College Recruiting: (More) Questions to Ask Coaches

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 || Interest from coaches + coming from a small program || How much weight do coaches have with admissions + what to do if there are no spots left || Being recruited as a coxswain, pt. 1 || Being recruited as a coxswain, pt. 2 || Technique + erg scores

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This list of questions was compiled by Jim Dietz (current women’s coach at UMass and pretty notable guy within the rowing community) and includes two things – questions you should ask and questions you can figure the answers to out on your own (aka questions you shouldn’t ask because if you do it just shows a) your lack of initiative and preparation and b) that you’re not really interested in that school/program).

I’ll start with the latter, questions you shouldn’t ask…

Are they club or varsity? (Know the difference.)

Are they D1, D2, or D3? (Know the difference.)

What conference do they compete in?

Who do they compete against? (Just look at their racing schedule to figure this out.)

How often to they race? (Look at their schedule.)

Those things you can find out very easily via Google so don’t waste the coaches time by asking them during the limited period of time that you speak on the phone or through email. Now, questions you should ask…

What kind of academic support is available to the athletes?

Is the team limited to rowing eights and fours or is pairs rowing/sculling also an option?

How are the facilities and what are the conditions normally like where you row?

Do you recruit coxswains? (Obviously an especially important question if you’re a coxswain.)

How are coxswains evaluated?

What is the team atmosphere like in general and how are things handled when the environment is tense (i.e. during selection, the dead of winter training, etc.)?

Another great question to ask is what the freshmen → sophomore retention rate is, as well as what’s the number of four-year athletes that graduate compared to the number of people who were in that class as a freshmen (aka how many athletes make it all four years?). Athletes who quit during or after their freshman year usually do it for one of two reasons, culture or academics. (Both of those played a factor in my decision when I stopped coxing.) Athletes that quit later in their careers (juniors + seniors) tend to do so purely for academic reasons.

With freshmen, culture tends to be the bigger of the two unless you’re at a very academically intensive school (like MIT, for example) where balancing athletics and academics can be a challenge from the get-go. All of the freshmen that we’ve lost the last two years (which was … four or five rowers, I think) left for academic reasons, not necessarily because they were falling behind or anything but because they wanted to be able to devote more time to school and other activities (Greek life is huge here so that’s one of them) and they felt like it wouldn’t be possible to do that while balancing 20+ hours a week as an athlete.

Related: What questions should you ask coaches during the recruiting process?

I think I’ve mentioned this before but you should also ask if there are any rowers on the team currently majoring in whatever it is you want to major in. (This is also a good question/topic for conversation when you go on your official visits and have some time to interact with the athletes outside of practice.) This is especially important if you’re interested in pre-med/pre-law, engineering, architecture, chem/bio/physics … basically anything that is lab or project-intensive.

Related: College recruiting: Official/unofficial visits + recruiting rules recap

One of the main reasons why you should ask this is because it just might not be feasible to do that major due to scheduled lab times and practice times. My major was very lab-intensive since it was a research-based science major and more than once I had classes and/or labs that were only offered at one specific time once a year or once every other year. It’s also good to learn how athletes in those majors manage their schedules with crew and all their other commitments (i.e. clubs, research, study groups, etc.).

Another question that is important to ask is how committed the coach is to their program, particularly if one of the reasons why you’re looking at the program is because you want to row for that coach. Barring getting fired or other unforeseen circumstances, are they planning on sticking around for (at least) the next five years? Most coaches that I personally know would be totally cool with being asked this question, mainly because if they’re asking you to commit four years to them it’s only fair that you ask the same in return. If they have young kids who might be starting school in two years, are they going to stay in their tiny condo in the big city or are they planning on moving to an area with better schools where they can buy a house with a yard and actually settle down? What about if you want to row for a legendary coach like Steve Gladstone, for example? He’s been in the rowing game for decades … it’s not unreasonable to think that maybe he’s eyeing retirement within the next three years. (That’s not to say he is, it’s just an example.) If rowing for a particular coach is one of the reasons you’re drawn to that program, asking these questions should be part of the conversation you have with them.

Related: What questions should you ask coaches during the recruiting process?

The last thing is questions that can/will be asked by the coach to you that you can/should also ask them.

How the season went (Obviously you can look up their results but specifically, what was the biggest lesson learned from … I donno, Washington’s loss to Cal in the spring, or what was the most meaningful experience from this past year?)

What are your/the team’s goals within/outside rowing? (Our team, like I assume most teams do, has two meetings each year – one at the end of the fall and one before the start of the spring season – to lay out our goals and then discuss our progress towards them.)

Why are you interested in this school or if you’re asking the coach this, what attracted you to this school and why have you stayed there for 3, 5, 12, 40 years? (This is one of my favorite questions to ask when I’m interviewing with coaches.)

That’s it, the last recruiting post in this series. I hope the last seventeen weeks worth of posts have been helpful for you guys and have answered some of your questions about the whole process (or ones you didn’t know you had) and everything that goes into it. If you want to check out previous posts in this series you can check out the “college recruiting 101” tag. All other recruiting posts can be found in the “recruiting” tag.

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