‘Inhale the gold dots’: Holland teaches students meditation tools

Rowers take relaxation lessons beyond the erging room


Alexandra Kluzak, On Campus Editor

“What I’m going to introduce you to today is the idea of radical self-compassion,” Boys Varsity Rowing Head Coach Adam Holland said to a group of 80 Upper School (US) rowers at the beginning of practice on March 9.

Instead of leading a workout on the rowing machine, Coach Holland, who has a master’s degree in sports psychology and is trained in meditation, turned off the lights, asked the students to lie down and close their eyes, and guided them in 30 minutes of meditation. The session was the first of the season and was coordinated with Girls Junior Varsity Coach Jean Bartkewiz, Boys Varsity Coach Stephanie Guilmet, and Girls Varsity Head Coach John Cotter as a response to heightened stress near the end of the second trimester.

The short-term goal of the sessions, Coach Holland said, is to provide a respite from the academic and social pressures US rowers face. The long-term goal is to equip them with the strategies to manage their reaction to factors that are out of their control, he said.

“The pressures on the school’s students are staggering,” he said. “But if they can be contextualized correctly, and seen from a different perspective, then, for the most part, they are manageable.”

Reframing students’ perspective on their environment begins with re-examining their understanding of themselves, Coach Holland said. In his meditation sessions, he asks students to imagine a mirror in which they can see themselves composed of a myriad of blue and golden dots: the blue dots representing their negative, unwanted thoughts, and the gold dots representing their positive emotions. Calling attention to their breath, Coach Holland asks students to exhale the blue dots from their body and inhale more gold dots from their surroundings.

Coach Holland hopes he is affording students the resources they lack, he said.

“I don’t think a lot of the students have the tools to understand themselves,” he said. “They’re groping around in the dark. So, tools like my imagery and mindfulness are all flashlights in the dark.”

Coach Holland hopes the students will integrate meditation into their everyday lives, he said.

“I’m trying to teach you to know yourself and to master yourself. And once you’ve learned to do that, you can do it whenever you want,” he said.

Lucas Lesburg ’24 said he uses Coach Holland’s meditation techniques to help him fall asleep at night because of their calming effect.

“It worked the first time, and it helped me relax,” he said. “It also helped me recognize my sleep deprivation.”

Natalie Gersen ’24 said Coach Holland has helped change her outlook on academic work.

“The most impactful part of the session was when Coach talked about noticing and acknowledging our thoughts,” she said. “Instead of pushing away our distracting thoughts, we should see them, acknowledge them, and then move on. This directly resonated with me as I am trying to work on understanding and acknowledging my anxieties and thoughts, rather than ignoring them and pushing them out of my mind.”

Sophia Chester ’25 said Coach Holland dedicating practice time to meditation signaled to her it was OK to take breaks between studying to focus on her mental health.

“The meditation helped me relax and take a break, something I wouldn’t normally let myself do,” she said. “It forces me to take time and check in on how I feel.”

Girls Junior Varsity Rowing Coach Jeanne Bartkiewicz said “whether students win or lose” in any facet of their life, the meditation practices ensure their “positive self-image remains intact.”

Coach Holland said he will continue leading meditation sessions on request and educating the US rowers on wellness.