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 provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
- It doesn’t take 7 years to digest a piece of bubble gum,
- It’s OK to wake up a sleepwalker, and
- College recruiting isn’t as difficult as many companies and people want you to think it is.
In fact, the college recruiting process for high school athletes is fairly logical and pretty much the same regardless of your sport. Whether you’re a quarterback or a shortstop, a goalkeeper or a point guard, if you aren’t in the top 2 percent of athletes in your sport you need to make a commitment to “the process.” Every college coach knows the top athletes in their sport and that makes it easy for those players since all they have to do is decide where they want to go to college. The other 98 percent have to find the right school on their own. If you’re in that group (and 98 percent of you are), you have to commit to this simple, logical, three step process:
- Evaluate your abilities
- Identify the right colleges
- Connect with the coaches
Let’s go over the specifics of each step. This is how college recruiting really works…
Step 1 – Evaluate your abilities
First things first. You need an honest, unbiased evaluation of your abilities and (take a deep breath) you need to be willing to accept that evaluation. To have the best chance for success, you not only have to get evaluated athletically, but you need to be evaluated academically also. This is the most important step for every athlete. If you don’t get this step right, your recruiting journey will most likely be a disappointment.
To put it simply, you have to know which level of competition fits your athletic abilities and which colleges match your academic profile. There are three divisions within the NCAA and the NAIA is also a viable option for many athletes. Within each division some college programs are more competitive than others, so an accurate assessment of your athletic abilities is critical in order to create a list of college possibilities. There are companies that can help with your evaluation, but you can also ask your current coach for an honest assessment of how you “stack up” with other athletes and what level schools you should be focused on.
In addition to an athletic assessment, you have to qualify for admission to any college you decide to pursue. You might be talented enough to play at a particular college, but if you don’t have the grades and test scores to be admitted, then you can scratch that school off your list. Schedule a meeting with your high school guidance counselor to discuss which colleges are right for you. Then do some research on your own. Once you have an athletic and an academic evaluation, it’s time for Step 2.
Step 2 – Identify the right colleges
Right now, if you google “college recruiting tips”, one comment that will stand out is something like: “If you aren’t currently being recruited, you need to reach out to “appropriate” colleges.” Heck, even the college recruiting services that charge big dollars and claim to do the work for you will tell you to email/contact/connect/tweet with as many colleges as possible. Guess what… I completely agree with the “reach out to appropriate schools” advice, but the key word in that sentence is appropriate.
Contacting the wrong schools and hoping for a miracle is the No. 1 disconnect for most college recruits. That is a fact and it’s why at Playced we spent so much time developing our college matching technology. We know that if you reach out to the wrong schools, you will be disappointed with the results every time. Anyone can contact a college, but the key is getting a response. There is no combination of words that can convince a coach you are qualified for his or her roster if you aren’t. That’s why you have to pursue colleges that match your academic and athletic resume. And trust me, when the dialogue starts with a college that fits your combined athletic and academic resume, the fog clears often times leading to a fun and more tangible recruiting process.
So, how do you know which colleges are appropriate? Appropriate colleges are those schools where you have a good chance to play, fit your academic specifications and meet your personal preferences. You already have an evaluation from Step 1, so just do some research on the colleges that meet that evaluation and create a target list of schools.
Step 3- Connect with the coaches
Once you’ve created a list of colleges to pursue, you need to introduce yourself to the coaches at those schools. There are many ways to do that, but let’s just talk about the most effective ones.
Send an email
In today’s world, sending an email is probably the most efficient way to start a dialogue with a college coach. Potential recruits and their parents underestimate the impact an email can have on a college coach. When a player expresses sincere interest in a program and their abilities are a fit, then at a minimum it will spark engagement from the coach.
There is no formula for writing a perfect email, but here are some tips that should help:
- Make sure your message is personalized and refer to the coach by name (Dear Coach Smith).
- The subject line of your email should make the coach want to open it. For example, “1st Team All District Quarterback” or “Shooting Guard averaging 19.2 points per game.”
- Provide relevant academic information: ACT or SAT score, GPA, class rank, honors, etc.
- Provide athletic information: position, height, weight, honors, and relevant statistics.
- Include a link to your video (if you have one) and a current game schedule.
- Include your contact information and the contact information for your coaches.
- And be sure to show you have looked into their program by congratulating them on their season or by noticing something specific off their website.
Many college programs have a limited recruiting budget and have to focus on a particular geographic area to observe potential recruits. A compelling email and a link to your highlight video might open the door to a college that would otherwise never even see you.
Get your coach involved
An email or telephone call from your current coach to a college coach can make all the difference in the world. Your current coach is the most credible source to vouch for your abilities and character. Don’t be afraid to ask your current coach to contact a few colleges on your behalf. That could pay big dividends.
Many college coaches are actually “plugged in” on social media and active on Twitter. Take the time to create your own Twitter recruiting account, separate from your personal account. It should only have posts related to your sport or your recruiting process. Use a sport-specific picture for your Header Photo and make sure to have a link to your highlight video in your Profile. Then you can follow the coaches and programs for all the colleges you have decided to pursue. Once a coach follows you back, you’ve started the conversation!
Target a few camps or showcases
Camps and showcases can be a great way to connect with college coaches as long as you are strategic about which ones you attend. Don’t waste your time or money on a camp unless coaches from the colleges you are interested in are participating.
Once you sign up for a camp or showcase, notify the coaches from the colleges you are interested in that you will be there. Introduce yourself to those coaches 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.
Pick up the phone
Finally, if you have a real desire to play at a school, but the coaches haven’t responded to your other attempts to “connect”, pick up the phone and call them. The phone numbers for most coaches are available in the athletic staff directory on each college website. Once you decide to call, make sure you are ready, they might actually answer! Know what you want to say before you dial the number and be respectful of their time. If you get voicemail, leave a message telling them who you are and the reason for the call.
Here’s the deal
For a high school athlete the college recruiting process can be intimidating. You will have questions along the way, but if you follow the three step process outlined above and you commit to the process, you should have a great chance to play at the next level.