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.
Successful recruiting is not just a question of knowing what to do, but also knowing what not to do. My NCSA colleagues and I know what succeeds and what does not in the recruiting process (as players and coaches, we’ve been there!) There are common recruiting mistakes that families make (not being proactive and procrastinating, to name a couple). I reached out to NCSA recruiting coaches Renee Barrows, Alison Vincent, AJ Trentini and Joe Leccesi to ask them about some less obvious recruiting mistakes that could undo years of a student-athlete’s hard work. Here are a few miscues that could hurt your recruiting game.
Being vague when communicating with coaches
It’s important to be direct when communicating with coaches. All too often, an email will share solid information with a coach, but then leave it open-ended by saying, “I hope to hear back from you.” It is more effective for recruits to prompt a response by asking 1-2 specific questions, such as requesting feedback on their recruiting video or asking about their recruiting class. Another tip is to include their tournament or showcase schedule and ask a coach if they will be attending those events.
Spending more time on recruiting than improving their game
Student-athletes early in the recruiting process can get caught up in reaching out to a large number of coaches on a frequent basis. While contacting coaches to get on their radar is important, this time may be better spent getting in extra practice, doing strength/conditioning work or studying to boost their GPA so that more schools are able to consider them (and so they potentially qualify for more academic aid). This additional effort also gives you more to talk about when you do reach out to coaches.
Backing off recruiting when injured
Coaches get it that injuries are part of competitive sports. The student-athlete may be tempted to back off of recruiting until they are back to full strength, fearing that a coach may no longer be interested if they can’t watch them play for a season or might see them before they are at full potential. By all means, inform coaches about an injury, but also share with coaches the progress that they are making. This can be valuable for coaches to observe. It is a window into a recruit’s character and work ethic to see how they respond to setbacks, their ability to be a good teammate and their overall passion and commitment to their sport. Yes, it is possible that opportunities can change while working through an injury, but it is almost guaranteed that they will change if there is no communication.
Being overly proactive
Many student-athletes will contact the same coaches before and after every event, despite not receiving a response or attendance at these events from any of these coaches. Other student-athletes will call a coach multiple times over a couple weeks, still with no response to email outreach or attendance at events. If coaches are interested, they will let the athlete know. They will respond to emails, contact the athlete’s coach or attend events to evaluate them. Over-contacting coaches will put an athlete on a coach’s radar, but for the wrong reasons. It will ultimately result in deleted emails and voicemails. Again, make sure outreach has a specific purpose. Impactful email subject lines should tell the coach what they can find in the email (such as name, grad year, the date they are attending a camp, etc).
Wearing D1 blinders
Joe Leccesi shared his personal experience: “I thought I was a D1 athlete, but I was only lightly-recruited by those schools and ultimately offered nothing at that level. I had ignored many great D2 opportunities as well as NAIA and D3 schools for those reasons. When I realized at the end of my senior season that D1 was a stretch for me, I circled back to some of the D2/D3/NAIA schools and heard that many had moved on. I ultimately attended school 60 miles south of where I grew up that I had never heard of. It worked out well; in my senior year I was named team captain and received NAIA All-American Honors. But I lost a lot of potential opportunities from not being responsive and dismissing other schools because I thought I was better, and (the belief) they would still be around later in the process. This was not the case.”
Not educating yourself about the process
Families that don’t educate themselves about the process will not know what to expect and be unprepared for any hurdles along the recruiting journey. A recruit who receives messages from a coach feels on top of the world; then when they don’t hear anything for a couple of weeks and feel as low as they can get. Parents need to get a realistic evaluation for their kids that will help them develop a realistic target list of schools. Those who don’t understand the process will often wait for a coach to beg them to play at their school. That only happens to a small percentage of elite student-athletes.
Not staying engaged in the process year-round
There is no auto-pilot in the recruiting process. It is easy during the season to keep coaches updated and keep building relationships, but the real work comes in the off-season. They have to put the work into the relationship to keep the conversation going. Just because you had a great visit or a few good conversations or email exchanges doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait. That is a sure way to end the process or at least halt its momentum.
Not being honest
Whether it is lying about your GPA, your key stats, an injury or anything that is falsified or misrepresented WILL be discovered and will typically end your recruiting process with that coach. Honesty is always going to be your best policy.
An entitled attitude
Few things turn off coaches faster than an athlete who thinks they “deserve” something from the coach and expect an offer for all of their hard work. When recruits walk into a visit or have a phone call with a coach with an obvious chip on their shoulder, that is a deal-breaker.