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. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
This season hasn’t gone the way you had hoped. While you’re stoked to be on the varsity team, you’re riding the pine and experiencing games mostly from the sidelines. And, your prospects for becoming a starter are slim to none, with a 5-star freshman hot on your heels. To top it all off, you’re worried that being a second-string athlete will reduce your chances of getting recruited by college coaches.
Losing a starting spot can be very frustrating, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to spell the end for your recruiting. Plenty of non-starters have gone on to compete at the next level and have successful collegiate careers. However, you will have to really work at your recruiting and make sure you’re checking off all the boxes. Here’s how you can get recruited as a non-starter.
Talk to your coach about your goal to be a college athlete
First things first, you need to talk to your coach. However, keep your emotions in check and stick to questions like:
- What areas do I need to improve in to get more playing time?
- I’m trying to get recruited to compete in college. What advice do you have for me?
- Are you OK with me using you as a reference for college coaches?
It’s always beneficial to share your future goals with your current coach, because they can be a crucial ally in your recruiting process. Plus, if your coach knows you’re willing to put in the work, they can provide you with advice on how to step up your game to attract the attention of college coaches. Check out all the ways your current coach can help your recruiting.
Go to camps, showcases and other sport-specific events
If you’re not getting much playing time, you need to combat that by finding other ways to compete against elite athletes. Going to events is a great way to get that experience—and even show off your skills in front of college coaches. What you don’t want to do is go to an event you’re not ready for yet.
If you need more experience—but you’re not ready to face off against top athletes—try out a skills building or evaluation camp. If you’re gunning to show coaches what you’ve got, then hit up a camp run by a college you’re interested in.
Insider tip: Before going to a camp, you need to make sure the college coach knows who you are. Hundreds of athletes may show up, and it will become evident early on which ones the coach is really looking at. In many cases, the coaches will primarily focus on a specific group of athletes to watch.
Join a club, travel or summer league team where you’ll get playing time
A solid benefit of travel, club or summer league teams is that you can scope out the team’s level of play before you sign up. In other words, if you’re not getting much playing time on your current team, you can find a team where you might see more. Do your research and don’t be afraid to talk to coaches and athletes to get their views on the organization.
Insider tip: Once you’re on a club, travel or summer league team, let college coaches know and invite them to a tournament. College coaches are much more likely to travel to tournaments than single games because they can watch a bunch of college-level athletes compete all in the same weekend, saving them time and money.
Create an outstanding highlight or skills video
For most sports, this is a non-negotiable step you need to take to get recruited, especially if you’re not getting a lot of playing time. You’re probably heard countless times how much coaches rely on video footage to evaluate recruits—and that’s because it’s true! As a former college coach, I can tell you that videos are crucial way to show coaches that you’re a quality athlete. If you don’t have enough playing time in your regular season games, you can always have your parents film your performance at high-level camps and club/travel games.
Insider tip: We can’t all be videographers, and if you’re not a pro, video editing can be tricky. If you’re not comfortable picking out the right plays and putting them together, it might make sense to invest in a professional video editing service. Don’t forget that you can always loop in your coach to make sure that you’re including your best possible footage! See our tips for filming club sports.
Make sure your academics exceed the minimum eligibility requirements
I can’t stress enough how important academics are in the recruiting process. If a coach is considering two similar recruits—and this does happen—most likely they will pick the one with the better grades. And there’s a few reasons for that. First, they won’t have to worry about the athlete being academically ineligible once they join the college team. And second, the athlete may qualify for academic scholarship dollars, so the coach doesn’t necessarily need to use up a huge sum of their money to get the student the financial aid that they need. Win, win.
Insider tip: If you’re looking to compete at the Division I or Division II level, don’t forget about the core course requirements. You can have the best GPA in the world, but if you haven’t met the core course requirements, you won’t be eligible to compete. Learn more about how you could be academically ineligible even with a great GPA.
If you have the athletic talent and the drive to compete in college sports, you can get there! Just remember to keep your eye on your goals and don’t be afraid to enlist the help of key resources—like your coach, and your parents.