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037 | Recruitment & Retention



Welcome to CoxPod, a podcast dedicated to coxing topics. I'm Breana. I'm Anne. We're experienced coxswains who continue to learn a great deal from the broader coxing community and from sharing with each other. Our primary goal is to promote ongoing skills development and we're happy you're joining us. 


ANNE: Today, we've opted to talk about recruitment and retention. Well, we're already coxswains, so why are we having an episode about recruitment and retention? Why is it pertinent to us? 


BREANA: There are two reasons. First, you might be in a situation where there aren't enough coxswains, so we're going to talk about us as experienced coxswains being involved in that recruitment process. 


ANNE: And second, there might be situations where we seek to be recruited. Not at the collegiate level, that's not the focus of this particular episode, but the concepts we're going to talk about apply to that scenario as well. There might be times when we want to join a new club or pursue additional coxing opportunities. But let's start right off with a reality that is familiar to us and to many clubs. 


BREANA: And that reality is that at all levels from juniors to masters, you may be in a situation where there aren't enough coxswains. 


ANNE: In fact, a listener from Sweden reached out to us recently seeking our advice on how to recruit coxswains. 


BREANA: I've been on teams where there aren't enough coxswains and found myself in a position where every single day, you have to orient someone new to the seat - often a rower reluctantly stepping into that role for the day. And it really detracts from your ability as a coxswain to develop your higher level skills. And it detracts from the whole team's ability to run an efficient practice. 


ANNE: I'm also, Breana, in a situation where we are often looking for coxswains. I'm with a master's club. And as we ramp up our programs in the summertime, we are often looking for additional coxswains. So we might be in a position where we're reaching out to high school or collegiate coaches in the region and asking them about any coxswains who might be interested. We also have trained growers for ad hoc – or you know, as needed - coxing so that we're not stuck that day as Breana has described … having to be on the dock and trying to cram some fundamental information into that new person's head. I have also opted to take an active role in recruitment of coxswains because I feel that I have the knowledge base about what is actually required and needed and sought. And also I want to be choosing people that I know will work well with the team. So again, I take a very active role. Now the flip side of that can be that I... experience a little bit of anxiety because the truth is, is that I might be recruiting a person who can ultimately eclipse me, but you know what? It's worth it. I firmly believe in coxswain development and without opportunities, we can't develop. And so I continue to recruit coxswains and take that active role. And I also try to remember that having another excellent coxswain or two or three will do nothing but push me to be better, too. So I'm going to take that approach that the benefits definitely outweigh that temporary discomfort. 


BREANA: Before we dive into the specifics about recruitment, we want to introduce our perspective, which is that recruitment and retention go hand in hand. We view this as a virtuous cycle of sorts where the recruitment process yields engaged, enthusiastic coxswains who then go on to recruit others. 


ANNE: And absolutely everyone is elevated in this situation: fellow coxswains, coaches, and rowers. 


BREANA: I'll share a little bit here about my own recruitment story just to illustrate what brought me into the sport. And what really hooked me initially was the word ‘intellectual’ to describe the position. I was a high school student communicating with the recruitment chair of the rowing team at the college I had chosen to attend. And when she put that word in an email reply to me, I was sold. I've always been someone who was really driven and interested in taking on intellectual challenges. That has always appealed to me a lot more than physical challenges. And as I’ve spent time in the sport and met more coxswains, this has come to seem to me to be a pretty rare trajectory. I think it's a lot more common that a coxswain will start out as a rower and then find themselves to either be better suited to the coxswain seat ultimately, or they might be reluctantly moved there due to injury, or forcibly by their coach due to being a smaller person and coxswains are needed. So that's my story and we'd really love to hear on Discord. You can always find the link to join our Discord community at (D-I-S-C-O-R-D). We'd love to hear about what got you into the sport as a coxswain. 


ANNE: Let's dive a little bit into the type of person that we want to look for and to recruit. Our teams might be looking for coxswains. We might be involved in that process. As you've already heard, I recommend that we be active participants in that role. But when we think about who do we want to recruit? I mean, the first easy thing is to start describing yourself. You're already a coxswain. Hopefully you're already engaged and enjoying the sport and sticking with it. You must be if you're listening to this podcast. So think about your characteristics and look for people who are like you and like me or who are like coxswains that you admire. For example, you wanna take a look at their interpersonal skills, their emotional intelligence, and let's remember, this does not mean that you necessarily need to be looking for an extrovert. Right, Breana? As two introverts here, I think … 


BREANA: We can corroborate. Absolutely. Related to that idea, an ideal coxswain is someone who can communicate well, they can communicate clearly, concisely, effectively with a diverse variety of people. They also have an analytical capacity, kind of that drive - that interest in problem solving - the ability to analyze all of the massive amounts of data that we know are coming in as we sit in the coxswain seat. And It helps for that person to be able to conduct their own self-analysis as well and be able to continue to learn and grow in the role if they find that it suits them. 


ANNE: I really look for people who are curious and up for a personal challenge and moreover, someone that's responsible because (right?) there's a lot of responsibility that comes with this role. 


BREANA: So that's some information on what type of person you might want to seek. The goal being to find a person who's going to thrive in the coxing role. We'll talk for a moment here about maybe how not to recruit … perhaps some language that might not be as likely to find an individual who will enjoy and stay in this role. For example, yes, while coxswains for safety and efficiency in their role do have to be capable of being loud, that doesn't have to be their natural speaking volume in life. You may not find an ideally suited person then if your recruitment materials include language - and I see this all the time – like ‘Do you want to yell at big, tall guys? Do you want to boss people around? Are you loud? Extroverted?’ And we'll repeat - If that were a requirement for the job then we would not be here at CoxPod. 


ANNE: No, we would not. 


BREANA: So avoid that language because again, while it is important for a person to be able to step into a certain level of volume and command and control when it comes to rowing, that shouldn't be the main reason that someone steps into the coxswain seat. 


ANNE: And Breana, I think you have another example of something that may not be the best recruitment strategy ever. 


BREANA: Yeah, I've seen so many bad strategies out there, let's put it that way. So one that still stands out to me is a team that was kind of starting back up, reviving itself, and they were advertising that their kickoff event for the resurrection of this team was going to be a 2K - which I can understand that is perhaps serving the goal of trying to attract a certain type of committed rower who is willing … to right off the bat … take a 2K test. But that was an indicator to me that maybe they hadn't thought about how coxswains might fit in to their team structure because there was no mention of whether a coxswain was welcome at this kickoff event or what exactly the coxswains would be invited to do or how they would become part of the team. And then as a complement to this kickoff event, you could fill out a form online and this team committed the cardinal sin - I find - of not having any option on their interest form that you could fill out to indicate that you even wanted to be a coxswain for them. I really don't like when I only see options for a question like: ‘Which side do you row’?’ And it's: ‘Port. Starboard. Or both.’ are the choices. I've even had times where I was trying to indicate to a team through one of these online forms that I was interested in coxing for them. And the only place on the form that I could find to indicate that was a write-in text box that said, ‘Do you have any allergies? If so, please describe them here.’ And I'm typing in there, “Hi, I'm a coxswain. I would love to work with your team.” That's just sad. If you are recruiting, make it clear to coxswains that they are wanted on your team and not some kind of afterthought. 


ANNE: I'm really sorry to hear that Breana, and I think your advice to include them in all of the recruitment materials is really important. So we've described the type of person that you might want to actively recruit. Let's talk a moment about where can we find them? Where are we hiding? Where are we standing out? 


BREANA: Well, you may want to look to other sports where you can find people who already have an athletic mindset - who are interested in that competitive environment. But it's really important to remember that coxswains are not working out most of the time. When they are sitting in the coxswain seat, we are in more of our mental athlete role rather than being a physical athlete. So if a person is gonna be enticed to join a sport, and then immediately be disappointed that they don't have a physical role in that sport, that may be a person who doesn't enjoy the coxing role. So again, just make sure it's clear to that perspective person what they would be getting into. 


ANNE: And Breana, I think you have a couple of suggestions about places to find mental athletes. 


BREANA: Yeah, I love to think about where can you find people who are driven by intellectual challenge, who are excited about that, who take that on in their free time even. And I think of things like Quiz Bowl teams, debate, mock trial, chess club, all those sorts of activities. And of course, a big one for us - because both Anne and I have this background and so do many listeners as we've learned and many people in the rowing world - marching band because that really emphasizes discipline and focus and producing this precise, beautiful product that emerges from the coordinated actions of many individuals. So don't be afraid to look for prospective coxswains in places that maybe you haven't thought of before, but where again, you can find those people who are up for an intellectual challenge and are energized by that. 


ANNE: I'd love for our listeners to share with us on Discord exactly where they were when they were found or recruited as coxswains. I really look forward to hearing the many stories and finding out if there are more marching band colleagues out there. And with masters clubs, what do we do? In our situations, we can frequently find them in our work environment or at social gatherings. So it's a slightly different take but keep your eyes open. You'll recognize people. that potentially will thrive in this role. And when you do, invite them to explore the opportunity. So let's talk about now the methodologies that can be employed in order to recruit coxswains. 


BREANA: Yeah, you just used the word ‘invite’, Anne, which I think is great. You may invite someone to a regatta … perhaps a local competition that they could stop by … and point out to them what coxswains are doing at this event. Or you may invite them to just come out and sit in the launch at a practice and see if they would enjoy taking on the responsibilities that they see coxswains having in that environment. 


ANNE: Another place that we can keep our eyes open is our Learn to Row experiences. 


BREANA: We had an episode on this. Episode 034 is all about how to Cox Learn to Row Day. And in addition to providing a really positive experience for people who showed up wanting to learn how to row, you can also use that as an opportunity to exemplify the role of a coxswain … potentially scout out whether people would be interested in that and invite attendees to maybe consider that position as well. 


ANNE: That's a great avenue for scouting potential coxswains. Absolutely. Let's then transition a little bit about the written word in terms of social media …flyers that we could use to recruit. You've already referenced, Breana, something that you've seen in terms of an interest form that was lacking, but let's give people some real, concrete suggestions on how to put into words some enticing terminology. 


BREANA: We'll link in our show notes to an article on the blog ‘Ready all, row’ which includes an example recruitment poster and some suggested language for how to recruit coxswains. Some elements that I have seen that I think are helpful includes things like specifying that ‘no experience is necessary’. Or I saw the language ‘full training provided’. You may want to emphasize - as already alluded to - that this role does not involve physically rowing. That will help both if a person does want that as part of their experience so that it is adequately conveyed to them what that entails and doesn't entail. And it might also help you recruit someone who may have been turned off from a sport initially because they may not want to row or may not be able to row. And this shows them that there is a place for them in the sport of rowing. 


ANNE: And a simple way of conveying the position is to actually include photos of what the coxswain looks like either sitting in a four or an eight. Another idea is having quotes from current team coxswains who are really enthusiastic and enjoy the position. 


BREANA: We'll include a list in our show notes of some of the other effective strategies that we've seen. I've been saving up lots of examples that I have encountered over the years of teams posting recruitment materials looking for coxswain. So we will flesh that out even more in our show notes for this episode. 


ANNE: And yeah! That new coxswain - or more than one coxswain - has been recruited. Now what? Well, it's pretty pointless to talk about coxswain recruitment without talking about retention. Otherwise, we're gonna be getting stuck in that downward spiral of repeated recruitment … year after year… going through that same process … always feeling like we're lacking and that we're trying to play catch up. So now that we've recruited the new person, what are our expectations of that person? How do we know that we want them to stay, that we want to retain them? 


BREANA: Well, if you know CoxPod, we are all about pursuing personal growth as coxswains and really bringing excellence to the position. And the great thing is that whatever a coxswain's experience level, there are some characteristics that we can demonstrate right off the bat. So that includes things like responsibility, reliability, making a contribution to team goals with our actions, and a commitment to self-improvement. 


ANNE: So if we're taking it from the point of view of being that new recruit, what do we need to bring? We need to bring those qualities that Breana just mentioned. That is going to indicate that we want to be retained. 


BREANA: Let's talk now about some specific strategies for coxswain retention rather than an approach of just kind of hoping that a coxswain shows up and enjoys the experience of being on your team. 


ANNE: Breana, I know we agree on this – that having the right equipment - having a CoxBox that's functioning and steering that works, for example - those are givens in terms of what a team needs to provide. Should go without saying, but it still happens. 


BREANA: In addition to that absolutely bare minimum provision of proper equipment, you have to provide a completely new coxswain with fundamental training whether that comes from a coach, a stroke seat who is willing to support that person, or ideally from someone like you who is listening - an experienced coxswain on the team. 


ANNE: I wanna emphasize that in addition to potentially being an active participant in the recruitment process, this is where we, this community, can really shine and take on that inexperienced coxswain and be that mentor, that leader, that inspiring force in their life. So let's all just sort of pledge to do that. It's a very important role that we take on and we are the ones that need to take that on as their peers. 


BREANA: In addition, it's critical for new coxswains to be in an environment that is accepting of mistakes. There is a big learning curve. to rowing in general and specifically to this role, and everybody is gonna be on their own trajectory. So the team has to be comfortable with that coxswain making mistakes and then again, what they're bringing is a drive to learn and improve. 


ANNE: That welcoming atmosphere and support is pivotal for people to continue to move forward and to enjoy the position. And if we want to retain them, which is what we're talking about here, we need to have scaffolded learning for those new coxswains. We have to have a plan - a strategy - a way of actually developing the skills because we all know from our experiences that it is complex, as Breana has said, and it needs to be built in a systematic way rather than just throwing people in. We will not retain them if we do that. 


BREANA: And once the basis is laid … once those basic skills are in place and the learning is continuing to be scaffolded from there … what kind of advancement opportunities are available to that coxswain? Is there a hierarchy of coxswains on the team? And if so, is it clear to a new person who joins how coxswains are selected for prestigious lineups on the team and how a person could move up through that hierarchy. If that is mysterious or if it's impossible, for example, because the answer is that the coxswain who's been there the longest is always at the top - no questions asked - then that might be discouraging to a new coxswain. 


ANNE: Another factor in retaining coxswains as we develop our skill set is having the coaches provide us with feedback, engaging us in those conversations about the row, listening to any recordings that we may have. And I have a specific thing that I have done, which is our club has a coxswain work group. We have a variety of topics and subjects and responsibilities but I like to try to fold in new coxswains, even if they're only here for summer. It doesn't matter how long they're with us. They are peers. We want to develop their skills. We want to be welcoming. and we invite them to those coxswain workgroup meetings. 


BREANA: All of the strategies that we've talked about so far, frankly, we would consider kind of the minimum requirements for creating a welcoming environment for new coxswains to join our teams and thrive and advance in that role. 


ANNE: However, we both recognize the reality that these - what we consider minimum standards - are not widespread necessarily, which is why we bring them up and hold them out now as standards so that this community - and our fellow coxswains - will begin to elevate what we consider basic ways of recruiting and retaining coxswains. 


BREANA: Absolutely agreed. I know we are eager for a future where those truly are the minimum standards provided to every coxswain. But there's nothing wrong with wanting to go beyond the minimum either. We should be striving for that as teams and as individual coxswains. I know there's nothing worse than the experience of joining a team and the environment might be really positive and welcoming but then you might start to feel that you're stagnating in your skills as a coxswain. So now we'll offer some value added strategies that we think can help coxswains become happier, more enthusiastic individuals who are continuing to grow their skills. And these are derived from things that we have either personally experienced or seen other clubs do. 


ANNE: They may exist already but if they don't, let's advocate for them and potentially build them into our team or club environment. And as we do add these additional elements, they can support efforts to recruit new coxswains. You know, we can say: these are additional things that if you hit certain milestones that these might be open to you. Moreover, if you are an experienced coxswain and you're fortunate enough to be looking at different teams or different opportunities for the future, these are additional things that you could potentially look for, too. 


BREANA: Sometime there are financial  incentives of various kinds offered to coxswains. We view these (again) as add-ons because the great thing is, it's completely free to create a welcoming, supportive environment. Some additional strategies that teams employ include things like - if you have team dues, either reducing those or waiving those. There are also teams who pay coxswains per practice or who cover their regatta travel. 


ANNE: Another thing that I think is attractive is if the crew or the club can sponsor coxswains to attend clinics and webinars like camps or maybe even purchase some books. 


BREANA: Yeah, if your team doesn't have a lot of ability to support - within the team structure - additional coxswain education, then this is a great opportunity to outsource some of that. For example, there are many online programs where coxswains can get a person to review a recording. So if that's not something your coach has the time or ability to do, you could use team funds to help your coxswains advance. An example of something that I orchestrated - this was on a team where I went from being a coxswain to being a coach - and I asked the team to sponsor a brunch after practice one day between myself as the coach now and our team of coxswains, including some people who we had recruited from outside the rowing world with no prior knowledge. And that provided a nice opportunity for us to get together and chat in a casual environment about coxing and rowing in general and about our team specifically. And I was really glad the team leadership accepted my pitch to sponsor an event like that. 


ANNE: It's those extra touches that can really help to retain your best coxswains and keep them happy. Not a requirement. You know, we're self-motivated, most of us, but these are really nice, additional ideas. Another pivotal aspect of retention is the degree of alignment between the team structure and our goals. 


BREANA: When you consider the structure of a prospective team, think about things like: is that a very casual environment where the goal is just get out on the water sometimes, have fun being out? Is the team really supportive of onboarding new people all the time? Maybe there's a Learn to Row feeder program that is always sending new people up to the team that you are considering. On the other side, there are teams that have more of an attitude of - we are extremely competitive … racing and winning is our number one goal. We only accept people who are experienced. 


BREANA: Breana, what you're touching on is that it's important to be really clear about what your objectives are and then thinking about how that potential new team or situation is a match for your future self. And try to have an alignment there between your aspirations and your longer-term goals and what that team has to offer. 


BREANA: And what you envision as your optimal team environment is likely to change as you move throughout your coxing career. 


ANNE: Right. As we change our objectives, we might be in a position where we need to pitch or market ourselves in order to achieve that new goal. 


BREANA: As you develop that pitch and you're preparing to reach out to a team that you're interested in, remember that you can demonstrate your coxing skills even from that first moment of contact. A first email that you send, for example, is a way to show that you can communicate clearly and concisely. One thing I like to do when I contact teams or I reach out for different coxing opportunities, is highlight the diversity of experiences that I have had as a way of showing that I'm going to be an adaptable coxswain who can mold into their team environment. I'll mention that I have coxed eights, I've coxed bow-loaded fours, I've coxed men's teams, women's teams, mixed lineups, and have competed at all kinds of different levels. I've done... practices, racing, all kinds of things. You're creating a brief resume of sorts for yourself, and sometimes you may attach an overt resume. And you can also offer to provide references from teams that you've been on, to send recordings, or whatever other materials the team may be looking for. 


ANNE: Great suggestions, Breana. Might sound like common sense, but it's not necessarily. That presentation is really, really important. And I'm going to also add that I feel that networking is another strong tool to avail yourself of. For example, you might ask your coach to reach out to a local crew, for example, a master's crew and say, “Hey, I have a coxswain who's interested. Do you have any openings? If so, I will connect you two.” So networking can also pay dividends. In summary, what we've been just talking about is having a nice alignment between our expectations and our aspirations and the team that we are going to be matched up with or we’re seeking to be matched up with. And what is the output of that? Honestly, you see environments where the entire crew - including the coxswain - feels valued and respected. And let's talk about a couple of examples of how you can actually see that. 


BREANA: I can see that evidenced in a team by observing whether coxswains are included in lineups. For example, a team posts about how they just won a race with their coxed quad and then there are five people in the picture and five names in the caption. That is a really positive sign for me when I'm looking at a team and trying to assess what the environment is there for coxswains. 


ANNE: Again, it feels like that's sort of a bare minimum, but it is very revealing when it's absent. So, let's keep our eyes and ears open for those sorts of cues. And I know we both hope that as we move along in our careers, that we end up with optimal matches - you know? And if that's one match forever in your career and you're thrilled with it and they're thrilled with you – yeah! But if you want to change and evolve and seek out different opportunities, do it. Take charge of your career and you will be happiest when there is a great alignment and matching going on. I'm really glad, Breana, that we decided to delve into the subjects of recruitment and retention. I'm not confident that they're dealt with as deeply as they should be. I also look forward to conversation on Discord about: where did we get recruited … have we participated in recruitment activities … what do we enjoy and find are great retention strategies? How can we grow this whole thinking about recruitment and retention so that again, we end up happy and engaged and there's a great match that's happened? 


BREANA: Something that struck us as we were developing this episode and having these conversations is that there are really two scenarios in which a team may find themselves. The first one is this downward spiral of repeated recruitment and failed retention where you recruit a coxswain who doesn't end up being a person who enjoys or thrives in the role. And that's often because the pitch or the materials that were used to recruit them didn't accurately portray what the role was or perhaps it attracted a person who didn't have the right characteristics to really enjoy the role. And so now we have an unhappy person who doesn't enjoy being on the water day to day. 


ANNE: And then they quit. And then you have to recruit all over again. This is why we're calling it a downward spiral - in this instance. Then we have the other side, right, Breana? 


BREANA: Yeah. We can contrast this with the virtuous cycle of recruiting a coxswain with an appropriate, honest pitch that attracts a person with optimal characteristics. They really enjoy the role. They ideally join a supportive environment where they feel valued and respected on a team and they're able to advance their skills. They stick around and then they themselves become enthusiastic recruiters of other coxswains. And in that way,  the individuals and the team are able to thrive. 


ANNE: And that's what we are really looking for here. And we hope that this episode has given you more to think about in terms of moving towards the virtuous cycle and having a happier outcome. And as we're getting close to the end, let's then move into our Quick Pick and Shout Out. I'm gonna take the Quick Pick and just mention that everything we've talked about here applies to collegiate recruiting experiences. Now that is a unique and specialized type of recruitment. So if you wanna hear more about it here on CoxPod, we invite you to check out our recent interview with collegiate coxswain, Katie DeRose, who is the co-founder of Coxswain Resources. 


BREANA: And for our Shout Out, I want to shout out a master's club that I coxed for in the past. I ended up choosing this club over a more prestigious one - one with a more recognizable name you could say, that was in the same geographic area – and I did that because of the enthusiasm that this club showed. I reached out and heard back kind of a tepid response from the bigger name club of saying, “Oh, maybe sometimes we need a fourth coxswain who could go out”. And the response I heard from the team that ultimately drove me to join them for a number of years was a very enthusiastic response saying, “We would love to have a coxswain join the team. We're always looking for coxswains. Be excited to have you on board.” And that positive environment and frankly getting the water time, which was a big goal for me, outweighed the more prestigious name brand of a more famous team. So I had a really positive time on that club. And it was all due to how two different teams responded to my interest in being a coxswain for them. 


ANNE: What a great summary, Breana, of this entire episode. And now, since we are at the end of the episode, we want to thank you for listening. We also invite you to share with us on Discord. If you have recruitment or retention strategies that have been effective, we want to hear about them. And 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.

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