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Reinventing Practice: What the River Taught Me

While socially distancing on the water, Tufts rowers found new coaches: the river—and themselves

With athletic competition off limits because of the pandemic this fall, student-athletes and their coaches were in a bind. Could they figure a way to reinvent the practice of their sport? For Noel Wanner, the director of rowing at Tufts, the answer was to go solo.

While the men’s and women’s rowing teams traditionally race in eights—shells with eight rowers and a coxswain—at competitions such as the Head of the Charles Regatta, they often used single sculls to develop their skills. This fall, they completely embraced the single scull, a narrow and frankly tippy one-person boat, for their daily training.

“The single is such a good training boat because you’re by yourself—the feedback that you receive from that environment is very unequivocal,” said Wanner. “If it isn’t going well, it’s because of something you are doing. For good athletes who are paying attention, the single is the best coach that they’ll ever have.”

So the rowers spent the early fall—before practices were eliminated as the pandemic numbers got worse—out on the Malden River, learning powerful lessons about how to adapt to life’s circumstances, and become more skilled rowers.

“As disappointing as it has been not to be able to race, it’s given us—in some ways forced us—to go back to a deeper philosophical principle of improvement, of just paying attention to each moment and trying to get better,” said Wanner.

Anna Miller can be reached at a.miller@tufts.edu.

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