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.
The life of a college sports recruit can be one of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. “Is there still time for me to get recruited? “Am I focusing on the right schools?” “When will I hear from a coach?” Not only do student-athletes have to focus on putting themselves in a position to be recruited, they have to figure out how to interpret a coach’s level of real interest along the way.
The best, most simple advice for deciphering coach contact is: Don’t overthink it. Your gut can usually tell what message you’re being sent. If you can’t decide if a coach is interested in you, they probably aren’t. If you’re in communication with a coach but still don’t feel confident about it, it’s likely they are interested but don’t consider you a top recruit…yet.
But while a gut feeling is telling, it’s not tangible. Here are some of the definite signs you’re being recruited:
You receive a handwritten letter.
There are different types of letters you might receive during the recruiting process, but getting a handwritten, personalized letter means a coach is definitely interested. Think about the time and effort it takes to sit down and actually put pen to paper. Can you even remember the last time you did it? Now imagine a college coach, who’s strapped for time, making a point to write you. This doesn’t mean you’re the only recruit, but you’re certainly of a high enough value to the program to warrant individual attention.
Insider Tip: If you receive a handwritten letter from a coach, write them one back. This shows respect and confirms that you’re also interested.
The coach gives you their personal contact information.
The more personal attention you seem to be receiving, the better chances you are a high-value recruit. Thus, if a coach gives you their personal cellphone number or email address to make it easier to contact them, you can bet they’re interested. If you do receive this kind of contact information, don’t let it go to waste. Call and email them to keep them updated on your progress (e.g., you received new SAT or ACT scores, you established a new personal best, etc.) and ask them questions (e.g., what camps/combines should you go to, where do you rank in their recruiting class, etc.). It can be intimidating to call or email a coach, but sitting and waiting on their contact information is a mistake.
The coach came to see you compete.
Not to be confused with a coach being at a game or event where you are competing, if a coach goes out of their way to see you specifically, they are interested in your talent. Most colleges don’t have an unlimited budget to travel around and watch recruits in person. Coaches go to camps and tournaments for the chance to evaluate multiple athletes, so it’s not a real indication that they are actively interested in you if you happen to see them at one.
Insider Tip: If you are attending a camp, make sure you let the coach know you’ll be there ahead of time so you can be on their radar.
You’ve been invited on an unofficial visit.
It’s not as concrete as an official visit, but if a coach suggests you come check out the school on an unofficial visit, it’s likely they are interested. Unofficial visits are up to the student-athlete’s family to finance, but what makes them popular is that they can be taken at any age and as many times as you want. The true gauge for the coach’s level of interest, though, is determined by how much attention you receive during and after the visit. If the coach makes time for you to talk on the visit, and if they follow up with you shortly after, then they are definitely considering you. The key is to continue to nurture your relationship through calls and emails, as you could easily fall off their list. Here are some things to consider before an unofficial visit.
Insider Tip: Unofficial visits can also be coordinated with personal camp invites. Often coaches will invite their top recruits to camp and take them on tours of the campus.
You’ve been asked to go on an official visit.
Being asked to go on an official visit is one of the most telltale signs that a coach is interested in you. Official visits cost the program money, and they have a limited number to offer, so they’re not going to just hand them out to anyone. You’re safe to assume you’re near the top of the coach’s list if you get invited on an official visit. However, keep in mind that, for most sports, coaches can’t invite you on campus until your senior year.
The coach is actively contacting you by phone and email.
Communicating with coaches can be confusing, especially if you’re unaware of the contact rules. Check out the NCAA’s recruiting calendars to determine when a coach can reach out to you. If you are an upperclassman receiving regular and personal communication from a coach, you are definitely high on their list.
Insider Tip: If you’re an underclassman, a good way to tell if a program is interested in your early is to take stock of how many questionnaires you’re receiving from them. Because coaches can’t communicate directly until after 11th grade (for DI and DII), questionnaires are a way for them to express indirect interest. However, in general, questionnaires aren’t especially telling about a coach’s interest. They are the basic form of outreach for early recruits.
Of course, even if all six of these signs are happening during your recruiting process, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed an offer or a scholarship. These are all positive clues, but the tide can change at any time. It’s crucial to cultivate relationships with multiple coaches so you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket. Most importantly of all, never stop trying. As soon as you get complacent, your spot could be snatched up.