Coxswains vital to rowing


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The Iowa rowing team whistles through the water, wrecking wakes standing in its way.

The rowers are tired, slightly slowing subconsciously as their bodies begin to tire. Their chances at a fast finishing time are evaporating into the air.

Then, a voice radiates, encouraging them to exert extra energy from within.


The rower’s boat skips along the water with wonderful speed. Finishing in a blistering time, the leader of the boat, the coxswain, congratulates them.

The coxswain is to rowing what a quarterback is to football — leaders, captains, and authoritative teammates.

Iowa head rowing coach Mandi Kowal said coxswains have the hardest job. They must have the confidence and ability to conduct constructive criticism to improve the boat’s speed.

“You have to be willing to correct your peers,” Kowal said. “They’re a leader. It’s hard when they need to motivate or if the rower’s having a hard time. You have to confront.”

Positioned in the back, facing the direction the boat is going, coxswains must motivate the crew and steer, in addition to instructing and preparing the rowers.

Senior coxswain Sheila Rinozzi said she is like a liaison between the coach and the rowers.

Stimulating and instructing her teammates is key, and doing this while maintaining control over the boat’s direction can be complicated.

“I kind of think of it as I need to be the brains of the boat and do the thinking for them,” Rinozzi said.

“Most importantly, I steer the boat, and you want the shortest course possible. That means cutting corners and maintaining a straight line on the straightaway.”

Rinozzi said the middle of the race is usually the hardest in terms of keeping the rowers’ speed up because the original high of storming out of the gate is gone, but the finish is still thousands of meters away.

She said knowing the rowers of your boat is vital when attempting to grasp their potential.

“You got to know your rowers so well,” Rinozzi said. “I just know what I can say to each one of them to keep them on their ‘A’ game and keep them pushing, whether it’s reminding them of our goals or playing little tricks.”

Senior rower Megan Erickson said the coxswains’ job is more important than people realize. Not only can rowers not see where they are going, but the act of rowing is so intense that thinking becomes a difficult task.

Coxswains force the women to think about rowing, nothing else.

“You are pulling so hard, that every thought just goes completely out of your brain,” Erickson said. “Without a coxswain, it’s really hard to stay focused.”

Additionally, coxswains must be creative in their motivational tactics. Constantly harping on teammates can grow stale and be ineffective.

One of Rinozzi’s motivational ploys is playing movie quotations from pivotal scenes in sports films.

“I try to find any little thing I can to make our team a little bit more motivated than anybody else,” she said. “They are all quotes from movies that everybody loves, like Miracle and Any Given Sunday. It gives everyone chills and pumps them up before the race.”

Kowal said she’s thankful for having quality coxswains through the years. Her coxswains have always been able to balance being both a teammate and a coach. Without them, relaying messages to her rowers would be difficult.

“I’m like the main part of the stereo, and they are all the speakers,” Kowal said. “Their job is really critical. I have a lot of respect for them.”

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