005 | Interview with Kayleigh Durm
Welcome to CoxPod, a podcast for coxswains. I'm Sally. I'm Breana. I'm Anne, and we're three coxswains with a combined 50 years of experience in the seat. We decided to share our knowledge with coxswains everywhere via this podcast and ultimately we hope to create a community among our audience where coxswains can learn from each other. We recognize and appreciate the other coxing voices and opinions and experiences in our growing community. We're excited that Sally and Breana were able to sit down with another experienced coxswain. And here's that interview.
BREANA: On today's episode, we have our very first guest here on the podcast and we are with Kayleigh Durm, which is a name that you may recognize from the coxing world. She is the author of the spectacular blog: Ready all, row which you can read at readyallrow.org. So welcome Kayleigh. We are psyched to have you here. And we know our audience is going to love hearing from you. So as a way of kind of starting off, could you tell everyone a little bit about (kind of) how you got started on your own coxing journey?
KAYLEIGH: Thanks for having me. I'm really excited about this. So I have been coxing for 17 years now. I started when I was a freshman in high school. I'm from Marietta, Ohio, which is in southeast Ohio on the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. And I grew up always seeing Marietta College's boats out on the river and, you know, not really knowing what they were ... what it was that they were doing. But I remember always thinking it was cool. And when I was in middle school, I had a teacher who I knew through another extracurricular that I was in - I was in the marching band. And my teacher - his son was on the rowing team - and he used to tell me every time he would see me in the hallway that I needed to be a coxswain. Every single day, he would say this to me and for about six months. I had no idea what that was ... what it meant. And eventually I I got online and I looked it up. And I read about, you know, this sport and this position. I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is so perfect for me", and I had played sports, you know, all my life up until that point. I played softball for 10 years. I had played basketball a little bit and
I love playing sports but I never thought that there was something as, you know, cerebral as coxing. ... I would ever find something like that. So I remember going home and telling my parents that, you know, when I go to high school next year, I was going to be a coxswain and they were like, "Okay honey. You, you do that". And they also I mean I think, just didn't really know what it was. And then I told them about it and they're like, "Yeah that's, that's perfect for you. We got to get you in this". So when I got to high school the following year, practice started (you know) as soon as we got back from Christmas break in January. And you know, we started winter training and then we always got on the water around the week of Valentine's Day. And from then on - here we are, you know - 17 years later. So it's been quite a ride looking back on it. But I think that, you know, I got into it in a very, you know, kind of funny, unique way, and I'm excited about where it's taken me over the years.
SALLY: Kayleigh, what was the surprise thing that you love most about coxing? The power trip, obviously, but what keeps you coming back that you didn't anticipate?
KAYLEIGH: Just how much thought and strategy goes into it. I kind of, I think ... a lot of people talk about (you know) coxing as you're like the quarterback of the team and I think that that's a very apt description. But I also think it's very boring. I do see the the similarities between, you know, quarterbacks and coxswains, but the the thing I always kind of think about ... it is like playing chess, You know, if you are thinking about a chessboard and the different strategies that you have to take to get from one side of the board to the other. That's kind of how I look at coxing. You know you've got so many moves in your pocket and you've got to know when to break them out and when to play it safe and when to be a little risky. And I think that describes coxing perfectly, and that sort of mental athleticism is, I think, the thing that's kept me in it all this time.
BREANA: I feel the same way.
SALLY: Yeah, it was a little worried when you're talking about being in band, because Breana and Anne are all about the band stuff. So at least chess, I'm all about.
BREANA: Yes, there's a growing community out there, perhaps, of people who migrated from marching band and if you're listening and that's new, tell us.
KAYLEIGH: Pretty much the whole time that I was in high school, there was a lot of overlap between the band kids and the rowing kids. And I really appreciate that because I like ... I love being in band. I played the clarinet for seven years and loved it. And I do remember thinking in middle school, like - oh, I wonder if that band geek stereotype is like a real thing - and then I, you know, I got to high school, and it's just like, you know, half to three quarters of the band, you know, is in rowing. Or I think we had at least one or two football players on the team my freshman year ... you know, basketball players, soccer players, lacrosse, cross country runners. And I think having that overlap between those two things and having my interest collide like that... my friends’ groups come together.... I think just kind of made the whole experience of both activities that much better.
BREANA: Yeah. For me, it was my high school did not have rowing, although it now does have a small rowing team because I started seeing them at regattas when I was coaching on the high school scene. So I'm very excited for them. So for me, it was like a total transplant to a totally new activity when I went from high school to college, and like many coxswains - as I've already shared on the podcast - I had the experience of just having to figure it out by myself in terms of (you know) how to do this sport. And one of the things that was my just absolute lifesaver during that time was your blog Kayleigh. And of course, I had no idea who you were at the time, but I was just like, here's this one person just absolutely writing the best information and the only place on the internet that has anything like this is Ready all, row. And we kind of found that in our college coxswain community, and I just (like) consumed absolutely everything that I could find on there because it really was - and I would argue, you know, still is - the preeminent blog about coxing information. And that really resonated with me and is the same thing that we're trying to do in audio form here ... is kind of really convey that comprehensive information. So we
have a shared mission for sure. And it was so amazing to (through .... as we do in the rowing world ... rowing networking connections) to actually get the chance to meet you. So I'd love to hear more about what inspired you to start writing Ready all, row.
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, I mean - it still surprises me - you know, eight years later when people are like, "Oh, I love your blog ...I read your blog ... I, you know, started reading your blog in high school, and now I'm in college". Like I never thought that it would turn into something like that. And so it's definitely like a humbling point of pride for me that people, you know, find so much value in it. I started back in October of 2012. I had graduated from college and I took a break from coxing while I was in college. I think doing it for four years in high school and then jumping right into it and college - like, I got burned out pretty fast and realized that if I wanted to stay in the sport long term, then I needed to walk away from it for a while.
And so I took a break while I was in college, and then after I graduated, I moved to Boston. And you know, if there's any place to get involved with rowing in the United States, it's obviously going to be in Boston.And so I (you know) got involved at CRI and I coached and coxed there a little bit and I think I just started posting, you know, on social media about, you know, being back on the water and, you know, how much I missed it and was excited to get back into it. And kids that rowed at CRI and in the area, I think found my posts and, you know, would DM me questions. And I would just answer them. You know, like you're having a conversation with just any normal person. And after three, four months of that -basically that whole summer - I was like ... I should aggregate all of this information into one spot because just having it scattered throughout (like) my social media, maybe isn't the best way to do this. And it seems like there's a need for there to be, you know, a comprehensive set of how-to instructions on how to be a coxswain. And I remember thinking when I was in high school, you know, in 2006 - or 2002 to 2006 - why, why doesn't this exist? You know how to, how do I become a coxswain? And I figured, you know, if it's not already online like, why not just do it myself. And I was kind of at a point in my life where I think most millennials (post recession) were trying to figure out what to do with their lives and we were all under-employed and kind of, we're trying to find things to keep us going every day. And rowing ended up being that thing for me again. And so I just got on WordPress and copied over everything that I had on my social media into, you know, actual blog form. And it became not just like a (you know) a passion project with a purpose, but also like a creative outlet that I didn't realize that I had been missing. And when I started to ... I didn't really promote it anywhere ... I was like - this is weird. People are going to think this is like, you know, self serving or bragging or whatever. And so I didn't really share it, that I was doing this. And I - that was one of the things I think I've always been most proud of - is that for as big as the blog got, it was wholly done through word of mouth of other people. And people started emailing me and asking questions and the majority of the time, the bulk of the content that I was posting was original questions that, you know, coxswains of all ages were sending me. And it never surprised me how thoughtful the questions are, because I think most people that are coxswains are very well spoken 'Type A' cerebral people - but what always caught my attention was they were questions that were being asked that I was just like, why are you asking me this? Like, you don't know me ... like you know what I've done, based off of like what you've seen on, you know, Instagram, or Facebook or stuff like that, but like … don't you have a coach that can answer these questions for you? And it hit me about six months into the blog - like writing the blog and answering all these questions and stuff - how lucky I was, you know, with my team growing up, that I had coaches who cared about their coxswains ... and my coach had been a coxswain himself ... and he taught me everything I know, basically. And I feel like there was a lot of things that I taught myself, but it all came from seeds that he had planted. And it shocked me that there were not other teams that had, you know, coaches like that, that so many coaches were rowers who had never been coxswains and just didn't care about learning how to coach this vital part (or vital member) of their team. And so having those conversations with kids and just hearing
the questions that they had, and the gaps in knowledge that they had was what kind of pushed me to start creating more like original content, I guess, and expanding off of the questions that I was being emailed and just start writing actual like: this is how you do this ... this is how you do that. And, you know, just finding as many resources as I could online and just putting them all in one spot so that, you know, they didn't have to do what I did and and look online and try to come up with piecemeal answer for how to (you know) stake boat or how to call this drill or that drill or whatever else. So it started out from very, very humble beginnings and just kind of grew as as more people started learning about it. And I think - felt like I was relatable enough that they could ask me, you know, their "stupid questions" and I would not treat them like they were stupid questions. And that's also one of the things I think I've always been really proud of is that - I'm very upfront with people and it's just like, yeah, your question might be silly and sometimes there is the occasional stupid question, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve an answer. Like it might be a very basic question that yeah, you probably should have figured out how to stake boat before you got to college, but you still need to learn how to do it. So like, let's talk about that right now. And the fact that, you know, people felt comfortable enough to ask me those questions, I think, spoke to just the tone of voice that I tried to put into the blog ... and just my personality in general that I tried to put into, you know, the things that I wrote and the responses that I gave to people.
And I think it's not only information. I think that coxswains need to know that there are people in their corner to - like rowers (you know) not to blame rowers for all of, you know, the problems that coxswains have, but you know it's very apparent that there are a lot more rowers than there are coxswains and so I don't think that there ever been a situation where a rower has wondered, 'Oh, does this person understand, you know, the experience that I'm going through?' and I don't think there's ever been a time where a coxswain hasn't asked that question of themselves, you know, 'Does anyone understand why I'm so frustrated right now?' or 'Why I can't figure out how to do this thing'. And just being there and being like a person that is saying, "No matter what, like, I'm in your corner because I'm a coxswain too - and I, I've been in your shoes and I might not have experienced the same thing that you have, but I can empathize with it. I can fully see where you're coming from. And at the very least, we have a common ground in that regard. And so let's go from there. And I think being able to - not even being able, but being willing to have conversations with people and just let them know that no matter what, they can talk to me and ask me questions and or, you know, even just email me to vent. My inbox is open for that and
I was always pleasantly surprised when I would get an email from someone and they'd be like, you don't have to respond to this. I just need to complain to someone who gets it. That was -
I remember the first time that happened and laughing and thinking, oh, that all of this is so valid. I totally relate to all of this ... and then thinking that that was going to be a one time thing, and no one was ever going to do it again. And then I would say, of all the emails that I got probably like a quarter of them were just people saying, I just need someone to vent to because nobody on my team gets it.
SALLY: Your collegiate attitude is really remarkable. One of the things, Breana and and Anne and I kind of discovered in each other is that we've learned to cox in kind of a vacuum. We didn't have anybody to talk to ... nobody understood. So we found solace in each other. Did you experience a similar vacuum?
KAYLEIGH: I think, to an extent, every coxswain kind of learns in a vacuum. I think that, and I think a little bit of that is self inflicted, too. Like - we don't like asking for help - we want to figure things out on our own. And like I am guilty of that to this day - I have a very hard time asking for help and admitting when I need help. And I think that a lot of coxswains find themselves in that situation, too, because there is this expectation that you should be able to take the initiative and find the answers on your own. And so I think that coxswains kind of are put in a vacuum. And I think to some extent they keep themselves in that vacuum. So when I was in high school, you know, like I said, my coach, one of my coaches was a coxswain and he would always talk to us after practice, you know, whether it's for 10 minutes or an hour. He would stick around for as long as we had stuff to talk about. And sometimes it would be one on one, sometimes it would be as a group, but there was always this, you know, "open door policy" with him. And I think that that kind of helps the coxswains that were on our team recognize that if we wanted to be better and get faster, then we just had to work together and have conversations and there was definitely that that air of, you know, competition between all of us, but I think that there was never really a time where we were at each other's throats and solely looking out for ourselves. And that, I think, definitely helped set the tone for me - that coxing ... the learning process of how to be a coxswain ... you should take your education upon yourself but also make sure that you're working to make it a collaborative process with the other coxswains on your team.
BREANA: This dynamic that you're describing is so rare, like, I think it's important for us to acknowledge that - including the part of having a coach that would that would talk to you, you know, about specific things - like I don't think people in their own community reflect enough on the fact that you would never not teach a rower. Like, you would never just say like, "Oh, well, they'll figure out what the catch is, I don't need to say that", or you would never in a race scenario. You're going to spend weeks beforehand practicing your starts and so they go there and they know exactly what to do. But people will, in that same exact scenario, leave their coxswain and not give them any information about (like) how do you get to the start ... what does it look like in the row up there … what does the warm up area look like … what's a stake boat look like ... how do you get into one? And maybe at best, they just say like "I don't know, Google it ... there's a thing, it's like a platform, and then you just back and make sure your stern's in there and a person grabs it like that." You know, maybe that's like all the more information people are getting, so it's really, it's so critical to have resources out there for the people who aren't lucky enough to have a coxswain community, whether fostered by their coach or just, you know, all the coxswains that are on their team ... if they have co-coxswains on their team, some people out there are flying solo.
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, when I would get emails from coxswains, you know, they would, they would always identify themselves as (you know) I'm this coxswain and I cox for this team. And whenever they would complain about their coaches, I would go look their teams up and look up their coaches and for five, six years, I had this (like) mental list of all these coaches that I would see in the news - like in Row2K articles or in US Rowing or anywhere else - of just being lauded as such great coaches. And not to take away from that - because I do think that they accomplished a lot - but at the same time behind the scenes, you're leaving an entire group of people behind simply because you've never been a coxswain. And that is just so offensive to me. Like, I never understood how a coach could put so much effort into working with eight people and then just leave one of them completely on their own ... on an island ... and then expect them to be able to to run the show, I guess, for lack of a better word, when they're not around. Like, if you're not giving them the tools, then how do you expect them to do all of these things? And I sometimes would have that conversation with friends that were coaches, and they would just be like, 'Oh, like I just, I just don't know what to do'. And it's just like, okay, so go learn. Take the initiative. Like - talk to coxswains. Like, it's - you're asking these kids to teach themselves. So you're the adult here. Why aren't you taking the initiative to teach yourself how to coach coxswains and then actually working with them? And so that's always been a thing that's bothered me. You know, even since before I started the blog, that's always been something that got on my nerves, but even more so now (I think) that I'm older. And I am in the coaching ranks a lot more than I was when I started the blog - like, I just don't see any excuse for it. And one of the things that I always like kind of chuckled at - I would occasionally get an email from a coach (you know) - either high school or college - and they would say, 'I heard my coxswains talking about your blog. And so I went and looked it up, and I learned so much. Thank you for being a resource for coaches and coxswains' - and I was like, "Ah, yes!". Like, my thing was always like - this is a creative outlet for me... like I'm … I want this to work for coxswains and be a good thing for coxswains. But at the end of the day, like, this is my thing.
And if it helps just one coxswain, I'm happy. But as I got further into it, I was like, you know what? If a coach finds this and actually (like) reads what I've written and reads the verbatim genuine questions that 14, 15, 16 year olds are asking - and they take a step back and do something, or take some steps to alter their approach to working with their coxswains based off of everything on my blog - that I think, right there is kind of the ultimate measure of success for me.
Coxswains can only do so much and we can only, like, I agree that we should have high expectations of any individual that wants to be a coxswain because it is a very high stress position, but at the same time, like, they're teenagers. The majority of them are teenagers, you know - the expectations can only be so high. And so the adults in the room have to be doing the work as well if you want to see any marked improvement, I guess, in how coxswains feel about their worth on the team going forward.
SALLY: When you are coaching a coxswain for the first time, what are some of the things that (you know) your go-to things that you're stressing ... that you're trying to instill in them ... core values like, you know: step one - miss the bridge abutment? But after that?
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, I mean, when I start working with coxswains, like talking about skills like that - like raw skills like that - like in-the-boat kind of stuff - is so far down my priority list, it's like number 15 or 20. Like, I think that coxing is - there's a lot of (like) interpersonal skills and (like) internal skills that you kind of have to get down first, before those technical skills come. So I try to talk a lot about the intangible stuff, like your attitude and (you know) how you're speaking and how you're communicating and why saying something this way is more effective than saying it that way. And like, talking about that kind of stuff, I think, lays a better foundation for building into those technical skills than trying to start with the technical skills and working backwards, which I think is the more common approach. And I don't think it's wrong necessarily to do it that way, it's just I personally have had better success starting with the person and trying to mold them into a coxswain by improving, kind of like, those inner personal skills, like I said, than starting with the more technical aspects .... I just don't think that that's the most effective way to do it.
SALLY: I've had coaches explain to me that coxswains either are - or they aren't. They just appear. They're not developed it, they come (like) fully formed - like Athena out of Zeus's head.
How would you address that?
KAYLEIGH: For a long time I think I was definitely the same way. I definitely felt like coxswains were born - and not made - because I think that there are inherent personality traits that just make you a good coxswain. And I for sure know that I don't have all of them, but I know that I've got enough of them that I felt pretty confident right from the start. Whereas I saw friends who were not as as confident as I was, and it took them a little bit longer to get there.They did get there eventually. But it definitely required a little more work in certain areas, and it did for other people where those traits came a little more naturally. It wasn't really until I started coaching at summer camps and working with kids more (like) on an even more individual one-on-one basis
that I realized that you can make a coxswain. But in order for you to do that, you have to actually invest the time into that person, and if you're not willing to invest the time into that person and helping them overcome whatever hurdles they run into, then it's not going to happen. And so you can - there are definitely coxswains, I think, that are born - and you can help enhance those skills as time goes on.But you know, you can make a coxswain, too, if you're willing to have conversations with them. And, more importantly - listen to them. I think that's the biggest thing that coxswains want is: they just want to be heard ... and the struggles that they're facing ... and the problems that they're having. They just want someone to listen to them. And even if they don't understand it, as long as someone hears what they're saying and can empathize with that particular hurdle, then maybe they can find some common ground and figure out how to get over it. But if you're not willing to take the time to listen to them, then they're never going to grow. You are actively stunting their growth as a coxswain and that is going to be such a hit to their self esteem that they're not going to want to grow anymore. And I've seen that happen so many times, and it kind of like crushes my soul a little bit every time I'd have that conversation with a coxswain. And I would tell them, "You know, maybe coxing isn't for you and that is ok, but that's a decision that you have to make yourself. Don't let someone else make that decision for you, just because they're not willing to invest the time into helping you figure out what your potential is".
SALLY: As a coxswain, one of the dangerous things is - you don't always know what you don't know.
SALLY: And there were many times in my life - I wish I knew now what I didn't know then, kind of. But how is a developing coxswain ... would you offer advice to help someone treading the waters from where they're going. They really like this, they can sort of dock 33% of the time if the wind is right. They're the second string. How would you recommend they advance?
KAYLEIGH: I think that the biggest thing that they have to do is lean into their curiosity. Like every coxswain is going to come off the water - or they should be coming out the water every day - with a question - that, you know, they didn't know how to do something, or they think they could have done something better, etc, etc. You know, the list is endless. But I think that in order for a coxswain to get better, they have to be curious and they have to not be afraid to ask questions. And I say that - as someone who, like I said earlier, I don't like asking for help. I feel like it's been ingrained in me since I was a little kid ... that you know, I'm a very independent person and I like to discover things on my own ... and both of those things are very true. But sometimes you can't always find the answer on your own. And in those situations where you can't, you have to do a little research on your own. And that's not limited to just going to your coach, you know. There are other coxswains on your team. Maybe they've been in a similar situation and they have an answer for you. And that's where the collaborative part of taking your education into your own hands comes into play. You know, you have to develop that relationship with the other coxswains on your team so that when you come to them, they see you as a teammate that can help them get better by them asking this question - rather than the competition, who's trying to steal all your secrets and steal your seat. So I think developing those relationships with the coxswains on your team and asking questions of each other is one thing. The other thing is, you know, we're kind of like the height of social media right now. You can find coxswains on Instagram from other teams and reach out to them and say, 'Hey, I cox at this team and I have a question', and just ask them, you know. Slide into those DMs and see what they say. Get creative - you know, that's what I've been telling people for the last, you know, eight plus years is - just get creative. Email me. Email, you know, other coxswains.
Send them messages on social media, but start with the people on your team - they are going to be your best resource because they are experiencing. similar things to you everyday ... similar conditions on the water ... similar docking … all that kind of stuff. They are going to know better than anyone else the quirks that you have to deal with. And they might have figured out something on their own, that they're just waiting to share with someone else, you know. So I think talking to the people that are closest to you is step one. And then getting creative and expanding from there is steps two through five.
SALLY: You touched on an interesting point about going to your teammates. Since so much of what we do is unquantifiable, you do have a natural tendency to hold things back and reinforce the silo. How would you recommend coxswains, especially coxswains on the same team be competitive, but also supportive?
KAYLEIGH: That is one of probably one of the most common questions that I would get from kids and I think that it starts by just realizing you are on the same team. You are working towards the same goal. And if your only goal is to get into the 1V and cox the 1V, you're not a good coxswain. Like, I'm sorry - like your priorities are misaligned, and I can glean as much as I need to know about you as a person and you as a coxswain if that's what you say your goal is. So I think that every coxswain has to think about why are they there as an individual. Why are you doing this? But then also realize that at the end of the day, the collective goal is to make the team fast and make the team better and leave the team in a better position than you found it when you graduate. And that happens through, particularly the last point, leaving it in a better position -that happens by having a culture where coxswains aren't afraid of each other, you know. And part of that comes from the older kids on the team reaching out to the younger kids and saying, 'Hey, you're new to the team. Let me show you the ropes. Let me tell you how to dock on our weird dock in the wind, or how to how to navigate this turn on the river in, you know, in a crosswind' - - or something like that. It starts with just putting your hand down and saying, 'Hey, let me help you'. And from there, have regular coxswain meetings. You don't have to, you know, scour the internet and listen to every coxswain recording on YouTube. Like, just get together and have a conversation for 10 minutes before practice and say, 'Hey, yesterday it was really windy and I really struggled with this. What about you guys, you know, did you guys figure out a way to handle the bridge in a tailwind like that?'. You know, whatever. It's little things like that that I think make coxswains comfortable with each other where they feel like they can go and ask questions of not just the coxswains above them, but also the coxswains that are below them - either grade wise, age wise, boat wise, whatever. And from there, you don't have to spill all of your secrets. If you figure out (like) this is how my boat does something the best,
by all means, like, keep it to yourself ... keep something in your pocket to break out when the time comes, but don't be catty about it, you know. Don't be immature and act like you're above everyone else - like, that kind of attitude, I think, is what fosters the idea that coxswains , you know, can't work together and that they're only out for themselves. And that kind of stuff is noticeable to your rowers, and more often times than not, rowers want a coxswain who is collaborative and can work with the other coxswains more than they want one who is only singularly focused on themselves. So I think working together and just talking and having conversation and treating each other like people - and more importantly, like teammates - is how you create an environment where coxswains can feel like they're getting better, while also still maintaining that air of competition when that needs to come out. And subtly, you are kind of competing every single day in more ways than I think coxswains realize ... that, you know, a good coach is paying attention to a lot of things that coxswains, you know, and rowers … they don't realize. But the only time where you kind of really only need to break out your competitive streak is when you're doing pieces or you're actually seat racing or stuff like that. The rest of the time, you should be working together. Because if you're not working together, the likelihood that you're going to have a smooth practice and that you individually are going to get what you need out of that practice and it's going to be effective for you - it's not going to happen.
BREANA: Yeah, I think you're making such good points here, because (like) the culture generates some of these negative phenomena. I guess we could say, like, there's the impression that coxswains should instantly know everything, and always be a source of complete authority. And so you should know the workout, you should never ask a question, and you need to know things at all times and you should fake it if you don't ... and all kinds of
crazy advice that sometimes well-meaning (you know) varsity rowers give to younger coxswains ... or coaches give to coxswains ... and that just leads to that fear of like, well, if I ask a question, I look like I'm not in charge and that, you know, it spirals. And so I appreciate that we've kind of tried to counter that with the conversation here so far. And same thing like - it was really resonating as you talked about interacting positively with other coxswains on your team --- like, think about that practice scenario. Let's say that you have mastered switching pairs in a seven. This is something that like ... I was on a team where we had a lot of sevens in the morning. Some days when rowers didn't show up on a small team, and If you have figured that out (like) and you let other coxswains flail at it, then sure, the rowers will be like - 'Wow, so impressive that she can master that - and everyone else is just a hot mess'. But imagine the alternative ... where you just share that technique with the other coxswains and now, side-by-side with your two sevens that morning, you're having an excellent practice where the coach can focus on other things instead of all the rowers being like, 'I haven't been switched and it's been forever since I rowed'. So there's like nothing to lose, but it can be very scary because this - the sense that there's a ephemeral thing that's intangible, as you said Sally - that coxswains bring to the seat, and theirs in particular ... that sense can really lead coxswains to hold back things that could really elevate the whole team if they shared. And creating that environment of sharing will - exactly as you said, Kayleigh - like, I've borrowed things from much younger coxswains , who had really smart tactics that they used, and I've shamelessly incorporated those into my own racing and practicing. And so if that culture of sharing exists - again for the people who are lucky enough to have coxswains on their team and aren't the only one - or people who want to read things online and participate in the community that way. There's so much to be gained by that sharing for sure.
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, like I told a coxswain (I forget what year it was), but I was coxing a four at Head of the Charles and it was a reunion crew of a four that had won the World Championships in the 90s. And I was so excited to have the chance to talk to these guys. And I was nervous about (like) my race plan, like - "Oh, these are world champions like ... my race plan has got to be on point". And I had been talking to a middle school coxswain that week over email and they had sent you a recording of their practice, and something that they had said just stuck out to me like, "Oh that is - that is really good". And I took it in the boat with me and I used it and we came off the water - we had a fantastic race ... I think we finished fourth maybe ... and got off the water and one of the first things that one of the rowers said was, 'That call that you made at, you know, whatever point in the course was so good'. And immediately, as soon as I had the boat put away my cox box and everything put away, I got on my email and I emailed this 13 year old cox and I was just like, "I just have to let you know that I borrowed this call from you and the 40 plus year old world champion rowers that I just coxed absolutely loved it". And they emailed me back and were just so beside themselves with excitement that, you know, something that they had done was, you know, used in a Head of the Charles race by me and these guys. And
like, that was just such a fun moment for me. And I think that it's also really humbling too that, like, just because you've been in the game for a while doesn't mean you know everything, and that like, your calls are (you know) that much superior to someone who hasn't been coxing for that long. So I think that humbling yourself a little bit is a big part of fostering that environment where you can be collaborative while still being competitive. I think, too, one of the things that I've always told coxswains, is that, you know, if you're afraid to ask for help, that's okay, but it's something that you have to work towards getting over because that's not - as evidenced by you know what I've said - you know, it's something that I still struggle with. But it's not just something I struggle with in rowing ... I struggle with it ,you know, in my day to day life as well.
And I have told coxswains numerous times that - you might think it makes you look bad to ask a question and having that, like - framing it negatively like that in your own head, is one of the things that's holding you back. But if you try to reframe it in a positive way that - 'Oh, asking a question shows that I'm not afraid to admit what I don't know' - that, I think, translates much better like in your own psyche, I guess. And having that attitude and just admitting like, 'Yeah I don't know this, whatever ... I'm trying to figure it out, cut me a break'. Like that, I think, goes so much further in helping coxswains learn and and get over that hurdle of being afraid to ask other people for help. And it might encourage other people to move past it too, and ask questions too, if they see that you - as a 14 year old freshman cox and who's only been on the team for two weeks - isn't afraid to ask questions. Maybe that'll encourage the 18 year old senior 1V coxswain to also, you know, get over that as well.
BREANA: Do you have any tips for a coxswain that isn't getting any coaching and, you know, for the couple of years that they're at their institution,there just is no hope of their coach voluntarily coming across a resource like your blog or our podcast and consuming it? Are there any ways that that coxswain could still advocate for themselves with their coach? So maybe on their own they're reading your blog and they're learning as much as they possibly can .. but is there any way that they could kind of initiate a conversation and maybe help their coach coach them better - 'managing up; as we call that?
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, no, I mean - this is another question I've had a lot with coxswains, both at the high school and collegiate level. Like, it always excited me when I would get an email from a college coxswain and I would see like what (you know) team they were from.And you always kind of have this, I guess, idea that the grass is always greener on the other side. And then I would hear from these college coxswains about how not green the grass was. So it definitely put a lot of things in perspective for me. I think this definitely ties into what I'm sure we'll talk about in a later episode - about, you know, transferable skills., But this is definitely a time where you have to sit down, take a deep breath, and initiate what is likely going to be a very hard conversation. And you first have to figure out what you want. If you feel like you're not being coached, then you have to figure out what specifically you want to be coached in - like, what are you struggling with? You can't just go to your coach and say, "You have to coach me. You have to tell me what to do", because that is so vague and that just sounds like you're complaining instead of you are trying to enact actual change in the relationship. So you've got to sit down first and kind of map out what your goal is. So if you are, you know, trying to eventually work your way up into the 1V or the 2V or whatever boat you're angling for, what skills are needed to be in that boat? And then you got to sit down and assess each of your skills and where you fall, and if there's one area in particular where you are struggling, then first - like I've said before - do the work to educate yourself ... find resources on your own ... read my blog ... email people ... whatever. Make sure you're doing the work first before you go to anyone else and expect them to do the work for you. So that's the first step. From there, the area that you feel like you need help in, or that you need more guidance in, or you want to understand their point of view more .. why? What are the specifics to that and lay it out. Actually write it down and think about each of those things. And then go to your coach and say, 'I want to have a conversation about my performance - my potential - where you see me going - and how we can work better together?' Because there is never a situation where a coxswain is doing everything 100% right. And I know that we like to think that everything we do is right, but there's always areas for us to be improving on. And more than likely, your coach is (like) sitting in the launch griping about something that you're doing and you don't even know about it because they feel like they don't have time to have that conversation with you. So this is your opportunity to ask them, 'How am I doing? Genuinely I want to know what you think of my performance and what areas I could be better in, because these are the areas that I think I'm doing well in, but I know that I'm struggling in this area. And I'm curious if you feel the same'. And maybe they will, and they'll be like, 'Oh, good. I can finally have this conversation with them'. Or you'll realize that you're on different pages and you're seeing different things. And maybe that's the source of whatever friction exists between the two of you, you know. So as you have this conversation with them, you have to stay very level-headed and just keep in mind what your end goal is. Your end goal is to improve your working relationship with them and help them understand what you need from them, while also doing what they need you to do as an athlete. And if you come to them with a specific thing that you want their help with, then that's going to garner you a lot more support than if you just, like I said, walk in and say, 'You need to coach me more'. By showing them that you've done the work and go in and say, 'I've listened to these recordings on Ready all, row and each of them has a section that covers this drill that we're doing, but I'm still struggling with how to execute this drill because my boat just doesn't seem to be getting it… can you help me?' You know, that is going to show your coach that you actually are doing the work off the water to try to figure out how to do this. And now you feel like you're, you're kind of at the end of your rope and you're coming to them and you need help. And your coach needs to recognize the maturity in that, I guess, across the board, you know, because that's a hard thing for people to do, especially coxswains, who are Type A people that don't like asking for help. From there, you know, it's just a matter of not getting frustrated when things don't go your way and instead thinking about: What can I do in this situation to work on whatever issue that I'm struggling with? And then whatever gap there is there between the work that you're doing to get where you need to be and where you need to be - that gap is where you go to your coach and say, 'I need your help. What can I do?' From there, I don't think you need to do anything else, because then the onus is on your coach to figure out how they can help you. You've done the work. You've shown that you are willing to invest your time and your energy to get better - not just to improve yourself as an athlete, but also to make your boat better and make your team better. And if you can clearly show all of the ways that you have done that and are willing to do that and are willing to work with the coaching staff to make those things happen, at bare minimum, your coach should be willing to do the same thing for you. And if they're not, then I think the coach should be (but probably won't be) asking themselves why they're coaching if they're not willing to do that for 5, 6, 7 athletes on their team.
SALLY: Kayleigh, as a kind of like a corollary to that, you're asking, you know, 13 year olds who are a pile of hormones and their frontal lobe isn't fully developed - how would you give them advice to accept the criticism that it is technical and not personal?
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, that's always a struggle at any age. Like, I still struggle with that. I think for younger kids, like, it's just something you just have to repeat to yourself. That, like, when you get on the water, you're a coxswain and that's when the technical part of the job takes over. When you get off the water and you're away from practice, that's when you are you again, basically. And if someone says in a coxswain evaluation that your tone of voice is terrible and your calls **** and they don't want you in your boat - that's a technical critique. There is obviously a nicer way to say that, but that's a technical critique. If they say that you are a person who they don't trust, that's kind of veering into personal critique territory. And so, you have to be able to separate the two and understand the difference between, you know, when someone is critiquing you as a person, which should happen rarely, and when they are critiquing you as a coxswain - which should be the majority. For younger kids, this is one of the major areas where coxswains (I think) are kind of forced to mature a little bit better than their rower counterparts,
because at 12, 13, 14 years old, whenever you start coxing - whether it's middle school or high school - that's a lot to ask of a young kid. And you have to, I think, have a level of self security and awareness and esteem that maybe your peers don't have. And you kind of have to accelerate that development in order to be able to not be personally offended anytime someone tells you that you're not doing something right. That's a skill that, you know, I think a lot of coxswains don't realize they have to develop in order to be not just even a good coxswain ... just an effective coxswain. And that's one of the things that I try to teach kids when I'm working with them, you know, either one-on-one or at camps or over email or whatever, is that: it goes back to coaching the person and building the technical skills on top of that, because if you aren't able to separate the personal critiques from the technical critiques, then me trying to teach you how to steer is never going to be effective - because if I tell you you're doing something wrong, you're going to interpret it personally. And then you're going to be mopey the rest of practice and neither one of us are going to get anything out of it. So there definitely has to be a level of maturity, where you kind of just like sit yourself down and say, 'Okay, I need to understand that when someone says this to me, they're critiquing me as a coxswain. And when they say this to me, then it's personal. And I can deal with that a different day - at a different time - in a different way.' It all comes back to having the self awareness and the maturity to have that conversation with yourself and differentiate between the two things. That's one of the things when I do coxswain evals … this is probably another thing we'll get into in a later episode ... but when I would do coxswain evals at MIT, like, I would go through and I read every single comment that the guys made. And if I felt like something was a personal attack (which happened every so often - it was very rare), but in the times where comments like that did come up, you know, I would go to them and say, "What is this about?" And most of the time it would be like, 'Oh, we did these right after a bad practice and I didn't mean it like that'. So most the time, like, when you see something like that, maybe it's situational and it's just someone taking that opportunity to vent when they really don't mean it that way. And other times, there is some legitimacy to it and it is a sign of an underlying problem that you need to address. But being able to differentiate between all of those things and look at stuff as objectively as possible - it's a hard skill to learn, but if you want to be effective as a coxswain and also preserve your own emotional stamina - you've got to be able to master it sooner rather than later.
BREANA: This is a domain where I think coaches can have a positive impact as well, because we talked in earlier moment about the idea of - in psychology, we might call it a fixed versus a growth mindset - so if you come in with a fixed mindset, you know (this is in the popular culture by now I think) - you're the kind of person who says, well, coxswain are just born that way and you have it - or you don't have it. And therefore, that means I don't have to coach because they already have it. But if you have that mindset as a coach, then you're not going to be able to provide coxswains with effective feedback because you see it as some kind of inherent personality trait that can't be learned or improved. Whereas I would say - if you come at giving feedback or even interpreting rowers feedback related to this point - as a coach you come at it with more of a growth mindset of: any coxswain who's putting in the work and has the budding skills there, can develop their skills with the right training and guidance, then that gives coxswains a lot more hope and a lot more useful feedback. So it feels less like personal attacks and it's more like productive comments on technical changes that they can make. I think a coach can have a big impact in that way. Like, I think a lot of coxswains might feel stuck in a situation where it feels like - 'I have been reading the blogs, and I have been calling drills better because I've looked things up on my own, and I have been making better race plans, and my coach still keeps putting the same person in the 1V. And I feel like my improvement is not being seen at all even though I'm working really hard.' So I'm curious if you have advice for a coxswain who's feeling, you know, unseen despite trying to make all these efforts, maybe because their coach feels, you know, they've just decided that they like this person in the 1V and they're now … you know, their mind is closed to exploring the other coxswains. I think there are people in situations like that.
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, definitely. I think if you ask, you know, 100 coxswains - of varying ages - that same question, I'm sure 99 of them would say that they've encountered that at some point in their career. They're doing all the work and feeling like they're making improvements and they're still not getting any recognition or acknowledgement of their efforts. And I'm sure that they - this has been said by numerous other people and numerous other situations - but I think about this video that I saw of Beyoncé ... and she is talking about how you can do everything right and still fail. And I think that that's kind of what I've always said to coxswains is that: you can do every single thing right ... do everything that you're asked ... everything that you are expected to do ... and still not get the outcome that you want and it *****. It's a gut punch. It's a hit to your self esteem and it can make you question your place in the sport and on your team. That's also one of the harsh lessons that I think we all have to learn at some point in our lives, whether it's in rowing or not - that sometimes stuff is not going to go your way and you can either accept that that is the case, and move on from it and just keep plugging away and doing what you're doing, or you can let it eat away at you. And if you let it eat away at you, then it is going to erode whatever love of the sport you have left, basically. If you feel like you've done everything that you can do and your coach still puts the person who shows up late to practice and never does anything in the 1V and you're stuck in the 2V, that's going to hurt. But they made their decision and you have to be the bigger person. Take a deep breath, accept that that was the decision that was made and then go out and perform the exact same way that you've been doing. You know, go out and have a good practice and execute the way you've been executing and implement, you know, the things that you have been implementing that have made you a better coxswain over the last few practices. Keep doing that, because if you do the alternative and you let it burrow in your brain and start attacking your own self worth over it, then you're going to start resenting coming to practice and being on the water and having to get up at 6:30 in the morning or stay up late at night to finish your homework because you had an afternoon practice. All of these things are going to start building up and eventually you're going to quit because you don't know why you're doing it anymore. And I have been in both of those situations. I empathize and sympathize with both of them because I've been there. When I decided to take a break, I don't think it was a hasty decision. I think I had my reasons for why I wanted to walk away from the sport. But part of it was because I felt like I was doing everything that I could be doing to get better and there is just zero acknowledgement whatsoever. And that - experiencing that on top of already being kind of burned out while also, like, adjusting to to college and everything else - like, I remember thinking like ... there's so many other things that I could be doing with my time. And I don't think that I would have felt that way if I felt like my coaches had acknowledged the work that I was putting in. So for coxswains that feel like they're doing all the work and not getting anywhere - it's a hard position to be in. And I don't think that there is any one right answer that is going to solve that problem. It's all very situational. I mean, I've talked with enough coxswains that have been in that exact situation to realize that, like, there is no one
one answer fits all. So I think that at the end of the day, like I said, you have to decide how you're going to let that decision affect you … if you're going to let it make you stronger and make you a better coxswain and you're so going to show up and keep performing and executing for your teammates .... or are you going to let it have a negative effect on you and make you question why why you're there to begin with. And one of those things is going to make you stronger as a person and the other is just going to make you unhappy. Like I said, I've been in both of those situations and I have let rowing make me unhappy more times than I can count, and I have regretted falling into that trap every single time. And I can look back to numerous situations where I've had the opportunity to let rowing make me unhappy and I veered so far in the opposite direction - said, "No. Not this time". I think that we're not always in the right frame of mind to make that decision so readily. And I think that that's okay. I think that there is a certain vulnerability that you have to allow yourself as a coxswain and that is one of those times, you know, you kind of have to just be okay with not being okay sometimes. But don't let yourself - don't let, you know, your coach's decision to not put you in the 1V (after all of your hard work),
deteriorate whatever self worth you have. It's not worth it. But if you can recognize all of the growth that you have achieved over, you know, whatever period of time, then not only are you going to be able to recognize how strong you are as a coxswain, but you're also going to be able to translate that into how strong you are as an individual human being. That's the small nugget of wisdom that I have garnered over the last 17 years - all bundled up.
BREANA: That's helpful, because when you don't have those 17 years yet ... and it's, you know, it's your junior year and you thought this was going to be your year and you've really tried ... that could be one of your first times experiencing that, so I think it will be very helpful to hear that for coxswains out there.
KAYLEIGH: Anything I can do to help, I am here for.
BREANA: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Kayleigh. We are stoked to have your insight here and we really hope that all of our listeners appreciated hearing the voice behind the blog that you probably have read. So we'll have links in our show notes to all the ways that you can read Kayleigh's work and get in touch with her. And believe it or not, that writing a blog is not even her full time job. So we are eager to have Kayleigh back very soon to talk about her career trajectory and how she went from her college experience - through the coaching ranks - and now has landed a very unique position in the sport of rowing. So if you're really excited about this sport and you're thinking about ways that you could incorporate it into your future that maybe are not the typical trajectory, we hope that you will be excited to hear about that. So again, thank you, Kayleigh! And could you tell our audience where they can find you if they want to get in touch with you?
KAYLEIGH: Yeah, so obviously the first place is the blog - readyallrow.org, My email for the blog is email@example.com. And then Instagram is where I kind of live in the social media world, so you can find me on there it @BeantownKMD. Yes, I used to live in Boston. Can you tell? But yeah, those are all the spots you can find me online.
BREANA: And this is a perfect invitation for any listeners to take the advice Kayleigh gave in this very episode and reach out to her to ask your questions. And reach out to us as well. So, we have social media associated with our podcast and our Slack community, which will all be linked in the show notes as well. So lots of opportunities for coxswains to participate in the conversation and strive for that continuous improvement that's going to make us all faster.
ANNE: Wow, that was a great interview and I'm sorry I missed the chance to talk with another coxswain who has had marching band experience. It's exciting to connect with someone who has been so generous with her knowledge and continues to actively support coxswain development.
SALLY: Kayleigh was incredible. Anne, I really hope you get the opportunity to talk to her again.
For today's Quick Pick, I want to emphasize Breana and her magical technical skills and tell you about a rowing-related escape room she created for all of us rowing and adrenaline junkies who are trapped at home during this Covid epidemic. We're going to send the link to the escape room in the show notes. Please feel free to do it with yourself. Do it with a team. It is incredible, as is our Breana.
BREANA: Well, thank you, Sally. I'm happy to share this resource with the community. It's just something free and fun that I made. I kind of discovered this through the education world and thought it might be fun to create one of these for rowing. It's all completely run via the internet so
ultimately, you know, you can google the answers to everything. And I hope it can serve as something fun that people might choose to do in a virtual team meeting, you know, if you're looking for a safe way to stay connected as a team. So I hope the community gets something out of that - I'd love to hear if you had a good time with it.
And as we also do on our episodes. I want to give a shout out today to Aaron, a coxswain who was an early supporter of this community ... and one of the coxswains that I had the privilege of coaching at the high school where I coached. And Aaron is actually the person responsible for connecting us to Kayleigh. So we are just so grateful, you know. You were just able to listen to the fruit of that connection. So thank you, Aaron, for helping that little piece of coxswain networking happen. And in the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack. We already have some great questions in our Slack community that we are planning to incorporate in an upcoming episode. So keep those questions coming.
We'd also like to thank our earliest Patreon supporters - Wendy, Alan and Liz. And already up on the Patreon, you can find things like behind-the-scenes looks at our graphic design and some fun statistics on where our audience is listening from. It's a very global audience already and we're super excited about that. And you'll also find on the Patreon page an extended cut of a few parts of this conversation with Kayleigh that didn't make it into this episode. And all that is on the Patreon page for as little as $1 a month. So we really want that to be something accessible in case you'd like some extra content from us ... and we are just so excited to bring you more content soon. So until next time, I'm Breana. I'm Sally and I'm Anne - signing off for now.