Although coxswains might be the smallest members ofthe heavyweight crew team —and they don’t actually row — they play a large part in pulling the boats forward.
Five members of the team and head coach Stephen Gladstone said coxswains are undervalued and misunderstood by the general public. But they added that the rowers all know how important a good coxswain is to the team’s success. Without them, the boat could not chart a straight course to the finish line.
“The coxswain is not an adjunct to the crew,” Gladstone said. “The coxswain is an integral part of the crew.”
A common misconception about coxswains is that all they do is chant “Row!” at the oarsmen during a race, coxswain Kerry Takahashi ’14 said.
Twelve of 15 students interviewed who did not have previous crew experience knew what a coxswain does in the boat. But ten said they think coxswains do less work than rowers, four said they do the same amountof work, and one student said coxswains work harder.
During races, the coxswain must steer the boat, tell the team when to change pace and ensure rowers are in sync. Coxswain Morgan Welch ’12 said steering the boat is the most important of a coxswain’s numerous tasks because it is imperative to navigate the shortest possible route to the finish line.
Coxswains must also help execute strategy and facilitate communication between the rowers, coxswain Liz Earle ’15 said. While they don’t “pull an oar,” two rowers interviewed said they respect the rigor of the work coxswains do.
“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” men’s heavyweight crew captain Tom Dethlefs ’12 said. “There are a thousand things to be done at once…The responsibilities they have are important and they are not easy to do.”
At practice, coxswains work just as hard as on race day. They help to record data on what exercises the rowers are doing and how long it takes them to complete these workouts, Dethlefs said. Gladstone added that an experienced coxswain can understand the “biomechanics of a stroke” — the way a rower’s body works to optimize the power in each stroke — and can enhance the technical development of the entire team.
The coach and members of the crew said they think the important role coxswains play gets overlooked because many people outside the crew community do not understand what the job entails.
Fellow coxswain Oliver Fletcher ’14 said he explains coxing by comparing it to positions in other sports.
“My favorite [comparison] is that of a jockey,” Fletcher said, “Knowing how to best use the power of the horse, when to be harsh and when to encourage, being able to see an opportunity to win a race and knowing how to take it.
While rowers and coxswains respect each other’s work, oarsmen Allister Aaron ’15 said he has noticed they have different dynamics. Although rowers and coxswains are all members of one team, Aaron said, the rowers are closer to each other because they work out together.
But Dethlefs said the different roles do not prevent coxswains and oarsmen from forming close bonds.
In addition to not working out with the rest of the team, coxswains play a different role — that of coach — in the boat, Fletcher added.
“There is a certain link between coach and coxswain that perhaps the rowers don’t have,” Fletcher said.
Gladstone said he agreed that a coach has a different relationship with his coxswains, adding that he will occasionally take a coxswain aside to get his or her input on how the crew as a whole is performing. Indeed, Earle and Takahashi said they serve as liaisons between the rowers and the coach.
“[Coxswains] are sort of like the brain of the boat,” Earle said.
All four coxswains interviewed said they acknowledged that their role does not require the same physical strain.
Welch and Fletcher both said that they originally got into crew as oarsmen but switched to coxing because they were not big enough to row.
“Personally, there is a difference between me and the rowers just because I’m a small girl and the rowers are all huge guys,” Takahashi said.
Welch said the rowers on the teamare like her brothers.
One bond that all members of the team share, Aaron said, is their intense commitment to the sport. The oarsman added that the coxswains are just as competitive as the rowers.
Fletcher said because of all the practice time and effort every members puts into the sport, winning is rewarding for them all. Competing in a race requires a combination of coxing and rowing in order to win, Fletcher said, and that bottom line helps to bring the team together.