The Recruiting Process

By Ryan Sparks | March 1, 2014

Writing an op-ed piece in our newsletter, I feel kind of like the executives who write columns in their airline magazines–does anyone actually read that stuff? I’ll endeavor to be entertaining here, brief, and informative, though my topic this quarter is something I could write volumes on: the importance of developing self-awareness during the recruiting process.

The recruiting process should not be a method to assure college admission. You heard me correctly. It’s a positive supplement to admission, but I feel people who see it as a way to assure admission or scholarship are short-sighted. We talk with many families who view rowing as a plus to a college application, and it certainly is, but it then raises an issue college coaches deal with every year, namely, recruits who coaches feel “burn” them upon admission to their institution by achieving admission and then not rowing, even through their first year. What does that mean about what we’re teaching these students – and/or what does that say about how folks are addressing the recruiting process?

I was sitting at a coffee shop with a new potential client recently talking about the difference in the current mainstream philosophy of college counseling, which is to basically dress up an application such that the applicant gets into the best US News and World Reports school they possibly can. I ask whether it’s at that point we’re teaching some kids they’ll need to (kind of, sort of) “sell out” to really be someone in life. Even in a sport as small as rowing, there is a huge variety of undergraduate experiences available. Because of this, we’ve absolutely seen people who, as a result of their time at a public university, led what might be arguably a more successful life than someone else who attended an arguably better “branded” institution.

So, I would argue that introspection on a student’s part and their ability to embrace their value set and follow it (hopefully with the support and mentoring of their community) isn’t only a “nice to have,” but ultimately will dictate how successful their undergraduate career is. It affects an individual’s ability to enjoy the culture of the rowing team and its coaching pedagogy to their ability to successfully leverage opportunities at their particular institution to get a job.

We start by asking students how they connect with the sport. As long as the student has reasonable fun with rowing, we believe this question allows kids to begin to assert the answers to a more basic question, namely, “what drives you?” You would be surprised at the difference in answers we’re able to find if we go deep enough. Some enjoy rowing purely given the competitive aspect, others could care less about that and just row “for their friends” (though talent doesn’t correlate with those examples). Some begin to realize they respond better by being a bigger fish in a small pond while other want to be inspired and led by those around them. The implications of such answers are more than enough to better inform future choices inside the sport and beyond it.

The college process can be a catalyst for personal development. Moreover, that development can provide a fantastic groundwork for a truly successful undergraduate choice, which may in turn (if the student is able to remain aware of who they are) provide a fantastic groundwork for a successful life after college. Ultimately, rowing provides a conduit for this process, but only if it’s not set aside as another superficial piece of one’s college application.