USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Playced.com. This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.
I recently asked Central Missouri women’s soccer Coach Lewis Theobald his philosophy on recruiting student-athletes. His answer: “We have to be ruthless with who we bring into our program. The standard deviation from your best player to your worst player, in terms of talent, must be extremely tight. Because, larger deviation in talent levels will negatively affect how you practice and how you train. If the worst player can’t bring out the best talent, in the best player, then you’re not going to win at a high level.”
In eleven seasons leading the University of Central Missouri, the Jennies have an overall record of 198-27-18 under Coach Theobald. Just this past season, Central Missouri went 26-0, while capturing their first NCAA Division II National Championship along the way. How’s that recruiting philosophy working out for Coach Theobald, you’re wondering? I would say delightfully ruthless!
From when the recruiting process should start, to how an athlete can gain exposure, here is what Coach Theobald had to say.
Q: When should high school athletes start thinking about the college recruiting process?
A: In the eyes of the NCAA, you’re a prospective student-athlete once you start your freshman year of high school. So, I think that’s a great time to start mapping out a plan of how you’re wanting things to work. From an academic perspective, it’s especially important to understand eligibility and what it’s going to take to be admitted to the schools you’re hoping to playing for. College recruiting is such a process. If you’re wanting to play at this level, there will be expectations and requirements of you before you even step foot on a college campus. I think it’s important to start lining things up early to determine your best course of action.
Q: What advice do you have for a high school player not getting much attention from college coaches?
A: From an exposure perspective, your sophomore and junior years are the most important. That’s typically when you’ll be identified as a prospect. So, I’ll start by saying that’s something you, as an athlete, need to be aware of. Use that as a timetable, of sorts.
I would then tell that athlete to start early with their high school or club coach. Ask those coaches to help you determine the appropriate level you’re capable of playing at. Once you identify the level, you can start figuring out which schools you would have interest in. It’s just a matter of researching what you want out of a program, and coming up with a target list of schools.
Lastly, creating attention for yourself is all about taking the initiative. Some athletes have to do that, more than others. But, if you’re really wanting to play in college, you’ve got to be the driving force. Send emails, make phone calls. And, the more personalized the communication, the better. Coaches will take notice if they can make a connection with you. The goal when communicating should be to figure out the events coaches will be attending, and get in front of them. Once a coach can see you play, it’s much easier to come to a decision on you.
Q: What does the recruiting process look like, after you initially identify a student-athlete as a prospect?
A: We don’t do a lot of recruiting off video. We want to see kids live, and we want to see them multiple times. A big part of this process is making sure that prospective student-athletes are letting us know when and where they’ll be playing. Once they give us a schedule, we put the athletes into a database and start tracking them at the events they’ll be at.
Our staff isn’t going to reply to every email or every recruit that contacts us, and we don’t do many visits. We’ll do our research on the front-end, after they’ve communicated that they’re interested in us. We have an arrangement within our coaching staff that we all have to agree on a player, to make her an offer. If we all agree, we’ll reach out to her coach to get some sort of feedback. We’ll let the coach know we’re interested and that we’ll be reaching out to her to set up a visit. Like I said, it’s a process. It has to be, because we not only want to get it right for our program, but also the student-athlete.
Q: What mistakes should a student-athlete avoid during the college recruiting process?
A: I think accepting the wrong offer is probably they should try to avoid the most. That can be hard to explain, because every athlete is different. They all have different circumstances and different windows. Regarding the timing of when we make an offer, it just depends on the student-athlete. And, the same can be said for when an athlete accepts an offer.
One of the most common mistakes we see during the recruiting process has to do with early commitments. Often, we’ll see a couple kids from the same team commit. Then, you see a bunch of their teammates rushing to commit, like they need to hurry up and decide, even though it’s probably not the right decision. That’s why transfer numbers keep going up. Because with early recruiting, kids feel pressured to commit, based on what’s happening with their teammates. We tell every one of our recruits to not decide, until they’re ready.