There is nothing but a silent tension that stretches between the six boats lined up at the starting position. Before the start of a crew race, the brawn of the teams sits nervously silent as the official’s countdown begins.
The brains of the operation, the coxswains, sit calm and focused as they repeat the race-plan one more time to their teammates.
The coxswain’s body is hidden in the bow of the boat with just his head peeping out as he faces the course ahead of him. He grips the steering in his lap as the weeks of training and practice whirl through his head.
The official’s speakers blare the word, “ROW,” shattering the river’s silence as six different coxswains’ for power and strength.
Coxswains are members of the crew team who, because of their small frames, fit into the front of each boat to steer, direct, and control the course of each rowing event.
Despite being the smallest members of the Deerfield crew teams, the coxswains have by far the most difficult and important jobs in racing and practice each day.
“You’re an extension of the coach,” said girls’ coxswain Elizabeth Wood ’10. “Since there’s no coach in the boat, it’s up to you out on the water to relay their instructions to the team.”
Coxswains’ main goals include keeping the boat on a straight course while racing and keeping their rowers motivated and focused in situations of extreme exhaustion.
“I know they’re tired and I can feel their energy slipping, but my job is to push them to go beyond what they think they can accomplish as rowers,” said boys’ coxswain Whitney Nudo ’10.
It is also crucial to the outcome of the race that coxswains adhere to the coaches’ race plan.
“You need to stick to the plan. but you also need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the setting of the race. You need to know your rowers well and what it takes for them to win,” girls’ coxswain Liz Earle ’10. affirmed.
Technically, the coxswain’s job is to make sure every single stroke pulled in the boat is perfectly synchronized.
To accomplish this, coxswains have “calls,” or specific sets of directions that last for the duration of about ten strokes.
Boys’ coxswain Thomas Earle ’12 said, “I make calls, or ‘technical tens,’ to keep my rowers focused on specific aspects of rowing, like catching the water together and finishing each stroke at the same time.”
To gain the trust and respect needed to control their teammates, the coxswains create a unique bond with each member of their boat.
“You need to show them that you are confident in yourself and willing to work as hard as them to gain their respect,” said boys’ coxswain Alfonso Velasco ’11.
“You get a possessive feeling over the girls in your boat,” added girls’ coxswain Audrey Cho ’11, “Once things start to click and everyone pulls together, that’s when an automatic connection is made and things really start to happen.”