Rowers practice for 156 days out of the school year and compete in 10 races in their official season. They devote hours upon hours of practice for races that, on average, last less than seven minutes.
In other words, rowers have little room for error when the time comes to perform on game day.
“Fewer opportunities to compete mean that we can’t give away any races,” Penn women’s crew coach Mike Lane said. “That being said, we do have more time to prepare for each race, which is a positive.”
Both men’s and women’s teams compete in several fall regattas that do not factor into their official results for the season but serve as good indicators on how the team is progressing.
Because the teams practice hard continually during all three seasons — in the winter, they sweat out countless meters indoors on rowing machines — crew is oriented on long-term goals.
“It’s not crucial for us to do well in the fall regattas, but we use those regattas to set goals for ourselves and get the guys where they need to be for the spring season,” lightweight men’s coach Nick Baker said.
Lane said he likes to use the fall season as a baseline for the team’s spring season.
The trick for the offseason is keeping up the team’s strength, endurance and general fitness by testing rowers regularly, both individually and as a team.
Once the spring arrives, however, no coach needs to remind his team about how important it is to stay focused on performing well in practice and translating that to race day. But even in the competitive season, rowers sometimes have to wait up to two weeks to see the results of their hard work between their chances to compete.
Baker weighed the pros and cons of having a small number of competitive opportunities.
“There’s not a lot of room for mistakes because there are so few races,” he said. “But that being said, when we only race once a week, we have a little bit of time to regroup between races.”
Baker compared his sport to basketball, in which teams often play on back-to-back days.
“They don’t have a lot of time to change what they’re doing or fix some major problems,” he said. “But we do have that opportunity.”
The lag time between races gives Baker the opportunity to switch up seats in the boats and figure out which lineups work best.
“It’s never too late in the season to change things around,” he said. “There’s never been a season where we’ve raced a boat with the same lineup all the way through.”
Although rowers do not compete as many times per season as a basketball or baseball team, both coaches brought attention to race weekends when each boat races two or three times. Saturday and Sunday, for example, the women’s team raced in the UVA Invitational and competed against both Ivy and non-Ivy teams in separate events.
“We really learned a lot about where we are at this point in the season, so it was good for us to have that big of a weekend a month before Ivy Championships” Lane said.
The team’s focus, he said, is the Ivies, which take place on May 13.
“We have all these checkpoints along the way,” Lane said. “We want to win each race we’re in, but at the end of the day we’re really focused on that final battle.”
Heading into the last few weeks of the season, both coaches felt their teams have progressed well but saw room for improvement looking ahead.
Baker still wants to see his men race consistently and perform on race day the way he has witnessed them perform in practice.
For Lane and the women’s team, the key is going to be finding that “special something” that puts them over the edge.
“We’re on the cusp of doing something really special. We’re on the borderline of being in a place to win an Ivy medal,” he said. “And that makes every practice, every race an exciting place to be.”