College Recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 2 – What do coaches want to see in an email?

Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1

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Whenever I have to write a legit email to someone that isn’t blog or team-related, figuring out what I want/need to say is always the hardest part. There’s an annoyingly fine balance between being straightforward with why you’re contacting them and giving them all the relevant information so that they don’t automatically discard your email for lack of details (or too many details).

Related: I’m a junior starting to look into the recruiting process. What would a good first email to a coach be formatted as? What should I include? How long should it be?

The same goes for contacting coaches, which I think is why I get asked so often what coaches want to see in these emails or what info should you include and what should you save for later. The latter we’ll talk about next week but today we’re gonna go over what coaches want you to include in your introductory emails, as well as the other conundrum people face when contacting coaches … what should the subject line be?

First things first: before you send any emails or reach out directly in any way to a coach, fill out the recruiting forms on the athletic department’s website. If you’re unfamiliar with how this works, each team has their own individual page on the AD’s site that lists the roster, schedule, highlights, etc. Sometimes the questionnaires are easy to find, other times they’re a little hidden but it shouldn’t ever take you more than 30 seconds to find.

To use ours as an example, all you have to do is click on the “recruit me” button at the top of the page, which opens a new page where all the MIT athletic programs are listed. From there you just select “Crew – Heavyweight” which will open up our questionnaire.

Ours, like most, is pretty comprehensive and as most coaches will tell you, the more information you include in the questionnaire itself the better. The less information you include, the more the coaches will fill in on their own and that’s the last thing you want. If you leave your 2k PR blank they’ll either assume it’s not good, you’re not proud of where you’re at, or you’re not on top of things and haven’t done one in awhile (which is just lazy because you can literally do a 2k at any time.) So, step one, before you email the coaches spend some time filling these out in their entirety. They’ll get an email saying you completed the forms and will likely be waiting for you to reach out from there.

Pro tip: To make the process go faster, gather all the info you need first (that includes academic test scores, erg scores, contact info for your coaches and guidance counselors, GPA, class rank, academic/athletic honors, etc.) and then fill everything out. This might take a couple days but it’s worth the time spent doing it. I remember my dad and I making a matrix for all this stuff (similar to the one I posted a few weeks ago, linked below, for college visits) and it made the process of filling all the questionnaires out a lot simpler.

Related: College evaluation grid

One week later (give or take – I’d say no less than five days later and no more than ten), send an email introducing yourself. Don’t regurgitate everything you included in the questionnaires and don’t try to sell yourself – just keep it short and to the point. You should include…

Your name, rower/coxswain, height/weight, and your 2k PR (obviously not applicable if you’re a coxswain)

“Really interested in the rowing program at _____” + one or two specific questions

“Would really like to speak with you” + “what’s the best time/number to reach you”

…and that’s IT.

Two points that the coaches at camp made that I thought were worth noting are that they read a lot of emails on their phone and don’t want to see an endless wall of text on a tiny 5″ screen, which is why succinctness is key . I fully admit to procrastinating on replying to emails if I open one up on my phone and have to keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling to get to the bottom of it. It’s not that we’re uninterested in what you have to say, it’s just a little “ugh” inducing. If you’ve ever been assigned to read like, 100 pages of something before class the next day, it’s pretty much the same feeling.

The other point is that including a question mark in your email gives them a reason to contact you, hence the “what’s the best time/number to reach you” question. If you just rattle off a bunch of info but don’t give them any reason to reply, they’ll just say “mmk, cool” and file your stuff away … aka forget about it for awhile because you didn’t give them a reason to hit reply as soon as they finished reading.

Going back to the timing of when to contact the coaches after filling out the questionnaires, there’s also a “time limit” for when to reply after they’ve reached out to you. Once their email hits your inbox you’ve basically got a max of one week to respond. Anything beyond that and their level of interest starts to drop because you appear uninterested.

Outside of the “technical” info, what else do coaches want to see in your emails? Not all of this is mandatory stuff that you must include and a lot boiled down to each individual coach’s preferences but it’s good food for thought.

A short 30-second video clip of you on the water or erg

Again, obviously not applicable to coxswains.

No life stories, why you love rowing, etc.

I don’t want to say no one cares but … at this stage in the game no one cares.

Did you use spellcheck, address it to the right school/coach, etc.

This should be common sense but seriously, it takes two seconds to double check so just do it. To piggy back off of this too, write in complete sentences and for the love of god, use proper grammar and punctuation. I get emails from people all the time that make me seriously question if your elementary teachers just completely skipped over that part of school because the writing is THAT awful. Don’t think for a second that this doesn’t have an immediate impact on my (and other coaches) first impression of you, especially if you’re a coxswain. You’re in high school, there is literally no excuse for you to still be writing like a third grader. None whatsoever. If your writing skills aren’t up to par, fine, but at least get someone to proofread what you write before you send it.

Show you’re interested and paying attention by mentioning results.

This refers to the college’s results, not your own. HOCR is next weekend so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to include a “PS, congratulations on winning the Champ 8+ at Head of the Charles!” or whatever if the team you’re contacting did particularly well. If you email them during the off-season you can mention their winter training trip – “I saw the video that the team linked on Twitter of the winter training trip in Clemson and it looked like you guys had a really productive week! Is Clemson where you go every year or do you cycle through different locations?”.

Don’t include links to your BeRecruited page.

This was split 50-50 but one coach did make a point that they get emails whenever someone has noted that they’re interested in a particular school so it’s not like they won’t see it if you don’t include a link. A few coaches said that they just don’t have time to look at them, particularly if you’re contacting them when the teams are in-season, and one said that rowers/coxswains who use sites like that aren’t the type of athlete they want anyways. I’m still confused by that statement but the point is that sites like that, while useful, tend to be hit or miss with coaches. Knowing that I’d probably leave it out of my emails.

Indicate what year you are in school. Don’t assume that they will assume you’re a junior.

Self-explanatory.

When applying to Ivies or similarly academic-heavy schools (MIT, Stanford, etc.) in particular briefly highlight your GPA in your intro email.

“Hi, I’m Sam, I’m a 3rd-year starboard rower from Boston, MA with a 3.8 unweighted GPA and a 6:19 2k PR.” …or something to that effect.

Last but not least, the subject line. The first sentence of the body is the most important part of the email so keep the subject simple and do NOT leave it blank. Coach-endorsed examples include “Interested in rowing at [name of the school]” and “Prospective rower/coxswain – [your name]”.

Next week: How much info is too much?

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