How to turn your late bloomer into a college recruit

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.

NBA all-star Anthony Davis was a late bloomer. Standing at 6-2 as a sophomore in high school, Davis fought for playing time and had zero college offers. Then, the summer before his junior year of high school, he shot up 8 inches, reaching 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan. Division I college basketball scouts noticed, and Davis ended up committing to Kentucky, a basketball powerhouse.

You’ll find there are hundreds of stories like Anthony’s. Kids who were athletic but undersized suddenly had a late growth spurt and quickly dominated their sport. If your student-athlete is a late bloomer, these stories might give them some hope. It also might beg the questions: Why are there so many late bloomers? And what can parents do to help their developing student-athlete get the attention of college coaches?

The “Relative Age Effect” might be responsible for the large number of late bloomers

When athletes are in the 7-13 age range, sports organizations start creating arbitrary eligibility cutoff dates. These cutoffs are based on age, but athletes who are at the older end of the range will generally be more physically mature than those on the younger end. An 8-year-old who’s about to turn 9, will be more mature than a child who just turned 8.

Roger Barnsley, a Canadian psychologist, called this the Relative Age Effect. He discovered the correlation between sports cutoff dates and birthdates when studying elite hockey players. He found that an extraordinary number of elite youth and professional hockey players were born in January, February and March. Nearly five times as many players were born in January than November. And these numbers were true of nearly every elite hockey group. Can you guess the eligibility age cutoff? January 1. Studies in nearly every sport reflect similar findings. More than 57 percent of kids in the English Premier League Youth Academies are born in the first third of the soccer year.

The coach’s view on recruiting athletes who are late bloomers

Whether your student-athlete fell victim to the Relative Age Effect or they are just slow to develop, they still have plenty of options for playing their sport in college. Jimmy Munoz has been a volleyball coach for more than 15 years, serving as an assistant coach at a Division I school and head coach at a Division III school. He explains that many coaches account for the late bloomer factor.

“Typically, late bloomers’ movement just hasn’t caught up to their bodies,” he says. “If I’m recruiting an athlete, I can tell if they get the sport and have raw talent just by watching the way they move and react. Maybe the problem is their body isn’t moving as quickly as their mind is telling them, or they grew too fast and the muscles, speed and coordination haven’t caught up.”

Coach Munoz illustrates important steps late blooming student-athletes can take to get noticed by college coaches:

  • Have great video footage. “Give the coaches the ability to see your improvement,” Munoz advises. If you’ve sent a coach your video from freshmen year, send film at the end of your sophomore year to show how much progress you’ve made.
  • Get recommendations from current coaches. “Have your club or high school coach attest to your grind and work ethic,” Munoz says. Coaches need to know that you’ll work hard to keep developing your skills. How they’ll know: They’ll talk to your coach. “Are you the first person in the gym and the last one out? Do you ask for extra drills to practice on your own? This is what college coaches want to see.”
  • Live by the 1,000 reps mentality. The saying goes that, to really be good at something, you need to do it a thousand times. In short, practice. Develop and hone your skills. Whether that means getting a personal trainer, spending more time in the gym or doing 1,200 reps, get the skills you need. “Do the little things over and over again,” Munoz says. Live the grind!
  • Get good grades. Munoz explains that late bloomers with good grades can play for a college team on an academic scholarship. After a couple years of coaching and developing, they might qualify for an athletic scholarship. As for late bloomers with poor grades? They’ll just get overlooked.
  • Show your passion for the game. “I’m watching athletes’ overall joy for playing the game. Are they having fun with their teammates? Do they keep a positive attitude?” Munoz says.

Parents play a crucial role in helping their late bloomers get recruited

Parents, you’re not off the hook! Munoz points out that parents’ expectations play a huge role in late blooming student-athletes’ playing in college. “Are the parents realistic? Do they keep saying their kid is a DI athlete?” Munoz asks. “They need to keep an open mind about what is the best fit for their student.” For many student-athletes, Division II, Division III or NAIA schools present hundreds of opportunities for late bloomers to excel that wouldn’t be available at the Division I level alone.

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