It’s pretty obvious what traits a cox must adopt and try to learn in order to do a good job in this most unique position in the athletic world. I’ll skip the leadership stuff, Napoleon complex garbage, and point out a secondary characteristic or two that coxes unintentionally inherit after a while. They can’t drive a car anymore. They take 10 miles to change a lane, oversteer, can’t find the brakes, and yell to the car a lot. This has nothing to do with their former driving ability. Stick Richard Petty in a cox seat for a while, they’ll take his driver’s license away. Coxes also begin to squint a lot, no loss in vision, they just squint.
“It’s a tough job but only I can do it.” The meekest, most frightened non-rower in the world, when plugged reluctantly in the stroke seat, stays meek up until the first few strokes. During the first few paddle strokes, a thought grows in the wimps’ snivelling little mind that this job is theirs for life. Back on the bank, the real personality will percolate back to the surface. “I hope you guys could follow me ok.” In the boat they’re thinking: “stop rushing, you weenies!” Strokes are born and made to be the most competitive person in the boat by far and, if they stroke long enough, become overly competitive in everything they pursue, or don’t pursue. Don’t expect to finish a game of Monopoly, Risk, or Golf with a stroke. The only one that can beat him to the dinner queue is the three man (more later) because the stroke was delayed trying to put more blades away in the rack than anyone else.
The seat is the Bitch Niche. I don’t know if whining, overly bossy, big-mouthed complainers are born, and I can’t believe that the cosmic effect of this seat could possibly be so instantaneous, but you could teach Mother Theresa to row in a boat tank, stick her in an eight at seven for the first time, and as the stern four is rowing away from the raft, she’ll turn around and yell at the bow four to “sit the fecking boat.” The longer one rows at seven, the more sophisticated and complex the bitching becomes, changing from a crude verbal rowing suggestion to the six man in the early stages to long winded level-voiced reasoned treatises after every piece explaining why the crew is slower now than last week. Ever wonder why when a coach brings a crew in to the bank to ask how a piece went he says: “So how did that go, fellas? -not you seven.” I was a team captain, looked up to leader of my college crew, kept my mouth shut and did my job. I raced one week at seven and my coach told me to “shut up Sullivan” in a post race meeting. Women who deal with severe PMS mood swings will find those swings totally disappear after some time at seven.
If you bred Arnold Swartzeneggar with a Golden Retriever, you get a six. Six is also Seven’s yin. The gentle giant, gorilla in the mist. Six absorbs most of Seven’s bitching and keeps it from moving through to the rest of the crew. Six nods and agrees a lot. It is a hard thing for a normal person to row six. It seems like such a great seat, you’re in the stern, the boat’s more stable here, but you are one with a rowing career at six, you find you’ve been used. Sixes are characterised by great competence in execution of rowing and life, but poor self-confidence and a propensity to self-flagellation. Take your 3-year stroke out of the stroke seat and stick them at six for a week. This will be the first time you ever hear them say: “My fault, fellas,” at the end of a poor piece. Sixes meditate. Sixes marry, go to work for, and lend their power tools to sevens. This support system keeps sevens with thriving businesses, mates they can walk all over, and a garage full of power tools at their disposal that they don’t have to fix when they break.
God. Yahweh. Allah. Buddha. It’s not that the five seat IS those things, its just that’s how they gets treated. Five’s crap doesn’t stink, the catches don’t hang. They’re the older brother or sister that gets special treatment, and has no idea. If a photo is taken of the crew, five will look great, everyone else is caught with shirttails out, and snot on the lip. At heart and soul, five forgets to change oil, pay phone bills, and turn in forms to the Inland Revenue. Five is an example of what happens to a bum that is treated like a king, they act like one. Five has the greatest delta between image and reality. The fortunate thing is that the unearned, unabashed worship lasts only as long as the time on the water. Five’s on his own back at home. Five wears aviator glasses.
The Amnesia seat. Take a genius with a photographic memory. Row said genius at four. Listen to him ask for the third time in the same warm-up, “How many of these 500s are we doing?” Four seat is not stupid, just has immediate and catastrophic memory loss. At a start and wind for 20, four settles at 21 because in the time the cox yelled “settle in two,” he forgot. In a novice boat where the seats have been removed and cleaned, it’ll be four’s that went back in backwards. Four will forget to tell the boatman about their stripped rigger nut- usually from the time the coach tells him, until he arrives at the boatman’s bench wondering what he’s doing there. On that first day on the water as the ice is breaking up, who is rummaging around the back of the boathouse looking for a sweatshirt? Four is why racing shirts are handed out on race day.
Late to the river. Late to practice. Late to class. Late to work. Late off the river. Late to his date. Late for everything but the dinner queue. There is no competitiveness involved here; just an uncanny knack to have the first three rowers into the dining hall stopped by friends for a brief discussion while three breezes on by. Three generally gets assigned a sitter.
Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight fight fight. Cheerleader. What is amazing, is to sit at four or five after a particular piece – seven is whining about the balance, the spacing, no swing, rushing: two is back there with pom poms saying: ALL RIGHT GUYS! LETS DO THAT AGAIN!… Two calls out names of power 10s. “Aright guys -OAR CLASH TEN!” If he says something funny, he repeated something the Bowman prompted him with.
Comedian. The bow seat creates a strange fatalism. They know that in a catastrophic collision, they’ll be the only one to die or get paralysed. Consequently there is a constant quiet stream of one-liners that two or three could probably hear if two were not cheering loudly. If the bow is joined by a cox in a front-loader, this trait completely disappears, since someone is now likely to hear him joke about three being late, five not pulling hard, or the cox’s course looking like a signature. They can be humourless and witless off the water, but on the water when there is breath to spare, you’re sure to catch a chuckle if you listen.