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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
Your athlete made it this far—they picked the programs they’re interested in, did their research, and are eagerly awaiting to be noticed by coaches. And so, they email blast. They fire off the same message to as many coaches as they possibly can, eagerly awaiting replies.
But then they don’t hear back, leaving your family to guess, “What now?”
As a former college coach and Head Recruiting Coach at NCSA, I hear this story a lot. Student-athletes know they should email, but they just haven’t figured out the strategy behind it. So let’s walk through a basic communication plan that will save your family some time and effort.
WHEN CAN YOUR ATHLETE CONTACT COLLEGE COACHES?
First and foremost, you need to consider your child’s grad year and which division they are interested in. Student-athletes are allowed to email college coaches at any time, but NCAA regulations restrict Division I and Division II coaches from actively recruiting until the summer before junior year. This means that underclassmen emailing those levels should loop in their high school coaches (you should always consider having your coaches included). It’s common for college coaches to coordinate schedules through the high school or club coach since they can’t call the student-athlete directly. Division III and NAIA college coaches, however, can contact recruits anytime.
Next, consider the time of year. The NCAA lays out four contact periods throughout the year that dictate the type of communication Division I and Division II coaches can have with student-athletes. If your student is emailing a coach during a “dead period,” for example, they won’t get a response.
MORE INFORMATION: What are NCAA Recruiting Calendars
HOW OFTEN TO EMAIL COACHES
I tell student-athletes to follow the “three-strike” rule. If your child reaches out three times within a month and doesn’t hear back, it’s safe to move on. Following this format will help maximize their efforts:
Contact No. 1
Send an introductory email. The purpose of this email is to garner the coach’s interest. They should personalize each message, explain why they like the program, and provide: a highlight video; key stats; GPA or test scores; references; contact information, and an upcoming schedule. The point, quite simply, is to show the coach what athletic and academic level they’re at. Then, at the end of the email, they should list a date and time they plan to follow up with a phone call.
Insider Tip: A good subject line would include details, including your full name, grad year, position and important stats. For example, “John Doe 2015 Grad RH Pitcher 6-2 190lbs 85mph Video Included.” Avoid generic subject lines in your emails.
Contact No. 2
Phone call. Because coaches receive hundreds of emails a week, it’s best to follow up with a phone call a few days after the email. It really is your athlete’s best chance at connecting with the coach.
Insider tip: Our research shows that the best time to call is on Monday or Tuesday between 8-9 a.m., or 12-3 p.m.
Contact No. 3
Email again. Been a week or two and still no word? Try once more. But make sure your athlete sends a fresh message (avoid copying and pasting at all costs). They should acknowledge the first email and sign off by letting the coach know they’ll send updates periodically.
A good subject line would include: “John Doe 6’0” 180lb LB/S Follow Up”
Remember that coaches are busy—they usually plug in 12-hour work days. That’s why your athlete should send email updates whenever they have news to share, such as stats from an exceptional game, awards or honors, tournament schedules, any events where they’ve been ranked, or new highlight videos. That way when coaches find themselves in a position where they need to fill a roster spot stat—like a recruit de-committing suddenly—your athlete is top of mind. Updates are especially important for underclassmen who might not hear back simply because coaches haven’t filled their grad year yet.
To boost their chances of getting a response, your athlete can also turn to the platform they know best: social media. Following and Direct Messaging college coaches on Twitter is an effortless way to connect.
And after all of this, if there’s still radio silence, it’s definitely time for your family to focus on other athletic programs. Most importantly—pay close attention to this—don’t feel overcome by rejection or failure. We advise student-athletes to reach out to 50 athletic programs they’re interested in. Think about it: finding a college that is the best fit academically and athletically isn’t an overnight task. So help your child keep a positive mindset throughout the recruiting process because in the end, it’s worth it.