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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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.
“I think I’m getting recruited by this coach, but…I’m really not sure!”
Does this sound familiar? Many student-athletes have struggled to clearly understand if and when they are getting recruited by a college coach. Do recruiting questionnaires count? How about camp invites? A phone call? Not every coach is going to show interest the same way, and interest will mean something different for every program.
I’ve laid out some of the different ways you might hear from a coach and what they usually signify in terms of interest. Look at it like a ranking system, starting with actions that indicate the least amount of interest to actions that show the most.
Haven’t heard anything from the coach or school? The coach isn’t interested yet
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you aren’t hearing from a coach or school, they most likely aren’t interested. Even if the NCAA contact rules mandate that coaches cannot start communicating with you yet, coaches will usually find a way to get in touch with student-athletes they are interested in. They may contact your high school or club coach. They also might have the institution send generic information about the school. In other words, if you’re a freshman or sophomore especially, contact from coaches can come in unexpected ways.
Make sure you always follow up with the coach so they know you are interested in their program and include a variety of schools on your target list. If you’re only reaching out to D1 programs and don’t hear back, you may not be a fit for that level, or it’s possible the coach isn’t recruiting your graduate year. Either way, including a mix of schools, including D2, D3, and NAIA, will give you a chance to consider every opportunity and better understand what’s the right fit for you academically and athletically. Start broad and refine your list as you go.
Read more: How to find your best college match
Received questionnaires in the mail? You may be on the coach’s radar
Coaches will send questionnaires out to a large number of freshmen and sophomores to gauge their interest in the program. Make sure you respond to the questionnaires as soon as possible so they know you are interested! You should also send the coach a follow-up email with your key information and highlight or skills video so they can make their initial evaluation. If you’re a junior or senior who’s still only receiving questionnaires, you need to immediately reach out to the coaches at programs you’re interested in to claim a spot on their list of recruits.
READ MORE: How to tackle recruiting questionnaires
Camp invites filling up your inbox? The coach may want to evaluate you in person
Camp invites can be somewhat tricky! At camps, coaches usually have a set list of athletes who they are interested in evaluating, and they will spend most of their time watching those athletes compete. If the coach mentions specifically that they know who you are or that they have watched your highlight video, that’s a good indication you are on their list of recruits to watch. If your invitation is generic, you may be in the larger pool of athletes who aren’t really on their radar yet. That’s why you need to be strategic when choosing a camp. Look at your target list and find out if coaches at your top schools are either hosting their own camp or evaluating athletes at a different camp. Then, before you go, reach out to the coach and send them your highlight or skills video, key stats, and a short introduction. Your goal is to get on their list of recruits before you even get there.
Read more: How to pick the right camps to attend
Fielding emails from the coaching staff? You’re probably on their list
Email is an easy way for coaches to communicate with athletes who are on their list of recruits. They may ask you for more information about your athletics, academics, and character. Make sure you respond promptly and proofread your emails for grammar or spelling errors. At this stage, you still need to show the coach that you’re interested.
Insider tip: Reply to every college coach who emails you, whether you’re interested in the school or not. College coach turnover is more common than you may realize, and you always want to leave a good impression. You never know where a coach may end up! Plus, they tend to remember athletes who are considerate and take the time to respond.
Read more: How to email college coaches
The coach has been calling, texting or DMing you? You’re definitely a prospect
The coach is likely quite interested if you’re receiving calls, texts or direct messages through social media. If the coach has given you their personal contact information, you can feel confident that you are relatively high up on their list of recruits. However, just because you’re on their list of recruits, doesn’t mean that you’ve secured your spot on the team yet! You need to keep putting in the work to get an offer. Continue to respond to coaches in a timely matter so they aren’t left wondering if you’re interested in their program. And if they haven’t evaluated you in person yet, send them your upcoming schedule so they know when they can see you compete.
Invited on an official or unofficial visit? You’re an important recruit
Visiting a school is an important step in your recruiting process, especially if the coach personally invited you! For most sports, D1 college coaches can begin extending unofficial and official visit initiations starting Sept. 1 of a student-athlete’s junior year. Official visits, or campus visits in which any part is paid for by the school, indicate the strongest interest from college coaches. They are using their budget to show off their school and create an impressive experience for you as a recruit. However, being personally invited for an unofficial visit also indicates clear interest from the coach. Not all coaches and programs have a huge budget, and many simply don’t have the ability to conduct official visits. Make the most of this trip by being polite and attentive, answering the coach’s questions appropriately and preparing your own questions. Official visits are a popular time for coaches to extend an offer to athletes, so make sure you’re prepared if that conversation comes up.
Received an offer? Congratulations, you’re a top recruit
Getting an offer is the reason you started this process in the first place! If a coach extends an offer to you, remember that you can ask what their deadline is for your response so you have time to think about it and determine any questions you have. Verbal offers, while a sure sign that you are a high-value recruit, are not legally binding yet, which means that the coach can withdraw it for any reason. Keep in touch with the coach up until Signing Day to ensure that they expect you to be part of the team.
The recruiting process is tricky and stressful—I know firsthand! And it’s easy to overthink communications with college coaches. Remember: The more personalized the contact from the coach, the higher up you are on their list. If you aren’t receiving the kind of communication you want from a program, proactively reach out to them and show why you would be a great fit.