It is no secret that varsity sports often require overwhelming time and dedication, especially when athletes are asked to practice with their teams over winter, spring or summer vacations.
Escaping the confines — and cold — of New Haven has become a regular practice for many of the teams over both winter and spring breaks. Most squads head to warm destinations together to ensure good training time for all team members. The trips are generally paid for by a variety of sources, including team fund-raising, parent and alumni donations, and University support.
Many of the outdoor sports say training trips are a must for a successful spring season. Men’s tennis head coach Alex Dorato said the benefits of the tennis team’s spring break trip to California with a stop in Idaho are numerous and undeniable.
Dorato said team bonding is one positive outcome of the trip, but the team profits from the weather more than anything else.
“Since mid-October, we’ve been [practicing] indoors,” Dorato said. “But during Ivy season, play is usually outside. [The trip] is our first chance to practice outdoors.”
And even if the tennis team could practice outside in New Haven, Dorato said, the competition the Bulldogs faced in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Boise is not something that could be recreated in the Elm City.
Unlike other team trips, the tennis team’s excursion to the West Coast does not involve hotel stays. Rather, Dorato arranges for team members to stay in homes around San Diego.
“When we do stay in hotels, [Yale] pays for that, and for airfare, and for most food, but not all,” Dorato said. “There’s a per diem, and anything over that [the players] have to pay for– Not only does the housing save us money, but it gives us contact with the community when we’re out there. And it also gives the guys a little more space from each other to not have to be in four adjoining hotel rooms.”
Tom Beckett, Director of Athletics, explained that the housing that some donors provide often takes the place of a monetary donation to the team’s trip.
“You have friends of the University that want to help out,” Beckett said. “In lieu of paying X number of dollars to contribute to the program, a family says ‘Stay in our home.’ It helps us with the expense of the trip.”
Traveling to find difficult competition is a driving factor in the baseball team’s training trip as well. Over the course of the two weeks in March, the sluggers first make a 20-hour drive down to Davidson, N.C., then to Fort Myers, Fla., then to Bradenton, Fla., and then back up to Durham, N.C., and then make their final stop in Richmond, Va.
“Most of the good baseball schools are all around the South,” captain C.J. Orrico ’05 said. “If we drive down there, we can hit up a bunch of schools.”
Orrico affirmed that a spring training trip is “imperative” for the baseball team; without it, the time during which the Northeast warms up enough for outside play is so short that the season would extend just over a month. And the intense schedule and small amount of free time given to the team ensures focused practice and game time.
Finding competition, however, is not the point of the swim team’s winter break trip to Puerto Rico. Although they do compete in a swim meet and occasionally practice with other swim teams, the eight-day stay on the island affords plenty of practice time in a pool 20 minutes away from the Embassy Suites Hotel at which the team stays.
“It was a good experience,” men’s captain Dave Lange ’05 said. “I think we came in [to the trip] in pretty good shape and left in even better shape.”
Though the swim team could easily practice at Payne Whitney’s pool over winter break, Lange said that to do that, most team members would have to stay in hotels anyway, since Yale dorms are closed. And though the University pays for hotel rooms and each swimmer receives a daily food stipend, airfare is not covered by the school.
“It’s a pretty fair trade-off,” Lange said. “We get a [food] stipend, but it’s usually not quite enough — for the amount of food that the guys on our team eat — It’s all a matter of budget. A lot of our trip is supported by alumni donation, and I’m not sure what the budget situation is in the Athletics Department office, but obviously we’re not a revenue-generating sport.”
Swimming head coach Frank Keefe said he also believes the training trip is essential for the team to break the monotony of indoor racing in New Haven. Swimmers who need financial help for their airfare get it, he said.
“It’s dealt with through the Athletics Department,” Keefe said. “We request a hardship, and when [the Athletics Department] okays it, I guess it’s basically paid out of the swimming association.”
But other teams do choose to stay in New Haven to practice over winter break, temporarily residing in a hotel. The women’s hockey squad is one of those teams, and head coach Hilary Witt said she is not resentful of remaining in New Haven while other teams get to travel.
“The kids stay in a hotel, and Yale pays for it,” she said. “[Going away] is not something we need.”
Members of her team also agree that while a trip would be nice, it is not essential.
“It would be nice [to go on a training trip] but we have the facilities we need here,” forward Nicole Symington ’05 said.
Beckett pointed out that last season the women’s crew team also did not take their traditional spring break training trip because the wife of head coach Will Porter was expecting a baby. But the missed trip did not seem to affect the team’s strokes that season; they came in second in the nation, missing first place by just a seat.
Porter, whose team will train in Sarasota, Fla., over spring break, said he does believe training trips are important, and that their role often varies by sport.
“The upsides of taking a trip are obviously the warm weather — it helps everybody’s mood — and traveling together as a team,” Porter said. “On a training trip you typically spend a lot of time as a group, bonding, so when we stayed here, we made a conscious effort to try to create bonding time — I think training trips are great if you’re [in] a sport that is really dependent upon the weather, but as rowers, we can get out and we row in most anything.”
Like women’s crew last year, lightweight crew captain Alex Ramsay ’05 said the team will not make a spring break trip to Florida this year because the wife of their coach is having a baby in late February.
That may not have much effect on the quality of rowing, Ramsay said.
“A training trip is what you make of it, and you can get as good work done — and maybe even better done — on campus,” he said. “Sure, there are superficial benefits of being where it’s sunny and warm, but crew has had great seasons when it has stayed in New Haven — In terms of how [the trip] impacts the rowing, it’s the attitude that you come at the trip with.”