3 Rowing Recruiting Factors to Consider (Besides Erg Score)

By Sparks Editorial Staff | May 1, 2014

by Ben O'Grady

Back when I was coaching and recruiting rowers at Louisville, Florida Tech, and other programs, I always looked at three major factors beyond the usuals of erg score, height/weight, and grades. Ergs are definitely important when predicting future boat speed, but I consider these other three factors to be key differentiators. This is especially important when you’re deciding on scholarship dollars for recruits.

Athletic Background

I always looked at what other sports a junior rower was involved with. Did the rower play pee-wee football, or youth soccer, or track, or swim, or one of dozens of other sports? Did the athlete thrive in these other sports or was he/she merely average? I want to know this information in a descriptive way with a list of accomplishments.

I consider myself a rowing coach who enjoyed getting an athletic resume from a recruit with these details. From there, I evaluate the athlete (as best possible) in terms of strength, agility, explosiveness, flexibility, and a variety of other factors. I want to know if she is a talented athlete overall or just happens to have won the genetic lottery for height and weight and picked up rowing in her junior year of high school. I also want to know if she loves playing sports in general. I want to know if she’s competitive. 

If I had to decide between two rowers with the exact same erg score and grades, I would take the one with an athletic background.

Advice: Junior rowers should consider putting together a rowing resume and submit it along with their other recruiting materials to coaches. If you’re filling out an online form, detail other sports played in the notes section. Bottom line: make sure they know you’re athletic.

Loves To Work Out

Work ethic is obvious since rowing is a hard-work-pays-off kind of sport. I go overboard and look for athletes who love to work out. Though this plays into the above point, my ideal recruit would be passionate about fitness, someone who loves lifting weights and doing land training and doesn’t mind spinning miles on the erg. This isn’t true for every rowing coach, but I’m sharing my own experience. I’m a gym rat myself – as are other rowing coaches.

Here’s why I like gym rats. Most recruits have the right frame to be a varsity rower, but they don’t have a varsity body. They’re either too skinny or a bit amorphous in shape. I try to imagine how that athlete would look in his or her last years in college after several years in a serious training program, with an adult musculature. The volume and sophistication of land training in college is a major difference from high school. If the athlete has a killer work ethic, that means more strength and more explosiveness and more boat speed in the long term.

If a recruit loves spending time in the gym, I’ll give that person the edge over someone with a slightly better erg score. My attitude is I can build an athlete into a top rower with the right training.

Advice: Get on a good, structured land training program while in high school, if your juniors program doesn’t already have one. Let college coaches know you’re putting in gym time and you look forward to land training at the next level. It’s another check in the plus column.

Complimentary Personality

Every team has a culture/personality that is created from the individual personalities of the rowers. When I recruited, I looked for rowers whose personality would fit in (and enhance) my current and upcoming teams.

I coached a lot of men’s teams and I loved having rowdy, almost rambunctious teams. I wanted the guys to love practicing together and derive energy from being around each other. It created a fun environment and led to a lot of competitiveness. Thus, I recruited guys with outgoing, energetic personalities. I also recruited guys who were calmer and more restrained. This mix created a dynamic group with tons of creative tension and leadership ability. It was very much like putting a puzzle together. The Yin and Yang are important in creating the right type of energy.

Advice: What’s your personality? Hint: the first step is to know who you are, which is a longer process that can be nourished by the challenge offered in the sport. Try to describe your personality in a paragraph and communicate that to the recruiting coaches. Also, make sure to ask about the culture/personality of the team recruiting you. This is VERY important because you want to make sure you’ll be a good fit.

Conclusions: If you’re a junior rower looking to get recruited, keep in mind the landscape is highly competitive especially when it comes to scholarship dollars. Look at these three factors as way to differentiate yourself from the crowd.