USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Playced.com. This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology-based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.
John Cook has been the head volleyball coach at the University of Nebraska since 2000. During his time in Lincoln, his Huskers have won 12 conference titles. They’ve made 17 NCAA Regional appearances, 8 NCAA Semifinal appearances and 5 NCAA Finals appearances. They’ve won 4 National Championships, most recently this past season in 2017. John Cook has been named Coach of the Year more times than I can count and in 2017, he was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame. Simply put, Coach Cook is one of the greatest coaches in the history of college volleyball! And this week, I had the amazing privilege to talk college recruiting with him.
From what it takes to get noticed by an elite program like Nebraska, to his thoughts on multi-sport athletes, here is what he had to say.
Q: What does it take for a student-athlete to be noticed by Nebraska?
A: The first thing is that they must be exceptional at something. Of course, we look for the players that jump the highest, or hit the ball the hardest. In other words, the athletes. But really, we’re looking to find the best passers, the best servers or the best setters. Because to play at this level, you’ve got to be able to do something exceptional. The next thing that will get our attention is based on a look and feel for a student-athlete. Once you see the talent, then it’s all about how they play, how they compete and how they interact on the court. Those are the things that will separate an average player from the best player. And, the last thing that we pay attention to is the kind of student a player is. It’s important for us to recruit good students, because typically good students are making good decisions, daily. Good students are disciplined, they do their homework and usually have great time-management skills. If they’re making great decisions all week long in the classroom, they’re probably going to make great decisions in a match when it matters most.
Q: Give me your thoughts on recruiting multi-sport athletes.
A: Given our location, many of the girls we recruit are Nebraska girls or they’re from the Midwest. That means many of them are from smaller towns. When you live in a small town, you’re doing everything. You’re on the student council, you’re in the band, you’re in the school play and you’re playing the sport that’s in season. Well, that gives us the unique opportunity to recruit more than just the volleyball player. We love recruiting multi-sport athletes. We love being able to recruit a player in a non-volleyball situation. Because, those situations reveal more about the competitor or athlete you’re wanting to see. And, when the value you see on the volleyball court translates to the basketball court, or whatever else she’s doing, that’s when you know you’re getting someone special.
Q: What is your advice to student-athletes not getting much attention from college programs?
A: It starts with having a conversation with your coach and figuring out what makes sense for you. That can be your high school coach or your club coach, but it needs to be with someone who has a good feel for the different college levels. That’s your starting point. Then, figure out what conference you can play in. Is it the Big 10, the Big 12 or the Missouri Valley Conference? Whatever conference it is, narrow it down to the specific schools within your talent-level. And, that’s when you start deciding what it is you’re wanting in a college experience. How far away from home are you wanting to be? How big of a school do you want to attend? Warm weather or cold weather? Things that only you will have the answer to.
Once you have a list of schools put together, reach out to those programs. Send an email or make a call. Have your coach do the same and let the programs know that you want to get on campus for an unofficial visit. There are so many kids playing volleyball, it seems like there’s a tournament to recruit every weekend. It’s an overwhelming task for even a program like Nebraska to focus in on certain players. As a recruit, you need to make some contacts and get connected with the programs that are right for you. If you don’t, you can just get lost among the hundreds and hundreds of players competing in those tournaments every weekend, where coaches are supposed to find you.
Q: How can a recruit be confident that he/she is making the right college decision?
A: I think it’s almost like when you’re trying to find a job. You hear the phrase “you just know” or “you had a gut feeling” thrown out there quite a bit. Well, I think that’s how to explain it with college recruiting, as well. There’s no perfect formula to follow. It can literally work differently for every student-athlete. So, when it comes to deciding, the only way you can have any sort of certainty, is to go with your gut.
Now, there isn’t necessarily a science to recruiting, but there is a business side to it. When you look at scholarships, financial aid and start comparing the divisions and available packages, those are the things I try to focus on when dealing with parents and kids. Because the business side of it allows more components for you to consider in effort to find the right place. That’s a big piece of it, but no matter how much you try to analyze your decision, it usually comes down to a gut feeling. Where do you feel the most at home?
Q: What are some red-flags you watch for in a recruit?
A: How do you interact with your teammates? How do you take feedback from your coaches? How hard do you work in practice when no one is supposed to be watching? For example, if you’re running sprints at practice, do you touch the line or are you a foot short? We pay attention to the details that might be less important to everyone else. Because, you can find out a lot about a player in those details. If you’re taking shortcuts, you’re hard to play with or you don’t show a respect for the game, those are characteristics that will not only keep you from being successful but will keep our program from being successful. And, individual success is never more important than that of the team.