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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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.
One of the first steps in the recruiting process is to accurately gauge your talent level and get an understanding of the divisions you might be suited for athletically. However, each day, I talk to athletes who don’t have a good grasp on what’s realistic for them.
And I get it! It’s tough to predict what level you’ll be at in three or even two years. The good news: There are plenty of ways to figure out where you stand athletically. The bad news: It’s still going to require that you honestly evaluate yourself. Let’s check out some of the best ways to get a better understanding of your true athletic talent.
Watch college games at every division level
Watch college athletes closely and compare your current skill level to the competition. If you can, visit local schools and universities and see it live. And be realistic! If you need to improve drastically in order to get some playing time on a team, it might make sense to check out a game at a different division level and see how you compare.
The head baseball coach at Webster University explained during a panel discussion, “Go watch a Division I, a Division II, a Division III an NAIA game.” He added, “One of the best things I did—I played at Quincy University—I went and watched them play. I sat in the stands and said, ‘You know what, I can play here; I can do this.’ I also went and saw Illinois State play the University of Northern Iowa when I was in high school, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe not.’ Not that I wasn’t as good, but I wasn’t going to play… And I knew I wanted to play every day.”
When you’re watching a game, ask yourself these questions to help you figure out if this is the right level for you:
- Could you compete with these athletes today? If not, are you on track to be at that level as a senior?
- Would you get playing time if you joined this team? Is playing time important to you?
- Can you picture yourself competing on this team and for this school?
Review rosters of schools at different division levels
There’s a lot of helpful information you can get from a college sport’s roster. To find it, go to the school’s website and find the roster of current team members. Typically, you can find it by searching for the athletic program and then your specific sport. Each athlete will most likely have a short bio that talks about their high school and collegiate accomplishments. Here are a few key things to look for:
- Check out the body types of the athletes in your position. How do you stack up to their posted heights and weights?
- Are you competing in the same tournaments and showcases as the current athletes?
- Review their list of high school accolades (e.g., All-State, All-City, team MVP or captain), and consider how your current compilation of accolades compares.
- For individual sports like track & field, swimming, etc., pay particular attention to the athletes’ current stats. Compare that to your current numbers
Keep an open mind as you’re looking through school’s rosters. If you never imagined yourself competing at a DIII school—but those are the athletes who most resemble you—it’s worth it to continue investigating what that division has to offer. Hint: There are countless benefits to attending a DIII school.
Get evaluated by a third party
In many cases, it’s almost impossible to objectively evaluate yourself, especially on something as personal as your athletic talent. That’s where third parties come into play. Experts can either evaluate you in person or via your highlight film. If you use film, make sure it’s up to date.
You can ask your current high school and/or club coach to evaluate your talent level. Recruiting experts, like Next College Student Athlete, provide evaluations for athletes in 31 different sports. Another avenue to investigate are evaluation camps. They are, as the name indicates, camps for college hopefuls in which coaches help athletes gauge their talent and give them suggestions on how to improve.
When getting a third-party evaluation, here are a few questions to ask the evaluator:
- What level do you think I could compete at right now?
- How much would I need to improve to get to the next level?
- What are my strengths? What weaknesses should I work on?
Compete against elite athletes
Some high schools and clubs compete against tough teams who notoriously turn out college athletes. For athletes who already compete against the elite, every game is an opportunity to level set and see how they compare to other athletes in their recruiting class. Some athletes, however, play for smaller teams and don’t necessarily get a chance to compete against other college-bound athletes. In this case, it’s crucial to find camps, showcases, summer leagues or club teams that provide an opportunity to play against the best high school athletes.
Getting a better understanding of your talent is a great place to start when figuring out your best school. However, don’t forget that a great match is about where you fit athletically, academically and socially. You may have the talent to compete at the Division I level, but that doesn’t mean that will be the best fit for you academically and socially. Keep all three factors in mind as you build your target list of schools, visit campuses and do your research.