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.
As a freshman in 1995, Heather Tarr walked-on at the University of Washington. Four years later, she walked away as one of the most decorated players in the program’s history. During her playing career as a Husky, Tarr was a 3x Pac-10 All-Academic performer, 2x All-Conference performer and twice was named to the NFCA All-West Region Team. Oh, and in her final season playing softball for UW in 1998, Tarr served as an undergraduate assistant coach, helping her Huskies to a third-place finish at the Women’s College World Series.
Naturally in 2004, Heather Tarr returned to her alma mater and at the ripe old age of 29, was named head coach of the Husky softball program. In her 13 seasons at UW, Coach Tarr’s Huskies haven’t missed the postseason, once. They’ve made five appearances at the WCWS, winning the National Championship in 2009. As if that wasn’t enough, Coach Tarr is already the all-time winningest coach in UW Softball history!
When I asked Coach Tarr if she felt like she was living a dream, she answered, “I feel like I won the lottery. I get to help kids have an even greater experience than I had, at the university that means everything to me.”
This week, I sat down with Heather Tarr to talk college recruiting. From when athletes start getting identified as prospects, to the impact social media has on college recruiting, here is what she had to say.
Q: Physical talent aside, what makes a player stand out to your coaching staff?
We’re very specific with the type of kids we look for. If you want to play softball here, you need to fit our model. And, our model to success is that you have to be willing to compete in every single thing you do in your life. Whether that’s in the classroom, on the field or in the community, you should be striving to be the best version of yourself in every phase of your life. Because that’s what it takes to play at a school like Washington. To be the best, you have to be intentional with your actions and behaviors, day in, and day out. And rest-assured, we’ll go to all kinds of lengths to find those kids.
Q: When do you start identifying potential recruits?
A: Well, if you’re in the top half of the 1% of athletes that are physically talented enough to play at this level, the answer to that varies. It very much depends on the developmental situation or “bucket” you fall into. If we can trust the situation you’re in, in terms of the programs you play for and the environment that you’re going to be coached- up in, you can start getting attention as early as 7th or 8th grade. Now, that’s extremely rare, but the idea is whenever we see talent match up with the development or projection component, that’s when we start recruiting a player. That can be very early on, and it can be as late as senior year of high school.
That said, we aren’t going to panic on a kid if we don’t get them early. If a player wants to commit somewhere else, as an 8th grader, then they weren’t for us. We’ve really shifted our mindset over the last year, or so. Because, as much as we don’t want to lose that recruit, there’s just no way we can let a kid commit before they’ve even started high school.
Q: What are your biggest predictors of success for student-athletes you recruit?
A: You can see it in their behaviors. How someone goes through their daily moments, generally, tells you if they’ve got a good chance of having success on this stage. What do their personal interactions look like? What do people say about them? I think accountability is something we, as coaches, really try to investigate. It’s critical for us to see ownership in all circumstances. It’s not always easy. When things don’t go according to plan, how do you respond? Are you able to own the bad, as much as you can own your success? Every opportunity you encounter presents a choice. The kids having success at this level are trying to win every choice they make. They’re disciplined in their daily moments.
Q: How does a high school athlete go about getting your attention?
A: The talent piece is first. You have to be good enough to even be considered to play at UW, or any major Division I school, for that matter. Listen, it takes serious physical talent to compete at this level. You should be at a point that you know you’re one of the very best players in your area, wherever you’re from. It shouldn’t be a question or something you’re unsure of.
I tell young players all the time that you can’t force someone to like you. That’s especially true for the recruiting process. If you’re wanting to play for your dream school, try to get that school to tell you no. Reach out to the program, have your high school or travel coach make a call. Figure out if you have a legitimate chance to be recruited and if you aren’t getting a no, then continue to pursue the opportunity. Go to camps, send video and emails. And if you do get a no, be thankful for the answer, because you can move on to other opportunities.
Q: Talk to me about the impact social media plays in the recruiting process.
A: Social media is such a big part of everyday life, for so many people. It’s natural for us to see what we can find when we’re going through that evaluation process with every athlete. You may or may not be able to see reality in everyone just by looking at their social media, but you can certainly see their use. That’s something we pay great attention to. Is a player using their social media in a professional manner? During school hours, are you liking and retweeting all day? Are you up all hours of the night posting or sharing emotions? If so, that’s probably not a good thing. It’s an indicator to coaches of how you spend your time or how you’re going to represent yourself if you were in our program. We want people that know how to professionally represent themselves while they’re here, and as alumni of the University of Washington.