I am going to be a senior and I have been looking at this one school that I could potentially row for. I have spoken with the coaches via email and I really love the school. The head coach seems to be interested in me but the thing is, I am not the tallest or strongest rower on my team and I am worried that I won’t be able to live up to the expectations of the college coach or college rowing in general.
Very rarely are people’s expectations as high as you think they are. Trust me…
Here’s the thing you’ve gotta understand about pretty much every rower competing at a high level right now, be it in college or on their country’s national team – very, very few of them were the tallest or strongest on their junior teams, let alone on the teams they’re on now. If coaches only took the tallest and strongest you’d have very few teams, very little competition, and very little to motivate you to get better. You can’t change your height so whatever – forget about that. You can improve your strength and fitness though so if that’s an area where you feel like you have some room to get better, start a lifting program, do some circuit training, etc.
This is going to sound horribly cliche but I’ve heard it straight from the mouths of too many coaches to think of it as anything but a cliche – character trumps height, strength, etc. any day of the week. Obviously there’s got to be a base level of ability in place, which you’ve clearly got, but you can make up for a lot of things simply by being a solid person. It’s all about work ethic and whether or not you’re willing to put the work in to improve upon the strengths you already have. A 5’9″ woman with a 7:35 2k who is constantly finding ways to get better, buys into the team’s philosophy and goals, and is willing to do the not-so-fun stuff with a consistently positive attitude is ultimately going to be a more valuable asset to the coach (and team) than a 6’1″ woman with a 7:22 2k who does just enough to be good but won’t put in that extra effort to do what’s necessary to be great.
Going back to the expectations thing, I would first find out what the expectations are before assuming you can’t, don’t, or won’t meet them. It’s as simple as saying something like “As an incoming freshman, what range of erg scores do you typically look for?”. From there you can compare your times to the range you’re given, determine what’s realistically possible for you to achieve by next August, and then put together a plan to make it happen. Doing that and keeping the coach(es) up to date with your progress (i.e. new PRs) goes a long way in showing what you’re capable of, how hard you go after something you want, and just the overall kind of person/athlete you are. I would also caution against assuming on your own what the expectations are or might be just based on what you see or read online. Yes it’s hard work and yes it’s time consuming but isn’t that true of most things that we find worth pursuing?
If you assume right now that you won’t be able to live up to the expectations, you’re right – you won’t. The expectations at most college programs are pretty high and that’s a good thing – you should want to be part of a team that has high standards and lofty goals like that but you sure as hell shouldn’t let that intimidate you. Do you honestly think that this coach would be talking to you in the first place if he/she didn’t think you had the capabilities to meet and exceed the expectations they have for the athletes they coach? Come on. They don’t have that kind of time to waste.
The upcoming year, or at least the fall semester, is probably going to be pretty stressful as you go through all the necessary preparations to get ready for college. Don’t make things even harder for yourself by worrying about stuff like this. It’s not worth it. Like I said, try to start doing some kind of lifting this summer to start working on your overall strength and the next time you talk with the coach ask them to name 3-4 of their basic expectations for incoming freshman in terms of erg scores, team contributions, etc. Graduating and going to college is essentially like leveling up in a game – what happens next really isn’t anything out of the ordinary, there just happens to be subtle differences in a couple areas that present new challenges that are usually small and easily achievable with the right about of dedication and persistence. I think you’ll find that rowing in college compared to your current program is the same way, as will be the expectations of your new coach(es).