It’s been quite a few years since I attended the USRowing Annual Convention. I went this time primarily to complete my Level III coaching certification, meet up with some old rowing buddies, and hopefully pick up a few new tools for my toolbox as coach of the Michigan Technological University crew. As someone who has always loved the indoor rower and has used it as a critical part of my own and my athletes’ training, I was prepared for lots of references to the erg as the machine rowers hate and coaches rely on to separate the fitness levels of competitive rowers within their crews.
What I was pleasantly surprised to find, though, was that coaches are using the machine in new ways to create great results on the water for their teams. Not only that, for the right student a good erg time could be the ticket to college rowing, regardless of the athlete’s size or prior experience.
I didn’t attend a session at the conference where the erg wasn’t stressed as being critical for training and measuring athletes’ progress. Yes, 2k scores matter, but coaches like Matt Wiese at Michigan State have gone beyond that by spending valuable practice time on the erg and investing in every combination of erging possible. He has pods of ergs on slides, the Dynamic Indoor Rower and two Swingulators that he rotates the team on for different challenging and team building workouts.
Rowing is working hard to break its image as a sport of the elite and tall. Along with programs like USRowing’s America Rows, which brings rowing to a more racially and socio-economically diverse audience, I learned during panel discussions with Division I coaches that even for the top teams, size and prior experience are not nearly as important as raw talent.
High school coaches and college counselors take note: college coaches are in search of athletes they can develop. So while page after page of winning performances at the junior level is a great resume, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as a good 2k erg time and strong GPA and SAT scores. It’s about the athlete’s engine, work ethic, and ability to move boats. If you can spin the flywheel they’ll take a look at you, they don’t care how tall you are, if you’ve rowed before, or what sport you come from. Maybe you don’t come from any sport, but if you can spin the erg they want you.
All of this speaks to the value of learning how to row indoors correctly and teaching athletes to apply their power to get their best results, through trainings like Indoor Rowing Foundations. The more kids are exposed to the opportunities that the indoor rower provides, not only as a fitness tool but as a possible ticket to college success, the better off they, and the sport of rowing, will be.