You may have heard the term "coxswain" (pronounced "KOK-sen") before when learning about rowing. In simple terms, the coxswain is the pilot of the boat - they dictate the pace of the boat as well where the boat goes. However, the duties of a coxswain extend well beyond simply driving the boat, and the ability of a coxswain can often make or break a boat. A coxswain must be highly competitive and motivated in order to be successful in rowing.
A coxswain acts as a coach in the boat for the rowers. During practices, it is his or her responsibility to run drills and call out technical corrections that will lead to a more cohesive unit. A good coxswain will be able to point out the problems plaguing their boat and ultimately lead a smooth boat by the end of practice. Over time, a coxswain will develop familiarity with their rowers and the skill set of their boat, and pinpoint technical calls will become second nature.
Where a coxswain really shines is during racing season. During the fall, many of the courses represent high degrees of steering difficulty. The Head of the Charles in Boston is notorious for being a "coxswain's course," as in the ability of a coxswain to take turns, cut corners, and pass boats may ultimately decide the outcome of the race. Spring season however is a whole separate atmosphere. In the spring, the courses are straight lanes, so steering is no longer a deciding factor. The coxswain is the commander of the boat - they need to be sharp, competitive, and able to manage all portions of the race plan in order to adapt to the changing landscape of the sprint. A good coxswains knows how to both stay ahead of another crew, as well as how to execute a power move to get back even when they fall behind.