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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.
It’s that time of year when things start to wind down and you (finally) get a chance to retreat from your hectic day-to-day responsibilities. Everyone takes a well-deserved break, including college coaches.
You may notice that coaches step away from their email and aren’t as active these next few weeks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean recruiting has stopped. You’ll find that a big part of the recruiting process is simply managing it. And when school and practice is on your athlete’s plate, it’s hard to find time to do that.
Winter break is the perfect opportunity to manage their recruiting and take a few steps to get ahead. Here’s how:
Update their target list
Identifying colleges that are a good fit is an important part of the recruiting process—and usually requires more work than most student-athletes realize. Use this break to re-examine their top list of potential schools.
For underclassmen, this means researching colleges that match their academic and athletic abilities, and then filling out online recruiting questionnaires to show the college coach they’re interested. Upperclassmen, on the other hand, need to be a bit more selective and aggressive. To make the most of their efforts, they should assess which division is showing the most interest, seek out similar schools and then email the college coach or recruiting staff.
Here’s a good place to start: What NCAA Division Is Right for You?
Put together a highlight video or refresh the one you have
A good two-to-four-minute highlight video is often the best first impression recruits can make on college coaches, so it may be time to give this project a little extra attention. Winter break is a chance to evaluate their current clips and help them edit their film. Do they have any recent plays that would stand out? Are the best plays at the front of the film? Remember, college coaches are looking for varsity or high club level film that is less than six months old. Before they head out on break, have your athlete ask their high school or club coach if they have any game footage available they can use to update their highlight film.
If you haven’t created a highlight film yet, this guide will help: A Quick Parent Guide To Getting Quality Video For A Highlight Film
Make an academic game plan
We know the last thing your athlete wants to think about it school—they are literally getting a break from it. But you can help them do a quick check to make sure they’re on track to becoming academically eligible for Division I and Division II programs. And if they aren’t, this is a perfect opportunity to map out next year’s classes, or sign up to retake the ACT or SAT.
Here’s what you need to know about being academically eligible: The Stress Free NCAA Eligibility Checklist For Parents
Get a head start on camps
Every athlete wants an opportunity to play in front of college coaches, and an easy way to do that is by attending a college camp. Take a day or two over winter break to figure out your options this summer. You definitely want to pick camps where your athlete has the best chance of receiving an offer, so you should go to ones where the coach has shown interest or watched their highlight film. Research camp opportunities at their top schools and then map out a contact strategy with the college coach to maximize their chances of getting a personal invitation to attend.
Learn more about picking the right camp: How To Make The Most Of College Camps
Visit local colleges
Whether your child is an underclassman who isn’t sure what they want in a college experience yet or a senior narrowing down their options, one of the best ways to figure out which school is best for them is to simply visit one. Plan a quick trip nearby to check out the facilities at a local college, or maybe drive to a few to compare your options, such as visiting a larger campus and then a small one.
Look at housing, gym facilities and popular areas where students tend to study. Sometimes just the act of picturing themselves on campus helps student-athletes better understand what they want, and it also motivates them to reach their goals.
More importantly, your student-athlete should relax. These tips can help your family prepare for what’s to come in their recruiting, but shouldn’t create any type of stress. Make sure you encourage your athlete to rest up during their winter break, so they have the energy they need to start the year off right.