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.
Powerhouse high school sports programs can tend to hog the spotlight. And for athletes at smaller high schools, this can create some roadblocks in recruiting. Most college coaches just don’t have the time or the resources to travel to every high school in the country looking for recruits. So, they tend to go back to powerhouse programs time and again knowing they usually turn out elite athletes every year. Even athletes who are the best on their team can fall through the cracks. This is where technology, talent, and persistence must come into play for small-town athletes.
To get started, student-athletes need to be realistic about which programs might be interested in recruiting them. Students at small high schools generally play other small high schools, and may not have the opportunity to compete against elite athletes. In other words, if you’re dominating in your high school division, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an elite DI recruit. Do your research and don’t get hung up on reaching out to DI programs if you aren’t a DI player. It’s always better to be a top recruit, and oftentimes that means moving down a division level or two.
Here are the steps athletes from a small high school can take to start getting noticed by college programs.
Put together a highlight video that shows off your best qualities as an athlete
An athlete’s highlight video is the best way to capture a coach’s attention for most sports. Coaches use these highlight films to make initial evaluations of players. Your film should only be about 5-7 minutes at most. Start off with your most athletic plays and round out the film with your best game footage. Most coaches receive around 100 highlight videos a day, so yours needs to really stand out. Post your film to your online profile, YouTube and/or Hudl and send the link to college coaches. This method works better than sending a DVD.
Find a travel or club team in your area
For many sports like volleyball and soccer, college coaches prefer to recruit from club or travel programs. College coaches scout for athletes at club/travel tournaments, because they can see multiple top recruits in just one weekend. Plus, coaches have the advantage of seeing elite players face off against other top athletes, giving them a better idea of how they will perform against college-level competition.
However, club/travel programs can be expensive and may require a huge time commitment. Families need to weigh the cost against the return. Do your research on the club/travel team and find out if their players are actually being recruited by college coaches before you invest. Check with other families who might be interested in joining the same club/travel team and look into carpooling to games and practices.
Take advantage of recruiting technology—including social media—to get exposure to college coaches
Recruiting has joined the digital age, which is great news for athletes in under-recruited areas. Athletes can create an online recruiting profile (like the ones offered through NCSA) and upload their highlight film, stats, academic information and more. College coaches then search for recruits to find those who would be a good fit for their team. This helps coaches by making it easier to find recruits, and it’s also beneficial for athletes who normally wouldn’t have exposure to college coaches.
Social media also plays a crucial role in recruiting. Athletes can DM coaches on Twitter, and, as an extra bonus, coach response times tend to be quicker through Twitter than email. Coaches also use social media to get a better sense of a recruit’s personality and interests. This is the perfect opportunity for recruits to showcase their athletic skills, highlight videos and sportsmanship. However, social media can backfire for recruits who post inappropriate content. Keep it clean!
Attend camps or showcases that coaches host
For many sports, college coaches will host one- or two-day weekend camps for high school athletes. This is a great opportunity for recruits to learn from college coaches and get to know a school’s coaching staff. You should always introduce yourself to coaches and make a good impression.
Be prepared to bring your A game. Coaches will invite players they are already recruiting to these camps, so non-recruited athletes have to make a very strong impression to get noticed. If you’re sick or injured, consider waiting to attend a camp when you’re back in peak condition.
After you attend the camp or showcase, email or DM coaches through social media to thank them for the opportunity. Even better: give them a call. Whatever you do, stay connected with the coaches and let them know you’re interested. Capitalize on the momentum of the camp.
Keep your grades up and make sure you’re academically eligible to play your sport in college
Coaches can’t take a chance on recruits who don’t keep their grades up. Instead, they look for athletes with solid academics. These recruits may qualify for academic scholarships, and the coach can save some of his athletic money for other quality players. Recruits should also double check the NCAA eligibility requirements to ensure they’re on track from an core course requirement standpoint.
With technology, social media and options outside of high school sports, it’s easier than ever for small school athletes to get recruited. Use recruitment as personal motivation to be your best athlete and student, so college coaches can’t afford to overlook you.