Beyond the 2K: What intangibles are rowing recruiting coaches seeking?

By Sparks Editorial Staff | June 1, 2015

If you’re a junior rower and interested in rowing for a competitive college program, you already know grades and erg score are super important. Those are the first and last attributes a coach looks at and they’re the entry points for the recruiting process. Besides ergs and grades, but there are a myriad of other factors to consider.

What factors get coaches to look beyond the numbers? We polled a number of coaches around the country to get answers.

One of the most common factors that popped up in our poll was chemistry. Every team has an existing personality and coaches work very hard to shape that personality by bringing in athletes who contribute to and strengthen the chemistry of the team. This happens by fitting in, having a strong work ethic, a willingness to work hard and improve, a desire to be on that particular team, and buying into the team system.

Recruits should discuss with the recruiting coaches how they can fit in and contribute to different teams. Ask questions: What is the personality of the team like? What is the culture like? Will my personality fit in with this team?

On the flipside, recruiters will call high school coaches and ask about the personality of a recruit to suss out if he or she will fit into their particular program. If a college crew has a friend of the recruit (or ex-teammate) on the team now, the coach will definitely ask that person what it was like rowing with so-and-so.

Hilary Gehman, a former head women’s coach at Cornell, states simply, “A recruit should not just be looking to be recruited. He or she should be looking for a program in which to thrive and contribute.”

The next factor that popped up often was having room to grow. College coaches often see recruits as raw material with the potential to be molded into star rowers and outstanding student-athletes. As a recruit, are you flexible enough to take coaching and improve your technique? Will you buy into the next level of training and seek to improve your fitness? Are you open to criticism from coaches and peers? Will you be proactive enough to seek improvement in the offseason?

Recruits should be able to answer those questions and talk about their flexibility and willingness to grow. If a recruit feels like they’ve already maxed out their potential and doesn’t need to grow, coaches will sniff that out right away.

Another factor that many of our polled coaches mentioned was having knowledge of the program and university that you’re being recruited by. This seems like a niggling detail, but it can make a difference. Coaches want recruits to have looked at the University website and be ready with questions. They want recruits who are expressing curiosity and a genuine interest about the rowing program.

“The student needs to convey they want to attend my university by asking smart questions,” says Caroline King, an assistant coach with Clemson University. “If a coach asks if you have any questions about the program, you need to have at least one or two questions about the place where you may spend the next four awesome years of life. If I feel that a prospect, no matter how talented, has a ‘what will you do for me’ mentality, I walk away.”

One last pair of factors: confidence and humility. These two qualities can occasionally be at odds, but they also go hand-in-hand. These are the Yin and Yang of competitive sports.

Coaches want athletes who stand up straight, give firm handshakes, can articulate themselves, show enthusiasm, and most importantly, are racers. Coaches are looking for athletes who are tough in practice and gritty on the racecourse. This takes a certain degree of confidence, and an occasional dash of cockiness. Coaches are also looking for recruits who show respect and are humble, especially during the recruitment process.

Mark Davis, head coach of the George Washington men, said that his intangibles are character, room to grow, and being a team player.

“While erg scores are nice, I’ll take a recruit who meets all three above with a slower erg then someone with a faster erg that doesn’t meet any,” said Davis.

If you’re working through the recruiting process and would like help, feel free to e-mail us at or give us a call at 646.770.0290. Also be sure to check out various rowing and coxing camps during the summer.