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.
“A deviation from the common rule, type, arrangement, or form.”
That’s the dictionary.com definition of anomaly. Quite honestly, when I hung up the phone Wednesday after talking with Brandon Elliott, softball coach of the 2017 NCAA Division III National Champion Virginia Wesleyan Marlins, that’s the first word that came to my mind. This guy’s an anomaly. How, you ask? Well, at the ripe old age of 36 (yes, that’s sarcasm), Coach Elliott is coming off the first national title in his program’s history and with 353 wins to his credit, he’s already Virginia Wesleyan’s all-time winningest coach.
What takes most coaches a lifetime, has taken this Marlins’ skipper 10 years. Yes, Brandon Elliott is an anomaly indeed!
This week, I was fortunate enough to pick Coach Elliott’s brain on college recruiting and what it takes to be a part of his program. Here is what he had to say.
Q: How does a recruit get your attention?
A: Whether it’s at a camp, a clinic or out watching a game, the initial way a recruit catches my eye is really how she carries herself on the field or in a competitive setting. Being an old baseball guy, I was always taught it was the little things that matter. I just have a tendency to watch how they get on and off the field, how they carry their glove and stand in the box or how they interact with their teammates. You can usually tell who the better players are and who the better teammates are just by paying attention to those tendencies alone.
For us to have success as team, we’ve got to make sure we’re recruiting talent and getting kids that can perform at this level. I get asked all the time by kids about what they need to do to actually get recruited, like there’s some magical formula to it. My simple advice is that you’ve got to be good! You can send as many emails or make as many phone calls as you want but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have some talent to catch a coach’s attention. If you can play the game, someone is going to take notice and want you in their program. So, the first thing we’re always looking for out of recruits is how they carry themselves on the field, from a physical standpoint.
Q: What is your advice to a recruit interested in Virginia Wesleyan who you have not yet identified?
A: Be a pest. I tell kids that all the time. Like that scrappy leadoff hitter that you can’t ever seem to get out, be a pest! If you have serious interest in any school, communicate that to the coaching staff and keep communicating that to them. Send them updates on your schedule, where you’re playing and when you’re playing. Keep them posted on how you’re doing in school and on the field. And don’t expect a response every time you send something. I think most kids fail in that sense because they take it personally if they don’t get a response with everything they send. They stop communicating because they have this false expectation of how we as coaches are supposed to handle them. If I get 75 emails today, that’s like reading a 75-page book, not to mention the responses that go along with it. If you think about the time it would take me to respond to each and every one of those emails, it would be virtually impossible to do so. If a coach doesn’t email you back immediately, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested. It might mean they’ve got a lot going on at the moment. Stay after it!
Q: Give me an idea of what an email from an athlete to a coach should say.
A: Here’s the deal: If you’re interested in a program, you better convey that to those coaches. Be unique and show that you know what you’re talking about in regards to the program you’re emailing. Do you really know who you’re emailing and why you would even consider that school, let alone the softball program? The last thing that any coach wants to get from a recruit is the standard copy/paste email that you’re sending to every other coach that has a pulse. Often times, you hear of parents and athletes complaining about the blanket emails and camp emails they’re getting from colleges because they don’t appreciate the lack of personal attention. The same can be said for coaches and those impersonal emails we get from recruits.
Additionally, coaches aren’t going to read a page-long email every time you send something. Keep it short and to the point. Introduce yourself, give us a reason why we should get out and watch you and tell us where we can see you play. And don’t be afraid to ask a coach where you stand once they see you play. Coaches don’t want to waste their time as much as you, the recruit, don’t want to waste yours. Ask, “Now that you’ve seen me play, do I have a chance in your program?” As a coach, I want to know if I have a shot at landing you as a recruit and I am going to ask that as early as I can in the process. So, why shouldn’t you ask the same of me? Ask the questions that you want answered.
Q: What is your advice to parents of student-athletes going through the recruiting process?
A: There’s so much pressure on these athletes today when it comes to recruiting. You constantly hear about kids signing early and making commitments before they’ve even played out a high school career. The decision alone carries enough pressure, not even considering all the outside influences trying to sway a kid one way or the other. I would just really encourage parents to remove their opinions unless their player asks. As a parent myself, I know that when I have an opinion, my son is either going to go with what I say because it’s what dad says or he’s going polar opposite because he’s sick of hearing me say it! That said, your kid could be leaning in one direction and when you start giving unsolicited opinions either way, it could convince them to make a decision they’re not going to be happy with. I’m not telling parents to not have or withhold their opinions from their players. I’m just suggesting that they wait until their player reaches out and asks for that opinion.
Q: What does it take to win a National Championship?
A: I would say I don’t know what it takes because I didn’t win it, our girls did! This year we used the idea or hashtag #OutLove. Each of the girls on this team really challenged each other to not only out-love each other as teammates, but to out-love the game and out-love our opponents. I give all the credit to our kids because they bought in and owned that mantra. There’s a major difference when the players hold each other accountable for the team’s success, not just the coaching staff. It wasn’t that our kids thought that they were going to win, it was that they knew they couldn’t lose.