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.
Like many sports, college athletic recruiting is a team effort. You can’t expect to hit it out of the park without the support team who trained you, helped refine your skills and encouraged you to keep up going. In recruiting, your team includes your parents and your high school/club coach, with you playing the role of team captain. As the recruit, you’re responsible for coordinating all your teammates and enabling them to play their part in the process.
We’ve talked about your parents’ role, now it’s time to discuss how your current coach can offer invaluable support during your recruiting journey. Here are four key ways your high school/club coach can help.
Determine the division that’s right for you
One of the toughest—and most important—aspects of the recruiting process is figuring out which division level is best for you. There are many factors to consider including academics and campus culture, but as a college-bound student-athlete, athletics are also key. It’s tough to objectively evaluate your own skill and talent, so asking for help from an expert is a great way to find your best fit.
Your high school/club coach knows your style of play better than almost anyone else. They’ve seen how you compete when you’re exhausted, when you’re up against tough competition, and your attitude when you’re winning and when you’re not. Your coach also knows your personality and character—both of which are important to college coaches. They can take all of these factors into consideration when projecting which division level would be the best fit for you.
Kyle Winters, NCSA recruiting coordinator and coach of a club softball team, explains, “I am pretty honest with student-athletes about where they may fit. I’ve been watching softball all my life, so I try to give them a really realistic vantage point of where they will fit. I will look at every aspect possible and compare to players I’ve seen at every level.”
Your next move: Ask your coach about your future as a college athlete. What level does your coach see you competing at? What are some of your strengths that you should be sure to capture in your highlight film? Where do you need to improve?
Make introductions to college coaches they know
Many high school and club coach know a few college coaches, and if they think you would be a good fit for those schools, they may facilitate an introduction. Coach Winters says, “Some coaches have been doing this for 20-30 years and have been able to build a reputation among college coaches, which gives them the power to call and email on the behalf of their players, and basically get them recruited through personal networking.”
However, remember that just because your coach has a relationship with a specific college, it doesn’t mean that you should try to force that school to be a good fit for you. First, put together your list of schools you’re interested in. If your coach has a relationship with one of those schools, great!
Your next move: Take your list of target schools to your coach and ask if they have a relationship with the coach at any of those schools. If so, see if your coach would feel comfortable introducing you to that coach.
Arrange a call between you and a college coach
For most athletes, recruiting starts before the NCAA recruiting rules allow college coaches to contact athletes. As a recruit, you can always call coaches—and they can answer! But they cannot call you back if they miss your call. To work through this, some athletes will get their high school/club coach involved. High school/club coaches can arrange a time for the recruit to call the college coach, letting the college coach know when to expect the call.
Your next move: Let your current coach know you would like their help contacting a college coach. Give them the college coach’s contact information and ask if they can set up a call. Tell your coach the date and time you can call the college coach.
Provide a recommendation
When college coaches are interested in a recruit, they often seek out people who know the recruit well for recommendations. Their first stop? You guessed it: Your high school/club coach. Because your current coach knows you so well as an athlete, they are arguably the most important person a college coach will talk to in order to get a better idea of your athletic ability and character. Whether or not you see eye-to-eye with your current coach, it’s important to make an effort to be on good terms with them. If a college coach called your current coaches tomorrow, what do you think they’d say?
Your next move: If you are getting heavily recruited by a coach—or coaches—give your current coach a heads up. Let them know that they may receive a call for a recommendation, and ask if they need anything from you in order to give an assessment.
You’ve probably noticed the common theme among each of these suggestions: Ask your current coach. Every coach will contribute to their athletes’ recruiting in different ways. Some may be able to take more time out of their busy schedule than others. If you have more than one coach, let them all know about your recruiting efforts. Each of them may have different connections or time available to help you on your path to college sports.
Coach Winters points out, “As a coach myself, I have my own life, and most coaches have their own family, plus a job outside of coaching. And they have other student-athletes on their team they have to worry about.”
At the end of the day, your recruiting journey is up to you. Just know everyone on your recruiting team wants to see you reach your goal, but you need to ask the right questions to determine how much your high school and club coach will be able to contribute.