A lot is said about rowers, but it’s important not to forget about the ninth person in the boat – the cox! A coxswain has a key role to play, and a good cox will make all the difference in a boat, helping the crew reach its full potential.
What does a cox do?
A cox, (or coxswain) is crucial in navigation of the boat, along with coaching and motivating the crew. Since the rowers face backwards in the boat, they cannot see what is in front of them. So, most boats rely on a cox to look ahead and ensure that the water is clear. This enables the rowers to focus on their technique and to move in time with the other members of the crew. Coxes also have a steering mechanism, called the rudder, with which they are able to navigate the boat. This is fairly simple to use, but again allows the rowers to maintain their focus without worrying about turning corners and staying in a straight line.
From a coaching perspective, the cox is often in the best place to view the rowers’ techniques. Using their microphone, which is connected to speakers inside the boat, they are able to communicate with the rowers and explain how they can improve, often relaying messages from a coach on the bank. Finally, but most importantly, the cox’s role is to motivate the crew. Obviously, this is particularly important during a race, when the rowers will be giving their utmost to move the boat as quickly as possible. But, even during training sessions, it is important to keep the rowers motivated, so they stay focused. You ensure they are trying their hardest, getting the most out of the outing, every single session.
If you are interested in Learning to Cox at DCBC and want to know more, or already have experience as a cox and wish to continue your coxing career at DCBC, please contact Max Filley, this years Coxing Rep, at . You can find an account of his time coxing below, and the accounts of some of our previous coxing reps here!
Additional information on what to expect can be found in the Coxing Handbook.
Max, our current coxing rep, gives us a look at his time coxing so far at DCBC, over the past year:
I started coxing at the beginning of my second year in college, after covid disruption in my first year. Because I’m terrible at making up my mind, and on the advice of previous Coxing Rep Ryan Chung, I noviced as both a rower and cox, leading to some interesting scenes during novice Fairbairn’s – having to literally jump out of one boat and straight into another waiting on the bank for me to get back! Regardless of this, I absolutely loved novice term, and being able to both row and cox regularly helped jump-start my progress. It made me much more confident both as a rower with technique, and as a cox with understanding what rowers want from their cox.
Before Lent term, I had decided to continue coxing – it was what I enjoyed the most, and was what I knew I could go furthest in. Although I’m a sporty person, my frame suits coxing rather than being a massive M1 rower. The Lent training camp on the Cam was massively helpful for me and all the other novices moving up to senior boats – I got to know so many new people, and more importantly managed to get about 2 outings a day throughout the week, helping me to develop further, pick up tips about coxing, and meet our alumni coaches for the first time!
I was assigned to W3 for my first senior term, and looked forward to the possibility of bumps! It was a big step-up for all of our crew, being allowed out on the water by ourselves, and the adjustment process was not always easy. Dealing with COVID, injuries, and bad weather, on top of having to start to develop my coxing skills way beyond the novice level of “Go” and “Hold it up”. Our goal for the end of term was simple – try and make it onto Lent Bumps! This wasn’t an easy task, however – our competition was stiff. Races throughout the term such as Pembroke Regatta gave us a larger taste of racing adrenaline once more, and we wanted more. We reached the 12 outing minimum and were hungry to prove ourselves in the getting on race. From the start, we followed the race plan I had set out before (another key coxing skill). I could see how hard the whole crew was working, more than any other race our outing we’d done, and as we finished I was incredibly proud of everyone in the boat, and how far we’d come! Unfortunately, we missed out on a competitive Lent Bumps by around 10 seconds, but seeing the support we received from other seniors and the whole club really made me proud to be at Downing. We were sad, but also knew going into it that getting into bumps was unlikely. Regardless, we set our sights on Mays, and got our heads down.
Moving into Easter term, we were in a strong position from the get-go. We had our ranks bolstered by 2 rowers from W2’s Lents campaign, and almost 7 whole weeks of training to go. Crews still shuffled around slightly, and exams often caused us to have to train in IVs or on land, but nothing stopped us completely. As the rowers were improving massively, both in strength and technique, I sought out every opportunity I could to improve my coxing – as well as coxing W3 3 or 4 times a week, subbing in regularly to W2, M2, M3 and even occasionally other colleges to help bump up the amount of time I spent on the water and help reduce the time I spent on my degree to the bare minimum. Throughout the term, my confidence and my coxing ability grew massively, and I knew I had made the right choice in becoming a cox! Learning more advanced skills, starting to get a grip on the best racing lines for each corner, and trying out different racing calls helped me improve way beyond the very low point I started at. Racing regularly in Easter was a great feeling and fantastic preparation for all of us, competing in head races like Head of the Cam alongside alumni, as well as high-adrenaline regattas such as 99’s spring regatta. In the latter, we had a fantastic comeback victory in one of our races – there’s nothing like overtaking someone late in a regatta!
All our training throughout the term, however, was for one specific goal – May Bumps. We had set our sights on it from the beginning, and knew that it was much more within reach than Lent Bumps. We had trained hard and loved every second of it, but as we sat behind the start line of the Getting on race, none of that mattered. I had just finished my final exam earlier in the day, and now the only thing I could think of was Bumps. We went off strong, and then inevitably began to slightly drop off in power and rate throughout the race. I could feel the energy levels of the crew dropping, and thought maybe we wouldn’t be able to make it the whole way. However, I stayed calm, and kept going with the race plan. As we turned out onto the reach and the home stretch beckoned, our supporters on the bank turned up the volume, and we turned up the power, taking the rate back up to power home, with a time around 30 seconds better than Lents, on the same course. As a crew, we spent the rest of the evening together eagerly awaiting the results, and when we got on we were ecstatic!
After this, we moved onto bumps itself. I’ve felt nervous before a race before (in fact for every race), but nothing compares to sitting on station holding a bung, waiting for the start cannon to go off. Our first day, we started strong, and looked as if we might get a bump, but unfortunately got a technical row over due to chaos ahead. On the second day, we were unfortunately bumped by an incredibly strong Peterhouse W2, putting us as the sandwich boat on day 3. As temperatures reached 32 degrees, we first held off a strong Girton crew behind to row-over as sandwich, before rowing over once again as the 4 crews ahead of us bumped out in division 4. On the final day, we lined up ready to go out strong, knowing that if we could row-over as sandwich, we would almost definitely get DCBC’s first bump. All we had to do was to hold off Jesus, who themselves were a strong crew on the up, and had caught Girton before first post corner the previous day. We went off strong, trying our hardest to hold them off, but they closed to within half a length in the first 500m. Through the next 700m, we didn’t let them inch up on us one bit. However, as strong and as resilient as the crew was under the circumstances, eventually we had exhausted ourselves, and a slightly suboptimal line by me around grassy sealed the deal – we were bumped. I was incredibly proud of us, first for getting on to bumps, and then for pushing to the last moment to keep the hopes of rowing over alive on the last day. The week of bumps was exhausting, as I also bank partied with at least 2 crews every day, but it was amazing just to be a part of – it was the highlight of my Cambridge experience so far!
Coxing has helped me so much already in the one year I’ve been doing it – taking on responsibility for the boat and 8 other people in it can seem daunting, and often it is, but the confidence it can give you is amazing. It also allows you to really feel like a member of the squad as a whole – the social atmosphere at DCBC is amazing, and I’ve made so many friends and had lots of memorable events already! People sometimes ask me if I think coxing is harder than rowing – I think that it is definitely mentally more challenging, as you have the most responsibility of anyone in the crew. But I also think it’s more rewarding than rowing. When you get back from a really great outing, where you took every corner perfectly and helped your crew improve, or when you feel your calls making a difference to how the crew rows in a race, leading to them performing better it, you know that you’ve made a real difference. Often when rowing, you get swallowed up as part of the whole, but as a cox you are one of one – no more or less important than any of the rowers or coaches, but with unique responsibilities that allow you to have a direct impact. After a year, I still find coxing absolutely fascinating, and still want to keep improving, competing off-cam at bigger events, and help my crews win events.
If you feel like trying coxing out, or even if it just interests you a little bit, feel free to get in touch with me or any of the LBCs – It’s truly a unique experience, and one I think all rowers should at least try.
Max Filley – Women’s + NB Captain and Coxing Rep 2022/23
To look at the accounts of our previous coxing reps from the past few years, have a look here!