What it means to be a “walk on”

Now that the start of a new school year is fast approaching, I’m getting a lot more questions about being a walk-on. Based on emails I get throughout the year it seems like something that not a lot of people are aware of or know is an option … despite the majority of college programs being made up of walk-ons. Today’s post is going to quickly highlight what it means and how it compares to being a recruit.

There are two types of walk-ons: the ones that have no prior experience with rowing and pick it up for the first time in college (a good number of the rowers in Rio right now did this) and the ones who rowed/coxed in high school but weren’t supported by coaches throughout the admissions process (meaning you can be actively recruited and still be a walk-on) or didn’t go through the recruiting process at all.

Related: I am currently a senior in high school and have been rowing for a while. If I am interested in walking on to a team in the fall, should I fill out the questionnaire on the website?

Athletes who do this are also sometimes known as “preferred walk-ons” or “experienced walk-ons”, which basically just means that they get lumped in with the recruits once the coach knows you’re interested in the program. A lot of coxswains tend to fall into this category since most coaches use their available slots on rowers and their grades are typically good enough that they don’t need that boost from the coaches. The only disadvantage in not having the coaches support you is that you don’t get that extra boost that could get you into your reach/”dream” school if you’re on the bubble.  In most cases though after talking with the coach (and doing a pre-read, if that’s an option) you’ll have a good idea as to whether or not your reach school is actually within reach, so it’s not like you’re applying while being completely unsure of where you stand.

Related: College Recruiting 101

It’s important to keep in mind that coaches can only support so many people. An example is one of the (Ivy League) coaches I worked with over the last couple of weeks. They’ve got 350+ athletes in their current recruiting database and of the 200-250ish that remain once those without the grades or erg scores are eliminated, only 14 will be offered slots. That doesn’t mean that their incoming class will only have 14 rowers, it just means that anyone outside of those 14 will need to have the grades to get in on their own. If they’ve got a strong academic resume then they’ll probably be told that they’re wanted on the team but there’s not really a point in using a slot on them since they don’t need the help, whereas someone who has a more “average” academic resume (accompanied with big ergs and a solid rowing background) might be offered a slot so the coaches can wield their influence (I use that term very loosely and borderline sarcastically) to ensure they get who they want.

Related: How do you respond if you aren’t chosen to be recruited?

If you already know as a junior or senior that you want to row in college but don’t want to go through the recruiting process, don’t have the erg scores, etc. you should still loosely go through the process anyways. All that entails is reaching out to the coaches once you’ve been admitted and saying that you’re interested in walking on to the team. Not only does this help them get a sense of what their numbers will look like, it can also let you get a lot of your NCAA compliance paperwork out of the way sooner.

Related: As a coxswain are you treated differently as a recruit to a D1 college as opposed to a varsity cox who walks on the team? Or is it rare to have someone walk on a crew team who coxed through high school?

The last two years I’ve helped manage the walk-ons at MIT and one of our walk-ons emailed me in July last year to say he was interested in joining the team. Reaching out early like that allowed us to get him set up with the athletic department at the same time our current guys were filling out their paperwork, which we have to do every year. It all has to be completed by a certain date in order to guarantee everyone is cleared to practice at the beginning of the year otherwise you get moved to the very bottom of the list behind all the other teams, which means it’ll take for.freaking.ever. to get cleared. Two to three weeks is about how long it’s taken since I’ve been there and most of you know how brutal it is to miss out on that kind of water time. Moral of the story/pro tip, if you know you want to walk-on, even as someone who’s never rowed before (like the guy on our team I just mentioned), the sooner you reach out, the better.

Related: How hard is it to just start rowing in college, especially at a D1 or Ivy League school?

I anticipate getting a lot more questions about this as we get closer to September so I’ve kept this post kinda vague in order to just cover the basics and leave room for another post in the future that answers your more specific questions. If you think of anything, leave a comment or shoot me an email!

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.

College Recruiting: Interest from coaches + coming from a small program

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

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If you’ve ever sent an important email to someone then you know how annoying/agonizing it can be sitting around waiting for a reply. There’s a lot of “most common questions” when it comes to recruiting but one that I hear a lot is “I emailed the coach on this date, it’s now this date, have they not gotten back to me because they’re not interested…”? Short answer, no. Long answer, a coach is never not interested until they say so. Obviously one of the key parts of the recruiting coordinator’s job is to get back to you but you should keep in mind the following things:

Rules and standards

There are regulations on when they can contact you and individual programs may have their own policies in place with regards to when they reply or reach out to athletes. As an example, one of the Ivy League lightweight women’s programs won’t start talking to a rower until they’ve broken 7:40. (I overheard another coach who has pretty solid knowledge of that program say that so without naming specific teams, trust that I’m pretty confident in that number.) They’ll keep tabs on the athletes but won’t reach out themselves until they’ve hit that minimum score.

I’ve heard other coaches say similar things too so make sure that before you’ve contacted the coaches you’re aware of what the erg standards are for each program and are making an effort to keep the coaches regularly updated on your progress, even if you aren’t getting replies back yet. (Finding out the standards for a given program is not hard nowadays either. Search old Reddit threads or start a new one, pull up Concept 2’s rankings, etc.)

The coaching carousel

Every year around mid-May the “coaching carousel” starts turning and programs start making changes to their staff. This can have an obvious impact on getting replies out to athletes because if one coach is leaving and other is taking over, there’s going to be a latency period where literally nothing is happening as they get settled in.

You’ll almost always know when a coach is leaving (if you don’t see the press release or read/hear the gossip first, you’ll likely/hopefully get an email from them saying that they’re moving on from that program) but during the summer months this can be a key reason why it takes awhile to hear back from them.

Another question in that same vein is “will coaches be interested in me even though my team isn’t that well known”. I asked this question too because even though I came from a very good team that was well known in the Midwest, we lacked the national recognition that teams like Marin, CRI, Atlanta Juniors, etc. have. I was lucky in that the Syracuse coaches knew of my team because the siblings and mom of one of my teammates had rowed there but with the other schools I looked at, my resume, recordings, and letters of recommendation from my coaches pretty much had to do all the talking.

Related: Letters of recommendation

I don’t believe that coming from a small team is a disadvantage (although it certainly doesn’t make things any easier) but it’s not like you’re being recruited on the strength of your team, you’re being recruited based on your strength as an individual rower or coxswain. Having big results like a Henley appearance or a Youth Nats win is obviously a huge help but it’s also entirely possible to have a 6:19 2k and never make an appearance at a major regatta. In situations like that, you have to recognize that and say “OK…we’re not a Youth Nats level team but this is the score I need to get on these coaches’ radars so I’m going to work my ass off outside of practice to get there”. It’s really that straightforward. Don’t use your team’s level of competitiveness or success as a reason why you can’t do something.

A point that was made and reiterated by several of the coaches at Sparks was that standards will be adjusted too based on the level of program you’re coming from. This was always something that I assumed had to be the case (but I never knew for sure) so it was good to hear it actually confirmed by several high-profile coaches.

This conversation should always begin with you asking “what do you want to see from me” so that the expectations are clear but basically if you’re coming from a team like, for example, Marin – a well known, successful program that produces a lot of successful/recruitable athletes – then the coaches are likely to respond by saying “we want to see you sub-6:20 by Christmas”. If on the other hand you’re coming from Marietta (my high school team) then they’ll likely look at the team, where/who we race, your current stats, etc. (all things that might not be known right off the bat like they are with larger programs) and say “we want to see you sub-6:35 by Christmas”.

Related: College recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 4

You have to be up front about who you are (as previously discussed in the post linked above) and realistic about your goals but if you’re someone that shows interest in the program and has the work ethic to achieve said goals, the coaches will work with you to give you the best shot possible.

If you have the opportunity, apply to and row for a different program during the summer. This can really work in your favor and gain you a lot of respect (especially if your erg score drops, your technique gets better, etc.) because it shows you’re willing to go from a big fish in a small pond to “a minnow in an ocean”. Camps are great but full summer-long programs (i.e. Penn AC) are where you’ll gain the most in this regard.

Another thing to keep in mind is that trying to make excuses or oversell yourself in order to “make up for” not being part of a large/successful program is only going to hurt you. If you’re a lightweight, don’t send an email saying “I rowed in the lightweight eight but we had to enter heavyweight events so we always lost which is why I don’t have any notable wins under my belt”. (Apparently that was a real thing that someone said to a coach.) Instead, talk about what you learned from the experience (this is what the coach said they would have liked to have seen):

“This past year I rowed 6-seat in the lightweight eight. Not many other programs in our area field lightweight crews so we were often up against heavyweight crews in our races. Despite finishing 6th many times, we were able to close the gap on the 5th place crews from 18 seconds at the beginning of the season to 10 seconds at the end. Being in this position taught me XYZ which I’ve been applying to my own training and hope to continue using as I work towards breaking 6:40.”

Next week: What’s the best course of action if there are no spots left, they don’t recruit coxswains, etc.  and how much weight do coaches really have with admissions…

College Recruiting: Highlight videos + the worst recruiting emails

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

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Highlight videos have become a big thing in the last couple of years but they’re mainly geared towards teams or specific crews to highlight their season, training trips, or specific regattas (Henley, for example…). They can also be useful during the recruiting process too if you take the time to compile some good footage of yourself. All it takes is asking your coach to shoot some video from the launch (of you specifically, meaning the camera is focused on you and you can’t see anyone else other than the rowers directly in front of and behind you) or if you can’t get some on-the-water video, setting your laptop up to record yourself while you row on the erg. Each clip only needs to be about 15-20 seconds long and the video itself doesn’t need to be more than 90 seconds to 2 minutes max.

Some examples of clips that coaches said they like to see are:

Ones shot from the side you row (duh/obviously – i.e. if you’re a port, video shot from the port side)

From directly behind the coxswain so you can see all eight blades (this lets them look at your catch angle and finishes)

Clips of drills (there were no specific drills mentioned but ones like cut-the-cake, top 6 inches, etc. are always good go-to’s)

Slow-motion footage that shows you/your blade going through one full stroke-cycle

By no means is that a complete list either, those are just the ones I remember being specifically mentioned. Additionally, if you participate in any kind of lifting program, getting footage of you doing cleans, deadlifts, etc. are also good because it gives the coaches another opportunity to observe your form. If you don’t know how to do these lifts or don’t do them on a regular basis though, don’t worry about this.

Something else to consider is asking the coach if they would like some video of you rowing and when they would like it. (This also applies to coxswains who want to send along recordings.) I thought this was a good point to bring up because there’s a convenient time to get video and an inconvenient time and giving the coach the opportunity to say “yea, I’d love to see some video but I’m swamped right now while we prep for HOCR – can you send it to me sometime next week?” just shows a good sense of awareness and respect for their time.

For coxswains wanting to compile a highlight video, I’d consider doing something like this (below).

Coxswain highlight reels weren’t brought up during the discussion with the coaches but it’s definitely something I’d encourage you to do in lieu of just sending one or two race recordings. Not only does it let you segment out the parts of each recording that you think showcase you at your best but it also lets you include more footage, thus giving the coaches a more complete idea of who you are as a coxswain. If I were putting something like this together I’d include…

Three to four race clips, 90sec long max (one from the body of a head race, one from the start + first 500m of a sprint race, one from the middle 500m of a different sprint race, and one from the last 500m of another different sprint race)

One or two clips (no more than 90sec max each) of you going through a warmup or drill (preferably both but if I had to choose I’d go with a drill, particularly one that shows off your ability to actually call the drill while providing good, effective feedback at the same time)

One or two clips of practice footage, be it a race piece, steady state, etc.

The video I linked above was almost 10 minutes long which should be fine as long as you’re varying what you include (hence why I posted the examples of clips I’d include). I would also include a “stats” page at the beginning and end like the coxswain in that video did, as well as putting in the description box the times that each new recording starts.

If you don’t have a GoPro then regular recordings are fine but if you do have a GoPro, definitely include some of that footage in there. When I’m watching GoPro video I’m always looking to see if the coxswains are making calls for the things I’m seeing with timing, blade work, set, ratio, positioning on other crews if you’re doing pieces/racing, etc. so whatever footage you use, make sure it shows you doing all of this. Don’t put it in there just because it’s from a GoPro and everyone would rather see actual video over  traditional recordings set against a montage of pictures. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that … it’s just that video from your point of view gives a better indication of how technically sound you are, something that is obviously an important part of being a good coxswain.)

The second part of today’s post is about the worst recruiting emails the coaches have received from prospective recruits. I’ve heard so many good stories about the awful, awful, awful emails kids send but since one of the #1 rules of coaching is “stories told on the launch and/or after hours at the bar stay on the launch/in the bar”, I can’t share them. Suffice it to say though that kids say some dumb shit and yes, you are endlessly mocked for it … in one case, six years later … so just keep that in mind as you start reaching out to coaches. Spell check, proofreading, humility, and common fucking sense are your friends.

Also keep in mind that coaches talk (a lot) so there’s a reasonably good chance that if you’re looking at a certain school and that coach sees the coach of another school that you might also be looking at (think the Ivies or other grouped schools like that), they might say “Hey, have you heard from a kid named ____? Let me tell you about the email he/she sent me last week…”. You’ve been warned.

Ivy League, top-3 men’s lightweight program

The email started off “I’m writing on behalf of my grandson…”. If your parents emailing coaches on your behalf is bad, getting your grandparents to do it (or them doing it on their own) is even worse. I can’t remember how this coach said he responded but it was something to the effect of “please have your grandson email us if he’s interested in our program” and that was it.

Email sent to several Ivy League men’s coaches with ALL THE COACHES included on the email

This email, which was the first email any of these coaches had received from this person, began with “Hello coaches, this time next year I will be rowing for one of your programs…”. I think the coach who brought this one up said this came from a female coxswain, which almost doesn’t surprise me. Almost. Yea, it takes a certain amount of balls to be a female coxswain on a top men’s collegiate team but including 5+ coaches on the same email and then starting it off like that is pretty damn presumptuous and definitely doesn’t convey whatever “confident” tone/message that person probably thought it did. The coach said this was a huge turn-off and needless to say, they didn’t pursue her to join their team.

Emails from parents

Nearly every coach at both NRC and Sparks (meaning men’s and women’s programs from both D1 and D3) said that they’ve had numerous parents email them over the years to talk about how great their kid is, what a great fit they’d be for their program, how much they love the school, etc.  That’s cool … except if your kid really did love the school and really did want to row there they’d probably be taking the initiative to contact the coaches themselves. All this communicates to the coaches is that your parents want you to go to that school, you’re not interested enough to reach out on your own, or both. Do not ask or let your parents email coaches on your behalf. It’s lazy and you’re basically a freaking adult. Do the work yourself and show some interest in the process.

D1 men’s heavyweight program and D1 men’s lightweight program

This apparently is not an uncommon occurrence since I heard one of these stories at Sparks and the other this past spring when I was talking to a coach at IRAs. Basically it goes like this. Kid is looking at Team #1 and Team #2. Kid emails Team #1 and begins the email with “Dear Coach [of Team #2]” and includes mentions of several things related to Team #2 … despite sending the email to the coach of Team #1. Coach of Team #1 forwards email to coach of Team #2 and says “I think this was supposed to go to you”. Coach of Team #2 says “lol delete“. Kid does not get pursued by Team #1 coach or Team #2 coach.

I wish I had some examples of bad emails sent to women’s coaches but luckily for us/unfortunately for the guys, I haven’t heard any … yet. That one from the coxswain though just made me cringe so hard when I heard it so as far as I’m concerned everybody’s even.

Next week: Official and unofficial visits

College Recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 4 – Laying out who you are and contacting coaches when you’re not a senior

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

fl2wyzh
To put the recruiting process into perspective (and to offer up a dose of reality), Coach Lindberg said the following (talking obviously about the men’s side of recruiting): “Out of the entire country there are on average 60-80 males that are or could be considered ‘highly recruitable’. They’re the ones that all the coaches know about and have interactions with on a fairly regular basis. Beyond that, add in another 100-120 athletes from around the world for programs that do international recruiting and you end up with a pool of roughly 200 athletes that can have an impact on their programs at the highest level.”

Because the pool of people who can have a real impact on programs is so small, it’s not only imperative that you put the work to make yourself a competitive recruit but it’s also important to very clearly lay out who + what you are to the coaches (in both questionnaires and emails) so they’re not left to fill in the gaps on their own. Generic emails like “Hi, I’m ____ from ____ and I’m interested in ____, please call me and tell me more about your program.” will sit in an inbox for a “very, very, very, very” long time because it doesn’t help the coach get to know or  understand you.

As has already been discussed in last few “contacting coaches” posts (here, here, and here), things you should include in your emails are who you are, where you’re from, your coach’s name(s), how many years you’ve rowed/coxed, one or two notable accomplishments, your weighted/unweighted GPA, SAT/ACT scores (or the dates you plan on taking them if you haven’t already), applicable physiological data (height/weight), your most recent erg score(s), etc. Coaches are turned off by having to guess this info so don’t hold back or assume your stats aren’t good enough.

To quote Coach Lindberg again, “it’s better to know what you are than what you think you might be”. Obviously you need to be realistic about it (aka don’t email D1 men’s heavyweight programs when your 2k is 6:58 as a junior) but if the trend of recent 2ks for recruited athletes falls between 6:04 and 6:12, don’t assume they’re not gonna look at you if you’re at a 6:16.

Another one of the many common questions that comes up is contacting coaches if you’re not a senior. The rule is that you can email/call them anytime you want, they just can’t contact you directly before July 1st of your senior year (which is why such a big deal is made out of that day). They can reply to emails and talk to you on the phone if they answer it when you call but if they miss the call for example, they’re not allowed to call you back. Similarly with emails, they can reply to emails you send them but they can’t be the first one to make contact. It’s a little confusing but it’s not like it’s some big secret that the NCAA rule book is convoluted and annoying.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to have any real need or reason to contact them as a sophomore and maybe even as a junior depending on your level of experience but if you feel the need, you can reach out and say that you understand they might not have time or be able to reply to you but you wanted to introduce yourself, you’re a [whatever year you are], and then include height, weight, GPA, year in school, a goal (trying to make 1V, working on 2k time, etc.), etc. and that you will follow up with updates in the future. If you’re going to be at races they might also be at (particularly head races), let them know what event you’re entered in, your bow #, what seat you’re in, and the time of your race. This will allow them to scope you out if/when they’ve got time and make a mental note of who you are and what you looked like.

Similarly, go to camps. The coaches do remember you, it’s a good way to make initial connections (particularly if you haven’t begun the recruiting process yet or aren’t a junior/senior), and it gives you something to reference in your emails when it does come time to reach out to them.

Next week: The worst emails coaches have received and what they think of “highlight videos”…

College Recruiting: Contacting coaches, pt. 3 – How much info is too much?

Previously: Intro || The recruiting timeline + what to consider || What do coaches look at? || Contacting coaches, pt. 1 ||  Contacting coaches, pt. 2

fl2wyzh

In last week’s post we talked about what to say when emailing coaches and what they specifically want to see in those emails. This week we’re gonna talk about the extent of what you should share and how much is too much when it comes to talking about extracurriculars, academic scores, etc. What you should take away from this is that the relationship you’re creating with the coaches is a professional one, thus you should only be sharing what’s important and relevant at any given time.

“How much info is too much” was a question posed to the panel of coaches at NRC. Kate Maloney (Williams College) started off by saying that the more succinct your email is, the more likely you are to get a response. If your email is very long, contains multiple paragraphs, etc. coaches will lose interest, not because what you have to say isn’t interesting but because they’ve got a lot of things going on and a limited amount of time to get it all done in.

This really reiterates a lot of what was said last week which should be a pretty solid indicator of how much value coaches place on emails that are concise and to the point. Similarly to a paper you’d write for school, don’t be afraid to have a couple drafts of your email if you need to where you progressively edit it down to just what needs to be said. I’ve posted plenty of examples on here (in the last several weeks alone) that should make this relatively easy to do.

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

You might think that you need to lay everything out up front in order to pique their interest but 95% of that “extra stuff” that you’d include isn’t relevant right then. It’s like laying out your entire life story on a first date – it just comes off as trying way too hard to sell yourself and the person on the other side of the table is gonna get bored. Plus, if you put it all out there in the beginning, it’s unlikely they’ll remember everything you say so you’ll just have to repeat it again anyways and/or it limits what you’ll have to talk about in future conversations. The further into the recruiting process you get, the more info you can share because that’s when coaches will start asking you about your extracurriculars, why you think rowing will be a positive asset to your college experience, etc. By this point (presumably a few months into the game) they’ll have enough info to take to the admissions department and say “this is what Emily can bring to the community”.

An alternative to word-vomitting in your into email is to include your relevant stats, academic info, etc. in a resume and send it along as an attachment. This allows you to include a few more details in a much more easily digestible format and gives the coaches a chance to get to it when they have time. Ed  Slater from Trinity College suggested this and several coaches agreed that they’d much prefer a resume (provided it’s professional looking and not just sloppily thrown together) than a dense detail-filled email. Something he said to avoid doing though (regardless of whether it’s in a resume or email) is to leave out “projected” scores – projected 2ks, GPAs, SAT/ACTs, etc. He used an example where he received an email from a prospective recruit that didn’t say what his current score was and the score that was given wasn’t representative of where he was at at that time. Instead of omitting stuff like that and thinking coaches aren’t going to notice or care, just be up front and say that your GPA, 2k, whatever isn’t where you want it to be yet but it’s something you’re actively working on to improve.

Another question that was spun off the “how much info is too much” one was about multi-sport athletes and whether or not that was something coaches would be interested in hearing about, to which everyone responded with a unanimous “YES”. This is definitely something you can briefly mention in your intro email and then get more into later as you start talking more. Multi-sport athletes are great because being an athlete and learning over the course of many seasons how to win, what it takes to get better at something, etc. are important traits that can give you a an edge because it shows coaches that you understand what it means to be passionate and committed to something.

It also helps because an athlete who pulls a 6:30 2k and only rows in the spring season but is a captain on the swim team and has set a school record in the butterfly is going to stand out a bit more than an athlete with a 6:30 2k who rows year round. (That in no way however means that you should go pick up another sport right now just to say you’re a multi-sport athlete and it’s not saying that you’re at some monumental disadvantage if you only participate in one sport.)

Next week: Laying out who you are and contacting coaches if you’re not a senior

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?