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The typical answer for “when should I start the recruiting process?” is “as early as possible,” but, according to new research by the NCAA, the average timelines differ depending on the sport. Throughout September, the NCAA collected data from 15,454 Division I student-athletes of all sports on the topic of recruitment timing. The survey found that the recruiting experience trends earlier for team sports versus individual sports.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific statistics that emerged from the report regarding recruiting timelines by sport. We’ll also catch up with track and field head recruiting coach Alison Vincent for her insights on the trend.
When did college coaches first contact student-athletes?
Basketball, for both men and women, had the highest percentage of student-athletes who were contacted in ninth grade or earlier (34 and 48, respectively). Only 36 percent of men and 22 percent of women received their first direct or indirect coach contact in 11th or 12th grade. Next for men was lacrosse, followed by golf, baseball, football, tennis and soccer. For women, the next sports to recruit earliest were softball, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball and field hockey.
The sports where student-athletes were contacted the latest were, for men, track and field, swimming and diving, and cross country. For women, it was rowing, water polo, track and field, and swimming and diving. Within these numbers, there is clearly a trend of team sports, such as basketball and softball, contacting student-athletes earlier than sports such as track and field and swimming and diving.
When did student-athletes take their first unofficial visit?
The trend continues with unofficial visits. 82 percent of men’s lacrosse players took their first unofficial visit in ninth or 10th grade. For men’s basketball, it was 65 percent; for golf, it was 48 percent; for tennis, it was 43 percent; and for football, it was 46 percent. On the flip side, 85 percent of student-athletes who ran cross country took visits in 11th grade or later. For track and field, it was 82 percent, and for swimming and diving, it was 69 percent.
Women’s sports were similar, as well, although as mentioned earlier, women tend to be further along in the recruiting process earlier. Seventy-five percent of women gymnasts took their first unofficial visit 10th grade or earlier. For softball, it was 73 percent; for basketball, it was 70 percent; and for soccer, it was 75 percent. The later sports (11th grade and up) were track and field (80 percent) and cross country (78 percent).
When did student-athletes verbally commit?
Of those student-athletes who verbally committed to a school prior to signing their National Letter of Intent, the same early tendency emerges. For men’s sports, the earliest commitments were made in lacrosse (average grade 10.6), baseball (11.2), golf (11.4) and soccer (11.5). The latest were cross country (12.0), track and field (11.9), and swimming and diving (11.9). For women, the earliest were lacrosse (10.7), softball (10.7), soccer (10.8) and gymnastics (10.8). The latest were cross country (12.0), swimming and diving (11.9), and track and field (11.9).
Why do team sports recruit earlier than individual ones?
Although it’s hard to say exactly why team sports tend to recruit earlier than individual sports, as there are many variables in play, we do have some idea why this might be true. According to track and field expert Alison Vincent: “Track and field recruits later because most student-athletes do not have access to a competitive track team until they reach high school. By the time other sports are committing, they are just getting started.”
Additionally, student-athletes who compete in individual sports usually continue to have major developments between their sophomore and junior seasons. “By the end of their junior season, they can be talking with an entirely different set of colleges than they were qualified for at the beginning of the season,” Vincent adds.
Other potential reasons for the trend include the fact that college coaches of team sports have to make sure they fill every position, which can be tricky and lead to offers and commitments being made early. Lastly, personal stats and accolades are more important in individual sports, and it can just take longer to obtain those. “There is very little subjective basis for evaluation in individual sports. For track and swimming, for example, it’s all about the times and the numbers you achieve,” Vincent says.
What does this mean for your student-athlete?
For many student-athletes and their families there are a lot of unknowns in regard to the recruiting process. While the data here won’t tell you and your student-athlete exactly how their recruiting process will unfold, you can use it to provide a decent barometer to see where the major milestones typically occur for their sport.
Of course, looking at the data, you can see that while team sports tend to recruit earlier than individual sports, there are also plenty of student-athletes who compete in team sports that get recruited later in the process, and vice versa.
The best advice sometimes truly is the simplest– start as early as possible in your student-athlete’s sports career. And, gather as much information as you can to gain a better understanding of where you’re situated in relation to the average athlete.