BY ED MORAN
PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
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When USRowing announced that Casey Galvanek was named head coach of the entire Junior National Team system, the association was pulling the trigger on a long under consideration plan to restructure and centralize the way the country’s younger athletes are trained and selected.
From the development of the very youngest in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) levels to the training and selection of the team that represents the U.S. at the World Rowing Junior Championships, the system — as it has existed before — is undergoing a restructuring process and being standardized in ways that it had not in the past.
“We are just trying to create ways to be better,” said Chris Chase, USRowing Director of Youth Rowing. “I think for the 20 years the system that Steve Hargis (USRowing junior high performance director) developed and ran, evolved every year and was an incredible system. But we took some cues from the athletes from surveys we conducted in 2019 and we wanted to use that input to improve.”
Creating a position for a head coach who would oversee both the junior men’s and junior women’s teams, and the feeder systems that funnel athletes onto the Junior National Team was the first step in the process. After an extensive selection process, Galvanek was named to the position.
Galvanek, who has been the head coach of the men’s junior national team while also serving as the CEO and head coach at Sarasota Crew, where he oversees a staff of 26 coaches and 434 athletes, was named the new head coach on November 20.
“I’m very excited,” Galvanek said. “The reason I applied is because I want to help. I want to try and make the system the best it can be.”
Under Chase, the restructuring includes opening all the current coaching positions, from the “lead coaches” of the men’s and women’s national teams, all the way through the staff that will coach individual boat classes at the junior worlds, to those that will coach the High-Performance Team crews during summer competition at the USRowing National Championship and the CanAmMex regatta.
According to Chase, emails inviting applicants were sent to over 700 coaches nationally and the process of selecting the coaches is still underway. Next to be named will be the coaches that will lead the women’s and men’s junior national teams, followed by their assistants, and the coaches that will oversee the high-performance and CanAmMex teams.
Following that will be the selection of coaches who will oversee the ODP program and the assistants who will coach them. And, Chase said, the door remains open for more applicants.
“I want anyone who wants to be part of this, but hasn’t see the invitation, to contact me,” he said.
According to Galvanek and Chase, one of the biggest changes will be the way the selection camps for the men’s and women’s junior worlds teams will be run. Up until 2019, the selection camps took place at several different locations. The new model will follow the process the men’s junior team had used the last few years, with all the athletes training and undergoing selection at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.
Under the revised system, both the 55 junior women and 55 junior men invited to the selection groups will attend camp together in Chula Vista.
After the rowers are invited to the selection camp, they will undergo a process designed to place athletes in the boats they are the strongest in.
“We will have an open and transparent system that will identify athletes capable of rowing in different boat classes,” Galvanek said. “We will put them in pairs, fours, quads, doubles, and eights and evaluate them in the same time trial format, with different lineups, and different partners so we can evaluate how they move which boat the best.
“We want to have athletes in the right boat classes, instead of saying we have a strong erg and shove them in whatever boat.”
According to Galvanek and Chase, the identification and selection system that will funnel juniors to the main selection camp will exist the same way it always has in terms of having identification camps, and having athletes who can’t make those camps submit erg results, while being open to athletes who might not have an opportunity to be easily noticed or attend a camp.
Galvanek, who has worked in the junior system for several years under Hargis, said the goal has always been to try and eliminate roadblocks and barriers and to have the most inclusive system possible.
“The way Steve [Hargis] told it to me was if you are driving past a lake and you see a kid out rowing in a single, and you see it’s good rowing, our job is to have a conversation with that kid to see if he or she is interested in participating.”
Beyond the identification camps for the selection group, USRowing created an ODP system in 2019 that is intended to reach potential athletes in the U17 and U18 ranks. That system includes camps for boys and girls in the six USRowing districts, and a season ending inter-district regatta.
In addition, the current revamping includes the addition of a new level for U18 athletes who are not quite ready for the selection camp, but have already participated in a U17 camp.
Those athletes will be invited to a month-long camp in one central location that will be staffed with highly experienced national and international level coaches and assisted by younger, still developing coaches, from clubs around the country.
One glitch to the restructuring right now is the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions to racing and training that continue to exist. To address that, Chase said several initiatives are being developed that include not holding identification camps and combining all the OPD athletes and coaches into one camp and creating a bubble for them to function in.
Chase said that plans are being made to bring all those athletes and coaches to Nathan Benderson Park, in Sarasota, Florida. in June, house them in the same hotel, and institute Covid bubble protocols that will include testing.
In addition, instead of holding identification camps this winter for the selection teams, a junior national team training plan is being developed by Galvanek that will be available to anyone that wants to follow it.
Athletes can follow the training plan and submit erg and strength testing results online for selection consideration, Chase said.
“There will be no identification camps this year,” Chase said. “What we are going to do is put out a junior national team sponsored training program. I think there are going to be a lot of clubs that are not going to be able to open for winter training, just given the restrictions on indoor spaces. So, we are going to put out a training program and that will serve as an identification program through January, February, and early March,” Chase said.
“Casey will design the program, and anybody in the country can have access to it. We’re going to try to find ways to be interactive, like have rankings for things like pullups, little contests from month to month, and have kids interact with other kids across the country. That will be done by birth year so all levels will know who is doing what,” he said.
The goal of all the reorganization, according to Galvanek, is to expand the system and create increased opportunities across the board for junior athletes of all ages.
“That’s what we are looking for, to make sure everybody has the same opportunity,” Galvanek said. “We want to create the safest, most competitive environment, where they can have the greatest amount of success.”
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