Sep 4, 2013
PERKINSTON, Miss. - It was perhaps a bit of an unusual Labor Day weekend for the 2013-14 Tulane University women's swimming and diving team, but the squad learned a lot about themselves as individuals and as teammates when the Green Wave spent Sunday and Monday doing team-building exercises at a C.O.P.E. Course at Camp V-Bar.
Devised by the Boy Scouts of America, Project C.O.P.E. - which stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience - helps a team learn about its members and their respective performance and leadership characteristics. Entering her first season at the helm of the Green Wave program, head coach Katie Robinson decided to load her squad onto a pair of minibuses and travel to south Mississippi to build team camaraderie prior to the start of the upcoming season.
"My initial reason for wanting to do this and work with the team in a (C.O.P.E.) course setting was mainly just to get to know the team -and not only the team and myself getting to know each other but also the team getting to know each other as well," Robinson said. "I also think it was good for us as a staff to get to know each other as well because we're all new. We're all just meeting and getting to learn each other's strengths and learning how to work together.
"Not only was this a good platform to use but it was also above and beyond what I could have expected to get out of it. It really surpassed every expectation of mine."
Project C.O.P.E. is designed to help a team achieve six main objectives - teamwork, communication, trust, decision making, leadership and problem solving. Throughout the two-day trip, members of the Tulane women's swimming and diving team - including Robinson, assistant coach Sarah Woodbury and diving coach Chris Devine - tackled several elements to help develop each of the objectives.
With her team not entirely certain of its destination or the reason for the trip, the Green Wave arrived at Camp V-Bar on Sunday afternoon and immediately began their team-building exercises. The team learned trust and communication by going on a blind-folded "trust walk" in which the student-athletes took turns leading each other around nearby obstacles and took a brief lesson on spotting and command protocol.
From there, it was off to the dining hall for dinner and a team meeting with the coaching staff going over goals and regulation before concluding the night with a campfire where the team enjoyed s'mores and fellowship.
On Monday morning, it was on to the C.O.P.E course itself where the team split into two groups as the Green Wave went through an array of challenges which included simple elements like the human knot - where the team joined hands and had to find a way to become untangled to form a single circle - and the elevated log - where the student-athletes had to climb on and switch places without falling off.
After a break for lunch and a return to the low-course area, where the team reunited as one and worked together to get the entire squad over an 18-foot high wall, it was on to the high course. While the low elements of Project C.O.P.E. are designed mostly for team exercises, the high elements are director more toward individual achievement, including overcoming personal fears and a sense of accomplishment. Donning helmets and harnesses, and using other climbing equipment, the team went through a six-obstacle course that got progressively higher and ended with a 150-yard ride on a zip-line.
Due to the nature of the high course, individual participants can often be intimidated as the ground continues to get further and further away and the swimming and diving team was no exception. But whenever an individual appeared to freeze up or began questioning their own ability to complete the obstacles, teammates both on the ground and those already engaged in the course itself were quick to offer encouragements to help push each other onward.
"Some of them have an extreme fear of heights and they were not okay when they were told what we were doing," Robinson said. "But it was cool to see them find support from their teammates and then go up and do it. Our sport is a fairly individual sport. They have to swim their event on their own unless it's a relay. So it was neat to see them gain support from their teammates and then individually go out and not only accomplish but conquer their fears.
"Those were our first two official days of practice for the season and we didn't touch the water. That's a little bit scary, because as a coach you love the grind and you feel the pressure to work your kids out in the pool day in and day out. As I look back, we grew so much more as a team then in doing the course than two - or even four - practices could have been. We got so much more out of it than just swimming. I'm glad we took the leap of faith to do that, and I know it's going to pay off in the future."
The event was set up and facilitated by Tulane assistant director of athletic communications, Richie Weaver - who in his time away from the office is a volunteer for the Southeast Louisiana Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He was assisted by fellow Camp V-Bar Summer Camp staff members Alex Barnes, Gretchen Neuenhaus and Jon Prado.
The Tulane women's swimming and diving team opens the 2013-14 schedule on Friday, Oct. 11, when the Green Wave travel to Pensacola, Fla., to take on Florida State and host West Florida. From there, the Wave will return to New Orleans on Saturday, Oct. 12, when they will play host to Arkansas-Little Rock at 9:30 a.m. in the Reily Student Recreation Center Natatorium. Admission to all home Tulane swimming and diving meets is free.