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 delivers an online recruiting game plan unique to athletes of all talent levels and ages.
A few years ago, I sat in the bleachers at an exciting sporting event. Neither team could establish and hold the lead. The crowd was crazy; yelling at the umpires, screaming 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, two outs and the cleanup hitter was at the plate. The third base coach called timeout and proceeded to have a long, drawn-out conversation with the batter on his hitting mechanics. Well, apparently the refresher course paid off. The batter singled up the middle and the home team won 20-19. The crowd went wild and the players dogpiled the hitter. Here’s the problem…..I was at a tee-ball game.
The point of this story is that parents and kids take athletics too seriously, too early in life. The intense focus on success in athletics is astonishing. Parents start preparing their kids to compete in the Olympics on their fourth birthday. LeBron James Jr. received a scholarship offer at the age of 10. Softball players verbally commit before they play one inning in high school. For the most part, these are atypical situations and college coaches don’t recruit athletes just because they dominated at kickball in recess.
But, all kidding aside, the college recruiting process actually should start earlier than most people realize. Many college coaches look to connect, develop and maintain relationships with athletes during their freshman or sophomore year. Athletes interested in playing sports in college should approach recruiting as a four-year process as outlined below.
As a freshman, lay the groundwork by creating a recruiting timeline. Begin thinking about the type of college you want to attend and research those schools by visiting their websites. Familiarize yourself with the overall recruiting process. The NCAA Guide for College Bound Athletes is an excellent resource. Finally and most importantly, focus on grades. After all, we are talking about going to college, and academic achievement expands your college options.
Develop a list of realistic colleges after taking the PSAT. Complete recruiting questionnaires that can be found on college websites. Sign up for a few showcases and/or camps to gain experience playing in front of college coaches. Send an introductory email to the coaches at colleges in which you have an interest. This starts a dialogue and expresses your interest in their program. Step up your game on the field and in the classroom. After all, we are talking about going to college.
An athlete’s junior year is the key year in the recruiting process. Begin collecting video clips to create a short video. It doesn’t have to be professionally prepared with “The Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background, but it should be high resolution, no longer than three minutes and highlight the athlete’s abilities. Upload it to YouTube and include the link in the next email sent to college coaches.
Complete the following administrative tasks. Take the ACT and/or the SAT in the fall, register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and update recruiting questionnaires as needed. Step up efforts to reach out to college coaches at realistic schools. Now is the time to involve a high school or select team coach. His or her endorsement speaks volumes, while validating athletic stats and abilities. Finally and most importantly, focus on grades. After all, we are talking about going to college.
Unsigned seniors need to follow up with the schools in which they are interested. If emails don’t land a response, pick up the phone. It is much better to know the answer than to wonder if a coach is interested. Retake the ACT or SAT if necessary. Higher test scores dramatically increase the number of possible college options. Don’t be discouraged; be persistent. It is not uncommon for athletes to sign in the spring or summer of their senior year. Don’t get senioritis! Continue to focus on grades. After all, we are talking about going to college.
Unless you are an exception to the rule, freshman year is an ideal time to start the college recruiting process. This allows you to learn more about your college options, research colleges and plan college visits. This is a special and exciting time … enjoy the journey.