Evan Thews-Wassell & MIT Men's Rowing

By Helen Tompkins | September 30, 2013

BOSTON – As the fall season begins, rowing teams around the U.S. and the world look forward to the storied October head race on the Charles River. For the heavyweight men’s rowing team at the Massachusetts Intsitute or Technology (MIT), rowing on the Charles is a year-round thing – but they don’t take it for granted.

“The Charles River is one of the greatest bodies of water in the country to row on” explains assistant coach Evan Thews-Wassell.  “Between the amount of row-able water we have and the rich history of rowing on the Charles, I am grateful every day that I get to work with my team on our body of water.  There is also a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and shared competitiveness on the river.  Whether you are talking about masters rowers boating out of Riverside Boat Club, one of the other college teams, or someone just learning to row out of CRI, there is a real excitement for the sport up and down the entire river.”

"... becoming the best collegiate rower you can be is going to be a four-year process, and they need to want to get better every one of those years.”

“It also doesn’t hurt to row by your competition every day,” he adds. “Whether or not you like what you see is a different story, but it keeps you aware of what your goal is and what you have to do to achieve it."

As he enters his eighth year as MIT’s assistant coach, Thews-Wassell has seen eleven classes of student-athletes in action at MIT. He and head coach Tony Kilbridge have worked together for all eight of those years, so they have a lot of experience working jointly to achieve team goals.

“We both have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done throughout the year in order to be competitive in our league come the spring season.  Whether it be erg standards, on the water times, or technical essentials, we let the team know where they need to be come June and give them a plan that can get them there.”

"...we let the team know where they need to be come June and give them a plan that can get them there.”

When it comes to effecting that plan, the coaches expect their athletes to take initiative throughout the year.

“We are not the type of coaches who are going to scream and yell either for motivation or punishment purposes. We think more about taking the role of teacher and leader, rather then dictator…it’s up to the guys to trust the plan, put the work in, and make the improvements.  It takes trust from both the coaching staff and athletes, but it works well and stresses the importance of self-accountability, which is so important in our sport.”

That accountability is a critical component of success at MIT, where athletes must achieve the school’s high standards of academic rigor in addition to meeting their rowing commitments.

“We make a real point when talking to potential rowers to let them know that the demands of both our team and their academics are going to be high.  For the right kid, this is a great thing; this really excites them.  If they have passion for their academic interest and the desire to be a great rower, they are going to love being an MIT oarsman.”

In addition to academic and athletic potential, the MIT coaching staff look for the right personality in a potential rower.

“One of the most important things we look for in a potential rower is a sense of work ethic and a constant desire to get better.  A kid can be one of the best junior rowers in the country, who never loses a high school race, but if he enters a college rowing program thinking he can float through without getting much better, he is going to lose a lot of races.”

That’s a key point for high school rowers, who must prepare to raise their standards at the college level.

“We make a real point when talking to potential rowers to let them know that the demands of both our team and their academics are going to be high.  For the right kid, this is a great thing; this really excites them."

“College rowing these days is incredibly competitive.  We make it very clear to all of our incoming rowers that becoming the best collegiate rower you can be is going to be a four-year process, and they need to want to get better every one of those years.”