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 advisers provide a recruiting experience that is trusted by college coaches and backed by a money-back guarantee.
Several years ago, I witnessed one of the most exciting sporting events I’d ever seen. It seemed as though the lead changed hands a dozen times. Neither team could take control of the game. The fans were going crazy; screaming at the umpires, cheering for their team and berating the other team’s players and coaches. In the bottom of the last inning, the score was tied. The home team had the bases loaded, there were two outs and the cleanup hitter was at the plate. A hit wins the game and an out means extra innings. Suddenly, the third base coach called time to talk with the hitter. Well, apparently whatever he said, paid off! The batter smoked a line-drive down the left field line and the home team won 22-21. Half the crowd went wild and the other half was stunned. The winning team dogpiled the hitter. Here’s the twist: I was at a tee-ball game.
This story is a great example of the fact that many parents and their kids take athletics way too seriously, way too early in life. The intense focus on success on athletics is astonishing. Parents start preparing their kids to compete in the Olympics before they go to kindergarten. Select and club teams are starting at younger and younger ages every year. Many parents spend thousands of dollars every year for travel teams, skills coaches, and training sessions.
This atmosphere has forced college coaches in every sport to start identifying potential recruits at a much younger age now than when I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong, college coaches don’t recruit athletes just because they dominated at kickball at recess, but, nowadays, the college recruiting process actually should start earlier than you might think. Many college coaches look to identify potential athletes during their freshman or sophomore year in high school. I’m not here to tell you that as a freshman you should start contacting college coaches. In fact, in most cases that would be a mistake. However, athletes interested in playing sports in college should start thinking about the process in their freshman year.
So, what can be done as an underclassman to separate yourself from the competition? Here is my opinion on what freshmen and sophomores should do to get a leg up on the competition.
First things first. Fall in love with being a student-athlete! Passion is a must for every college athlete. Being a college athlete is a commitment. There will be many long practices, early morning meetings and late nights to keep up with your studies. You better love your sport.
Your next step should be to familiarize yourself with the recruiting rules. Review the NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. I know this sounds boring, but it should only take a few minutes and understanding the rules will put you a step ahead of most other high school athletes.
Once you have a general understanding of the rules, let everyone know about your goals. Enlist your parents to be your administrative assistants. Alert both your high school coach and summer coach and inform your high school guidance counselor of your desire to play at the next level. Ask for their help in deciding which colleges to pursue and how to contact them. There are many people willing to help if you ask. Just don’t expect them to do it all for you.
After you’ve done your homework and developed your recruiting team, the fun part starts. Research the athletic benchmarks necessary to play at the colleges you want to attend and set some personal athletic and academic goals. Then, create a list of colleges that not only interest you but also match your abilities. You can do this on your own, with your parents or even with your coach.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, commit to doing things the right way, on the field, in the classroom, and in your personal life. College coaches will assume that how you act in high school will be how you will act in college. Be careful on social media, be a team player and stay out of trouble. College coaches don’t want players they have to babysit.
As a sophomore, take care of the academic side of your college search first. Make sure you’re on track with the NCAA core course requirements. Then, take the PSAT to determine where you stand academically. Check the entrance requirements at the colleges you’ve decided to pursue. Remember, even if you receive an athletic scholarship, you still have to meet the academic admission requirements of any school!
Once your academics are in order, you can focus on the athletic side of the equation. Meet with your coach and ask for an honest assessment of your abilities. Then develop a plan to work on your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. You should also research how college coaches in your sport evaluate potential athletes. That information will be extremely valuable as you go through the recruiting process.
In the fall semester, begin building an athletic resume and start accumulating clips for a highlight video. Then fill out the Recruiting Questionnaires for the schools you’ve decided to pursue. After filling out the questionnaires, send an introductory email to the coaches at those schools expressing specific interest in their program. Remember, this is an introductory email just to get on some coach’s radars.
In the spring semester, pick a quality summer team to play for. It doesn’t have to be the best team in town, but it should be a team with solid coaching, a good schedule and one where you will play a significant role. You can’t be seen or get better if you don’t play. If you have the time, sign up for a few strategic camps and/or showcase events. Pick events where coaches from the schools you are pursuing will be in attendance and let them know ahead of time that you will be there.
Here’s the deal
The college recruiting process has become unbelievably competitive over the last 15 years, but college coaches aren’t scouting middle school athletes (yet). Most athletes need to start the process as a freshman; however, for the most part you just need to lay the groundwork for a successful recruiting journey. The more you do as an underclassman, the better your chances are for a college scholarship. It’s really that simple.