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. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
Being proactive in your recruiting is essential to connecting with college coaches. Most student-athletes begin to get noticed only after they’ve emailed their highlight film to coaches, not because they were discovered at a camp or showcase.
And like everything else in the recruiting process, you have to go into it with a set strategy. For example, when there are multiple coaches at a program, who are you going to contact first? Or should you email everyone at once?
Consider this your go-to guide when finding the right person to email:
This is your best contact (for obvious reasons). Larger programs usually have staff dedicated to recruiting efforts and virtually all prospects are filtered through coordinators. So, if you find a recruiting coordinator on the list, look no further. That’s the person you should contact.
No recruiting coordinator? Check to see if there’s a position-specific coach you can email. This is especially important for football, baseball and softball players. A position coach tends to recruit on demand—if they have a lot of upperclassmen, they most likely have roster spots to fill.
When the previous options are dead ends, you should expand your search to an assistant coach. But make sure the assistant coach is a full-time staff member before you reach out. If they’re only part-time, they’re probably not as involved in recruiting as the head coach. And in that case, you can just go directly to the head coach.
You may find that the head coach is the best person to email—and that’s okay. Just keep in mind that head coaches are very busy and a little more difficult to get a hold of initially.
Consider the Division
Your plan of attack will be based on which division you’re interested in and the size of the program. Division I programs typically have multiple full-time coaches who are involved in recruiting, so you’ll rarely go right to the head coach.
With Division II and Division III programs, on the other hand, usually only have one full-time coach—the head coach—who manages all the recruiting responsibilities. Therefore, you’re most likely going to email the head coach for Division II and Division III programs.
What about Graduate Assistants?
Graduate assistants tend to help with duties outside of coaching, such as looking over game tape. While they can lend a hand in recruiting, they won’t be your initial contact and you should consider them a last-ditch effort.
Insider tip: Always go down the list, not up. Let’s say you email an assistant coach at a school you’re interested in, but you haven’t heard back. Now, you’re considering emailing someone else. To maximize your efforts, make sure you go down the hierarchy to a position coach. You never want to work your way up.
The one person, one email rule
The worst thing you can do is email multiple college coaches at the same time, especially coaches at different schools. Honestly, it comes across as lazy. Coaches want to see that you are engaged and interested in their program. Including a personalized sentence or two about why you would like to join their program goes a long way.
“I would receive about five emails a day and I never had time to look at every video I was sent. But if a student-athlete sent a very thoughtful message and followed up with a voicemail, it showed me they were genuinely interested and the least I could do is go back to their video and check it out,” said JC Field, who coached Division I baseball for nine years.
General rule of thumb: give college coaches the individual attention you expect in return.
Insider tip: Follow up your introductory email with a voicemail. College coaches get hundreds of emails from recruits, but not too many calls. Like JC’s example above, it’s an easy way to stand out and get noticed. Try catching them when they’re in office—between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.
After you’ve identified the right person to contact, you’re ready to send your first email. Read our article on coach communications to help you get started: Four Ways to Make Coach Communications Easier and More Effective
And if you’re not hearing back from college coaches, here’s another good read: Three reasons you haven’t heard from college coaches