Welcome to Interview #97
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Rowing Coach of Lehigh University, Brian Conley.
Coach Conley oversees Lehigh’s women’s and men’s rowing programs while coaching the women’s varsity boats. Ever since arriving on campus, Conley has made an immediate impact. The team has continually improved and the interest in the program has never been higher.
Coach Conley has provided some great tips for us about how to go through the recruiting process and prepare for Division 1 athletics.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you?
There are a number of ways to get noticed. Without going into big program versus small programs, the easiest way is to go to each college team’s radar and fill out their online recruiting form.
It is also important to have an erg score that makes you competitive. If you are an athlete that says “I’m better on the water,” it will actually negatively impact your recruitment because all that tells the coach is you either don’t like to work hard or you are scared to be tested, which is exactly what racing is.
When recruiting, it seems to me it would be difficult to measure the strength of an individual apart from the team. How do you evaluate an individual rower?
We use the ergometer, which is the rowing machine to measure the individual physical strengths of an athlete. This is why the tests done on them weigh so heavily in the recruiting process. Many coaches believe we can teach you how we want you to row, but if you don’t have the basic power needed it is hard to justify why we would recruit you.
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process?
The two biggest mistakes revolve around communicating and scholarships. Do not assume you get a scholarship if you are recruited. There are a lot of programs out there that can assist in the admissions part of the recruiting process and that is what they would consider a “scholarship” especially if the athlete is an average or below average student for that school.
The other mistake that is common is athletes don’t reach out to the coaches. If you want to be at our school then by all means a potential recruit should be emailing the coaches or even better calling us to talk!
Last common mistake is many athletes don’t do their homework on a school before talking to a coach. Doing some homework about what majors and programs the school offers shows a sincere interest in the school.
Should prospective athletes bring up scholarships with coaches or wait on the coach to initiate that discussion?
It is an important part of the college selection process especially with the cost of education nowadays. I say it is perfectly fine to bring up the topic and have that discussion with the coach, but definitely wait until at least your second or third contact to initiate that conversation. If a scholarship conversation is going to happen on the first time talking, it should only be initiated by the coach.
For Division 1 rowing, how and when are scholarships offered? How much time do athletes typically have to respond?
Every program is a bit different from the number of scholarships to when they offer them. Many times scholarships are not offered until the week of the Official Visit or when the coaches have decided to add you to their recruiting class. So this usually happens in the fall of the athlete’s senior year prior to applying and most schools prefer their scholarship athletes to apply in the early application process. I am usually looking for an answer from a scholarship offer with 48 hours of the offer, but the most I have heard is a week.
Can you give prospective Division 1 rowers an idea about how many rowing scholarships each school has and the amounts a typical rower may receive?
This is the hardest question to answer. The NCAA allows rowing to have what would be the equivalent of 20 full scholarships on their team. There are VERY few schools that can come close to that. This is a great question to ask on that third conversation with a coach. Most scholarships offered to recruited rowers, I believe, is about 25% of tuition or cost of attendance depending on the school. Not every recruit receives a scholarship. For some athletes simply getting into the school has to be looked at as a scholarship if the rowing coach supported your application.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
Parents are playing bigger and bigger roles in the process since they are in most cases paying the majority of the bill. Parents are not necessarily going to help the recruiting process, but they can certainly hurt it. I typically will tell parents that they can ask whatever questions they want, but be mindful of not answering questions for your athlete.
Most of a coach’s questions are going to be for their son or daughter. As a coach, I want to get to know your son or daughter for who they are and the only way I really know those answers is if the athlete can answer them. I am going to spend the next 4 years working with your son or daughter, so I need to know can we communicate open and honestly. So if you want to help as a parent, make sure your son or daughter wants to be recruited and they are aware they are the ones that need to answer the coach’s questions and ideally ask their own questions.
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting an athlete?
This is going to sound weird, but first thing for me is the athlete needs to be choosing the school for its education. No one is getting rich off of professional rowing. If the athlete is only choosing based on rowing, they are going to be putting themselves potentially in an environment they don’t like academically and that bleeds into their ability and mental well-being at the boathouse and practice. I have seen this lead to blaming the team for being unhappy, quitting the team and even transferring schools and in the end the athlete will say they were just in the school for the wrong reasons.
The next thing would be whether an athlete is an excuse maker or a solution maker. For example, if someone doesn’t have a good erg score and says well “I’m good on the water” or “my team doesn’t erg much” then they are an excuse maker. If the same athlete says, “I don’t have a good erg score, but I have joined a gym that has an erg to get in more workouts because my team doesn’t erg much” then I know the athlete puts a high value on both hard work and achieving their goals. They can also be a good leader on my team.
Finally, if you don’t have a competitive erg score, then simply I won’t recruit that athlete.
What are the differences between rowing at the high school and the college level? What do incoming freshmen need to be prepared for?
Rowing at the college level is not your high school, it is going to be different and you need to embrace that difference. Physically, you are going to spend more time rowing. The increase in mileage is the greatest stress I see athletes struggle with.
Mentally, you need to be aware that rowing is ALL year round. You need to stay in shape during winter break and in the summer. It can wear on someone not prepared for it being a lifestyle.
For your overall well-being, you better like the team you are joining because you are going to spend a lot of time with them daily. This leads into the biggest struggle all college students have, but athletes in particular, you need to be able to time manage and say no to things that are not a priority to your goals.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
Winning is not the norm, it is the exception. So in order to win you have to do things exceptionally well and you have to fail exceptionally too in chasing those goals. Doing anything half way will never make you a winner.
Can you share a story or two about athletes who have gone through your program that have been impacted by their time in the rowing program?
The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was recruit a program changing leader. It took me about 2 years to find such a candidate and we were lucky enough to recruit her. Granted the program had already gone through a number of changes, but true change comes from when the athletes make the commitment to change.
Maddie came in and learned over the course of her first two years that she could be the impact of change. She had asked one day why I didn’t get upset the trailer took so long to load and my reply was because you clearly didn’t want it to change so why am I going to get upset when you aren’t doing anything to change it. Right away it was a change in her leadership that became selfless and in the direction of making the team faster and winning.
We went through two major culture shifts to get to the season where Maddie was our senior captain and working on the real shift in the team which was accountability. Maddie had this in spades by her senior year. Maddie would go out of her way to meet with members of the team to make sure they were doing ok, but if someone was late or not being held to the highest standard she had no problems making them aware it was not acceptable.
The key to her leadership was the follow up with them afterwards. She would make sure they were understanding of where she was coming from and it wasn’t personal, but for the best interest of the team. If it became a habitual problem, she would bring it to the coaches that it was not something the team needed and would request to take some level of action to help the team, whether it was additional workouts or even in one case removal from the team.
She grew into what it meant to be a leader and hold others to a standard and our team her senior year had its best finish in over a decade and that legacy continues on our team which is the best complement a leader can have.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or rowers in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
Be honest in the recruiting process! Share whatever erg score or SAT/ACT test score you have even if you don’t like them. If you don’t share that information right away, the coach will think you are trying to hide something and that is something to then worry about if you are on his/her team. The rowing world is also very small, so if you tell one coach something and another coach something completely different to impress them, the truth will come out and now neither coach is likely to recruit you.
Finally, if a coach requests something such as a transcript or SAT/ACT score or erg score be as quick as you can to supply that information or make the coach aware of why there will be a delay. It shows you are being upfront and honest and tells the coach that you are interested in their program by having more contact with the coaches.
You can find out more about Coach Conley and Lehigh Rowing by clicking here.
Next, check out: How Can I Get a College Coach to Notice Me?
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