Ten Things No One Tells You About College Recruiting
For many college-caliber recruits, talent and prep/club success are not enough to get recruited as a college athlete. I raised two college athletes in two different sports – and made a lot of mistakes along the way. Here are a few things I wish I had known before we started the recruiting process.
1. College coaches have limited time and even more limited budgets. Remember this throughout the process. It means you need to work harder than prospective coaches will to get your athlete seen and noticed. It also means that the farther away you are from a school your athlete is interested in, the more time and money you will need to spend to get their attention.
2. NCAA recruiting rules will complicate your life. They will make you want to scream, in fact. The NCAA has been working very hard to limit “early recruiting”. There are some good reasons for this but it comes at a cost. Currently, it means college coaches cannot engage with you, or your athlete or your athlete’s prep/club coaches until much later than they used to. This makes it harder to get your athlete noticed and even more difficult to get any feedback from college coaches.
3. Take a hard look at schools, not based on what NCAA division or conference they play in, but on other factors based on your athlete’s broader priorities. This is a tough one. Youth athletes often crave the validation of the elusive “D1” or even “Power 5” scholarship offer, but the best fit for your athlete may lie elsewhere. Some questions to consider:
Does a school offer the specific educational program your athlete is interested in? If so, how well respected is that program?
How difficult will it be to get playing time in this program? Would your athlete rather sit on the bench for a year (or more) on a big-name team, or get playing time immediately for a team that doesn’t get ESPN coverage?
What position does the coach envision for your athlete? Many athletes end up changing positions when they get to college for a variety of reasons. If your athlete is dead set on playing quarterback, or center midfield, or power forward, or swimming the 100 free, and the coach sees them elsewhere, you may choose to look for a different program.
How far away is the school from your home? Your athlete will get fewer/shorter breaks as a student-athlete than as a regular student (this is particularly true for winter/spring sports). Game and practice schedules will shorten or even eliminate opportunities to visit home. This effect is more dramatic the farther from home your athlete goes. Also, you will want to watch your athlete compete, right? The farther they are from home, the more of your time and money you will have to invest in traveling to their competitions.
What is your athlete’s “gut” reaction to visiting the campus? Believe it or not, this unscientific gut feeling is highly correlated with long term satisfaction about school choice.
4. Athlete communication skills can make a big difference. Early in the process, you can help your athlete craft clear, professional emails to potential coaches. After a while they will learn how to do this themselves. Eventually, your athlete will need to be able to converse with coaches over the phone and in person – on their own. Even if you are present, your athlete should be able to speak for themselves – AND YOU SHOULD LET THEM. You should work with your athlete beforehand to anticipate the types of questions they might be asked – and prepare answers. They should prepare at least three (preferably five) questions of their own for the coaches. A quick google search can give you a lot of good question ideas. This process of learning “adult” interpersonal and interviewing skills is often difficult for teenage athletes – some more than others. Don’t despair if your athlete is struggling. Coaches are used to teenagers who are shy and most don’t consider this a red flag. BUT…if your athlete is at ease speaking with the coach and can clearly communicate answers and thoughts, it can separate her from the pack of “maybe” recruits.
5. Social media matters more every day. Many programs now follow social media accounts early in the recruiting process. You should be watching also. Talk to your athlete about what could be a red flag for a coach: party photos (even those without any evidence drinking or drugs in them), online bullying, even too much makeup or the wrong political message on a t-shirt can be a red flag for a coach looking for a reason to cut down their list of possible recruits.
6. Practice/drill/off the field habits are critical. You never know when a potential coach is watching. I have seen athletes who were previously unknown to a coach ROCKET to the top of their recruiting list based on the effort level they saw from them in a practice. The opposite can also be true. Practice good work rates and teammate skills at all times so the good stuff becomes a habit. You never know when a college coach might be watching. They want good athletes, but they also want good teammates and leaders. Your athlete should model sportsmanship and leadership behavior at every opportunity.
7. It’s important to be critical of potential coaches. The reality is that the view you have of a college coach during the recruiting process is the VERY BEST POSSIBLE version you or your athlete will ever see of that coach. Ask yourself:
How enthusiastic is the coach about your athlete?
How trustworthy does the coach seem to you?
Did they try to give you answers to all your questions, or did they evade some of them?
If you or your athlete have any warning bells in any of these areas, run don’t walk. Or at the very least, dig deeper until you can get comfortable. My athletes were incredibly lucky in this regard, but we have had many friends over the years who felt they did not meet the “real” coach during recruiting.
8. Don’t get overly attached to coaches during your decision process. Coaching staff turnover is the norm, not the exception. The earlier your athlete commits to a program, the greater the chance that there will be at least an assistant, if not a head coach, who turns over before your athlete’s time in the program is over. This is completely out of your control, so the moral of the story is, while it is important avoid the coaches that are red-flags, don’t make a school selection on the strength of a coach impression alone.
9. Unless your athlete is in the top 1%, you will have very little leverage in the recruiting process. Most college scholarships are not “full-rides”. Most are partial scholarships. How much or how little money a coach will offer is dependent on a lot of factors and often they don’t have much room for negotiating. That said, there are a few things you and your athlete can do to get the best possible offer:
Be the best athlete, student, teammate and leader possible, and find ways to show that to your future coaches. This may seem obvious, but coaches don’t know anything about your athlete until you find a way to let them know. Coaches don’t just want good athletes. They want good students who will not give them headaches with academic eligibility. They want good teammates who will build up those around them. They want positive energy. They want leaders. Show them who your athlete is and who she might become every chance you get.
Don’t play hard to get. Coaches want to know that your athlete WANTS to play specifically for THEM. Enthusiasm about their school and their athletic program is like music to their ears. They are more likely to sweeten an offer to an enthusiastic athlete than to a reluctant one.
If you are talking to multiple schools with multiple offers coming in, you MIGHT have a little bit of leverage to ask for a better offer, but tread VERY carefully. Some coaches will react negatively to being pressured by better offers from other programs. Never lie or even bend the truth when discussing other schools and offers. Coaches will not hesitate to call up their counterparts to check your story.
If you are not getting the kind of offers you were hoping for in terms of scholarship amounts, try shifting your focus to slightly less competitive programs where your athlete might be a star athlete rather than just one of many good athletes. In fact, the best practice would be to have one or two schools like this in your target group from the beginning.
10. The key to a successful recruiting experience is setting realistic goals. If your athlete doesn’t have the skills or the grades to play for Notre Dame, no amount of effort in the recruiting process will make Notre Dame happen for them. So don’t waste your resources there – only to set yourself up for disappointment later. Instead, early in the process, cast your net wide. Seek feedback along the way that will allow you to shift and narrow your focus. If developmental camps are consistently telling your athlete that she is too small for a Power 5 conference, don’t waste time and money trying to get recruited there. Find schools in other conferences that meet some (or all) of the other criteria noted above.
There is no such thing as a perfectly executed recruitment effort. Parents have a complex role in the recruiting process ranging from interested observer to performance coach to sports agent, and most of us don’t have all the skills needed to be great at everything. It can be a challenge just to know when to take off one hat and put on another. But despite the complexity of our role, in the big picture our impact is not nearly as important as we think it is. Your athlete’s story has been at least ten years in the making. Nothing you can do at the 11th hour will change who they are as a player or a teammate. Nothing you can do will mitigate the power of luck and timing. So do what you can where you can, give yourself the latitude and space to make mistakes and to learn, and forgive yourself for your inevitable missteps. You’ve probably told your athlete a thousand times that all she can do is her best.
That’s good advice for us parents too.
Not That Dad