Okay, look - I'm not going to change any ever-optimistic parents' or unrealistic junior scullers' minds; the culture of "what's your 2k?" is far too embedded in the miasma of misinformation about our sport for one blog post to have much impact. I'm just feeling a little once-and-for-all salty today and need to put this in writing for my own catharsis. The fact is that 2k, 6k, and other erg benchmarks mean something, but not much, and not what most people think they do. And as a rowing coach and a sometime/longtime SAT tutor, I can state unequivocally that the analogy between the SAT and the 2k erg score is quite apt. Both will help you get in the door, and neither will do much of anything for you once you're there.
"But coach," you might object, "shouldn't I attach quite a bit of my identity to my SAT/2k erg numbers?" No, you myopic meathead, you shouldn't. Think of it this way: if you were born in this country to middle or upper-class parents and your SAT verbal is 620, your application to Harvard, Stanford, or Princeton is going straight to the "deny" pile unless you are 4.0 student with multiple glowing recommendations, a patent for survival blankets that you distributed by hand to hurricane survivors for the Red Cross, and you are the best 18 year old cellist in the lower 48 and have guest second-chaired in that capacity with the Cincinnati Philharmonic. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are the proud owner of 800 Math/800 Verbal, your professors and fellow students at Yale are going to care as much about that once you're there as they do about your birth weight. By the same token, you'll need a good 2k erg time to get on the radar of the assistant coaches in charge of recruiting at collegiate rowing programs, but when you're sitting at the stakeboats waiting for the flag to drop, none of your opponents will know or care that you pulled 7:14 as a high school senior (or 6:10-ish on the men's side), and while your 2k time might have some small influence on your coaches' decisions on whom to switch you with during seat racing, it will have very little bearing on the outcome of those pieces. Knowing how to make a boat go fast becomes real currency when actual on-water racing is involved.
"But coach, don't you have to be sub-6:00 to race internationally?" Again - no. The list of men who have never gone sub-six and women who have never gone sub-seven and still won World Championships and Olympic medals is actually fairly long, and the list of sub-six and sub-seven collegians who would get pantsed/doored/horizon-jobbed in international competition is exponentially longer. As a measure of raw horsepower and to a lesser extent, grit, the 2k erg isn't a bad test. Indoor rowing, though, is a contradiction in terms, and the two activities (erging and on-water rowing and sculling) just aren't nearly as similar to one another as most people believe they are. The very idea that being able to produce good watts on a stationary bike would be a good indication of potential for the Tour de France is absurd. So is the idea that watts on the erg translates directly to the boat. I've said for years that faith in erg times proves that football coaches are much smarter than rowing coaches. When a football coach sees a recruit who can run the 40 in 4.4 or who can power clean 350 pounds, his first response is "yeah, but can he play football? Can he move in space and put himself where he needs to be and make a play?" Rowing coaches who encounter athletes with good erg scores, by contrast, will continue to seat race big ergs against good boat movers with lesser erg scores long after the rest of the crew knows that the rower with the big erg and no boat sense makes every lineup he gets in slower. Learn to row a single well. Get better at following other rowers, and at stroking team boats. And yes, continue to improve your erg time - you need a good one, but it only tells you something about your performance relative to yourself, and it has no place in crew selection.
n.b. Just for grins, here's a fly-on-the-wall guide to coaches' reactions to 2k erg scores from hopeful recruits: <7:20 = When can you come for an official visit? 7:20-7:29.9 = Okay, you have my attention. 7:30-7:40 = Not bad. Why don't you do another one in a month and get back in touch? 7:40-7:50 We'd love to have you join us as a walk-on and see how you develop. >7:50 Seriously? Why are you broadcasting this information? Email again when you're 20 seconds faster. Knock off a full minute for men's times, and adjust within gender by 5-10 seconds if you're a lightweight or you're applying to a small college or club program.