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 Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting experts provide a recruiting experience that is backed by a money-back guarantee.
When my son was going through the college recruiting process, there was one word I used to describe his attitude. That word was “picky”. He was extremely “picky” about the colleges he was interested in. He specifically wanted a school that was relatively close to home, preferably Division I, great tradition, great reputation and extraordinary engineering program. I thought to myself “Are you serious?”, but what came out of my mouth was “No problem, I’ll help you find that school”. By going through the process with him, I learned a lot about how to “target” specific schools.
I also learned that if you approach each college the same, your chances for success increase dramatically. In other words, it pays off to invest some time on each college program you’ve decided to pursue. I’m not talking about a research project for every college, but make sure the colleges you pursue will have as much interest in you as you have in them. And make sure you qualify both academically and athletically for their institution. In fact, my experience of “targeting” specific schools for both my kids is really the genesis of the Playced Search Matching Engine.
If you’re serious about playing at the next level and you have some specific colleges in mind, you really need a game plan. Here is a detailed nine step process to follow for the top colleges on your college wish list.
1. Be sure each college makes sense for your abilities
Identifying the right colleges to pursue is the most critical step in any recruiting process. If you aren’t a fit on a coach’s roster, then you can forget about being recruited by that school. For that reason, you need an honest, objective evaluation of how you stack up with other athletes in your sport. Ask your current coach for that evaluation and be ready to accept his or her opinion. Then target schools that “match” that evaluation.
2. Make sure you qualify academically
Many athletic scholarships have been derailed by the college admissions office. Not every student-athlete is cut out for Princeton or Stanford and that’s okay. Just take the time to be sure your GPA and test scores meet the academic standards at all the colleges you might consider.
3. Research each college
In addition to becoming a college athlete, you will more importantly be a college student. Make sure each school on your list makes sense for you in all regards. Be sure the cost is in line with your family budget, particularly if you play an equivalency sport. After that, check out what is important to you personally. You’d be amazed the kind of information that is available online. You can check on things like average class size, parking availability and even boy-girl ratio! The point is, make sure you are going to be happy at the school even if athletics doesn’t work out.
4. Know a little about the team and the coaches
Knowing a little bit about each team you are interested in will pay big dividends, especially when a college coach actually contacts you. You don’t need to know every detail, but you should know things like the conference they compete in, their record the prior year and certainly a little about the institution. It shouldn’t take you more than five minutes per school to do some reconnaissance about the teams and coaches on your list. A quick read of the team page on each college website will give you all the information you need. Then, if you are still interested, take five minutes and fill out the recruiting questionnaire on the school website.
5. Review the team roster
Nearly every college website in the country has the team roster for every sport available and most can be sorted by position and graduation class. In just a few minutes you can review the team roster and the incoming recruiting class to get a pretty good idea if they might have a spot for you. With a little work, you should be able to target schools that actually need a player like you. If a college has an overabundance of players at your position and no one is graduating, then that school probably isn’t a good school to pursue.
6. Send an introductory email
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to start contacting college coaches. The most effective way to do that is to send an email. Your first email is just an attempt to get the conversation started. You are introducing yourself to each coach. Here are a few tips on how to write your introductory email:
- The email should be short and to the point. Don’t waste a coach’s time with a 10-page autobiography. That email will be deleted immediately. Instead, send a brief overview of why you should be considered for their program.
- The email has to be personalized. If it’s not, you probably won’t get a response.
- The subject line of your email should make the coach want to open it. For example, “1st Team All District Point Guard” or “Left handed pitcher sitting at 90 MPH.”
- Your salutation should be to the specific coach by name (Dear Coach Smith).
- Provide academic information: ACT or SAT score, GPA, class rank, honors, etc.
- Provide athletic information: position, height, weight, honors, and relevant statistics.
- Provide a link to your video.
- Include a current game schedule with dates, locations and times.
- Copy every coach on staff that might have a say in the decision to recruit you.
- Blind carbon copy your current coach to keep them informed.
7. Send a follow up email
Sending a follow-up email is probably more important than sending the introductory email. It shows the coach you have serious interest in his or her school. If they opened and read your introductory email, they will most likely read this one and will feel the need to reply. Your follow up email should be short and to the point. Just mention that you are following up on your initial email, emphasize your sincere interest in their school and provide them with your current coach’s contact information.
Whether they are interested or not getting a reply is the goal. If they’re not interested, you can move on to other options and if they are interested, it might be time to sign up for a camp or schedule an unofficial visit.
8. Consider an unofficial visit or a camp
Attending a showcase or college camp can be beneficial if the colleges you are interested in will be attending. If you decide to attend a camp, notify the coaches from the colleges you are interested in that you will be there, introduce yourself during the camp and before you leave, thank them personally for the opportunity. Finally, follow up with an email to make sure they know you are serious about their program. If the coaches don’t know your name when they show up and you don’t make it a priority to introduce yourself, they won’t know your name when they leave.
Unofficial visits can be used much the same way as attending a camp or showcase event. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself to the coaching staff while you’re on campus and make sure you are comfortable with the campus environment.
9. Get your coach involved
Most coaches are willing to help their athletes make it to the next level, but you have to help them help you. They need direction and guidance in reaching out to programs that are a match for your abilities. Be mindful that their time is precious; therefore, arm him or her with an easily executable game plan and the information colleges will want. Provide the recruiting coordinator’s contact information for your top three to five college choices along with your athletic/academic resume so your coach has all the information he or she needs when contacting a coach. Finally, be sure your coach agrees that the schools you have targeted are a good fit.
Here’s the deal
If you follow these nine steps for all the top colleges on your list, you won’t hit the bullseye every time, but you will most likely land on a college roster. Also, if you want to be “picky” just know that you might have to work a little harder than the other recruits!