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 software identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting advisors provide a recruiting experience that is trusted by college coaches and backed by a money-back guarantee.
The biggest obstacle in the college recruiting process for student-athletes and their parents is a lack of knowledge. They don’t know what to do or when to do it. Let’s face it, the first time you go through the college recruiting process is probably the only time you will go through the process. For that reason, every recruit will have questions and make mistakes. The key is to understand the mistakes, learn from them and make the necessary adjustments.
Although every athlete’s recruiting journey is different, most recruits have the same questions and make the same mistakes. One way to make your recruiting process successful is to anticipate and/or avoid the mistakes. Here are my ten most common mistakes made by recruits. If you pay attention to the process, they are easy to avoid.
Mistake No. 1: Not contacting enough schools
Unless you’re a five-Star athlete, your recruiting process is a numbers game. The more appropriate colleges you contact, the better your chances are to find a scholarship or a roster spot. It’s really that simple. Just because you’re interested in a school doesn’t mean the school will be interested in you. What if that school already has three other players at your position?
Emails are probably the most effective way to contact college coaches, but you have to understand that you aren’t going to find your college home by sending a few emails when you have time. You have to email multiple colleges, multiple times. Think about it this way, for a coach to respond to an email everything has to line up: (1) the coach has to open your email or correspondence, (2) he or she has to actually read it, (3) there has to be a need at your position, (4) there has to be a way to verify your abilities, and (5) you have to come to an agreement.
You need to play the odds and reach out to as many appropriate colleges as you can.
Mistake No. 2: Sending impersonal emails
I don’t know about you, but when I receive a form letter or a “canned” email I delete it immediately. College coaches feel the same way about emails from prospective recruits. If you think a two sentence, general email with no personal touch will be well received by a college coach, think again. In fact, it’s downright irritating.
If you want college coaches to be interested in you, you have to be interested in them. I’m not telling you to research the head coach’s personal hobbies, but it should be obvious that you know a little bit about their program. The more personal the email, the better chance you will get a response.
Mistake No. 3: Having a false sense of security
Many athletes believe they are being recruited when they really aren’t and stop pursuing their target schools. Keep in mind that you are not being recruited if:
- you receive information from a college admissions office,
- you get invited to a camp, or
- a college coach “views” your profile on a recruiting site.
You really aren’t being recruited until:
- a coach calls you on the phone,
- a coach comes to one of your games to specifically watch you play, or
- you get invited to go on an official visit.
You should really never have a sense of security until you sign a National Letter of Intent or have a written commitment from a school. Keep your options open until you’re certain that you have your spot.
Mistake No. 4: Believing someone else will take care of your recruiting
Even though most athletes are aware that recruiting is their responsibility many still want to believe that someone else will take care of it. Don’t leave it to someone else to find your scholarship or roster spot. The recruiting process is your responsibility.
College coaches actually want to hear from potential recruits. Your high school coach is an important contributor in your development as an athlete; they are not responsible for your recruiting process. They can vouch for your character and can give college coaches an honest evaluation of your abilities, but the recruiting process is still on you.
Athletes also get caught up in what I call the “Uncle Ed Syndrome”. It’s wonderful if your Uncle Ed’s best friend knows someone who plays golf with a college coach once a week, but that’s not going to have any effect on a coach’s recruiting plans. Occasionally a direct connection to a college coach might get your information looked at; you still need to be an asset to the program to get more than just a look. Don’t count on Uncle Ed to land your scholarship.
Mistake No. 5: Having your parents contact coaches for you
We all know how parents can be. They want to help and are willing to do anything to help you achieve your dreams. That said, if a college coach wants to talk to your parents, he or she will call them. A parent calling a college coach to describe how great their kid is and why he or she is a perfect fit for their program is really going to be a tough sell. College coaches are looking for mature, confident young adults. If you’re really interested in a college then you should make the connection. College coaches want to talk to you first. They can meet your parents later.
Mistake No. 6: Waiting too long to start the process
The earlier you start the recruiting process, the more success you will have. Your window of opportunity closes a little more as every practice and game passes. Unless you’re a highly recruited athlete, you have to identify colleges to pursue, connect with the coaches and close the deal. This takes time. The sooner you get on the radar screen of the right coaches, the better off you will be and the more time you will have to evaluate which school is right for you.
Mistake No. 7: Underestimating the importance of academics
If being an athlete was more important than being a student, you would be called an athlete-student, not a student-athlete. Many student-athletes and their parents underestimate the importance of academics in the recruiting process. College coaches want good students who work hard. They don’t want to worry about academic eligibility, and good students are generally highly motivated, hard-working individuals they won’t have to babysit.
Mistake No. 8: Spending time worrying about things you can’t control
There are things you need to be aware of but don’t need to worry about. For example, don’t worry about the fact that your teammate has been noticed by a college or two and you haven’t. Also, while you need to know if a program you’re interested in just signed three athletes who play your position, you can’t do anything about that except move them down your list.
Focus on what you can control and be sure you don’t give the college coaches a reason to scratch your name off their list. Work hard, be a good sport, be coachable, play every game like someone is watching and don’t worry if you make a mistake. These are all things you can control. Don’t worry about the rest; if you do it will drive you crazy.
Mistake No. 9: Thinking social media isn’t social
News Flash: Social media is not a private conversation, ever. Coaches are serious about monitoring their players’ and recruits’ social media activities. Their opinion of you can change with one unfortunate post or tweet. There are many examples of players getting crossed off recruiting lists after a social media background check. Athletes have had scholarship offers withdrawn because of their social media. Right or wrong, college coaches believe that how an athlete handles the responsibility of social media speaks to their ability to use sound judgment, to be disciplined and to recognize their responsibility as part of a team.
Mistake No. 10: Targeting colleges that aren’t a match
Pursuing colleges that aren’t a match for you athletically and academically is a recipe for disaster. In fact, pursuing the wrong colleges is the most common reason that many talented athletes don’t find a college team. If you had a degree in history, would you apply for a job as a chemical engineer? I hope not and finding the right college is just as logical.
If you’re realistic about who you are as a student and an athlete and you pursue appropriate colleges, then your recruiting journey will be a success. If you aren’t realistic, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. It’s a lot more fun to send an email to a realistic college and get a response from a coach than to reach out to Coach K and hope for a miracle.
Here’s the deal
You will make mistakes as you go through the recruiting process. If you can avoid these ten mistakes, you should be way ahead of your competition.