SHIVSPIX Training Team USA

Improving Team Dynamics as a Coxswain

Darcy Marquardt shares tips on goal-setting and trust-building as a way to build strong team dynamics.

What are some ways to improve team dynamics so that it will make a difference on the water? Also, what are some ways for a coxswain to have a really strong bond with their rowers?
Thank you so much!
– Kirsten

Thank you for your questions! It is always nice to hear from the next generation of rowers!
Improving team dynamics is tricky, especially when you’re working with female athletes. Rather than focusing on the dynamics themselves, determine a common goal for the team, or better yet, have the group come up with the goals themselves! It could be to win the next race, have everyone get a PR on their next erg test or to do really well at NCAA’s (if in the US) or at CI’s (in Canada). This way the group decides what the goals are and agree to work towards them. You feel a lot more accountable and willing to work towards something where you’ve been part of the process.
Once you’ve agreed on a couple common goals… Write them down in BIG, BOLD print and put them on the wall at your facility/boathouse, somewhere everyone will see them daily. Each athlete will have a slightly different approach to achieving these goals, especially if it’s a race performance but in order for the team to succeed, everyone has to buy in. Sometimes it helps to come up with motivational words to write alongside the goals too and to track the progress: for example, a best time in an erg workout, or a top weight lifted in squats.
'Medals that are won in the summer, are earned in the winter.' Click to Tweet

Then the group, with coach input, goes about the strategies, and follows the training program to work towards those goals. It’s hard when the goal seems a long way off, months away but you have to train like it’s next week. I always found it easier to have a buddy to be accountable to in training, someone who you can compare erg workouts or weights lifted in the gym, and you help motivate each other during the tough workouts… One of my favourite fellow athlete quotes is from a CAN M8+ rower who said:

“Medals that are won in the summer, are earned in the winter.”

This means that the hard work you do through the winter will pay off as long as you keep pushing your limits, supporting your teammates and not being afraid of either of those things. 

Trust is an important part of team dynamics and how you earn it?? Well, you witness your teammates doing amazing things in the gym, on the erg, in group workouts, and when you see your teammates pushing themselves, it is motivating and also builds that trust/bond. Everyone needs to be a leader when it comes to training, which doesn’t mean telling everyone what to do, but is shown through actions and how much you’re willing to give in training, will show you what you’re capable of on the water. Maybe it will be you who takes the first step in initiating that work ethic but it will rub off on the group, if you keep it up and the group is committed to the team goals.

To have a chance at reaching your team goals, there needs to be that accountability to the work involved, and that will build the trust needed to create a strong, supportive environment. It won’t happen overnight but be patient and work with your coach to help you stay on track.

Hope that helps. By the way, all these things with goal-setting and trust-building, also apply to the coxswain as well. I often found that my strongest bonds were with coxies who did some of the workouts with us but also did their own thing… To be demanding of your crew, there needs to be a little distance between you and the rowers, so that when push comes to shove in a race, they will respond to their coxie, who won’t be their best friend at that point.

– Darcy Marquardt

Enjoy reading this? Read the full collection of coxswain tips.

Interested in taking an even deeper look at how national team athletes train and race? Check out The Longest Odds.

Darcy Marquardt
Darcy began rowing during her first year at the University of Victoria. She wanted to try a new sport and so she went to the rowing information meeting. They were cut-throat with their novices back then and required everyone to fill out a sheet with their stats. Everyone under 5’9 was then cut! Luckily, Darcy was 6’0 tall. This led her down a rowing career that has included 3 Olympics, culminating with a silver medal in London in the Canadian Women’s Eight.

The Longest Odds Inside the Olympic Journey

The Longest Odds

Go behind the scenes of the Olympic Journey with The Longest Odds, a photo-documentary that goes inside the Beijing and London Olympic journey of the US Olympic rowing team. 

This book illustrates what you do not see on television – it’s a raw look at what athletes go through during their years-long journeys much before anything appears on television.

The Longest Odds allows us to see those highs and lows, the conflicts, joy, exhaustion, elation, fear – and most of all, the bonds of friendship being indelibly forged.

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