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October 6, 2021

6 Tips on Becoming a College Rowing Athlete

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At some point during high school, many student-athletes wonder: “How can I continue my athletic career in college?” Despite being a skilled athlete, not everyone can be a starting quarterback for the University of Alabama’s football team or play point guard for Villanova University’s basketball team. 

However, there are other opportunities that allow high school athletes to continue competing at the collegiate level. For example, rowing is a lesser-known sport that offers collegiate-level opportunities. There are many universities where you have to be recruited to be on the team, but there are also many colleges that have regular tryouts — some rowing teams even encourage walk-on athletes. 

Related: Not All Sports Are Created Equal, The Truth Behind Women’s Rowing and How it Saves Football

A former Colgate University athlete, Erika Birk, spoke about how she wound up on the Varsity Women’s Rowing team at Colgate, despite being recruited for and having opportunities at several other colleges for swimming and diving. When Erika decided to pursue undergraduate studies at Colgate, she chose to tryout for the rowing team because she believed that the training involved in rowing was very similar to swimming: “It’s a lot of independent dedication and practice but also a great team atmosphere, and there is a lot of support from everyone on the team.”

This goes to show that, while it may appear to be challenging to get ‘discovered’ by a college recruiter to continue playing a sport after high school, the answer may be a bit clearer, even if in another sport. Here are five valuable tips from collegiate rowers and rowing coaches that can help you get discovered and land a spot on the team:

  1. Build your rowing “resume:” There are measurable and immeasurable traits and qualities, tangible and intangible personal aspects. From a measurable standpoint, physical size and power:weight ratio is very important. As these can be measured, they can be honed, improved and optimized. But, intangibles are just as important: resolve, toughness, commitment, being able to take criticism and use that to improve are all qualities coaches look for.
  1. Explore your options: Use your freshman and sophomore summers to research and explore some universities via campus visits, and get an idea of what “type” of college you’d like to attend (urban/rural, big/small, diverse, program-focused, research-focused, etc).

Related: Division I Athletes: Tips Before and After Recruiting

  1. Get invited to high-performance camps: USRowing runs a handful of competitive campus that allow you to practice your skills, get an idea of the sport, and maybe even meet coaches!
  1. Research, research, research! Find the schools that offer rowing and research how competitive the program is; then formulate your list of questions. Ask lots of questions! Visit the schools to get a first hand feel for the facilities and team. Talk to the students and current team members and seek out the coaches – they are your best sources of information and are usually eager to speak with you regarding the sport and program. Go to your interested schools events and watch! Watch the team and pay close attention to the coaching style and team dynamics. 

Related: 37 Questions to Ask College Coaches before You Commit

  1. Show commitment: During tryouts, show the coaches that you want to be there. Rowing programs often have a lot of walk-ons, and many drop out after a few weeks once they realize how hard the sport is and how much dedication is required. So commit, dedicate the time, put in the hard work and it will be recognized.
  1. Row because you love it: Row because you love the hard work, the commitment, and regimen involved with it. Row for the sense of team. This doesn’t go unnoticed by coaches.