Why coxes matter, especially on the Tideway
Coxes are valued members of the club. Everyone realises how important they are not just to racing success but also to safe navigation on the Tideway. If you are an experienced cox you will have the chance to cox men’s and women’s eights and fours in heads and regattas. Novice coxes will have the chance to build their Tideway experience, supported by the coaching team. A cox is unique in sport - helmsman, coach, and tactician. The rewards include being part of a team, developing leadership skills and the social side.
A cox can be very cold and uncomfortable for hours at a time, especially in winter training. Even in summer there is no actual exercise involved to enhance fitness. So what does a cox gain from our sport? Trevor Cave is one of Sons fairly experienced coxes and has coxed about 400 outings for the club. He offers below some encouraging reasons for becoming a cox.
I coxed initially from 1971 to 1975 basically because I was small enough. I was persuaded back in 2001 and was struck immediately by how many really friendly people there are in rowing and how much so many of them welcomed coxes. Almost every club is perpetually short of coxes and rowers generally remain very appreciative, sometimes quite touchingly so. The expressed recognition from crews, for example that particularly Tideway trophies are significantly due to the cox steering well on the stream, makes them more special than mere straight-line regatta pots.
That many clubs try to poach coxes from others must indicate a perceived need at least, if not always appreciation. Even relative novices are much in demand. One novice had been coxing at Sons for less than 30 outings when she was asked to cox a Henley crew for another club.
A great majority of people in rowing are exceptionally fine and congenial. We form a machine of 2,4,5 or 9 people, so we have to work together well. The feeling in a crew can be very special even when one is not fully conscious of it. I had my 50th birthday party at a regatta. My Sister Janice was so struck by the rapport between me and my crew that she began to understand, for the first time, why people enjoy sport. My crew at Henley Women’s 03 was certainly pleased to celebrate together despite losing in the first round to an American University crew (in the Club event!!)
Training with any crew, a cox can feel gratified by helping the development or at least knowing one has steered usefully. They simply must have a cox for an 8; it’s really a 9. Many coxes are also accomplished rowers and scullers. They enjoy, surely, helping their clubmates perform well on the water
Certainly too they can offer greater understanding of technique and motivation. Though some might be a bit heavier, their knowledge can overcome that penalty fairly readily.
(The speed penalty due to weight is only about 1/3 of the percentage change in overall weight of the boat and crew.) Steering well still gives great satisfaction too. Carving precisely through the pack at Heads of River and brushing the reeds is exciting. Coxing can yield a return professionally as well. Several work colleagues noticed how I became much more interactive after I started coxing again, more of a "team player" in fact, which I had not often needed to be in my career. I have often had to encourage and guide youngeror less confident colleagues and I find myself "coxing" them. They often notice and appreciate it. One can be more comfortable in command of unusual situations and more ready to take a lead. I surprise senior management sometimes with my confidence in approaching them. One was 6ft 6 and a former 2nd row at rugby. He had been quite aggressive as he probed my arguments. He apologised afterwards and I responded “Not at all, I shout at eight meat-heads your size in a boat quite often.” He was quite amused and we worked well together after that.
I have had many occasions to be delighted at the success of my crews, sometimes with me, others when I have won after someone else trained with them and sometimes vice versa. Seeing the pleasure of the other coxes and coaches involved is itself rewarding. For Sons, I steered the Veteran C Novice 4 in the "Fives" Head 2005, after one of our novices had coxed them for training, while I was working away from home. She expressed great pride in what the 6 of us achieved. Our chief competition that day was a Vesta crew who were clearly both bigger and faster than we. I took account of our lop-sided crew where bow side was much stronger and somewhat younger than strokeside.
I set the boat to the right of the stream such that it steered more or less correctly all the way. The Vesta cox did not know the river so well and steered waywardly. We beat them by 45 sec in a 23 minute race. We won the trophy too.
On the other hand I was ill for Oxford Regatta in 2006, so John Axcell, a very good cox from the Army, won the novice pots for my men’s squad. I was very pleased and proud of them all, even though sad not be there for it. Later, with Sons IM3, I beat John coxing a college crew at Dorney Lake and I was really chuffed to have done so. My WN crew in 05 eventually won its pots with Jessica Griffing coxing at Molesey when I could not be there. I was delighted for them too.
If one has the time to train regularly, even a modest cox can reach quite a high level. Although most of my coxing has been at club level, I have subbed for a GB cox and one GB cox has subbed for me. I have coxed Olympians about a dozen times and in 2004 I started one young woman towards her Paralympic Gold in 2012.
So coxing can give a lot back to the right type (size?) of people who might enjoy a sport in which they can fit well.
So why did I settle at Sons?
I have found Sons to be about the friendliest club in London and the most sensible about training coxes. Rowers have done land training to allow a cox to be shown the river in detail - see the Tideway Tour. If you are already a cox, all clubs will want you but Sons will offer you a nicer choice of activity and recognise sensible degrees of availability and commitment. If you don't cox yet but might try, Sons knows how to train you effectively.
Visitors to this web site are invited most warmly to come to Sons and try it.