Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Guest Blog by Meli Mathis

Today's blog comes from Meli Mathis, a local rowing coach and blog follower. She gives an interesting perspective to "recruiting" in a somewhat non-traditional sport, but brings up some very good points, How do we get non motivated kids into sport? I was very excited to hear her thoughts and interest in writing a blog for me so here it is for all of you, enjoy:

The ultimate team sport is also the ultimate obscure sport. I coach rowing, which is not very popular, nor is it a very accessible sport for most. The latter leads to the former. So the question becomes how do you get kids interested in a sport that they have likely never seen or heard of? Especially when rosters need walk-ons to be complete.

In my case, I had seen rowing boats on the Potomac River as I was driven to school each day from kindergarten to 8th grade. I have always been a water person: I was on swim team and am now a lifeguard, so it was another water sport to try. For some kids that is an intimidation factor: there's a swim test to join rowing teams. But I disagree. The real question is how to get kids even interested to take that swim test, and join a sport that practices off campus with little visibility. My high school and collegiate teams used several methods. The first few were the usual suspects of all the clubs: hanging posters, flyers, and trying to recruit friends' younger siblings. The other techniques were a little more aggressive.

Every spring in high school, the varsity rowers would take two rowing machines (ergs) to the feeder middle school for two days during lunch. We would challenge the 8th graders to row 100m races against each other (those take less than a minute to complete). We stirred excitement for our sport and their impending move to high school. One of the out of the box tactics was wearing our uniforms to school in early September. Most sports have jerseys, rowers wear spandex unisuits http://www.jlrowing.com/stwoun.html . Needless to say, we stood out among our fellow students dressed in jeans and t-shirts. While the older students were used to this, the freshman were not. So again, we piqued their interest and reminded them of the previous Spring when we had taken over their lunch hours. These tactics combined with letters sent to every freshman's parents made for good turn outs at the crew informational meeting. Collegiate recruitment is even more aggressive, at least at my alma mater. Once freshman receive their IDs, they are ushered from one building to another, where their parents are waiting. Enroute, the varsity rowing teams have several boats in slings with oars in the rigging creating a slight maze. The older rowers attempt to talk to every student who looks like a good candidate for becoming a walk on, as many of the older rowers were walk-ons themselves they give personal testimony. This gets the idea of rowing into the freshmen minds from their first minute on campus, but there's more. My former school requires a swim test in order to graduate. Since you must take swimming classes if you cannot pass, the test is administered the day after move-in to allow those who need to enroll in Introductory Swimming to do so. The rowing coaches run the swim tests and hand informational cards to freshman who look particularly athletic. Those cards would lead to nearly 300 freshman attending a meeting about the sport and team where some myths were confirmed and others dispelled: yes, there are morning practices; no, you will not fall overboard - this sport happens on the water not in it; yes, you will be able to eat as much as you want in the dining hall and still lose weight if you commit to the training regimine.

Based on my experiences, I have to wonder if there are any other sports that require such aggressive marketing tactics to attract potential new athletes, and if so, what techniques do those coaches use? Are there any I can steal now that I'm a coach and want to recruit the best possible new athletes?

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