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028 | Coxswains' Transferable Skills



Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated solely to coxing topics. I’m Anne. I’m Sally. I’m Breana and we're three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. We learn a great deal by sharing with each other and want to foster a community that encourages skills development and discussion. We're happy you're joining us. Today's episode is about transferable skills and we want to start off by defining what these are. Transferable skills are abilities that you can use in a variety of roles so you're transferring them - so to speak - from one job or one activity to another. And here's an example that we hope listeners will be able to relate to: so in school, we all learn math skills but we might apply those skills outside of school when we're baking, for example. So maybe we want to double a recipe and in order to do that, we need to understand how to double each individual ingredient and those ingredients might be measured using different units, for example. Or we might apply our math skills when we're out shopping and maybe we're adding up the price of items that we are purchasing in order to determine if we have enough money with us to pay for that purchase. 


ANNE: Why is CoxPod spending a whole episode talking about transferable skills? We hope to answer that question as we move along in this episode. I feel passionately about this subject in part because I feel that we - as coxswains - gain so many skills in this position that to underutilize them anytime we're out of that seat … it's just a shame because they are vast and they are important and they are - some of them – very, very powerful. I think we need to be careful not to dismiss them and not just say, “Oh, you know, I was in the sport in high school or college” (or wherever it is that you have been having a coxing experience). We just want to say that you can take those skills and apply them in the future - not just in general but in some very specific situations … for example, in a university or a college admission essay or in a job interview or any time that you are trying to shift your position. Those transition times can be very powerful - or any group dynamic that you might find yourself in. While we’re talking at the moment about skills that transfer out, we'd also like to affirm that we bring many skills into the position before we ever sit in the coxswain seat. We're bringing a whole bunch of skills and we hope that you will each recognize those skills in yourself. Yes, they will develop and you'll learn new skills in the coxswain seat but let's not forget that we bring a lot of skills in. So the transference starts from before our coxing world … then our coxing experience … and then outside the coxing experience. So what we would like to do is to talk about what skills we each bring in and then develop and then use on the outside world. Let's talk about transfer both in and out. 


SALLY: As we've stated in previous episodes, we're very, very different people and we each bring unique things based on who we are and what we've learned to coxing. And one of the things that I bring in - whether I want to or not - is that I have attention deficit, hyper active person … Oh. Hey. Look - a squirrel! … what are we talking about? Sorry. So I bring in this hyper active thing to coxing and I use it because I’m able to take in and glean so much information that helps keep me aware and it helps keep me vigilant. The transferring out skills - as Anne so aptly put it - one of the things I really had to build and learn from coxing is patience. I am not a very patient person. I am not designed nor am I inclined to such behavior but I have had to learn patience … especially in grocery store lines where (you know) I could make a couple calls and make it move so much more efficiently and nobody needs to talk to me or touch my stuff or do any of that. But coxing has helped me learn patience and diligence when dealing with that. 


ANNE: That's very interesting in a self-assessment, Sally. My perspective on your transferable skills - focus in on your ability to problem solve. So (you know) what if you had seven port rowers and one starboard and only six oars, broken steering, and probably a roll of duct tape and possibly a safety pin, I still believe that you could make it work. And that ability to problem solve - to take whatever you're given and problem solve and make something out of what looks like complete chaos and disorder - it is a remarkable skill and I think that you brought that capacity into coxing and certainly I’ve seen you display it and strengthen it in coxing. So I just wanted to share my perspective with that. 


SALLY: Thank you, Anne, as I consider you one of the essential tools required to fix most problems. So … 


ANNE: Well, you also utilize people's skills, right? So I now want to share a little bit about what I brought into the coxing position. And I think that something that is fundamental to my enjoyment of the sport and any success that I might have is my musical background. I was trained from a very early age to be a classical musician and play a few instruments and that has informed how I came to love the sport. I adore the sounds of it. I adore the silence when things are going incredibly well and also it's an area where rhythm and tempo matter a lot. So in multiple ways, I’m just giving a few examples of how my musical background came to inform and improve my ability to perform in the seat. And in terms of transferring out from coxing, I know that it has enriched my ability to work in a team environment and for that I’m very, very grateful… and in particular, small teams. I did not have a sport team environment when I was younger and so this has really informed and improved my ability to work within a team environment. I still find it challenging - don't get me wrong - but I would say that's what I take out of it. 


SALLY: So Anne, I need you to buckle up because I’m going to give you what many would perceive as a compliment and what I know you would perceive as lemon juice on a paper cut. Anne, one of the phenomenal transferable skills that I see in you … and that I would like to learn more from you about … is your incredible capacity for empathy. You came into this sport an incredibly generous and kind and nurturing soul. And I have watched you take people who are wrapped around their own axle and emotional wrecks and I have watched you so carefully helping them find the strength to do that which they previously thought impossible. You are so good about how you're able to extract that and that skill and how you apply it … it's a work of art. 


ANNE: Thanks, Sally. I’m very uncomfortable but I do appreciate that thought. So why don't we shift over to Breana? Breana, what do you have to say on the subject? 


BREANA: For my part, one thing that I feel that I brought in to coxing before starting the position is analytical thinking. That comes from my background in the sciences including from when I was growing up having family members in my home who were also grounded in that type of thinking. And that has really informed how I approach technique, for example. Identifying of the eight or four people that are in this boat exactly what is going wrong, who can I direct to make a change to their technique to improve what's happening here, and kind of systematically walking through those corrections to learn myself and identify and hone my own technical eye in the boat. So that's one thing that I brought in. I would say one skill that I feel has transferred out to the rest of my life in a powerful way is really appreciating the value of subtle voice modulation. This was not a skill I had at all when I entered coxing - it would have helped me if I had. But it's a skill that I employ now in a very careful way. But as we've all probably experienced in the coxswain seat, it's a place where we have to command attention. You know, from the moment you call hands-on you need to command the attention of a group of people and one way that we do that is by using our voice. And so, for example, in the outside world if you are about to get up and give a presentation and you need to get a room of people who are chit-chatting beforehand to (kind of) come together to be prepared to listen to this presentation, there's a difference between staring at your feet and saying, “Oh, I’m ready to go if everyone would just stop talking” versus standing up tall and just adding just a tiny bit more volume in a respectful way and just saying, “All right, everybody. We're gonna get started.” And I’ve really seen the power of that ability to use your voice to command a room – again, in a respectful and appropriate way. So that's something that I have taken away from coxing that I find beneficial. 


SALLY: So I think my role in today's thing is just to make people uncomfortable. And I’m going to delight in that so brace yourself, Breana. Another compliment coming. But one of the transferable skills that you have and that I truly, truly admire about you is you have this linear thought process where you can get from ‘a’ to ‘b’ without any deviation or distraction or detail. And I don't get that. I don't get it at all. It doesn't make sense. I can't manage it. But you seem to do it and you seem to do it with compassion. You are probably one of the most moral people I know. There's very little ambiguity. It's either right or wrong. But you are able to follow the rules - but do so with this innate compassion that I find so very rare and very precious. And I don't know how you do … I don't know how you go anywhere in a straight line but the fact that you're able to do so with kindness and compassion and this generosity of spirit is something I truly respect and admire and would like to learn from you. 


BREANA: Thank you, Sally. I appreciate that. 


ANNE: I totally agree, Sally, with your assessment of Breana’s skills in that area. And in part I want to say to our audience the reason that we have taken a few moments here to share our personal thoughts on how we bring items in and also employ them going out is that we want you to broaden (potentially) your perspective of your own skills - what you brought in and what you are taking from the position and bringing out. So we'd love to not only have you think about this personally but share it with us. Get on Slack. Tell us what you consider are some of your transferable skills that you've brought in and what you have gained and that you will employ outside.


BREANA: To expand beyond just our personal experiences, many of you listening might find yourselves … or will someday … at transition points in life. Maybe you're going from high school to university. Maybe from university to a job … from one job to another job … any number of transition points. So we want to approach this from the lens of using your coxing experience to support you and strengthen you in those transitions. 


ANNE: Speaking of that, I have a great example of a fellow coxswain - a friend who actually got a job this way. She recently shared with me that she applied for a job that was a bit beyond her so-called paper experience. She was a little bit under-qualified on paper. However, she got the initial interview and at the initial interview, she brought up her coxing experience. She actually had it on her resume, brought it up, and the interviewer said that the hiring manager had actually been in the rowing world and appreciated the transferable skills of a coxswain. And although there were 30 other candidates for the position, she got moved to position number one, had an interview, and they discussed coxing and the transferable skills that she had - in particular, her ability to organize and motivate people as well as to cope effectively with a variety of different personalities. And the interview went incredibly well. So that is an example - a concrete example - of how this might work for you in your future. 


BREANA: That's a really awesome story and it's not an isolated one, either. I can also share that the whole message of today is: just don't undersell yourself in this experience that you had and that you obtained from coxing. And at a bare minimum, include this as a line on your resume. In my circumstance - as I was applying to PhD programs and going through the interview process … as you're sitting down to interview with a faculty member who might be your future supervisor if you end up getting accepted to that program, they're often looking at a copy of your CV (that's the longer, academic version of a resume) and on mine, I had a note that I had been a coxswain in college. And it turned out that the person I was sitting across from in one of my interviews had also rowed during her time in graduate school. And we were able to connect on that basis and that person ended up being my PhD supervisor for the time that I was in grad school. And we had that connection - that network - built in. So do not be afraid to include this experience. By any means … at a bare minimum … put it on your resume.


ANNE: Absolutely. And let's talk about typical interview questions - whether they be for a job or an academic position of some sort or anything. Let's talk about how we might respond to them from our coxing point of view. One of the questions that's commonly asked is: do you prefer working independently or on a team? 


BREANA: And that's one that's very common and the cool thing is that we can leverage our coxing experience to genuinely give the answer that most employers are seeking with this - which is that we can do both. So you could respond by saying that coxing absolutely contained some very individualized elements where you were doing personal work that is not shared by others. For example, maybe you're studying a course because it's your job and only your job to steer the boat through that particular race course and so that is independent preparation that you need to do. However, during the actual race, you're incorporating that into your work with the team and you are instructing the group of rowers and motivating them and bringing them together to get through this race as successfully as they can …  adapting on the fly for whatever might be going on. So that's a very genuine way to use your coxing experience to answer that question in the way that (again) employers are probably looking for when they ask it - which is to say that you can do both things. 


ANNE: Two other common interview questions that you might want to consider are: how do you deal with pressure or stressful situations and when you're balancing multiple projects how do you keep yourself organized?


BREANA: Another place - in addition to job interviews where you might draw upon your coxing skills - is in applications for a college or university. And as just one example of how you might do that, we have pulled a question from this year's common app - which in the United States is a college application system where you can submit one single application that goes to many potential colleges or universities. And the very first question that was an option for students to answer this year was this one: ‘Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.’ And that for sure is a clear bead in for wrapping up what we're talking about here in a really meaningful way that's accessible to someone who won't necessarily be a rower and taking advantage of (again) the experience that you may have spent multiple years of high school working towards to answer this potential question. So to continue to illustrate this, we wanted to draw upon what is called the employability skills framework. And this is a project of the United States Department of Education where the goal was to identify (really) exactly what we're talking about here - these transferable skills that many employers are seeking - and kind of codifying that. And what we want to do is draw upon some of those. We're just going to select a subset of these different skills and guide our listeners here as far as how you could connect your coxing to those particular skills and talk about how coxing helped you develop that skill and how coxing can be an example to illustrate how you put that skill into practice … which is (again) what employers are seeking is the idea here. So you can follow along with us. We will link - in our show notes at - to various resources and pdfs and things provided that walk you through this employability skills framework so that you can take advantage of the whole framework yourself as well. 


SALLY: And true to Breana's nature, she will methodically, carefully, but artfully follow a linear progression as we march down the page. 


BREANA: I don't know any other way. 


ANNE: Yeah. She does not. So Breana, as I took a look at the framework, I believe there are nine domains. So we are going to articulate what those domains are and then give you a couple of examples. So again, this is intended to be kind of a guide - a trigger - for folks to think about how they might use their coxing experience moving forward. So the first domain is called Applied Knowledge. 


BREANA: Yeah and this includes reading, writing, math skills - all the typical things that we might study in school. The one that we're going to highlight for this domain is: an employee can use scientific principles and procedures. And like I alluded to in my own personal example earlier, this is exactly what we do as coxswains. If you are in a situation where you're trying to figure out: Okay, the boat is offset. What could I say to correct that? How can I identify the problem? And one way that you can approach that is to methodically go through a list of potential corrections - changing one variable at a time exactly as we would learn to do in scientific procedures - and observing which one of those makes a difference in the set. And then you might know for next time: okay, the next time I feel the set get off maybe I can look for this thing and more quickly identify it, more quickly make a correction, and improve the boat even faster. So that is one actionable way in which scientific principles and procedures can be applied as a coxswain. 


ANNE: So the second domain that we were going to talk about is Critical Thinking. Sally ,you want to take this one? 


SALLY: Critical thinking is so important. It's one of the things that can make or break a person … can make a break a situation. As a history geek, I was taught to look at and read and think critically. It helps you evaluate the situation and evaluate all outcomes. I am a huge believer that coxing will strengthen your critical thinking. You all know that I am passionate about Head of the Charles and in situations at Head of the Charles - when you have all the pressure of all the crews coming at you - sometimes I have to make a quick and sound decision. Do I take the longer course around a crew or do I take the shorter course and risk involvement or an entanglement with a crew? How do I keep the course short but I keep the boat speed up because nothing's worse than stopping in the middle of a race because you got entangled with oars. Coxing has allowed me to hone that quick, fast decision-making where I’m actually evaluating the cost-benefit analysis of going around that slower crew versus trying to hug in tight to that line. 


ANNE: Terrific example, Sally. I'd like to move to the next domain which is Resource Management - defined as skills that enable employees to perform their work by managing time and other resources. I’m going to just say … if that doesn't sound like a coxswain, I don't know what does. So thanks to the US government for putting this series of nine domains together because we fit right in there, right? 


BREANA: Absolutely. And I think of time management as taking two forms - there's managing your time … doing a pretty intensive sport on top of your regular life whether it's as a student or as an employee … that is something not to be undervalued. And there's also managing time within a practice. We've talked before about the importance of (you know) - if you say that you're getting back on the dock at a particular time, part of your responsibility as the coxswain is to help manage the coach … which is a challenge in itself … a real skill to manage up to a person in authority. And you might have to tell that coach, “I know you want to run another drill but we need to turn around or we won't make it back to the dock in time and people need to get back because they have other obligations that they need to get to”. And so within a practice even, you are managing time effectively as well as that broader level of managing time within your life … in addition to doing this sport.


SALLY: The next section is the Use of Information as a skill. How do you locate it? How do you organize it so that it can be drawn upon quickly? How do we analyze information and then how do we communicate this information? What do people need to know? What should you hold back because that is too much information …. it's going to send them on an intellectual spiral from which there is no recovering? This information use skill - I think - is as endemic to what is being a coxswain as resource management. We do all these things and we've talked about them indirectly in our race episodes. Again, when I’m running up to the start, I am absorbing all this information. How much of it is useful? We don't need to tell my crew that the house we're passing just got new windows, right? I’m not going to pass that information on. 


ANNE: Only you, Sally, would notice things like that and you do on the way up to the start … we've already confirmed that. 


BREANA: And if you've listened to those race episodes, you'll also know that I am all about the race packet and all of the information that can be gleaned from that. There's no better illustration of how you - as a coxswain - have learned to put information to use than taking advantage of what you can find in that race packet to inform you about what the course looks like, what policies and procedures are, etc. So that's another way in which we use information as coxswains to do our job which transfers to other places where we need to do that. 


ANNE: I’m delighted that even on an episode that seems a little oblique to traditional coxing conversations, that Breana was able to get the race packet in there because yes, in quite a few of our conversations, she has pointed us all to the race packet (and so have I). So there she got the race packet in and Sally got her scanning the environment and all the factors that go into the start of a race. So I’m feeling good about this episode so far. We're going to move along to the next domain which is: (drum roll) Communication Skills. And we've already talked in some of our other examples related to the domains, the importance of communication skills … how being a coxswain can hone and improve those skills. In particular - being clear, being precise, being as articulate as possible in your communications can only benefit you as a potential employee and to give that as some examples of your abilities in that arena as you apply for a job.


SALLY: Another one of the components that was listed was Systems Thinking skills which is something where you are understanding how work is done: the relationships, process, and the procedures. So you're looking at things not just locally but globally across the entire rowing ecosystem or professional ecosystem. You know as a coxswain, one teeny, tiny, small change - be it emotional or physical or technical - can be a catalyst to reshape an entire practice. If you can understand that … if you can put that small change into a bigger picture … the possibilities of what can be done are incredible.


ANNE: Another way that I think of systems thinking and relating to my position as a coxswain, is thinking about rowing as a really complex system all in itself. So it happens at the very small, local level - like if you're in an 8, within a pair of rowers. It happens when you look at the individual boat performance and then the team as a whole and how in our roles as a coxswain, it benefits us to understand all (sort of like) the nesting dolls … the different levels and sizes of this complex system that we call rowing.


BREANA: The next domain we want to talk about is Technology Use skills and this is absolutely something that coxing gives us as well. We use technology in the boat - whether it's a cox box or a speed coach or some kind of equivalent device - and that contains a lot of data that we are taking advantage of and we have to learn how to use that technology. And then also even off the water, I learned so much about spreadsheets and data management and things like that from winter training when we spend several months off the water. And the coxswains might be responsible for maintaining all that information about erg scores, the amount that people are lifting in the weight room - don't undersell that either. There's so much that is learned as far as technology use in the coxing role and a lot of those things can transfer to other jobs as well. 


SALLY: One of my jobs previously - I was working excessively with Excel and I wouldn't believe how many of the skills that I used recording dates and weights and workout times transferred almost seamlessly into my professional thing where I was recording other things in the Excel columns. Another one of the points that was listed was Interpersonal skills. Again, we did an entire episode on this but interpersonal skills is so critical in your personal and professional life to help you collaborate when it's appropriate … to work independently … how to communicate all these things that are just endemic to coxing are so critical in your grown-up, professional outside world. It ties in so seamlessly. 


ANNE: And some other examples of that are: understanding teamwork, conflict negotiation or resolution or reduction - which we do quite a bit of, right? And also respecting individual differences. I think – who but a coxswain can totally understand the different capacities and abilities of our various rowers … as well as coaches … and sift through that to optimize the outcome regardless of what that is. I think we do that (just) almost second nature as we move through our coxswain career, right? 


SALLY: And things like this are so undervalued. When your interpersonal skills are working seamlessly, you seldom pause and reflect on what it took to get you there. So y'all are doing this largely without even knowing. And we're taking the time to recognize that. 


ANNE: That's it. And the goal of our conversation today is to help shine a light on that and have us each think a little more deeply about how those skills that we often take for granted … those experiences that we just shrug off … we can reflect on them and articulate them when it's needed to our benefit.


BREANA: And the final domain that we're going to cover in this Employability Skills Framework – again, a list of qualities that cut across different disciplines and jobs and things that might make a person ready for employment or even for college - the final domain is Personal Qualities. And the framework describes these as things including self-discipline, responsibility, flexibility, integrity, initiative, a sense of professionalism and self-worth, willingness to learn, and acceptance of responsibility for one's own personal growth. And all of those - I imagine - can stimulate our thinking as to what we have learned in the coxswain seat. I’ll take one to highlight as an example. Flexibility and adaptability - that is something that we have talked about every time that we've talked about racing, for example. You might go in with a race plan - of course you've planned … that's part of it. We have always said, however, that a truly skilled coxswain who is coxing at a high level is one who can adapt that race plan as needed on the fly based on what is unfolding just in the way that in a work environment, you might need to adapt based on various external circumstances to still ensure the most success that you possibly can. So adaptability and flexibility is a huge skill that coxswains take away from the seat. 


SALLY: One of the things that I think is incredibly critical and rarely talked about is the sense of self-worth. As coxswains … especially novice coxswains … the greatest thing that you bring to that seat is you and figuring out who you are and what you're about and what matters to you. I mean, I would never have learned your compassionate morality, Breana, unless I had encountered you as a coxswain and kind of screwed up a few times. And I would never have understood the depth of Anne's compassion and empathy unless I truly needed comforting on the day that I really screwed up Breana. But finding out who you are and your experiences and what you're made of and what you like and what you bring to the seat is so often overlooked in favor of being able to count or being able to dock. And all that is important but who you are and what you bring is the most undervalued but the most critical skill. And coxing is a means of figuring that out.


BREANA: Absolutely. That's a really powerful thought for us to conclude on. And hopefully everyone listening takes a moment to appreciate how much you have learned about yourself through this experience. The good things, the bad things, things that need work ,things that you're already strong at, things that you have strengthened yourself at. It is extremely valuable. I really attribute a lot of value to what I’ve been able to learn about myself and not everyone has a crucible like rowing that gives them that opportunity so it's really something special. What we really hope that you've taken away from this episode is that your skills as a coxswain are not limited just to what you can learn in that seat. It's really valuable to recognize what we already bring to that seat before we even sit in it for the very first time and those skills might come from other domains. We opened by sharing some examples from our own lives - not a comprehensive list at all - so again, we would love to hear from you … what your experiences are that informed your skills in the coxswain seat. And then absolutely a major focus of this episode has been the skills that coxing gives all of us that we can then apply to our outside lives whether (again) that's an academic setting or an employment setting or even our personal lives. And we've tried to really lift up some examples of those skills and abilities and encourage you to reflect on how those can be applied. And we really hope you celebrate those things … you feel empowered to articulate those skills and to apply them outside of the coxswain seat. You know, we can really undersell ourselves by reducing our coxing experience - be it four years or 40 years – to, “Oh. I’m the smallest person on the team. I don't really row or what I do is kind of weird. I just kind of sit there and I move my hands and steer and I yell some stuff.” Instead, we can take some time before one of these transition points in life and really reflect on what we have gained from this time in the seat and transform that into something a lot more powerful that shows who we are as people and what we bring to other domains of life that we gleaned from coxing. We really hope that that inspires people to draw upon these experiences and apply them to your outside life. And we'd love to hear any success stories of how you've done that. 


ANNE: Absolutely. I would love to read and learn from our listeners about takeaways from this episode. And I would like to add before we close that whether or not each listener continues in the coxswain seat and/or in the sport in some way in the future … wherever their path may take them … no matter what - whether you stay in the sport or you drop it the minute you are out of school, please remember that rowing brings you into a community that endures way past the time that you are in this sport. It can be a point of personal and/or professional connection in your future. So please do not forget that as you move onward with your life.


SALLY: I agree with you, Anne. There's definitely a community and family that comes with rowing if you've done it for three weeks or 30 years. 


BREANA: Agreed. We typically end our episodes with a Quick Pick and a Shout Out. And for today's Quick Pick, we want to begin by pointing you towards this one-page pdf of the Employability Skills Framework that we were talking through. You can do some personal reflection on all of the things that are encompassed in there. It's very comprehensive and we'll link to (again) that particular one-page pdf and a variety of other things in our show notes which again, you can find at


ANNE: I think that'll be very helpful, Breana and people should be aware that the domains that we discussed that are in that Employability Skills Framework can also relate to college applications or school applications so it doesn't have to be just a job-related support for you. Let's now move on to the Shout Out. We talked amongst ourselves and we decided that we wanted to Shout Out today to the people who taught us how to cox and gave us the opportunity to sit in the seat and to gain those skills. So that is our Shout Out - thank you very, very much! 


SALLY: We didn't get where we were unless people with greater skill and patience than I will ever have took the time to reach back and help. There aren't words because they have given me a life and a purpose I wouldn't have had otherwise. 


BREANA: I agree. I can't imagine who I'd be without this sport now so I’m so grateful to the people who got me started. 


ANNE: I hope it's clear that I feel the same way. 


SALLY: And on this, we should mark the fact that the three of us are in absolute and furious agreement for one of the most rare times ever. 


ANNE: Yes. Over a very important topic so there you go. We are concluding this episode now and want to thank you for listening. If you like what we're doing, please consider financially supporting us on Patreon. We are excited to bring you more content soon and until next time, I’m Anne. I’m Sally. And I’m Breana - signing off for now.

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