032 | Stroke Seat & Coxswain Partnership
Before we get into Episode 32, we have an update we'd like to share with all of our listeners. Sally has chosen to step away from CoxPod but you can still learn from the insights she shared on our first two years of episodes. We thank Sally for her many contributions. And now - we thank you for joining us as we kick off year three.
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast dedicated to coxing topics. I'm Breana and I'm Anne. We're experienced coxswains who continue to learn a great deal by sharing with each other. And our primary goal is to promote ongoing skills development. We're happy you're joining us.
ANNE: Today's episode is about the stroke seat - coxswain partnership. Whether you're face to face in a stern loader or separated by other rowers in a bow loader, this partnership between the two of you can have a powerful effect on the crew’s performance. As a matter of fact, I actually got my start in coxing as a result of a stroke seat who approached me at my club and recruited me to be a coxswain and did all of my initial training while stroking a powerful men's eight. I'm not sure how he did that but he exhibited great skills and a lot of generosity to me. And a month later, I was racing with that crew and the rest is history as they say. So I want to give a shout out to that stroke seat who had the patience and the persistence and the skills to enable me to be a coxswain.
BRERANA: And that's such a perfect example of how important and powerful that stroke seat - coxswain relationship can be. It can be the pipeline through which a person gets a new, lifelong activity and that is such an awesome story. The reality is every single boat that we are in contains this partnership. No matter what, it's something that you're going to have to face - literally as you sit just inches away from someone in the case of a stern loader.
ANNE: There is a lot to unpack here. So let's start talking about the nuts and bolts of this relationship and how we can ultimately develop it into an effective partnership because that is a key aspect of having our boats be more effective, efficient, and faster. Let's start off with the fact that there is a wide variety of circumstances under which the stroke seat can be identified like who … who is that stroke seat? Who is that person, right?
BREANA: Absolutely. You might be on a team where many of the rowers are new and so maybe the stroke seat is changing constantly as the coach rotates people through that seat trying to figure out who's going to fit best in that role. That might be one scenario you find yourself in.
ANNE: I've been at regattas where I actually don't meet the stroke seat or the crew until just a few minutes before we put hands on and get ready to launch. Sometimes we might have had one prior practice but I might walk in and we might be introduced to each other right then and there. And that's a whole different situation unto itself.
BREANA: And even in the situation where maybe there is more apparent stability of who is in the stroke seat in your lineup from day to day, that person could be sick on a given day and someone new might be in that spot or they might have been replaced for whatever reason and there might be tension in the team environment. So there can be those kinds of dynamics as well that we're navigating.
ANNE: This - as usual - requires us to be very agile and able to adjust and adapt to whatever the situation is and this is no exception. So whether the person has been just newly installed in that seat or whether you have a long-standing relationship, it's something that will require us to be thoughtful about how we approach it. I wanted to talk for just a moment about that long-standing situation. I want to say that I have been very fortunate in that I've been in some boats where the stroke seat and I have been together for almost a decade … maybe more. And it's just such an awesome experience when you have that long-term relationship with someone that you have built a positive partnership with. It means that I can put my energies in the boat - my talents and my expertise - to other areas of the boat. I don't have to expend as much energy developing that relationship because it's already forged. We already trust each other. We have some quick ways of communicating with one another. So I have been able to enjoy that situation. I hope all of you get that if you haven't had it yet. It's a very special, special thing.
BREANA: On the opposite end of that spectrum, we might have a really inexperienced stroke seat. And one thing that they might ask you that's a completely valid consideration is where they should be looking. And if they don't overtly ask you, you might get a sense that they are pretty uncomfortable with that literal face-to-face dynamic. You know, I'm facing forward … doing my job … watching blade work … watching our point … looking for obstacles on the river … and I will give stroke seats sometimes the guidance that in the past, other stroke seats have found a dynamic of kind of looking over my shoulder and just staring off into the distance. And they find that comforting so it can be helpful with a new person who might be uncomfortable, to acknowledge up front and give them some options of where to physically look since you guys have to be face to face for the entire row.
ANNE: I experience that frequently as I'm coxing a learn to row group, for instance. I think it is very helpful to give them suggestions. Generally I sort of point to the middle of my forehead - where people might say there's sort of that third eye - I point to the forehead and I say, “You know, I know this is kind of weird but if you keep watching this spot on my forehead, your eyes will be in the right spot. And you keep your head up and things will go well.” And I also make a specific effort to reassure them - since I'm the more experienced person in this situation - that we are in this together. That I am there to support them. I'm going to be partnering with them and we will get through this together. And I thank them for having the courage to sit in that seat because it's not easy.
BREANA: It really is a very challenging seat to occupy in the boat regardless of that rower's level of experience. There is this degree of expectation and pressure that other rowers and other seats in the boat … the coach may be putting on that person or that person is putting on themselves and if we, as coxswains, can respect and empathize with the pressure that can come with that situation, we can be on our way to building a strong partnership between ourselves and our stroke seat.
ANNE: I agree completely. Respecting the expectations and pressure that come with being in that seat is foundational to my forging an effective partnership. That is the key element that drives my behavior. Taking them wherever they are and supporting them for the betterment of the crew. So there are definitely stereotypes out there about typical personalities of the rower who sits in the stroke seat and by the way, also coxswains. Do you have a comment about that, Breana, and how that might fit in here?
BREANA: Yeah. Those always crack me up. You know … those portrayals of … this is every seat imagined as a dog breed or something like that. And of course the coxswain is a small, yapping one and the stroke seat is a big, strong, in control, level-headed sort of imagined breed of dog in this example. And it's important to acknowledge that all of us are potentially approaching this interaction with those stereotypes in the back of our minds. Sometimes those stereotypes play out in the personalities in the boat but stroke seats can have other types of personalities as well. As opposed to being that super proud, super in control, super confident - maybe sometimes over confident person - a stroke seat might be absolutely terrified that they're going to be in that seat that day. They might feel extremely anxious under the weight of all of that pressure. And it's really helpful for us to acknowledge that even though we may enter this situation with these stereotypes about each other, all sorts of personalities may step into that stroke seat.
ANNE: Which requires us to be even more intentional and thoughtful about how we interact right from the get-go. And yes, I know that most of us have experienced the full range of those stroke seat personalities and we will continue to because that's part of being on a team. And that specific relationship is just so pivotal. So what do you think are ways that we can foster that relationship regardless of whether the person might be overconfident or they might be that anxious personality?
BREANA For me, it really starts on land. If you have the opportunity to be around while - for example - the coach is reading out the lineup or maybe it's an email sent the night before, that's the way that you learn who is going to be in that stroke seat role. And right then you can start taking signals from that person to establish how they're feeling about their placement, particularly if that was unexpected. Maybe that person even approaches you or maybe you're just reading body language. I particularly am taking note if they seem nervous about stepping in to that role. So that is one thing that we can do before any of us even get hands-on … is start to glean that information about how that person's feeling.
ANNE: I also take time to assess that on land the minute I arrive at the boathouse or at the regatta or as soon as I meet that stroke seat - trying to pull together an assessment in my mind of where they are … asking them directly sometimes … observing their non-verbal behavior. It will help to direct how I'm going to interact with that individual. I find that at a race scenario where I'm meeting the stroke seat and the crew for the first time - as I mentioned before - right before a race then generally my approach is to have a conversation as much as I can with that stroke seat. And I'm going to take a lot more direction from the stroke seat than I might in a regular team scenario. For instance, I will ask the stroke seat, “The crew that you're racing with … we're racing with today … do you know each other? Have you already discussed amongst yourselves how you'd like to have the start?” (for example) of a sprint race … thereby assessing what level of leadership that stroke seat is going to provide. Are they going to be able to speak for the boat as a whole and so I just need to focus on that one little relationship until we get on the water and then we're on the water, that stroke seat is going to convey to me what they want implemented? So those are some of the thoughts that go through my mind. But I - generally speaking - not acquiesce but I relinquish some of the leadership skills that I have in terms of boat dynamics to the stroke seat and trust them to really represent the team as a whole.
BREANA: And regardless of the dynamic, I think one very small thing … but it can go a long way … is taking a moment to learn that stroke seat’s name. I like to - if we're new to each - other introduce myself, make sure that they can hear my name, and then also if I'm going to learn anyone's name in the crew … even in the most dire of situations like hopping into a boat on the dock whose coxswain didn't show up and they're late for their race … even in that situation, the one priority I'll make is to learn stroke seat's name and hear them pronounce their own name and try to make sure that I get that right so that we can have that little, instant bit of rapport as we interact together.
ANNE: And as we're getting into the boat on the dock … let's talk about that moment of getting in and well - being face to face literally. What happens then?
BREANA: It really is a special and unique moment. You kind of both sit down in your respective seats and then there you are - across from each other - and that is also a time for you to start building that rapport with this person and establishing that you two are in a partnership that's going to ideally improve and strengthen this boat as it goes through its practice or its race. That's also a place where you can take the information that you gleaned earlier about what type of person this stroke seat might be and use that. So for example, if I have that person that I think is really nervous but maybe afraid to say that or show that, I might just give them a little smile you know. Nothing overt but just a little, non-verbal gesture to show them like, ‘Yeah. We're in this together. We've got each other's backs and we're gonna have a good practice hopefully’.
ANNE: Yeah. And I do something similar. If I know the stroke seat, I'll get in - and this will be off mic - I just say (you know), “How was your night last night?” How’d you sleep last night? How are you today? Boy, it's cold out.” I'll do some kind of very, very brief check-in. Whatever you have found out from prior experience matters or just a way of having a common thread between you just to get off the dock in a positive way. And even if I do know them, before we leave the dock, I will say to them - in one way or another – “I need you to be informing me about what's going on behind us. I'll be checking in with you about things that tell me whether we're safe or not to make a turn or a stop.” And then I confirm with them that they understand that's the expectation - they are the eyes behind us. I mean, yes, can we swivel around and look at what's going on behind us? Absolutely. Should that be the only way or primary way that we find out what's going on behind us, I think not. And you can really count on a good stroke seat to let you know what's happening … what's coming on particularly in a racing scenario but not exclusively. So it becomes a very important efficiency and safety aspect of that relationship. I could not do what I do in the coxswain seat without that relationship. It would just be a totally different kind of experience and I would be distracted by a lot of other things. This way - with a trust level and vocabulary - we can work more efficiently together. And it's quite a precious thing. It's a very sacred kind of experience in my view.
BREANA: And we can help stroke seat understand the importance of this aspect of their role through on land conversations, through that moment before we shove on the dock. It might take a little bit of training - so to speak- to help them understand what you would personally like as well. I've had stroke seats who say, “There's an eight behind us they're about 10 lengths off but they're back there.” And I'm (like), “Well okay. I don't need to know yet but why don't you tell me when they're within two lengths.” They might need a little help in knowing exactly what kind of information you would like. And if you notice through your practices together or even worse - through a race scenario - that they aren't taking on that capacity and you have done that coaching with them, you still have to take on that safety responsibility. So I have had races where I know from practice experience that that stroke seat just isn't going to take on that role and it is less pleasant … as Anne mentioned … it adds extra stress and responsibilities for us but for our safety and not getting disqualified in the race, I've had to take those responsibilities on sometimes and spend more time looking around if I know stroke seat in that particular setting and moment is not going to be able to be my partner in that, unfortunately.
ANNE: Right. And to transition just for a moment to the situation in a bow loader … yes, as we have discussed several times before, some of that responsibility is laid on the bow seat when you're in a bow loader. However, I personally have a specific role for the stroke seat safety-wise which is if a boat is coming up behind us and it's a safety concern, you are the person that is empowered to do whatever you need to do verbally to stop them and make sure that everyone is safe. So I count on that stroke seat to prevent anybody from hitting us in the stern
BREANA: We have spoken in more detail about bow loaders in some of our earlier episodes on CoxPod. You can check out Episode 004 and Episode 006. We spoke about that communication between bow seat and ourselves as the coxswain and how we can use that to make sure that we have a safe and effective row. So we would point folks towards those two episodes if you want to hear a little bit more about that relationship in a bow loader specifically.
ANNE: Well, we're on the dock and generally having an off mic conversation with a stroke seat. We push off from the dock and now let's talk about during the row. How can we foster that partnership?
BREANA: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about that is am I going to have a conversation with stroke seat on or off the microphone. That's the only person - when we're in the boat - that I could communicate with off the mic. So that's always a decision that I am reflecting on. I will say one important thing to note … that it took me longer than it should have to know as a coxswain is that conversations that you have with the stroke seat can be picked up on the mic and can be heard throughout the boat. So if you want to have a private conversation with that person, you have to truly cover the mic. I take the pad of my thumb and fully seal it against the microphone so that sound is not getting conveyed. That is really key if you want to communicate privately with stroke seat. And I've even had stroke seats who (kind of) noticed that pattern in me and if they wanted to communicate something to me but not the whole boat, they would signal this little hand signal of me covering the mic and then they would say what they wanted to say. So that's also a little preview into the kinds of non-verbal signals that we might develop with stroke seats as we spend more time together.
ANNE: Speaking of nonverbal signals, I'm sitting here and I'm nodding my head in agreement that this is a lesson sometimes learned the painful way. So please - pay attention to this and the right technique. And I think that's great that you've had a stroke seat that will give you that little indication to cover the mic. That's somebody who's very experienced and may also have had a negative experience with some information being transmitted all the way down the boat. So let's talk about some times when we might opt to be on mic as opposed to off mic. And when I think about on mic to foster that relationship … during a race, for instance, I might comment to the whole boat something that the stroke seat is doing really well … like holding the rate. And because it's a race scenario, I sort of use verbal shorthand and I might say the person's name and say, “Great rate shift. Stay on that”. And that conveys to the crew - I hope - that that stroke seat led us to a beautiful rate shift. They followed and that's where we need to be. So I'd like to acknowledge those positive things that they can continue to build on during a race.
BREANA: When it comes to a scenario where we might communicate off the mic with our stroke seat, I might do that - for example - in between pieces at a practice. I might have kind of a one-on-one with stroke seat about how that piece went, for example. “How did we do at the rate shift that was in the middle of the piece? Did you feel like there was still power behind you from the other rowers towards the end of the piece?” Then we can have the opportunity to implement that conversation and what we learned from it before the next piece. So that's something where I might cover the mic and have that conversation. That also serves to emphasize to that person we are in this partnership to make this row as strong as it can be and here's us conversing about how we can do that.
ANNE: I like that example. I have another one which is - it might be in the middle of a race and it's a stroke seat that I've become very well acquainted with and we've had a prior conversation about the fact that they prefer to have a reminder. So I might go off mic and I might just look at them and say, “Breathe” … whatever it is that they asked me to remind them about. And I found that that has been very effective in building that rapport over time.
BREANA: And in that race scenario, something that we can spend our time together with the stroke seat establishing beforehand - if you have the opportunity to be in your lineup together a lot - you might get to the point of establishing kind of a shorthand between you where of course, the stroke seat does not have time to elaborate entire sentences while they're in the middle of an intense race. So a really cool place that you can get to together is this place where you're communicating almost non-verbally or through some kind of verbal shorthand where for example, the stroke seat might just kind of choke out, “Rush” and that's their way of communicating to you that they're being rushed. And you can make a call to improve that for the betterment of the whole boat. Whereas you might build that slowly during practice by them saying, “Hey, I actually felt a little bit of rush in that piece, you know. This is how I'm going to communicate that with you more quickly.” A moment that I always really enjoy are times when - maybe after a race - a stroke seat will say to me, “I felt the ratio start to get bad and that's right when you called it”. And I love knowing that we are in sync together like that. And that might come across again non-verbally. They might give a little nod that tells me that was the right call. I really enjoy that partnership that we can have in those moments.
ANNE: I've also had that experience where the stroke seat even just might smile. I make a call and the stroke seat just smiles at me and (like) sometimes that little nod, Breana, that you're talking about. And that also for me is very much a positive reinforcement and secondarily continues to build that relationship. You know … that we are working together and that we're building trust and they can see that I'm competent and I can see that they feel the changes that are being made for the better. I also have talked in a prior episode - but would like to mention again - that sometimes the shorthand feature of having a relationship that's built over time is that I can actually provide for my stroke seat a hand gesture that we have come to agree upon means a particular thing. In this case, keeping the hands nice and level going up to the catch … not diving. So I just make a very quick hand motion and the stroke seat knows that that's what I'm asking non-verbally of them. The rest of the boat doesn't need to know that that's going on and it seems to be very effective and appreciated. I'm supporting them in being their best self. It’s kind of a side note about this relationship and the physical proximity of the stroke seat and the coxswain - I sometimes think about the fact that I can see everything that's going on with them and remembering that they can also see everything that's going on with me … particularly my face. I do not have a face that can play poker in any way, shape, or form and so I want to thank all the stroke seats that have sat across from me and watched my face contort and … also smile sometimes … laugh sometimes … look frustrated sometimes … look excited … all those feelings and intense reactions that I show on my face - see -very kindly have kept that to themselves. And I very much appreciate it. It's kind of like I'm hoping that this is a safe space where I can be myself and they're not going to go around saying, “Wow, if you'd only seen the look on Anne's face just now.” True fact, however, that once or twice my stroke seat has said that but it is a way of bringing the whole crew together and they laugh about it and so do I. But for the most part, I rely on that stroke seat to keep that confidential because it's got to be quite a sight.
BREANA: We do see each other in our brightest and darkest moments. I'm thinking of a stroke seat who, after a race where my coxbox had gone out in a head race situation and I was frantically trying to get it to reconnect in any way shape or form – afterwards, the stroke seat came up to me on land and just said, “The panic that was spreading across your face”. And I was like, “Yep. That was just a moment between the two of us and we got through it”. So I can absolutely relate to that and that is a really important thing and we thank our stroke seats who recognize that and treat it appropriately.
ANNE: Mm-hmm. One of the common themes here in our conversation has been the importance of doing our best to understand the stroke seat’s personality type … by the way … as well as our own, right? This is a bi-directional situation. But if you have skills at assessing their personality and where they are on that particular day - as we mentioned, starting with on land and then (you know) down at the dock getting into the seat and then during a practice or during a race - it pays to build that skill set. And let's talk about the different personalities that might be exhibited by the person in that seat.
BREANA: So for the anxious, trepidatious, stroke seat who might feel that they're not even worthy of being put there, maybe it's going through their head … ‘oh, the coach must be trying to make me look bad on purpose’ or ‘what were they thinking … I couldn't possibly do well in this seat’ - one of the ways that I try to support that person is by: on the mic, highlighting things that they are doing well. You gotta strike a good balance here. You don't want to be ingratiating but I might say, for example, “All right (stroke seat … you know, referring to them by name for the crew) is holding the rate exactly where we're supposed to be for this piece or this race. They're doing a fantastic job. They settled into that rate right away. They're super quick to the water at the catch exactly as our coach has been working with us on today.” Hold them up as a model of a good example of a rowing stroke, a good execution of a race plan or a practice plan in the eyes of the crew so that they can have that little bit of authentic confidence boost. You can seek something truthful that they are doing. You don't have to invent something. And if you are honest about that then they will hopefully get a little bit of a boost from being recognized in that way. I might also lift them up in their role as a leader by reminding the boat to follow them whether it's to get our rate correct, whether it's some other technical element like the timing of squaring up the blade. I might lift them up as an example and then say, “I'd like to see the rest of us supporting them and backing them up and matching them in this.” That can be a way to help that anxious person feel a little more confident in their role.
ANNE: I think those suggestions work well regardless of whether it's a short term - a one row and then you're done with that relationship - or whether it's a long-term, ongoing one. Don't we all need an opportunity to find that skill that we do well and build on that? And in this case with a stroke seat, articulating that for the crew and giving them a focus piece, too. Because everyone benefits. When the stroke seat is confident and doing the best that they can, everyone does benefit. And it's part of our job as coxswains - I believe - to make the row the best it can be. And then we have the opposite scenario where we might be sitting across from a stroke seat who is incredibly experienced and might be overestimating his or her skills in that seat or just on the path to greatness but not quite there yet. And I think that in that situation, focusing as a coxswain on the team environment … working as a team as opposed to calling them out for a particular thing … tends to work pretty well. Do you have a suggestion, Breana, on that?
BREANA: Yep. That's the approach that I try to take. It might look like a call that says, “Yes, we are all contributing to this amazing run that we have right now. I feel every person has the power on. Yeah, five and six, backing up stern pair.” You know, a call like that that emphasizes that everyone is contributing can really help for those stroke seats who might have the impression - real or imagined - that they're carrying the boat on their back kind of thing. Those sorts of calls can be helpful and - I think - somewhat respectful and subtle way to sort of remind them everyone is a contributor here. So that is a type of call that you can try for that scenario.
ANNE: Maybe we could chat for a moment about different things that happen that relate to the coxswain and stroke seat relationship. Give us an idea of what might be in your mind, Breana.
BREANA: One that comes up for me right away that is really tough and relates back to what we said about the power of the microphone earlier, is when stroke seat blurts something out … whether it's a positive thing … or harder to deal with is it some kind of negative thing. Like, “Can we just get the rush together!” Like something out of frustration they might (you know) make some kind of exclamation like that and now I know I'm in the awkward situation of everybody heard that. They heard it extra magnified over the microphone as well and you have to consider how am I going to address this … if at all … and when. I don't know if you have any wisdom on that, Anne, because this one is a big challenge for me.
ANNE: It sure is and it does happen. So if anybody out there who's listening has not had this happen yet, chances are pretty good it will at one point or another. I don't have a global response to that. It really depends on the person … the quality of the relationship as it's been built so far, and/or that day how that person is feeling. How I am feeling? Is it a one-off? If it's a one-off, I just almost pretend that it hasn't happened. I just carry on and then try to redirect to something else. Does it bother me? Yes, it does. Do things that I do bother my stroke seats? Yes, they do. So I'm going to respond to you in that way. I hope that's a real answer.
BREANA: That prompts me to think about that longer term scenario because one option - and I have totally taken it in some scenarios as you said - is act like it didn't happen. Another option if you are going to be in a little more of a long-standing interaction with that person, could be to try to - in a down moment, not the middle of the piece - dig into what was behind that and try to have a conversation that says, “Hey. I understand the rush was pretty bad in that last piece. What are your suggestions for maybe a different piece of language I could try to fix that so that we can work on that together?” And I'll try that call next piece. It's sort of your way of acknowledging this is where that frustration came from. I think a negative way to do that would be to cover the mic and say, “The rush. Am I right? No one in this boat can figure this out … like, what the heck.” That is building rapport of some kind but it's not in a way that serves the entire boat. So instead, figuring out (you know) what was underlying that and then making an effort to see if that improves could help. But again, as Anne wisely mentioned as well, you know sometimes the stroke seat is just having a bad day that has nothing to do with you or the lineup and sometimes these outbursts happen.
ANNE: Mm-hmm - especially when there's lack of oxygen to the brain but not exclusively. Another scenario that I want to just chat a little bit more about is how to handle it when the stroke seat is way more experienced than I am. I kind of referred to that in the opening when I explained that I sat in the seat for the first time knowing absolutely nothing - having essentially no on land experience or a conversation. And in that case, I was the newbie and that person just walked me verbally through the steps of managing the boat, steering, and the essential elements. There are some times when you will get into the boat and that person is way more experienced than you and it's important, in those circumstances, for me to exude some confidence in the skills that I am good in - in boat management, in steering, in race plan, in calls - in whatever it is that I feel confident about. I need to bring that to that boat and to that stroke seat so that they can assess me accurately. I'm being honest - verbally or non-verbally - about my skill set. This is what you are dealing with sitting across from you and we're going to make this work together and we cannot do it by ourselves. We have got to work in partnership and I bring this and you bring that and how can we blend it together and come out better at the end of that time in the seats. And at the same time, not feeling it's a weakness if I yield some of the control - on for example, execution of a race plan - to them. That is not necessarily a weakness. That's a judgment that I have made based on the variation in our skill sets or the situation. I think we all have great ideas about how to foster this relationship and build the partnership over time. I wanted to mention one of the habits that I try to employ on a regular basis which is that either as we're landing or just after we have landed, I will thank the stroke seat for being in that position because keeping in mind that (for me) foundational to all this is my appreciation of the challenge of being in that seat. And so I either thank them over the mic - there might be certain circumstances that I think the whole crew needs to hear me thank the stroke seat - and there are other times that I'll be off mic. And I'll just make eye contact as I get out first … I look down at the stroke seat and say, “Thank you. Thank you for being stroke seat today. You did a great job. I really appreciate you being in stroke seat today.” And over time, I've found that it makes a difference to me and my mindset to say that because that is bringing forward that foundational piece as I mentioned - of my appreciation for the challenge of that seat and also they get to hear it. That I noticed what they did today. And I'm thanking them for it.
BREANA: I think that's a really good habit to be in. Thanks for that suggestion
ANNE: So now we're on land. What might we want to think about in terms of this relationship … in building the partnership?
BREANA: Yeah. I think here one thing to be said is that land is a time … being on land is a time when you can continue to build your relationship with stroke seat. That doesn't have to mean that you become steadfast friends off the water - that can be true for some people and that can enhance your interaction. It's not required. It's not something you have to necessarily seek though that may come of your interactions. But it's more of continuing to develop this professional, teammate partnership that you have with that person. And we can do that in super easy, actionable, small ways like Anne was just describing … about just thanking that person before you guys walk away for the day. Or it could be something we're building over longer term. Maybe we are headed indoors for the winter and we are about to spend months with the rowers on the ergs and that is a place where you could continue to build that partnership especially if you are in a situation where that person is occupying their role in a more stable way in stroke seat. I would say definitely don't forget about the rest of the rowers because come time for you to get back on the water, you have no idea who the coach might actually put in the stroke seat so it behooves you to make sure that you're keeping up a relationship with all of those rowers.
ANNE: I completely agree with you, Breana. Pay attention to all the rowers, of course. It's a team sport. You don't know who might be in the stroke seat next - as you point out - but I do like to take advantage of the time off water to seek that person out maybe just a little more … whether it's before or after an erg practice … whether or not it's just a casual conversation … just a few minutes building that rapport … building that relationship … can translate to a better relationship when you get in the boat. So consciously make an effort to seek them out just a little bit more and possibly in a slightly different way if you have that opportunity.
BREANA: Now that we've talked about some of the ways that we can foster this relationship between ourselves as the coxswain and our stroke seat, let's talk a little bit more about the bi-directionality of that relationship. Really through our interactions on and off the water, we are assessing each other. We're trying to figure out how stroke seat feels about their role that day … how competent they are at performing that role … and we have to remember they're doing the exact same thing for us. So as we've said before, one way that we can do our best to navigate that and try to really shine in our role is by demonstrating confidence and competence in the things that we feel are within our coxing skill set right now.
ANNE: And they can surely help us to improve. There is so much that they can share with us if we ask. Sometimes it's unsolicited but primarily we should take the opportunity to ask them for this feedback.
BREANA: Yeah. One type of feedback that I feel is particularly valuable from stroke seat includes things that they're in a better position to feel than us - for example, rush - those aspects of boat feel or maybe power … how much power is being put out by us as a lineup. And those are things that we may be more challenged to feel compared to the stroke seat because we are smushed into the coxswain seat, holding ourselves tightly in place, trying not to move and be part of that physical dynamic of the boat. So I really find value, personally, in using stroke seat as a partner and helping the boat improve in terms of those aspects of whether there's check or rush or whether the power of the boat is there. And so I might say to stroke seat, “Whenever you feel that, just give me that heads up”. Whether it becomes a non-verbal signal or starts as something a little more overt as we build our relationship. And there's nothing wrong with that. I don't view that at all as an indication that a coxswain doesn't know their stuff or shouldn't they have their own boat feel and be able to feel this. It can be really helpful for improving the performance of the whole boat to get stroke seat’s view on that and acknowledge that they may be able to perceive that better than you can.
ANNE: That's really important, Breana, to understand that their perception - their experience - should be taken in addition to your own. it's very valuable. It's a different seat. They're on wheels - we are not. So let's take all the information and they can talk with you whereas the rest of the boat, in my view, should be silent. There are other ways that I can leverage the relationship and the power of the stroke seat during a practice or even a race. And my experience has been that it's been helpful - every now and then - to verbalize something that the stroke seat either has said to me or has indicated to me non-verbally by saying that the stroke seat is feeling this or suggesting this. “Stroke seat has indicated there's rush in the boat. Let's all work on this for the next minute … controlling that rush.” Maybe I'll say the name of the person. “So and so is saying that we need to really accelerate.” I don't do this that often. I just want to sometimes use the power of that seat - share that with the crew - and it will hopefully unite us for a better experience.
BREANA: This is all part of reading that dynamic between the two of you and the rest of the lineup. And let's not forget that stroke seat is also uniquely positioned to give us feedback that others in the boat might not be as privy to. For example, I've sometimes solicited stroke seat’s thoughts on my steering. I might say, “Hey. This next (you know) three minute piece that we're doing … I really want to work on steering straight. Could you just take a few conscious looks behind us at our wake?” Sometimes they might notice on their own and they might comment on their own, but it can help to give them that prompt as opposed to cornering them on land afterwards and saying, “How was my steering today?” They may or may not have taken notice of that and be able to share that with you. So if you give them that ability to take note, that's one way you can do it … depends on how much other stuff is going on in your body of water that might be crossing over your wake or interfering with it, but that is one way that they can help you is by looking at your stern point and the wake that you're drawing in the water as you move forward. And they can also see your hands. That might be something that you ask as well. Maybe you say, “Hey. The coach has been telling me that I should be steering with smaller movements. Do you mind just taking a glance down every now and then through today's practice to tell me if you see me doing that or if you see me making big motions with my whole wrist and arm? I'd like to work on that.” So stroke seat is uniquely positioned to help us with our steering. Ss we're speaking about here - this assessment is happening in both directions - we are making assessments of stroke seat’s abilities in their seat. They're making assessments about us and it is important to reflect on the fact that a coach may ask us as the coxswain - may ask the stroke seat - about our evaluations of each other. We would advise you - as much as you can - to not let that affect how you're performing in the role. Be bringing your all no matter what boat you're in - no matter whether you think the lineups are set and there's no chance for you to move up or down - no matter what the scenario seems to be. Bring your best to each boat because you just never know. That could be the day that the coach asks that stroke seat, “What do you think of how this coxswain was doing today.” And vice versa. They might ask you about a stroke seat. That is a possible dynamic that always exists so it's just something to be aware of and be prepared for. And like I said, I think the best way to feel confident about that possibility is just to be bringing the best that you can every day no matter what the scenario is or what the lineup is.
ANNE: As you rightly say Breana, it's really important to bring your best self to that seat every time. And while it can be sometimes a big challenge to adapt to having different stroke seats in different situations, it does build your skill set … our skill sets. So please take those opportunities and you will be better for it. You'll be more flexible … more adaptable … even if it's maybe an uncomfortable situation. Just bring your best self and know that you are being assessed. That's part of this dynamic whether it's for the short term or the long term. And in the domain of assessment, part of our job, of course, is to assess the rowers and help them to make proper corrections to the stroke and the performance of the boat. And there are going to be those times when the stroke seat could make a change to one part of their stroke, for instance. And then how do we deal with that - at the same time still maintaining a positive, constructive relationship and building that partnership with stroke seat? So Breana, how would you address it if the stroke seat is not rolling up early enough?
BREANA: Yeah. This is where we have to strike that balance between uplifting them as a unique leadership role in the lineup but also acknowledging that they, too, may have flaws. They are a rower with a rowing technique with its good and bad parts just like the others. And part of our role is to identify ways that that could be improved. So I might take the approach to try to do both of those things … of saying something like, “I want to spend a little bit of time working on improving the roll-up timing here. I'm going to ask stroke seat to lead that off and set the example for us.” And I might highlight seven seat doing that for the opposite side of the boat and say, “I'm empowering this person to be the first person to make our change.” And then say. “Yes. Okay. I see them doing that. Now everybody let's try to follow and match them.” So we've made a correction to stroke seat but we are now using them as the example for the rest of the boat and encouraging our whole lineup to make an improvement that way while still honoring the role that stroke seat has. That might be a way that I navigate that situation.
ANNE: That is a perfect example that I personally experienced numerous times and that emphasizes the challenge that is inherent in this relationship. Deciding what you say, when you say it, how you say it. Based on our personalities … this particular stroke seat’s personality … the day … who else is sitting in the boat. It's so complex. And for some of us, this might come very naturally and you might do it instinctively. There are some of us that need to really think more deeply about how to approach this and then how to execute effectively in the situation. It's a challenge. It's one I relish. It's a very, very important relationship in my coxing experience. And I'm really glad that we have spent quite a bit of time talking about this relationship and emphasizing that - at least in our view - it's a partnership whether it's brief, whether it's mid length, or long term. And I've started to (sort of) highlight some key takeaways for me about this relationship. How about if we go back and hit some of the highlights that we hope people take from this episode. What do you think, Breana?
BREANA: I would say one thing that has emerged as really important for us as we discussed this coxswain and stroke seat partnership, is that stroke seats can vary a lot in terms of their level of personal confidence in their role. They are not all the stereotypical, extremely confident type of person. There's a lot of nuance there and acknowledging that and making an effort to understand where in that personality spectrum a person falls as they're stepping into that stroke seat in front of you, can only be to our benefit. Relatedly, we've emphasized the importance of really consciously making efforts to support that relationship - to ideally foster a positive, effective relationship which is to the crew’s benefit. Again, the crew benefits as a whole in every possible way when the coxswain and the stroke seat are interacting well together. And from the moment we arrive at practice to the moment we depart, in all of those moments in between - on land, on the water - all of those present opportunities for us to continue to foster that partnership.
ANNE: As usual, Breana, we have uncovered that there's so much more to this than typically discussed. You and I - as we've prepared for this episode - have gone, “Wow. Yes” And that … and this other topic … and wow, I hadn't thought about that in the longest time.” But I think it's important that we try to articulate some of these nuances and some of the joys and challenges that also come with this territory and this special partnership. I think we've really tried to explore more about what that is … what it entails and its importance.
BREANA: And the longer we've both been in the seat, the more we have appreciated the nuances of this partnership. Both coxswains and stroke seats have unique responsibilities in the sport and as we've been saying, we benefit from mutual acknowledgment of that fact and mutual respect. And that is our motivation to keep working on that partnership whether it lasts for one 90-minute practice or for decades. And we want to remind you that our listeners have the opportunity to share their thoughts on Discord. You can find the link to that at coxpod.com/discord. And in fact, this very episode grew out of a question that was originally sent to us by one of you.
ANNE: Please join us on Discord. We appreciate your being interactive and posing questions as well as solutions. And as we come to the close of this episode, we want to thank you for listening. If you like what we're doing, please consider financially supporting us on Patreon. We're excited to bring you more content soon. And until next time, I'm Anne. And I'm Breana - signing off for now.