row2k Features
Collegiate Coaches Corner
Fall COVID Successes
December 8, 2020
Erik Dresser,

Following the turbulent fall of 2020 season, row2k re-engaged the collegiate coaching community on the topic of COVID-19 and how it impacted their programs. We thank the coaches and staffs that found time to contribute their thoughts during this stressful time.

Multiple coaches responded that their squads weren't allowed on campus in the fall and we wish everyone better luck in getting together with their teams in 2021.

This week's COVID-19 related question:


UCSD actually was able to bring back around 10,000 students to campus, including 500 or so athletes, with relative success in terms of COVID transmission. The majority of our team returned, stayed healthy, worked hard with what they were allowed to do, and made the best of the experience. We even had a couple of 6k PRs which was quite a surprise given all the limitations and the brevity of the season. While this was not a 'normal' Fall by any stretch of the imagination it was still great to see the athletes in person, watch them train in person, and feel like a coach again.

Our recruiting actually went really well for the class of 2025! We were also able to rent singles from our local rowing club (Upper Valley Rowing Foundation). The rowing community is super tight here, and we could not have had the productive fall we did without their help!

Although we have not been able to row or do any organized activity, the team has done a great job of integrating the first year rowers and continuing a sense of team culture. The athletes have found ways to row at local clubs, find training equipment, and stay motivated. We are very impressed by their mindset and attitude during this year.

Most importantly we were able to row! The university offered a residential campus experience and in-person classes so most of our team was on campus. We started rowing in singles, then progressed to doubles and finished the fall season in coxed fours and a few practices in eights.

Every athlete on the team, including coxswains, now has the ability to train in a single. Small boat rowing enhanced boat feel, and our athletes made great strides in their technical ability, but the real benefit to being on the water every day was on our general state of mind. It has never been truer that being at the boathouse is the best time of the day for both student athletes and coaches.

The team's resilience has been fantastic. We are fortunate here at Navy that they worked to get everyone back on campus safely with in-person classes. The protocols they put in place have made things a little tougher. However, in the fall we were able to hold practices, get on the water and provide an escape for the team.

It certainly hasn't been normal or easy, but the team always looked forward to coming over to the boathouse and rolling with whatever we could do with them. With all of the ups and downs since March, the team is beyond antsy to just line up and race.

I will say that the largest blessing of a COVID fall has been in giving us as a team the opportunity to take a step back and really reevaluate our "why?" It's been amazing to see the impact that having the flexibility to really just enjoy each other's company and get back in touch with our collective love of the sport has had on the team culture and environment. With everything else being so out of control on campus and in our home lives, practice and getting to see each other day-in and day-out has added some much-needed stability in such a tumultuous time. This feeling of support and gratitude for each other is something I hope stays well after the pandemic has ended. The world seems just a little less scary when you know you have a group of 40 women who are there to catch you if you fall.

Practice! There's been a real sense of gratitude to be doing what we love every day, and that's made a huge impact on how we approach the day as a team. We've been lucky enough to be together as a team, in our facilities, working hard towards our goals. After 5 months without that, everyone's come back with a refreshed attitude and outlook. We've had great focus, intensity, and excitement for practice and that's made it fun to come to the boathouse every day, for both coaches and athletes. I think everyone involved would say it's been one of the most fun fall seasons we've had, which has been a real boost after such a tough spring/summer.

The weather has been lovely in New York this fall. Alumni outreach over zoom seems to be more successful than e-mail solicitation.

A number of varsity, and not just captains, have stepped up to manage, motivate and inspire teammates, new and old. Virtually of course, but their communication has really helped to keep the majority of rowers engaged this fall, despite the physical distance, no on water rowing and no regattas.

Our time on the water was very good. We made great technical progress especially as we moved from pairs to fours and finally to eights. Rowing also allowed for the sense of normalcy that we were all looking forward to. The team was fantastic being so agreeable to protocols and keeping themselves accountable. We showed a great amount of maturity and poise.

Our team really committed to one another and the protocols put in place, including our novices. Our main goal this fall was safety and understanding that individual actions would have an impact on the team as a whole. We were able to maintain practices throughout the fall without a stop in our operations at any point. The women not only committed to each other from a safety standpoint, but also an athletic one. We had a lot of running and circuits this fall given our restrictions on travel and only being in singles. Without proper space for erg usage indoors at this time and limited storage space for ergs elsewhere on campus the women really embraced each practice regardless of what it was.

We were able to train pretty much how we normally do in the fall (3 ergs, 3 lifts and 6 rows) and I was really proud of how the team embraced the changes. Since most classes were online, it seemed coming to practice was a reprieve from being on zoom all the time. The team was awesome about being safe, so we had very few cases.

Well, the team is healthy for the most part. We decided not to bring in any novices due to COVID and our limited ability to train them. So, the returning group understands we will be a small squad. They are mature though. I applaud how they are handling this situation. It's impressive.

Luckily a lot of our student-athletes live together, and we were able to adjust to small boats and rowing amongst our roommates for the semester. This allowed us to minimize our risk and focus more technically. It added some good variation to our typical fall, a silver lining we will bring with us moving forward when COVID is no longer a factor.

The University of Notre Dame values in-person instruction. Notre Dame also values living on campus. That means we had about 12,000 students back on campus in August most living together in the residence halls. Despite this, we were able to practice and train from August 15 to November 7 with few interruptions from COVID. The team adapted to the new COVID norm and moved forward.

Sometimes it was a few steps forward and one back. I think we made great progress on the water. We put more time in the water than past years. I think the physical training in general went well. Despite all the challenges of COVID related training restrictions, our late season erg results were about normal for the time of year; no great fall off.


  • Athletes were happy to have a place to go that was predictable and safe.
  • Retention of novice rowers who believed what they were doing was normal & we did not tell them otherwise. We just had fun.
  • Emphasizing workouts are a good "stress" relief from the uncertainties in life & academic woes. Being healthy, mind and body, helps us be ready for the future and more prepared to be ready when opportunities arise.
  • Retention of the athletes due to increased team bonding across the squads due to the lack of water time
  • The desire of dedicated athletes to train for spring. This helped refocus "commitment" to team goals. Those who were not truly committed chose to do something else which was a really good thing.
  • Athlete resilience and we used land-based team training to the fullest extent we could given the circumstances.

Our team motto this fall was simply the word, "Bother." It can be really enticing; especially without racing opportunities, to adopt the attitude, "everything is so difficult, why bother?" It’s taken a collective effort to fight against that and within that struggle, several potentially transformative leaders have emerged. I feel confident that the leaders we've built and the persistence we've forged during the last nine months will help us make history at Cabrini over the next four years.

There were quite a few points of success during the fall. The program was able to practice throughout the fall thanks to health protocols on campus and students respecting the safety guidelines. We actually went longer than originally anticipated - we extended our practices a week because of nice weather and wanted to take advantage of working as a team before break.

We were also able to conduct novice recruiting on campus and introduce the sport to some first-year students. There was concern over summer if we would be able to recruit, and it ended up we could. As a result, we brought on some great new people that we're excited to have on the team moving forward.

There was also some great commitment and engagement from athletes who were on campus, especially from our seniors which I think was especially important. They lost a spring season, and lost their fall season, but kept coming to practice day after day to get their workout in and to also engage with first-year students and welcome them to the team. This was key and I greatly appreciate their effort, and I hope it will continue into the spring (regardless of the type of season we'll have).

I can't say enough about the mental strength, internal motivation, and overall maturity of the athletes in our program. Whoever spends their time disparaging the men and women of the current college generation clearly hasn't spent time around these kids. In spite of everything that has been thrown at these people, they continue to be laser focused, generally positive, and continue to take daily challenges in stride with good grace and hardworking attitudes. The pandemic has tested our team culture to its max and I am really proud of the way our athletes have handled the challenges.

The athletes came with such energy and hope for the future opportunities. It was unfamiliar territory and supporting them was uncomplicated for the most part. We met athletes in their space, reprioritized cohort objectives and controlled the controllable. Then the roads in our region became a very powerful stomping ground for the restive types. A number of athletes never thought they would have spent time on a road bike or in the single. This odd go around has placed challenges on all of us, and it brought out the best of our abilities to review systems, communicate and follow up.

I've been really impressed by the athletes in the way that they have all accepted the reality and made the best of it. We started the season with a roster of 65 athletes, and we still have over 60 athletes on our squad. The majority are in the area and in-person, with a handful that are still living and training remote. We have some strict guidelines to follow in order to practice – and there have been some last-minute changes to the daily plan because of this on a semi-regular basis, but the athletes have really taken it in stride and now we are starting to get some sort of a routine which is making practice more effective. We are all itching to get back to 'normal,' but this is working for now and we're all thankful for it.

I like to think that everyone has a renewed appreciation for the simple things. We get to row, we get to grow and mature as students and athletes, and we get to work on our craft. I think rowers, in particular, love these things in normal times but the pace of life, both inside and outside sport, can sometimes take that out of focus. Having been limited to this wonderfully simple list, I think we’ve been reminded of the core of our draw to this sport.

We are so fortunate to have a lake on our campus and while it is not big enough for most big boat practices, it IS perfect for small boat work. We have been training in 10 person cohorts, in singles and doubles. This has been an amazing time to teach last year's novices how to scull and for our returners to further develop. We have also been able to stay together and keep practicing longer into the academic year than we normally would in DIII. Instead of counting weeks, we have been counting days.

The flexibility for our student-athletes has been great, especially with an altered academic program. The small training cohorts have been great to develop teamwork AND to keep everyone safe and healthy.

One question that we bring up with any challenge or setback is, "How is this good?" In this case, this fall's format has allowed us to improve in at least three distinct areas: sculling skills, psychological resilience, and health and cleanliness standards within the program.

We already row small boats a lot typically (we're fortunate to have 19 pair/doubles and 5 singles), but normally it is primarily pairs.

This year, though, it was almost exclusively doubles and singles for a number of reasons; having unequally-powered roommates in a double isn't an issue; doubles are less likely to flip and easier to steer than pairs, which was valuable given that we couldn't just jump to bigger boats initially when it was darker out or the water was choppier.

We've always wanted to instill a baseline level of competence in sculling across our squad (both for how it helps one's rowing awareness as well as the opportunities that are unlocked when one can row a single), and this fall gave us the opportunity to do that. We went from 25% of our team being certified to row a single to around 90%, which was tremendous.

On the mental health side, the rowers are now tougher and more mentally resilient for having gone through this experience. We've chatted about how the "Greatest Generation" wasn't born that way--they were molded into being great through their challenging experiences (WWI, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, WWII) that they had to overcome.

In the same way, these rowers have had to dig really deep to push through frequently changing circumstances, and they'll be more equipped to handle future setbacks because of it.

Lastly, we've been more stringent with our health and safety regulations this fall. Some are specific to COVID-19 (like smaller gatherings, taking cars with windows down instead of vans to practice), but others (like disinfecting the oars/ergs/common touch points) are good practices to continue.

We only saw two rowers contract COVID during the fall season; in both cases, the contact was through a non-rower and no one else on the team got sick. We feel like this is an indication that we had good safety procedures in place, and more importantly that our rowers were adhering to those safety measures.

Our kids have had a great coach-to-athlete ratio this fall, and we have done a good job of keeping the whole squad connected virtually.

Shoemaker Boathouse is on the Malden River, three miles from campus. Vans use is off the table, so almost the entire team rides bicycles to the water while a few run every day. The weather was beautiful for us this fall! Having enough singles to cover the numbers for each group, three groups per day, six days per week, is our strongest asset. Each side of the boathouse had three coaches for ten to twelve scullers in a session, and there was a lot of learning going on. After several weeks we were allowed into pair/doubles and that was most rewarding, but cases in the towns jumped so we went back to singles.

The best thing of all has been the compliance of the rowers -- masks, distancing, equipment care and cleaning after each session. Rules were followed on the main campus as well; since August we have had just over 200,000 tests with just 163 positives who were immediately isolated, and their contacts quarantined.

A lot of individual and small group training: bike to the boathouse, row a pair to Longfellow and back, do some basic strength, RP, L500 work, etc., bike home. A lot of guys have made significant improvements on multiple fronts. This has also enabled them to maintain a sense of balance in their lives, and, continue to exercise their identity as oarsmen.

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


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