Building Team Unity

Sept. 13, 2012

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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A painted gold paddle with a Tigerhawk logo and the words RACE, RESPECT and TRUST adorning the oar is a unifying symbol for the 2012-13 University of Iowa swimming and diving program.

UI head coach Marc Long enlisted the services of David Patton, who runs Touch the Earth, an outdoor recreation and education program through UI Recreation Services, to help build team trust, communication and teamwork. The Hawkeyes were put through a series of six different segments in a team-building exercise to open the season.

“The student-athletes were in the dark the whole time, they didn’t know any details or what to expect from the exercise,” said Patton, the son of former UI swimming coach Glen Patton. “They only knew they were going to get wet, dirty, and be tested both mentally and physically.”

After splitting into four groups of 16 individuals, the teams ran from the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center to Iowa City’s City Park carrying a backpack containing “dead weight.”

The first activity involved crossing a “lava pit” by using rocks to maneuver the obstacle. The team needed to communicate to get everyone across successfully, but if any team member lost contact with the rock, it would disappear.

Following a push-up relay at the City Park pool, each team split into groups of eight, with half running to Hancher Auditorium to climb the Hancher blocks, and the other to the Iowa River. The eight on the river advanced two canoes upstream, using three oars. They also had to fill a water cooler, using only a sponge.

“All the stations were about problem-solving and communicating,” said Long. “It was great for the team on the social front, and they were forced to communicate and work their way through things.”

Following a run to Crandic Park, the student-athletes worked through an “all tied up” challenge. Each team had to grab a rope, remove three knots, and tie the rope around a tree — all without losing contact with the rope.

“This was a challenge for a lot of people,” said junior Abbey Tuchscherer. “It challenged you to work together with everyone and come together, even if it is something that is frustrating. You manage to get through it with your teammates and make it work.”

The fifth leg involved pulling the canoes from the water and carrying the Iowa coaches in the canoe 100 yards to a designated area. The final leg had each team member put one finger on a helium stick, maintain contact, and lower it to the ground and back up again.

The competition ended when the teams handed Patton and his staff a rock — which was located in the backpack the teams were carrying throughout.

“This exercise not only worked your body, but it worked your mind,” said Tuchscherer, one of four captains for the women’s team. “It helped people think in different ways, and helped us collaborate in different ways you’re not used to.

“Experiences like this instantly bond you with teammates. You learn to work with everyone.”

Three of the four teams finished the competition with Tuchscherer’s “Team Dark Side” finishing first. The fourth team didn’t finish when the Secret Service pulled their canoe off the river with President Barack Obama’s speech taking place in Iowa City that afternoon.

The Hawkeyes open their season with the annual Black & Gold intrasquad meet on Oct. 13 at 11 a.m. (CT) in the CRWC Pool.