College Recruiting

College Recruiting: Interest from coaches + coming from a small program

Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1 ||  Contacting coaches, pt. 2 || Contacting coaches, pt. 3 || Contacting coaches, pt. 4 || Highlight videos + the worst recruiting emails || Official/unofficial visits + recruiting rules recap || When scholarships aren’t an option || Managing your time as a student-athlete + narrowing down your list of schools

If you’ve ever sent an important email to someone then you know how annoying/agonizing it can be sitting around waiting for a reply. There’s a lot of “most common questions” when it comes to recruiting but one that I hear a lot is “I emailed the coach on this date, it’s now this date, have they not gotten back to me because they’re not interested…”? Short answer, no. Long answer, a coach is never not interested until they say so. Obviously one of the key parts of the recruiting coordinator’s job is to get back to you but you should keep in mind the following things:

Rules and standards

There are regulations on when they can contact you and individual programs may have their own policies in place with regards to when they reply or reach out to athletes. As an example, one of the Ivy League lightweight women’s programs won’t start talking to a rower until they’ve broken 7:40. (I overheard another coach who has pretty solid knowledge of that program say that so without naming specific teams, trust that I’m pretty confident in that number.) They’ll keep tabs on the athletes but won’t reach out themselves until they’ve hit that minimum score.

I’ve heard other coaches say similar things too so make sure that before you’ve contacted the coaches you’re aware of what the erg standards are for each program and are making an effort to keep the coaches regularly updated on your progress, even if you aren’t getting replies back yet. (Finding out the standards for a given program is not hard nowadays either. Search old Reddit threads or start a new one, pull up Concept 2’s rankings, etc.)

The coaching carousel

Every year around mid-May the “coaching carousel” starts turning and programs start making changes to their staff. This can have an obvious impact on getting replies out to athletes because if one coach is leaving and other is taking over, there’s going to be a latency period where literally nothing is happening as they get settled in.

You’ll almost always know when a coach is leaving (if you don’t see the press release or read/hear the gossip first, you’ll likely/hopefully get an email from them saying that they’re moving on from that program) but during the summer months this can be a key reason why it takes awhile to hear back from them.

Another question in that same vein is “will coaches be interested in me even though my team isn’t that well known”. I asked this question too because even though I came from a very good team that was well known in the Midwest, we lacked the national recognition that teams like Marin, CRI, Atlanta Juniors, etc. have. I was lucky in that the Syracuse coaches knew of my team because the siblings and mom of one of my teammates had rowed there but with the other schools I looked at, my resume, recordings, and letters of recommendation from my coaches pretty much had to do all the talking.

Related: Letters of recommendation

I don’t believe that coming from a small team is a disadvantage (although it certainly doesn’t make things any easier) but it’s not like you’re being recruited on the strength of your team, you’re being recruited based on your strength as an individual rower or coxswain. Having big results like a Henley appearance or a Youth Nats win is obviously a huge help but it’s also entirely possible to have a 6:19 2k and never make an appearance at a major regatta. In situations like that, you have to recognize that and say “OK…we’re not a Youth Nats level team but this is the score I need to get on these coaches’ radars so I’m going to work my ass off outside of practice to get there”. It’s really that straightforward. Don’t use your team’s level of competitiveness or success as a reason why you can’t do something.

A point that was made and reiterated by several of the coaches at Sparks was that standards will be adjusted too based on the level of program you’re coming from. This was always something that I assumed had to be the case (but I never knew for sure) so it was good to hear it actually confirmed by several high-profile coaches.

This conversation should always begin with you asking “what do you want to see from me” so that the expectations are clear but basically if you’re coming from a team like, for example, Marin – a well known, successful program that produces a lot of successful/recruitable athletes – then the coaches are likely to respond by saying “we want to see you sub-6:20 by Christmas”. If on the other hand you’re coming from Marietta (my high school team) then they’ll likely look at the team, where/who we race, your current stats, etc. (all things that might not be known right off the bat like they are with larger programs) and say “we want to see you sub-6:35 by Christmas”.

Related: College recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 4

You have to be up front about who you are (as previously discussed in the post linked above) and realistic about your goals but if you’re someone that shows interest in the program and has the work ethic to achieve said goals, the coaches will work with you to give you the best shot possible.

If you have the opportunity, apply to and row for a different program during the summer. This can really work in your favor and gain you a lot of respect (especially if your erg score drops, your technique gets better, etc.) because it shows you’re willing to go from a big fish in a small pond to “a minnow in an ocean”. Camps are great but full summer-long programs (i.e. Penn AC) are where you’ll gain the most in this regard.

Another thing to keep in mind is that trying to make excuses or oversell yourself in order to “make up for” not being part of a large/successful program is only going to hurt you. If you’re a lightweight, don’t send an email saying “I rowed in the lightweight eight but we had to enter heavyweight events so we always lost which is why I don’t have any notable wins under my belt”. (Apparently that was a real thing that someone said to a coach.) Instead, talk about what you learned from the experience (this is what the coach said they would have liked to have seen):

“This past year I rowed 6-seat in the lightweight eight. Not many other programs in our area field lightweight crews so we were often up against heavyweight crews in our races. Despite finishing 6th many times, we were able to close the gap on the 5th place crews from 18 seconds at the beginning of the season to 10 seconds at the end. Being in this position taught me XYZ which I’ve been applying to my own training and hope to continue using as I work towards breaking 6:40.”

Next week: What’s the best course of action if there are no spots left, they don’t recruit coxswains, etc. and how much weight do coaches really have with admissions…

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