Letters of Recommendation

Following up on a question I got yesterday (linked below) and to answer a few other similar ones I’ve gotten recently, today’s post is going to be on letters of recommendation. They’re not usually required like they are with regular college apps but they can help you out during the recruiting process, especially if you’re a little late to the game.

Related: I’m going to be a senior and I’m really interested in getting recruited as a cox. I just finished my novice year and I did some rowing camps at universities. The coach at my 1st choice university was really impressed (she approached me at the end of camp and asked about my grades, college plans, etc.) but she told me I was a little late to the recruiting process. She encouraged me to ask my coach to write me recs to help. What are the guidelines for coach recs? When should they email the recs?

Letters from your coaches essentially follow the same format that ones from your teachers do. The goal is for them to write about their interactions with you, how they’ve watched you grow as a person and athlete during the time they’ve been coaching you, what you’ve brought to your team and what you can bring to your future teams, etc. “Letter” is just the general term too – the vast majority of these will be written and sent off via email, although you can go the snail mail route if you really want to.

There’s some common sense/common courtesy protocol that you should follow but it’s really up to you how you go about doing this. If you’re asking someone to write you a letter you kinda want to go out of your way to make the process as simple and straightforward for them as possible, that way all they have to do is write it and send it off. Plus, it makes you look good. Don’t be a total kiss-ass but don’t just assume that you don’t have/need to be a little more formal than usual just because of the nature of your relationship.

Here are some general tips and guidelines:

Who should write them

Varsity coaches are obviously the best choice because theoretically they’ve been with you the longest but if there’s another coach on the team who you have a good relationship with, have known for at least one year (spring and fall seasons if possible), and can attest to your character and abilities, by all means ask them if they’d be willing to help you out. You want to have the best people possible speaking on your behalf so while the 24 year old super chill assistant coach might be your bro off the water, if you haven’t had much interaction in terms of being coached by them at practice, I’d wouldn’t put them at the top of my list.

I had both of my coaches, who coached me for three years each, write letters for me. From what I was told, one wrote his letter based on my overall contribution to the team, my leadership skills, my success on and off the water, etc. and the other, who was a coxswain himself, wrote a little more specifically about me as a coxswain.

When and how to ask

Privately, obviously, not in the middle of practice or when there’s a million things happening. If they don’t already know that you’re considering rowing or coxing in college, fill them in because you never know what connections they may have than can help you out down the road. Tell them of your intentions, the schools you’re looking at, etc. and then say something along the lines about how you respect them and their opinions and it would mean a lot if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Most, if not all, coaches consider it to be an honor to be asked to write something like this so make sure you show your appreciation in return by saying “thank you” and that you’ll give them all the information they’ll need within the next day or two (and then actually get it to them in that time frame).

Put together a list of your accomplishments

Assemble your rowing resume and give it to your coach so they can see your results and accomplishments on paper instead of having to rack their brains to figure out how well you did in the JV 8+ at Stotes your sophomore year. It’s also a good idea to include your most recent report card (or your transcript if you can get a copy) and a copy of your SAT/ACT scores so they can see the kind of student you are in and use that to further promote you in terms of what you’ll bring to the university as well as to the crew team.

Remember, erg scores are great but your grades are what’s going to get you into college. Don’t be stupid and assume otherwise (and yes, that is a stupid assumption). You could also include a brief list of your other extra-curriculars so they can see what all you’re balancing in addition to crew but since you want the letter to mostly speak of your athletic background, try to keep it about rowing for the most part.

Write a brief summary of your plans and goals

This should be at least half a page but no longer than one page. All you’re doing is giving your coaches some insight into what you’re planning to do in the future and how rowing plays a part in that. Include what you’re hoping to major in, what you’d like to do with that (if you know), why you want to row in college, if you have U23 plans, etc. This could also be laid out during a conversation with your coach but some might not have time to do that so writing it out is easier. I did both with my coaches – one I wrote everything out for and the other I had a conversation with after practice.

Give them a timeline of when this needs to be completed by

Coaches are busy people too and most have jobs and lives outside of rowing. It’s very easy for stuff like this to get lost in the fray so for your own piece of mind and for their own organizational purposes, let them know the date that you’d like to have these done by. I asked my coaches if they could have everything done within two weeks from the date that I gave them my stuff and they were great about sticking to that (mostly because I think they knew how important it was to me). If you give them everything today (August 7th) I think it’s pretty reasonable to ask for everything to be completed by August 21st. That’ll give them two weeks to sit down, think of what to write, look over your accomplishments, reminisce about the good times, put together a thoughtful letter, and get it sent out. Any longer than two weeks and you run the risk of it being forgotten about or lost in the shuffle.

Compile the contact info of the coaches/schools you’re talking to

This will give them a chance to do some research on the program and get an idea for how you’d fit in there. As far as contact info goes, include the coach’s name, phone number, and email. Make sure you’re including the coach who’s listed as the recruiting coordinator, not just the head coach since the assistant who handles the recruiting will likely be the one you’ll interact with the most. Most times when you email the head coach they’ll glance at it but just end up forwarding to the coach who’s actually in charge of recruiting.

The other thing to remember is that these letters are confidential between your coach and the coach who reads them. If you feel the need to double check what they say about you to make sure they said something good maybe you should consider choosing someone else to write your letter. You can ask them what they said but a) that’s almost sorta kinda inappropriate and b) they don’t necessarily have to tell you. That’s why it’s important to choose someone ahead of time that you know can and will say positive things about you.

After mine were sent out my coaches asked if I wanted to know what they said and since we had a pretty good relationship I said they could tell me if they wanted but I trusted that they said good stuff. They gave me a general overview (which is how I know that one spoke about me as a coxswain and the other wrote about my contributions to the team, leadership skills, etc.) and that was that.

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