Rowing and Recruiting Services

By Sparks Editorial Staff | May 1, 2014

The NCAA defines a recruiting service as a firm that provides information on “potential student athletes” (PSAs) to “member institutions”(college programs). Essentially, recruiting services act as third party facilitators for the recruiting process. Sparks is often mistaken for a recruiting service given the firm works with junior rowers and coxswains on recruiting, but our function is the reverse: we provide information to potential student athletes on college programs and do not reach out to college coaches on behalf of athletes.

We often find parents believe they need to use one of these services (like BeRecruited, amongst a multitude of others) to get their student “ID’d” in the recruiting process. They see this as the primary benefit. This is an incorrect assumption in the rowing recruiting “economy” as rowing does not work like basketball or football. Getting “ID’d” is not the hardest part of the recruiting process; most college coaches are far more likely to move faster with a student via a direct e-mail than go through the work of contacting a kid off a recruiting website and asking them to fill out the relevant forms.

We often find ourselves repeating the same thing during recruiting presentations: the rowing recruiting economy favors the college coaches with thousands of junior programs globally vs. just over 150 college programs (some of whom do not have scholarships or much admissions support) – given this and time limitations, the competition to ID athletes does not exist in rowing like it does in football and basketball. In fact a large amount of recruits turn the process around and approach college programs, thus achieving being “identified” through the mere act of sending a direct e-mail.

There are currently multiple recruiting services available to college rowing coaches. Some are multi-million dollar, multi-sport “box” services and others are rowing specific. We know some coaches who are on all of them, and some who are on none. We know some coaches (Ivy included) will blanket e-mail huge groups of recruits potentially including some outside of their academic or talent target ranges by mistake on in the name of buzz, and some who use the services very carefully, pinpointing recruits.

As a very broad generalization, the top performing rowing programs use the services less, if at all, while many of their recruits come directly to them (via e-mail) after achieving top 20% ergometer performances, or are ID’d at regattas like the junior world championships. Top programs have their own mechanisms for ID’ing athletes and generally will use those mechanisms to recruit a large amount of their athletes as their athletes are in the top 25%. This makes it somewhat inefficient to use recruiting services where most of the database won’t meet the coaches’ requirements.

We do see smaller, more developmental college rowing programs using recruiting services more often given their resources and need to attract “diamonds in the rough”, but keep in mind admissions and scholarship support is usually more limited than top-tier programs. That said, some of these smaller programs are great choices.

We do see recruiting services as possible outlets for middle 50% athletes to potentially find schools they wouldn’t have put on their list otherwise. We also believe these services offer juniors the opportunity to gain perspective on their peers and the process, and ultimately (with the right matching mechanisms and ethical behavior) could facilitate growth in the community.

Regardless of programmatic level, the aspect of student loyalty to institution is extremely undervalued in the recruiting process given assumptions influenced by professional sports and Hollywood – but rowing is antithetical to these things. The first kid a coach will drop is the prima-donna who tries to play programs off each other and/or believes it would be a college program’s privilege to have them. Unfortunately, some parents encourage this attitude and this can be a deal-breaker for some college coaches regardless of the student.

Our sport is still built on relationships. A humble, well-researched approach and direct e-mail to the coaching staff will carry further in almost every case than going through a third party.Regardless of whether they choose to use a recruiting service, we would advise parents and students to approach the rowing recruiting process as they would a job interview at a top tier company – personably, with humility and honesty.