Rowing Camps and Recruiting

By Sparks Editorial Staff | May 17, 2019

We get a lot of questions about the recruiting benefits of institutional (short term) rowing camps. In other sports, attending an institution’s camp is one way to gain recruiting interest. However, in rowing this is not generally the case. We also receive a lot of question about longer term, more competitive camps, which can have some benefits. This article will attempt to explore the intricacies of rowing camps only as they pertain to recruiting.

First, it's important to understand that there are essentially three levels of rowing camps:

1. Collegiate/Institutional Camps
- Under a Week 
- Larger groups averaging 2-3 seasons of experience
- Good for: Education & Inspiration

2. Intermediate Skills Camps  (may involve racing)
- Multiple weeks but under 5 
- Smaller groups averaging 3-5 seasons of experience
- Good for: Technical Improvement, Education & Inspiration

3. Advanced Skills Camps (may involve international racing)
- 5-6 weeks
- Smaller groups averaging 3-8 seasons of experience
- Good for: Physiological Improvement,Technical Improvement, & Education & Inspiration

Attending an institutional five day rowing camp will, generally speaking, not benefit a rowing or coxswain recruit’s chances at the institution. We spoke with one former Ivy coach who claimed that in over fifteen years at his institution, he had never recruited any of the hundreds of kids at their rowing camp. Of course, if a student is already talented enough to be recruited, the student will be recruited on the basis of their erg score and academics regardless of whether they attend the camp.

There are benefits to institutional camps, no doubt. Sparks runs a few of them with a multitude of coaches from different institutions. They are excellent to educate, inspire, and provide perspective to younger (9th and 10th grade) athletes. They are an excellent way to get a sense of an institution and its coaching staff. They can provide valuable tools for kids to apply in the next season at their school or club. But, in and of themselves, five day camps will not A) lower a 2K score, B) result in ingrained technical benefit or C) result in recruiting

With that in mind, there is a more serious camp system that tends to see a greater amount of campers in the recruiting process. These are longer camps that are typically over 2 weeks in duration.

It's important to address the USRowing system specifically given we get the greatest number of questions about it. 

USRowing's Olympic Development Program camps attract a wide variety of talent levels, though acceptance is by application and a $5,500 check for the three weeks. Some Olympians have an issue with the word "Olympic" in the title given no one at these programs has rowed for very long (unlike soccer's ODP), nor does program entrance indicate that one is actually in the US Olympic rowing team pipeline, nor has the program yet produced US Olympians.  One Ivy recruiter we spoke with says "it definitely shows a greater level of commitment than a collegiate camp, but it's going to come back to their erg - which they may not be working on if they're focused on summer racing."  

USRowing's "Selection" camp meanwhile, which feeds to the Junior Worlds Championships and CanAmEx, is a different entity - with far less athletes than the ODP system, but with far more recruiting interest. It probably makes the largest difference in recruiting prospects of any camp available for juniors, but also comes with the harshest admissions standards. 

Other intermediate and advanced options range from summer programs in Philadelphia to the Sparks five week program in New Zealand. These camps can vary in culture, but are usually dedicated to rising high school juniors and seniors and should be utilized based on their goals and athletes' needs (better 2K, better racing intelligence, better coxing skills, etc.) 

The camp options that do include a 5-6 week training cycle often do facilitate faster 2Ks and experience that interests college recruiters. Sometimes this experience is related to training intensity and types of training employed while for others it is manifested in race results. Regardless of the type of longer camp, the ideal recruit learns what upper-end training in the sport is like and begins to understand the discipline, maturity, and challenge of training on the collegiate level.

Finally, it's important to say that merely going to these longer camps is not enough – every recruit is evaluated on a case by case basis regardless of whether they’re coming from. Ultimately, in a point we’ve made many times before, recruiting comes down to A) how the athlete utilizes the camp experience itself and B) how they present the experience to college recruiters. The hard part isn’t getting “ID’d” by going to one of these camps. The hard part is being able to demonstrate an approrpriate 2K and a greater ability and depth of understanding of the sport to recruiters – however, athletes at these longer camps undeniably have a better chance to do so than those who only row during the school year.

Regatta results from camp are a secondary indicator of recruit quality but are not as foundational a factor as erg, character, or thoughtfulness for most coaches who are seeking athletes who have the potential to develop in the future.

Ultimately, attending rowing camp should provide perspective regardless of where you go. But it’s up to the student to make it mean something, regardless of race results.