USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft. Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Whether it’s running a mile, going to the weight room or doing homework, it’s the “getting started” that can be the hardest part. The same goes for your recruiting journey. Some athletes nervously play the waiting game, hoping a college coach will somehow find them, while others think there’s a perfect age to get the ball rolling. The truth is, every athlete’s recruiting journey is unique, and there’s no one solution for all recruits. However, to give you a better understanding of the typical recruiting timeline, we took a look at data recently gathered by the NCAA.
In September 2017, the NCAA asked current DI athletes questions about their recruiting process. More than 15,000 men and women across all DI sports responded. The data show that women’s sports tend to start the recruiting process earlier than men, primarily for team sports, and they hit key milestones along the way slightly earlier as well. I’ve broken out some of the top takeaways for current recruits and their families below.
What was the timing of your first recruiting contact with a college coach?
The NCAA survey asked this question to get at the heart of when the recruiting process really started for current DI athletes, and takes into account both direct and indirect contact by college coaches. Overall, men’s sports reported the timing of their first coach contact.
- 9th grade or earlier: 19%
- 10th grade: 24%
- 11th grade: 41%
- 12th grade: 22%
For women, those numbers differed slightly:
- 9th grade or earlier: 21%
- 10th grade: 25%
- 11th grade: 36%
- 12th grade: 19%
Where the data really gets interesting is when you pull out team sports, which overall, have a much earlier recruiting timeline, according to the NCAA data. Team sports include: basketball, lacrosse, baseball, softball, football, soccer, volleyball and field hockey. Men in team sports reported that their first recruiting contact with college coaches occurred:
- 9th grade or earlier: 19%
- 10th grade: 34%
- 11th grade 34%
- 12th grade: 12%
Surprisingly, for women in team sports, the majority of them received their first recruiting contact from coaches by the 9th or 10th grade:
- 9th grade or earlier: 38%
- 10th grade: 38%
- 11th grade: 21%
- 12th grade: 3%
So, what do these numbers really tell us?
Women tend to mature more quickly than men, who may hit their growth spurts as late as their junior or even senior year of high school. Future DI softball players, for example, usually start getting looked at by college coaches around 8th and 9th grade. By this time, college coaches can already tell who is likely to compete at the Division I level. In fact, because women are generally developed by around 8th and 9th grade, their athleticism and skillset won’t change a significant amount throughout high school. Whereas an 8th grade baseball player is still growing and developing, and he will still need to improve significantly before he’s ready to play at the college level. And, the data tells us this is true.
43% of surveyed softball players reported that their first recruiting contact occurred 9th grade or earlier, with 35% claiming that their first contact was in 10th grade. This means, that the majority of DI softball athletes’ recruiting had begun in some capacity by their sophomore year in high school. Looking at baseball, only 12% of surveyed athletes received their first recruiting contact in 9th grade or earlier, 34% in the 10th grade, and 40% in 11th grade.
Does this trend continue throughout the rest of the recruiting process?
The NCAA data show that women not only tend to start the recruiting process earlier, but they usually hit other key milestones before their male counterparts as well. For example, about half of female athletes have taken their first unofficial visit before their junior year of high school; whereas, around 58% of men reported they took their first unofficial visit their junior of high school or later. Again, those numbers are more exaggerated for athletes in team sports. Around 71% of women in team sports had taken their first unofficial visit before their junior year of high school, while around 57% of men in team sports reported their first unofficial visit occurred before 11th grade.
Now, it may all just seem like a lot of cold, black and white numbers; however, they can really help families get a better sense of when athletes typically hit major recruiting milestones and in turn relieve a little stress.
For example, if the neighbor’s 9th grade daughter is getting recruiting interest from college softball coaches while your baseball-playing son who is the same age has not heard a word yet, you can relax a little. The data tells you this is only normal.
Are these numbers perfect? No, but you can use these common trends as a framework to make sure you’re on the right path and not falling behind the curve.