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 college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
You’ve heard it many times, from many sources: ‘If you want to play in college, the recruiting process should really start your freshman year of high school.’ While that sounds like great advice, what does it mean? How do you get started? What should you do? When should you do it? For the next few weeks I will take a detailed look at things a student-athlete can do each year in high school to ensure a successful college recruiting journey. Keep in mind that if you don’t start the recruiting process until you are a junior or a senior, you’ll have to cram a lot into a short period of time. So, if you are a junior or senior and haven’t started looking for the right college, keep reading.
This week let’s talk about underclassmen – freshmen and sophomores. Most underclassmen won’t be a significant contributor on the varsity roster until their junior year. For that reason, they don’t have game film or statistics that might impress a college coach and college coaches can’t easily contact them even if they wanted to. So, what can be done as an underclassman to separate yourself from the competition? Here are the specifics on what freshmen and sophomores can do to get a leg up on the competition.
First things first. Fall in love with being a student and an athlete! Passion is a must for every student-athlete that wants to play in college. Participating in intercollegiate athletics at any level involves commitment.There will be many long practices and late nights to keep up with your studies. You better love your sport.
Next, 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 an understanding of the rules, start rounding up your recruiting resources. Enlist your parents to be your administrative assistants. Inform your high school guidance counselor of your desire to play in college. Alert both your high school coach and summer coach of your desire to play at the next level. Ask them for an honest assessment of your abilities and where he/she projects you as a college athlete. 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. After determining the colleges you want to attend, consider sending an introductory email to the coaches at those schools. This email is just to get on their radar. You aren’t going to land a scholarship with the first email.
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, the first order of business should be to take care of the academic side of your college search. Use the NCAA Division I core course worksheet to make sure you are on track with the core course requirements. Then, take the PSAT to determine where you stand academically. Check the entrance requirements at the colleges you have decided to pursue. Remember, even if you receive an athletic scholarship, you still have to get into the school! If necessary, consider taking a course preparing you for how to take a standardized test.
With your academic house in order, now you can focus on the athletic side of the equation. Meet with your current coach to review his or her assessment of your abilities. Based on that evaluation, develop a plan to work on your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. You might also consider researching how coaches in your sport evaluate 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. Update your favorites list of appropriate colleges and fill out the Recruiting Questionnaires for the schools you have decided to pursue. After filling out the questionnaires, follow up with the coaches with an introductory email expressing specific interest in their program.
In the spring semester, pick a quality summer team to play for. It doesn’t have to be the best team, but it should be a team with solid coaching, a good schedule and one where you will have 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
There is a lot you can do your freshman and sophomore years to separate yourself from the other recruits in your sport. The more you do, the better your chances are for a college scholarship. It’s really that simple.