USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where 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 identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers online college planning for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
If you’re a high school athlete and currently feel like you are being “over-recruited” by college coaches, then you can exit this article and go back to watching Sports Center. On the other hand, if you feel “under-recruited” then keep reading.
Approximately 2% of high school athletes are highly recruited and will most likely have their pick of which college they want to attend. By my math, that leaves 98% of athletes to fend for themselves. So, for those athletes figuring out how to get noticed is critical. Most athletes and their parents believe that playing on a club or select team will result in a scholarship, or that their coach is “handling” recruiting for them. While coaches can be instrumental in recruiting and playing on a good team against the right competition is very important, the reality is that most athletes need to take ownership of their recruiting efforts if they want a successful outcome.
Finding and securing an athletic scholarship can be one of the most rewarding accomplishments in any young athlete’s life. For that reason, if you truly want to play in college, you have to make three simple commitments.
Commit to being realistic
Perhaps the most difficult task in an effective college recruiting game plan is being realistic with who you are as an athlete and as a student. If you spend your time pursuing colleges that aren’t a fit, your recruiting experience will be a disappointment.
Fact: If you are a high school athlete with aspirations of playing in college, there probably is a school for you. Unfortunately, the football roster at LSU or Ohio State isn’t big enough for every athlete and the academic requirements at Vanderbilt and Stanford are extremely high. For that reason, you need an objective evaluation of your abilities, both athletically and academically in order to develop a list of appropriate schools to pursue. One way to get an objective opinion would be to go to your current coach and ask him or her for an honest evaluation of your abilities. Then talk with your high school guidance counselor for an academic evaluation. Keep in mind that the evaluations might not be exactly what you want to hear, but they are perhaps the most important pieces of information you need if you want to play at the next level. Plain and simple, you need to know which level athletic programs to pursue and you need to qualify academically to be admitted to those schools.
If the colleges that fit your evaluations aren’t the ones you want to attend, then you need to work harder on the field and/or in the classroom. It is OK to pursue some dream schools, but divide your list into three groups: Dream schools, realistic schools and fall back schools. Pursue each school in the same way. You might be surprised how much more attractive a college becomes when they want you on their team. Also remember that just because you haven’t heard about a school, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a perfect match for you. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Commit to the process
Committing to the process means taking ownership of your college search. You have to be involved and proactive. Being proactive means reaching out to the coaches at the realistic colleges in which you have interest in and developing a dialogue with them.
Being proactive can be accomplished in several ways. You can send emails, use social media (Twitter, for example) or even write a letter. College coaches actually want to hear from qualified athletes that are interested in their program. Don’t try to hand the process off to someone else and hope that your National Letter of Intent is delivered to your front door. That won’t happen.
Before you reach out to the schools on your list, spend a little time researching the programs you are most interested in. Knowing what offense they run or how they did in their conference last season will help, especially when you hear back from a coach. Knowing something about the program will give you a leg up on the competition. And finally, when you do hear back, make sure your response is timely.
Commit to being persistent
The commitment to being persistent does not mean writing one email to a few college coaches and then waiting for the scholarship offers to roll in the door. Understand that your initial contact with a coach is an introduction and you likely aren’t going to land a roster spot with one email. In fact, it might take a few attempts before you hear anything.
Keep in mind that you really need to contact numerous schools, numerous times to find the right fit. No matter how you connect with college coaches everything has to line up to get a response: (1) the coach has to open your email or letter, (2) he or she has to actually read it, (3) there has to be a need at your position. For that reason, to some extent your recruiting process is a numbers game. The more appropriate colleges you reach out to, the better your chances are to find a scholarship. You might find that perfect fit with your first email, or it might not happen until you contact your twentieth college.
Don’t get discouraged. We all know there are thousands of other qualified athletes competing for the same roster spot you are trying to fill. It might take some time for you to connect with the right coaches.
It is never too early to make these commitments. Whether you will be a freshman or a senior, you need to start today. Just make sure the colleges you are pursuing are appropriate, commit some time to the process and be persistent. That is a formula for success.