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.
College choice is one of those milestone decisions that can have a bearing on the rest of a student-athlete’s life. (Not that there is any pressure on anyone!)
On their website and during official visits, a college, naturally, puts its best face forward, emphasizing amenities, reputation, the bells and whistles. A student-athlete looking for their opportunity and the chance to compete at the college level, it is only natural to focus on athletics. But, of course, that’s only part of the picture when choosing a college.
“It’s not just about your sport,” emphasizes NCSA Project Manager Kristin Heidloff, a former Division 1 basketball player and high school coach. “Athletes need to make sure this is the school they would be comfortable with if for some reason they ended up not playing their sport. A lot of people get so caught up on the athletic side of things that they don’t fully look at the big picture and whether the college is really a good fit.”
NCSA Baseball Recruiting Coach Andy Drake, a former college coach, agrees. “Athletes will go on their official visits and see the nice clubhouse, the nice weight training room, the new gym, the great field, and they think, ‘I only want to go to a college with facilities like this.’ Believe me, when I was a college coach, our new baseball facilities were definitely part of our recruiting pitch. But I encourage athletes to not be distracted by things that can make them disregard more important factors, such as location, classroom size, and the social life.”
Those factors are universal when it comes to choosing a college, but we wanted to focus here on factors that student-athletes especially should be sure to consider, and others they may be advised to not put too much emphasis. Such as:
Don’t choose a college based only on the coach
“This is one of the biggest and more common mistakes,” Heidloff advises. “A coach may not be there for the entire four years; they might be fired, or they may accept an opportunity elsewhere. It happened to me. The coach who recruited me left before my freshman year. I played four years for a coach who didn’t know much about me. A lot of kids (in that situation) transfer out, but I picked a school where I knew I’d be happy regardless of what happened.”
Do confirm roster status
“Many athletes make the mistake of choosing a college but not fully knowing what they’re getting into,” Drake states. “They don’t know if they have a guaranteed roster spot or whether they are just trying out. They love the facilities; they love the school and it turns out there are 10 other first basemen. They get cut or are put on the JV team and they didn’t realize this was a possibility.” Both Drake and Heidloff noted that athletes need to ask themselves whether they want to be on a better team where they might not get a lot of playing time or less renowned program where there will be more opportunities. This is where casting a wider net when researching schools comes in. Athletes can find great fits at schools with which they might not have been familiar when the (college selection) process started.
Do “Take all the labels off a school”
“So many athletes have a target school list made up just of D1 schools because they’re on TV, they’re successful year after year,” Heidloff observes. “They get caught up in a school’s name and reputation or the conference that it’s in, but those programs might not necessarily be the right fit academically, socially or even athletically. They should take the labels off a school and ask themselves if it’s still a place they would want to attend.
Do make the most of official visits
“Official visits are so important,” Heidloff says. “You get to spend 48 hours with the team; usually someone on the team is your host. You’re eating with them, going to practice, attending classes. You will get to see what it’s like to be a part of that team. Athletes have one advantage when they enter college; the team is a built-in support system; it becomes your family. They will get a sense of whether these are people they can spend 30-40 hours a week. How do you interact with them? Do you share the same values? Are you going to fit in that environment?”