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True Life: I'm a Coxswain

Grant Louis ’14 is the man with the plan. When it comes to competitive crew, the coxswain is in charge of memorizing the race plan, motivating the rowers, navigating the course, and monitoring the positions of the other boats.

“What really makes a great coxswain is the persistence to gain the trust and understanding of every rower in the boat, and to have an awareness of everything around them. A great coxswain should be able to draw on a map of the river where all the relevant boats and hazards are while navigating the chaos and keeping their cool,” said boys’ first boat coxswain and (Youth Club Nationals champion) Louis.

On top of this, girls’ first boat coxswain Casey Butler ’13 said, “It is important that coxswains be organized and alert, as it is their job to keep track of four rowers, a mutli-thousand dollar boat, four oars, four oar locks, a cox box, and more. They need to keep track of the time, run the work out or warm up, be sure that every rower is warmed up and has everything they need. It can be overwhelming if you aren’t aware of what you’re doing.”

It would seem, however, that the Deerfield coxswains are aware of what they’re doing, thanks to several top finishes at the New England championships in recent years. At the same time, every coxswain is different.

“I like to send out an email to the rowers in my boat before every race. It is a pump up “let’s do it!” kind of thing, but I also remind people of what we need to focus on the next day, be it focus, togetherness or sitting up straight. I also like to give my rowers treats after each race,” said Butler.

Louis takes a different approach. “Personally, I recite the race plan word for word every night before I go to bed, so I can recite without thinking on race day. I try to call each race exactly as planned. However, that doesn’t always work out.”

And Louis has experienced this first hand. “In the last 150 meters of the finals at Nationals, I accidentally dropped one of the small screens in the water trying to fix it. It took all of my concentration to keep on the race plan and help my boys bring the boat across the line first,” said Louis.
Both coxswains felt frustrated by the fact that most people think they are along for a joyride.

“I wish people knew that we aren’t just along for the ride! During a race, we are executing a race plan, telling the rowers where they are in the race time and distance-wise, letting them know the moves of other teams, and motivating them. It is complicated and people seem to think we serve no purpose other than to slow the boat down!” said Butler.

Regardless, both Butler and Louis are passionate about the sport, and shared hopes and advice for any future rowers.

“I would tell novice coxswains to ask questions! That’s the best way to learn how to cox. Also, try rowing. That is the only way to really understand the movements of the boat. It also makes rowers respect you more,” advises Butler.

As for Louis? “I wish that the rowers know that the coxswain is on their side, even though sometimes it seems like we are little Napoleons, a terrible and inaccurate analogy for coxswains.”

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