Tag Archives: athletic lore

Coxswain Toss

Main piece: There’s this thing called a “coxswain toss” where after you’ve won a big race, and only after you’ve won a significant race, the rowers will gather around, chase the coxswain down, grab her by the arms and legs (usually it’s a girl but sometimes it’s a guy – usually it’s a girl because of weight, coxswains need to be lighter) but they’ll grab your arms and your legs and toss you into the water. 

Background: KP is a sophomore coxswain for The Ohio State University rowing team. After coxing competitively in Maryland clubs for four years, she was recruited to cox at Ohio, which she has now done for two years. 

Context: I asked KP if her team has any “lucky” objects or superstitions they do/interact with before competitions. She also said that what constitutes a “big race” is dependent on the team (“for Ohio, it would be NCAAs… it’s almost expected that we win Big 10s or if we lose it’s very sad, and it really depends on the team.”) She also said that the ritual isn’t always enforced due to the contamination of the water. If the water is toxic or has sea life that could potentially harm the coxswain, the ritual is not practiced (“I wasn’t tossed in at all in Baltimore, because if you’re tossed in in Baltimore, you have to take a shower immediately after. Also there were jellyfish and sharks so that’s not great”). However, as a coxswain herself, she doesn’t mind being thrown in the water if able; she prefaced her explanation with “because, you know, we’ve been yelling at them all season and stuff”, and believes it’s a fun and harmless way to let the rowers celebrate their win.

Analysis: This ritual is a way of changing the power dynamic that usually occurs in a boat. The coxswain is in charge of the rowers during practices and competitions, and their entire job consists of yelling at the rowers and telling them what to do. In victory, proving that the rowers have been listening to the coxswain and working hard to win, the rowers “get revenge” and turn the tables by throwing the coxswain into the water. Also it reinforces that while the power dynamic of the sport places the coxswain in charge, the coxswain is always the smallest member on the team, especially in competitive rowing, and therefore easy to physically overpower by the much larger rowers. In a way, this also reinforces the trust the rowers have for the coxswain and their willingness to cede control to them because they know that this will lead them to victory. 

The “Playoff Beard”

My informant was a competitive hockey player his entire adolescence and was raised in Elk River Minnesota, a hockey powerhouse. He played Division 1 hockey until an injury caused him to transfer schools where he played Division 3 hockey. His father has been a prominent boys hockey coach and local legend in the state of Minnesota for 26 years.

The “playoff beard” is a tradition that hockey players do where they stop shaving when they enter the play-offs and do not shave again until the team is out of the tournament (or wins). Which results in the stereotypical scruff, mustaches, goatees, or out of control hair seen in hockey players. The playoff beard is a unique practice of the National Hockey League during the Stanley Cup playoffs but has spread to being performed in high school and NCAA teams. My informant participated in this tradition during his time as a hockey player, and noted its importance to the hockey community. My informant said that that they do it “because of superstition.” The tradition started in the 1980s by the New York Islanders, and has grown to be a trademark of hockey.

From personal experience, I have witnessed my high school’s hockey team grow out their facial hair and refuse haircuts when the state tournament came around. Upon my own research, I found that some teams do it to have a sense of team unity. An example of this is seen when the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team all bleached their hair blonde in the 2006-07 post-season. A high school tennis team all gave themselves Mohawks for their trip to the state tournament as well. The growing of hair and beards has been seen in other sports such as tennis, basketball, and football in high school teams or individual athletes. It has also spread to philanthropic organizations such as “Beard-A-Thon” that raises money for each team in the Stanley Cup’s charity, and to the development of the “fan beard,” where fans grow beards to support their team.