How to Become a Crew Instructor

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Crew rowing is one of the most physically challenging sports played today. Like swimming, rowing exercises every major muscle group in your body – legs, abdomen, chest, back, and especially the arms.

Long before crew rowing became a sport, the practice was used in warfare by almost all ancient civilizations. Crew rowing could transport warriors and weapons faster than men rowing alone in canoes or flat-bottom boats.

how to become a crew instructor

By the 18th century, watermen were racing each other in long barges along the Thames River in England. The first official event, known as the Oxford-Cambridge race, was held in 1829.

Twenty years later crews from Yale and Harvard universities were racing on the Charles River. Crew rowing also holds the distinction of being the first organized collegiate sport in the United States.

Incredibly, the earliest racing shells used for sport were made from a form of papier-mâché, literally paper pulp and paste. Modern crew boats are made of a carbon-based composite material, which probably gives crew rowers more confidence in their watercraft than their great grandparents enjoyed while propelling paper boats.

According to the NCAA, crew rowing teams are among the hardest to make in all college sports. Successful crew rowing comes down to survival of the toughest, both mentally and physically.

To prepare, dedicated crew teams will row the extra mile, which often means working with a private coach to get better, faster. This is where you have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of an athlete. Take your love of crew rowing to the next level by becoming a certified instructor in the sport. Coaching keeps you involved in the sport. Successful coaching marks you as one of the preeminent leaders in one of the toughest competitive sports practiced today. You can make good money, too. So grab your oars and start sculling on your way to professional certification.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a private crew instructor
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities
  • Finding athletes to teach as a private coach
  • Plus helpful tips for private crew instructors.

How much money can you make?

how much do crew instructors make

The national average crew coach salary is about $40,000. That’s $20 an hour. Private crew instructors can make much more, with some coaches charging $200 for a two-hour training session. Some crew coaching organizations offer student athlete discounts for buying an annual full-season pass. With this pricing strategy, a private coach can offer savings to clients in exchange for an up-front payment for the year and the assurance of steady coaching work.

Training and Certification

USRowing offers the coaching development program, which leads to certification. The first thing to do is join the organization so you can start the certification process.

USRowing recently redesigned its coaching development program to focus more on the practical aspects of coaching, noting that it’s “important to have knowledge, but it is even more important to know how to use it.”

The changes include a mandatory mentoring system for each of the three levels of coaching development, as well as stronger testing and certification requirements.

training and certification as crew instructor

The goal of USRowing certification is to teach you how to run a safe workout and how to coach boats efficiently at every level from beginner to the Olympic team.

There are 3 certification levels and several programs for advanced or specialized training:

  • Level 1, 2 and 3 Certification.
  • Regional coaching clinics and an annual Advanced Coaches Conference.
  • Special coaching camps (mentoring camps).
  • Individual consultations with the Director of Coaching Development.

In addition, all coaches must complete SafeSport training. This mandatory course covers issues of abuse, sexual harassment, and when and how to report issues. The cost is $20. You can review the SafeSport handbook here.

Level 1

This training program is designed for someone who has never coached rowing before. The online course is open to all US Rowing “Basic” members.

Level 2

This course features an online component that will take 15-20 hours to complete, followed by an in-person session over a day and a half. Participants must be through Level 1, or have been coaching for a year, or have rowed in high school, college or a club for at least four years. The cost is $250.

This training is designed for coaches who will be assistants and new head coaches at the high school and college level.

Level 3

Training for experienced head coaches or pre-elite coaches. To participate in Level 3 you must have held a Level 2 certificate for two years or receive special permission from US Rowing’s Director of Coaching Development. To inquire about special permission call (317) 450 3229.

level 3 crew training instructor

What you’ll take away from your training:

  • More practical class activities during the clinics.
  • A comprehensive exam from theoretical material learned online and during the in-person clinic.
  • Mandatory mentoring with an experienced coach.
  • How to teach correct posture, sculling (rowing) technique on the erg or rowing tank, rigging and more.

Following the clinic, you’ll work with your mentor for a set number of hours. During this time you’ll discuss technique, workouts, safety and other aspects of coaching on the water.

There’s an exam after completing the coursework for each training level.

Once you successfully complete the exam and safety certification requirements, you’ll be certified at the given level.

Here’s the time commitment for the mentoring part of the certification program:

  • Level 1 (minimum of 10 hours) mentoring can be done at your local club/college with the varsity coach.
  • Level 2 (20-hour minimum) mentoring should be done at a different club/college with an experienced varsity coach.
  • Level 3 (minimum of 20 hours) mentoring should be done with an experienced varsity coach in the club, during a summer camp or with national team coaches during camps or at USRowing training centers.

To get an idea of training methods, here’s a video of essential sculling techniques for crew rowers.

This video presents a variety of free-weight lifting routines for crew rowers.

The Virginia-based McLean Crew Club posted this video of their winter training routine.

Professional Groups to join

USRowing is the premiere organization dedicated to the sport of crew rowing in the United States. Membership levels vary from about $10 to $65 annually, with different benefits at each level.

professional groups to join as crew instructor

As a member you’ll have opportunities to network with other crew instructors, access the organizations resource library and participate in twice-weekly webinars covering various aspects of the sport.


Use your membership in US Rowing to network with other crew coaches. As you build relationships, people are more likely to alert you about job opportunities they’ve learned about. You might hear about a position before it’s even advertised.

Circulate your resume around local high schools and colleges that have rowing crews. If there are no openings, offer to volunteer as a coaching assistant, which keeps you in the game while you continue looking for work.

Social media can be a rich source of potential connections who can help you find work. For instance, there are many Facebook groups dedicated to crew rowing.

Finding Clients

Visit community recreation centers and local schools and colleges to promote yourself as a private rowing coach.

When you have a few crew athletes who’ve been working with you regularly for a while, ask them to post reviews of your coaching service on consumer sites such as Yelp. You get free word-of-mouth advertising while building your reputation.

Good to know:

Rowing Related posted their top rowing drills practiced by some of the best crew rowers active today. These can serve as a launching point for developing your own crew drills:

If you enjoyed this article, check out some other content that can help you grow your career as a private crew instructor. Here’s a great place to start.

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