Having just been through the full cycle of recruiting for D1 men’s lightweight rowing, I wanted to provide an accounting of my son’s experience since the only recruiting guides I have seen on the subject are on Redditt, and I think there should be one on this site. The two Redditt guides (each posted in November 2018) were extremely helpful to me and my son as we embarked on the recruiting process. In fact, the entire reason I’m posting this is to thank those people who posted those very helpful guides and pay it forward for future lightweight rowers and their families. It’s a long and unnerving process at times, and having those guides to refer back to was invaluable.
A couple up-front disclaimers: I will only speak to the D1 colleges and coaches with whom we had direct experience. In my son’s case, that was the Ivies, MIT and Georgetown. Obviously, there are other men’s D1 lightweight rowing programs (Mercyhurst, Temple, Delaware, and Navy) but we didn’t talk to those programs so I cannot comment on them. Also, this “guide” is reflective of our personal experience ONLY and I am not intending it to be the definitive word on men’s lightweight recruiting–just a (hopefully) helpful tool and reference that you can use as a sanity check as you go through the process yourself. I have endeavored to be as objective as possible about the information but our experience may have unique aspects to it.
MAKING INITIAL CONTACT…
With those caveats out of the way, let me begin by offering a general synopsis of our experience from start to finish, and then in Part III I will address our experience with each school individually. First, the process from start to finish (i.e., initial email contact in Fall of junior year to commitment to a school in Fall of senior year) was about a year in duration. (Of course, if you are a superstar or on the US National team–which my son was not–you’ve probably already been in contact with schools prior to this time.) My son first emailed all the coaches in mid-November of his junior year, providing them the following: (i) a recent positive race result; (ii) most recent 2K erg score (it was in the high 6:40’s then); (iii) GPA (at that point only freshman and sophomore years); and (v) height and weight. (He didn’t take the SAT until later.) This might seem like not enough real “meat” to merit a communication to coaches–not having an SAT score yet, for example, or an erg score in the ‘recruitable’ range (sub 6:40 to get in the discussion, sub 6:35 to be taken seriously, but more on that later), but he got responses from almost every single coach he emailed, and quickly. Perhaps in our case that was because he had a very high GPA, but I tend to think the coaches at that point are open to communicating with a wide range of candidates and know that erg times will come down as the year progresses, as our son’s did. The coaches in the men’s lightweight league are an incredibly classy and friendly bunch, and to our pleasant surprise, they were (for the most part) really good communicators and eager and willing to respond to our son’s emails. Out of the 9 schools that my son emailed, he got 6 responses within a week or so. Some would come later in the spring after more persistent emailing on my son’s part.
A quick note here about the best way to make initial contact with coaches: in our experience, it was email all the way, less so the questionnaires. If the coaches care about the questionnaire, they will invite you in a follow-up email to fill out their questionnaire and you do that. Some didn’t care about the questionnaire at all. But go to the school’s website, look at the coaches’ profiles, find their emails, and email all of them in one email (assistants and head coaches). Typically the assistant coach will email you back and that is the person with whom you will maintain the correspondence throughout the year; with a few schools the head coach will be very involved in the correspondence. Late Fall of junior year (i.e., November 1st or later) is a good time to make initial contact with coaches. You probably don’t want to email prior to November 1st because coaches will be dealing with the Head of the Charles in late October and firming up their recruiting commitments at that time since the early app deadline is November 1st.
FREQUENCY OF CONTACT AND UNOFFICIAL VISITS IN THE WINTER/SPRING…
After making initial contact and receiving a response, my son emailed the coaches probably once a month (sometimes more, sometimes less), but always–and only–to provide relevant updates in any of the three key areas: (i) race results; (ii) erg score updates (i.e., new PR); (iii) SAT scores and/or mid-year or end-of-year grades. Keep it brief and don’t waste the coach’s time: (“Coach, just checking in to let you know I raced a coxed quad in the Head of the Charles and came in 1st.” or “Coach, I scored a 1550 on the SAT.”) The coaches want and expect to get these updates from you, and you want to use any legitimate opportunity to have another contact with them. Consistent and informative email communication will help you develop rapport with the coach. And after delivering a good piece of news like a new 2K PR or great SAT score, the coach might suggest that “if you’re in town, come check out the campus and see us at the boathouse.” That is an opportunity to have a so-called “unofficial” visit (i.e., at your expense), and you should jump at any opportunity given you to meet a coach in person. The winter/spring of your junior year is a great time to do these unofficial visits. In my son’s case, he got friendly invitations in the February/March/April months to visit Princeton, Penn, Harvard, MIT, Yale and Georgetown and and we jumped on all of those opportunities. We did most of those visits on his spring break. Cornell also had a “junior rowing day” which we went to as well, and it was amazing that more kids didn’t attend that; what an easy opportunity to meet the coaches face-to-face and spend quality time with them. I believe Cornell was the only Ivy that had a junior rowing day but it was well-organized, incredibly informational, and well worth the effort to get to Ithaca.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE 2K ERG SCORE…SUB-6:35
Based on my son’s experience, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the 2K erg score. You might have incredibly good race results, but if you cannot demonstrate your individual fitness through a solid 2K erg score, you will likely not be recruited at the end of the day, at least not by this top tier of school. The important thing is that you show your 2K to be moving in the right direction. As I said, when my son first emailed the coaches in November of his junior year, his erg score was in the high 6:40’s, nothing that’s going to blow a coach a way obviously. By January, it was mid-6:40’s. By March/April, he was sub-6:40. By June, he was sub-6:35. By August, he was sub-6:30. So every two months or so, he was hitting a new PR and emailing the coaches with that information. He also had race results to offer, but to us it seemed like the erg score (and breaking the key thresholds of 6:40, 6:35, and 6:30 especially) was paramount to the coaches. The standard across the men’s D1 lightweight league to be recruited seems to be sub-6:35, and based on our experience the following framework seemed to be consistent across the schools: (i) sub-6:40 to “get in the discussion”; (ii) sub-6:35 to be a legitimate recruit; (iii) sub-6:30 to be a top recruit; (iv) sub-6:25 to be a top recruit at HYP, the three schools that generally garner the “fattest” (i.e., fastest) erg scores. When do you need to break 6:35? I would say ideally by July 1st of the summer before your senior year, when the coaches start handing out official visits. In my son’s case, he broke 6:35 in June and that proved to be ideal.
(continued in “PART II”…)