USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jason is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
There isn’t a single successful player or coach in any sport today who will tell you talent alone wins championships. All of them know that, more often than not, the deciding factor comes down to who executes the fundamentals the best.
The same holds true when it comes to communicating with college coaches. Especially when your recruiting goes from the typical mass emails and generic camp invites to real, one-on-one letters, emails, and calls from coaches or their staff. All of a sudden, the rewards are closer but the stakes also just got a little higher.
At Next College Student Athlete, and as a former NCAA coach, I talk with other coaches almost every day on how (and what) they want to hear from potential recruits. Knowing the best response (fundamentals) to each of the following scenarios will take the guesswork out of your recruiting, make it easier to manage your communications, and ultimately will help deliver more college opportunities.
A personal, hand-written letter from a coach
First, just enjoy the moment. In this age of instant and often automated communication, a personal, hand-written letter from a college coach is one of the best indicators a school is interested in recruiting you. It is also good indication of the quality of the coach you’d be playing for.
Your next move
Even if this college is not on your target list—hear them out. Read the letter carefully and see if the coach has indicated how they would like you to respond. If they have included a phone number, your next move should be to call the coach. Why? We know that 86 percent of college coaches receive just seven calls or less per week. What better way for you to stand out in a crowded field of recruits and establish a personal connection with the coach?
Your response should be prompt but allow enough time to prepare for your return call or email. Do your homework. Research the program and coach online. Have a set of questions ready to go and be prepared to answer questions (coaches are not fans of one word answers.) Also, prepare, even rehearse, your introduction. Experts agree you should be standing up when you call. It helps you feel confident and more self-assured. Lastly, one thing recruits often forget, plan your message in case your call is sent to voicemail.
A personal email from a coach
Just like the hand-written letter, a personal email sent from a college coach is also a very good indicator there is genuine interest in recruiting you. It means the coach is taking time out of their busy schedule to contact you personally about their program. And just like the letter, your response needs to be prompt and strategic.
Your next move
Remember to always keep your options open. A personal email requires a personal response—not a fill-in the blank template. Read the email carefully and make sure to answer any questions asked by the coach. You can also reply with a couple questions of your own to keep the conversation going. One question you will want to avoid on your first email, however, is to ask about scholarships. Save this question for later in the process.
If you have any new highlight video definitely include a link. Also, you should add any new academic achievements or your latest GPA. While it is important to promote your qualifications, you want to do it with respect for the coach and with a certain amount of humility. That simply means you leave the “I’m too good” or “You’re lucky to have me” attitude out—always.
If the coach has provided their phone number in their email or has indicated they would like you to call them, your best course of action is to pick up the phone. While many of us find it more comfortable to rely on email or text, recruiting is the time you need to break out of your comfort zone. Coaches have been talking to student-athletes for years and they expect you to be nervous, and if you prep and practice ahead of time you’ve got nothing to worry about.
A personal phone call from coach
A phone call from a coach means you are serious prospect. Coaches who call really want to get to know you more as a person. For the recruit, this is your golden opportunity to set yourself apart from other student-athletes.
Your next move
Like I’ve mentioned, it’s okay to be a little nervous but it’s never okay to be unprepared. Find a quiet space where you can give the coach your complete attention. Be ready to take notes (preferably in a single notebook where you can go back and compare programs). It’s always good to have a few questions written down and in front of you, in case you blank. Here are three examples:
- Can I meet with you if I make an unofficial visit?
- What academic goals should I set to attend your University?
- What does it take to earn a scholarship with your program?
Before you wrap up the call, always thank the coach for their time and make sure you ask the following:
- What are next steps in the process?
- What is best way to contact you to send updates on my progress?
That way, there’s no mistaking how to follow up.
Lastly, while all coaches have their personal pet peeves, we virtually all agree the one they thing we can’t stand to hear from recruits is silence. When any coach reaches out, you should reply promptly and honestly—even if it’s a polite decline. If it’s a program you’re not quite sure about, don’t just default to being overly enthusiastic. Be up front with the coach and have an open discussion about your questions and concerns. One thing student-athletes often forget is that recruiting is a two-way street—while coaches are evaluating whether or not you are right from their program, you need to be evaluating whether or not a program is right for you.