For the last several years I have been a high school crew coach. It is a leadership role I take very seriously. First off, no I am not the little guy sitting in the boat yelling . That is the Coxswain (pronounced as cox-en). I’m the one on the motor boat riding along side of them with the megaphone watching their form, critiquing their stroke, and also keeping an eye out for their safety. I spend a few hours each day with young men and women between the ages of 13-18. I get to watch them grow and develop not only into athletes but also into the younger versions of who they will grow up and become one day. It is a privilege that I am a part of that.
Growing up, I had teachers, coaches, musical instructors, who looking back I can see made an impact on my development. I recall bits of advise or guidance they gave me back then, that still shows up in me late 30’s. Their ability to have influence me all these years later, shows me what impact I can have on those who are now in my charge. I see coaching as my way to pay it forward.
A coach is synonymous with leadership.
But what does it really mean to be a leader?
Here a the Leadership Skills I’ve Learned Coaching Crew.
Good Leaders are Mentors. One element of my job I take very seriously is the influence I have on these young minds. They are sponges and I have to set a positive example for them to follow. They are thinking about college, girls, boys, etc. and we need to steer them toward making wise decisions. Also, in an age of social media it’s very easy for them to cyber stalk you. Outside of practice they can still see me and so I lead by example.
Be a motivator, not a dictator. No one really enjoys being bossed around or told what to do. Especially teenagers! The approach of a good coach is to show them the brass ring. Show them what they are working toward. Help them develop goals and provide them with the tools and help them develop the skills to achieve their goals.
Communicate in their language, not yours. As a coach it is my job to communicate with teenagers. Teenage boys with raging hormones in their “warrior” phase of development. Often I find myself sounding a bit like my mother! If I’m to influence them or connect I have the do it in terms they understand. I have to speak their language. In this case they are not yet adults so I cannot talk to them like they are. I take into account they are kids, maturity may or may not be something they possess, and experiences are limited.
Manage them they way they need to be managed not the way I would need to be managed. Find out what inspires them. A large amount of my kids where also in the marching band and orchestra. You know who else was in the band? Moi! Mellophone section! These kids assume I was rowing in college but nearly fell out of their boat when they learned I was a music major. My kids need to be engaged and music has been an instrument to do that. We had a lot of fun applying musical terminology to are rowing practice. With two semesters of conducting under my belt you will find me conducting them thru an erg session during a land exercise (and erg is a rowing machine, for those who don’t know). Looking for to really motivate one of my kids, I struck a deal. If he learned how to play A-ha’s Take In Me on his trombone then I’d let him cox the boat sometime. This was totally fun for him, but it was instilling the motivation to practice which is what I’m there to inspire them to do.
You are not their peer or their friend. Since these are kids I’m coaching, this is pretty easy for me to do because I am old enough to be their parent. If you come down to the docks many of the coaches are fresh out of college and so they may be coaching rowers who’s older siblings they went to school with. They need to establish a divide between friend and coach. My advise to them is that remember you are on a different level for a reason. You are put in charge because you have skills they do not. You are put into a position for them to learn from you. You have a responsibility to guide them and keep them safe.
A team has to learn to work together. In crew this is so important not only from a mechanics stand point, but also for safety reasons. When rowers are in sync, seeing their oars hit the water at the precise same moment is memorizing. Rowing done well can be hypnotic to watch. It is crucial for rowers to listen to their coaches and to focus on how their actions effect the other rowers in the boat. If the team is not rowing together that is when all hell brakes loose, normally in the way of catching a crab or the anticipate “Ejector”!
Wait for it…..wait for it…..
You need to earn their respect. To be effective as a coach respect is key. You cannot demand respect you have to earn it. Prove to them you have their best interest in mind. For me I was able to do this by showing them I was not above doing what I told them to do. I saw early on if we had to do land exercises and I told them to go for a run, they would run until they were out of my sight line. So I decided to start running with them. If there where stragglers or those who needed a cheerleader on the run, that was what I did. Sometimes they were even my cheerleader because running is not my thing (I’d rather bike), and one place we ran to, and up, where the “Exorcist Stairs” in Georgetown which are a BEAST! The kids watching their coach pound up and down the steps with them, was entertainment for them! They’d zip past me in amusement getting to the top yelling down to me “Come on Coach! You can do it!” And I did. And so did they!!