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Finding His Coxing Voice: Henry Fieldman

Finding His Coxing Voice: Henry Fieldman

Coxswain Chronicles: This is Part of an Ongoing Interview Series

Henry Fieldman is one of the world's most renowned coxes. Having led the British men's eight to a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, he is now in the driving seat of their rapidly improving women's eight and has his sights set firmly on a golden summer in Paris. With experience coxing at Cambridge University in The Boat Race, with Leander at Henley Royal Regatta, and the national team at many far-sprung courses, Henry is a top performer in his realm.

How did you first get into coxing?

I grew up near the river, saw a lot of rowing, and always wanted to try it. I went to Latymer Upper School and, one day, they lined us up in height order. I was at one end of the line, so I was put in the cox's seat and have been there ever since.

What really kept you involved in the very beginning and how has that evolved over the years?

I loved being out on the water and rowing was the first time I'd felt part of a team. Once we started racing and occasionally picking up a tankard, I got hooked. Since then, I've still enjoyed those aspects of the sport but have also found real value in how it's helped me develop as a person and how it's helped me forge relationships with my teammates and coaches that are very important to me.

What was your first club like and how important were they to your growth?

My first club was Latymer Upper School Boat Club and it was a great start for a young person trying out the sport for the first time. We had fantastic coaches, such as Don McLachlan, Bobby Thatcher, and Brian Young, who gave us a great grounding in the sport's technical aspects and showed us what it really meant to compete for something. My form tutor for two years was Jim Clark, an Olympic silver medallist as part of the GB men's eight in 1976, so we were spoilt for top-level rowers to learn from.

How would you define your coxing style?

My style has probably evolved over time and adapts to the situation or crews I'm in. I try to continuously learn, be transparent with my intentions, promote honesty and proactivity, and blend encouragement, tuition, and a sense of accountability to get the most out of my crews and teams.

In your opinion, what is the most important attribute a successful coxswain must imbue?

If I have to pick one I would say resilience. Crews have to be resilient to survive and then thrive in the training environment as well as on the racetrack. Never give up.

What has been your favorite coxing memory?

It's hard to pick one but a memory that I do enjoy is quite a recent one. I went back to my club, Leander, last winter and coxed the women's team for a stint up to the Women's Head before heading back into the National Team set up. I loved the change of scene being back in the club and on the river again, steering around bends and working with a group of athletes who were coming up to challenge for a spot in the National Team. I remember one session which was just a pre-row for WeHORR the morning before the race. The crew was hooking it up so well and so tuned into the rhythm. I said to myself 'if this is the last session I ever do, I'm happy with that.'

What was the biggest learning curve during your coxing journey and how did you tackle it?

I think something that I found tough initially was coxing people who were way older and more experienced than I was. My school coaches, Bobby Thatcher and Brian Young, sent me to London Rowing Club to get some extra coxing experience in the winter months while our team was in small boats. At the time London was the club to be at in the city with five or more eights out every weekend. I remember jumping into those boats and seeing people in front of me with union jacks on their hat or leggings and thinking 'how am I ever going to add to this experience when I'm coxing people who have represented Great Britain?'. You must get stuck in and expose yourself to the stressful stimuli to get comfortable and learn from it. That would be my advice - you've got to seek out uncomfortable situations to learn and eventually become comfortable in them, so that you can then seek out and find the next uncomfortable situation and that's how we can really grow and develop.

What is the one bit of advice you would give to a new cox trying to find his or her voice?

From my perspective, it's important to be a student of the sport. Learn from everyone around you. Research, talk to coaches and athletes and really seek to understand and see what really resonates with you and think about how you can incorporate that into your authentic self and what you're driving your crews towards.

How crucial is high quality equipment (like NK) to set you up for success?

High quality equipment is key. When I started in the sport coxswains generally just had a microphone and a timer in the coxswain seat. Things have developed quite a bit with coxswains and rowers having GPS data and more recently live bio-mechanic telemetry. I used an NK coxbox since that start of my career right up to the end of the 2015 season where I won my first World Championship in the M2+. I started using the NK GPS Speed Coach in 2013 and have used it ever since. It's basically the best product on the market for what it gives you.