it in mind.
4. Confidence is essential, especially for a novice. Other schools’ teams have been rowing together for 4+ years, but you cannot enter a regatta with a losing, non-competitive mindset of simply rowing “to get better” or “to have fun.” Yes, these things are very important for the holistic personal and team experience, but I am a strong proponent of performing to kick a** and take names. For me, the end goal of each practice is for each boat to get faster and more coordinated in order to be competitive at regattas and ultimately to win the gold. The picture above is post-victory of the novice mixed-8 event during the Heart of Texas regatta in Austin, TX. On race day, each rower, no matter his or her level of experience, was fueled by a healthy competitive spirit, and this mentality was apparent in the boat’s stellar performance. I was and still am so proud. :’)
5. As a coxswain, I go with my gut. Sometimes, your coach may be shouting out one thing, your stroke seat another, your team on the shore something else, but ultimately, you have the final decision regarding your course of action. This goes for on the water and in life. You have to be strong enough to justify and stand by the decisions you make.