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 identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online DIY college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: Unless you are in the top 2% of athletes in your sport, you won’t be recruited unless you take action to get recruited. If coaches haven’t noticed you yet, you have to make them notice you. You shouldn’t expect college coaches to suddenly find you from a box score, an online profile, or your name in a headline of the school paper. College recruiting doesn’t work that way. The intramural fields are full of athletes that might have been able to play in college, but they relied on someone else to do their work and/or they didn’t have a game plan.
An effective recruiting game plan to get recruited needs to be strategic, realistic and organized. Here is a brief summary of the necessary steps for an effective college recruiting game plan and how to implement each one.
Get evaluated and create a realistic list of college options
To get started, you have to get evaluated both academically and athletically. This is the most important step for most athletes, because if you don’t get it right, your recruiting journey will most likely be a disappointment.
You have to know which level of competition fits your athletic abilities and what type of schools match your academic skill set. There are three divisions within the NCAA and the NAIA is also a viable option for many athletes. Within each division some college programs are more competitive than others, so an accurate assessment of your athletic abilities is critical in order to create a list of college possibilities.
There are services that can help you with your evaluation, but you can also ask your current coach for an honest assessment of how you “stack up” with other athletes and what level schools you should be focused on. Understand that delivering an honest assessment to a player can be a difficult conversation to have at times. Consider yourself lucky if your coach cares enough to be completely honest with you.
Ask your coach to suggest some colleges. This will kill two birds with one stone. You will know the right kind of schools to pursue and you will know which colleges your coach might be willing to contact on your behalf.
In addition to an athletic assessment, you have to qualify for admission to any college you decide to pursue. You might be a talented enough athlete to play at a particular college, but if you don’t have the grades and test scores to be admitted, then scratch that school off your list. Schedule a meeting with your high school guidance counselor to discuss which colleges are right for you. Then do some research on your own.
Get organized and then get noticed
Your recruiting game plan needs to be organized to be successful. There are online programs to help with this, but a good start would be to set up an excel spreadsheet to keep track of your progress with your targeted colleges. Keep track of each college coach’s contact information, the dates of your communication, the date your current coach made contact and any other information you feel is relevant. This way you will always know where you stand with each school and it will make subsequent correspondence simple.
Once you’re organized, it’s time to get noticed. The easiest way to start is to fill out the recruiting questionnaires on the college websites for the schools in which you have an interest. Then, send an introductory email to the coaches at those colleges. I understand you don’t want to say the wrong thing or irritate a college coach, but if you are polite, to-the-point and respectful, you won’t look desperate, be a pest, or be annoying. As the process continues you should also connect on Twitter, attend a camp or two and have your current coach reach out to your favorite colleges. Be creative with how you try to connect and be persistent. Keep in mind that you have to get noticed before you will ever get recruited.
Get your coach involved and close the deal
Your current coach is the most credible source to vouch for your character, work ethic and athletic abilities. That is why they can be a difference-maker in your recruiting journey. Your coach’s opinion might be as important as the college recruiting coordinator’s opinion in the eyes of a college head coach, because he or she sees you every day during the season. For that reason, you have to be proactive and ask them to get involved.
Most coaches are willing to help their athletes make it to the next level, but you have to help them help you. They need direction and guidance in reaching out to programs that are a match for your abilities. First, be sure your coach agrees that the schools you have targeted are a good fit. Don’t expect your coach to call Harvard if you don’t have the grades and don’t expect them to contact Ohio State if you don’t have the skill set to make their roster.
Then, be mindful that their time is precious. Give your coach an easily executable game plan and the information college coaches will want. Provide the college coach’s contact information for your top 3 to 5 college choices along with your athletic and academic resumes so your current coach has all the information he or she needs when making the first contact.
A coach who is willing to take the time to tout your abilities and character speaks volumes about you as a player, a teammate and a student. If your current coach doesn’t know how or can’t help you, then find an alternative! Ask an assistant coach, a skills coach or even an opposing coach.
Here’s the deal
Take the time to create and follow a recruiting game plan. You don’t want to be the athlete that says, “Well, I could have played in college, but things just didn’t work out for me.”