Rowing, or crew, is a popular high school and collegiate sport among both men and women. It’s also notoriously time-consuming and physically strenuous. For that reason, many high school rowers rightfully wonder whether their dedication to and talent in this sport can translate into their college admissions process through recruitment.
There’s no way to ensure you will definitely be recruited to row at your dream school; more often than not, being recruited is about being both lucky and good. We can’t help you with the luck, but there are ways to ensure you’ve got the “good” part locked up. Below, find our big-picture advice for maximizing your chances of recruitment in crew.
The first thing to know about rowing in college is that you definitely do not need to be an official recruit to do so. Both men and women’s collegiate crew teams are big, with 60 or more members at any given time. As such, there are generally lots of walk-ons in addition to a handful of recruited players. In general, crew coaches will tell you: if you want to row in college, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so, recruit or not!
Another thing to be aware of in collegiate rowing is that the line between club and varsity is much blurrier than in other sports. Many collegiate club crew teams have the same support, resources, and competition schedule as an official varsity team. So, if the schools you’re excited about only have club crew, don’t fret! Once you do some research, you may very well find that it’s as competitive and well-funded a team as any varsity program.
When it comes to recruitment specifically, coaches care about a range of physical fitness metrics, experience, and technique, but the first thing anyone will ask you about regarding crew recruitment is your 2k erg time. Knowing and understanding that number will be crucial to figuring out whether you’d be a competitive recruit, the strength of programs to which you could potentially be recruited, and what to tell coaches when they inevitably ask about it.
Another thing to consider about collegiate rowing is something you already know: that crew is a profoundly time-consuming sport and being on a college team is a big commitment. Being a student athlete in college is a great way to have a community and stay in shape, but it’s also important to think about what you want your life at college to look like. Are you willing to make the time commitment to rowing during your undergraduate career?
Finally, in crew as in all athletic recruitment, it’s important to be in frequent and open communication with your current coach to figure out how to proceed. Recruitment is about self-presentation and effective networking; you can’t sit back and assume a college coach will contact you. Working with your coach to identify your top prospects and to improve your technique and fitness is essential to becoming a successful crew recruit.
The things that every college coach is seeking in a crew recruit are: strong academics, long-term experience on your high school or club team, good technique, and advantageous physical attributes like height and wingspan. However, those are just the basics to begin the process. To really increase your chances, keep this advice in mind:
Although you row alongside your teammates as a crew member, your individual strength and abilities are paramount. For that reason, if there’s one variable a crew coach cares about above all else, it’s your 2k erg time—the time it takes you to row two kilometers on the erg. Knowing that number is the first step to getting recruited for crew.
That said, there is no magical number above which you have no shot and below which you’re guaranteed to become a recruit. Rather, ideal erg times vary by division and school, as well as by gender and category. For women, an erg time under 7:30 is likely to attract attention from top programs; for men, a time under 6:30 will generally perk up ears.
Nevertheless, the requisite erg time will depend on the types of schools at which you’re hoping to be recruited and how competitive their teams are. Women with erg times in the 7:40-7:50 range certainly have a shot at D3 and top club programs, as do men in the 6:40-6:50 range. However, for the top D1 programs, women will need to be under 7:20, and men under 6:20, even 6:15.
When all is said and done, if you’re hoping to be recruited for crew, the best thing you can do to increase your chances is get that erg time down. Lower is always better, and having a strong time in your hand by the point when you start contacting coaches in sophomore or junior year will increase your chances of success.
Every summer, the NCAA hosts collegiate rowing camps at colleges across the United States. These are spaces for excellent high school rowers to train, learn about college rowing, meet other rowers from around the country, and talk to coaches at D1 and D3 schools. You don’t want to miss these important opportunities to improve and show off your stuff.
At a collegiate rowing camp, you can expect to learn first-hand how college coaches run their practices and develop their rowers’ skills and fitness. Expect daily sessions involving physical training, technique, and strength conditioning. You’ll come away with stronger skills, better tactics, and a clearer understanding of what competitive collegiate rowing is like.
While you do not need to meet coaches from specific colleges at rowing camps in order to become a successful recruit, it’s still great practice to talk to the ones who are there. What you’ll learn will be valuable later when you reach out to the coaches at the schools that interest you most.
Putting together a college list is difficult for anyone applying to college, and for student athletes, the considerations multiply. Not only do you want to find a school that’s a good fit for you academically and personally, you also need to consider whether you will be a viable recruit, given the competitiveness of the team and your own abilities.
That means that once you have a good sense of your erg time and have talked to your coach about your potential as a recruit, it’s time to research colleges! In addition to deciding whether you’re aiming for D1 or D3, make sure you investigate how competitive the crew team is and how well your experience situates you for joining it.
Once you have a few schools at which you’re seriously interested in becoming a recruit, reach out to those coaches to introduce yourself and express your interest in joining the team.
As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one! If you call, be ready with your GPA and erg times. If you email, be polite and brief; attach an athletic resume, highlight video, and transcript. Make sure you show genuine interest in the team and the school. You want them to be aware that they’re a top choice for you.
Finally, if there’s a recruitment form or questionnaire on the school’s website, which there almost always is, make sure you fill it out! There may be important questions about your times, major races, boat assignments, and erg scores that coaches need to know.
Once you start communicating with coaches, you’ll need to keep up the relationship. Continue following up with coaches as the season continues. Send video of your technique, recent erg times, and academic updates. By establishing this foundation with coaches, you’re more likely to have them express interest in you during the summer before your senior year.
As you do so, make sure you ask the right questions. Think of every conversation with a coach as a miniature interview. Not only do you need to present yourself well, but you should also take the opportunity to learn more about the school and show your sincere interest by asking questions that clearly show your knowledge of the school and the crew team.
Finally, it’s crucially important that throughout the recruitment process, you maintain a strong academic performance at school. Having the skills and attitude to impress coaches matters a lot, but if they can’t make a compelling case to the admissions office for you as an academic student, your chances of becoming a crew recruit are slim to none.
Before you start the recruitment process for crew, make sure it’s the right path for you. Crew teams are necessarily large, and only the most competitive collegiate teams fill their rosters through recruitment. That means that many high school rowers decide they’d rather walk on at the college of their choice rather than focus solely on recruitment.
However, if you’re certain that recruitment is worth it for you, keeping these general ideas in mind will ensure that the process goes as successfully as possible!
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