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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional athletes, 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.
As a recruiting coach for NCSA Next College Student Athlete, I’ve witnessed a lot of successful recruiting stories, and so have my colleagues. In my experience, I’ve noticed a few common traits all of these recruits possess that lead to a roster spot. So, I decided to take an informal poll of other recruiting coaches at NCSA, including Davide Harris, Alison Vincent, Ellen Brown, AJ Trentini, Emily Johnson, and Joe Leccesi, and I asked them: What are the most common traits among successful recruits? Here’s the five that rose to the top:
They are persistent
There’s a common misconception about the recruiting process that I’d like to clear up right now—most college coaches don’t just “discover” recruits. It’s usually student-athletes who are proactive and send their online recruiting profile to coaches, including a highlight film, that will spark initial coach or coaching staff interest. This is, unfortunately, as tedious as it sounds, and many times student-athletes just aren’t proactive enough. They’ll send a mass email to a bunch of coaches at once and then feel discouraged when nothing happens. But the best practice is to personalize every email, follow up with a phone call, and then try to email one more time. If the coach still hasn’t responded, you can move on to other schools, but you should always continue to follow up with the coach whenever you have noteworthy updates to share, such as new highlight film, or test scores. Bottom line: college coaches are busy and it’s up to you to be persistent and get in touch with them.
They are personable
Building a relationship with a college coach is an important part of the recruiting process. Think about it from their point of view: coaches want to recruit student-athletes who can make an impact on their team and get along with everyone. They’re looking for a lot of qualities beyond key stats—independence, focus, and drive. Essentially, they want a leader. That’s why recruits who are personable, confident and aren’t afraid to answer questions really stand out. You don’t have to be super outgoing, but you absolutely should try and get to know the coach, and give them an opportunity to know you, too. Preparing a list of questions coaches may ask you and in return, having a list of thoughtful questions you would like to ask is an easy way to create a good dialogue and rapport with them.
They are open-minded
Successful recruits always have one thing in common when it comes to their target list: they include a variety of schools. Even though D1 is the most appealing for a lot of student-athletes, it’s not always the right fit for one reason or another. Having tunnel vision can really set you back. Instead, create a target list that includes all of the divisions and research schools beyond athletics. After all, finding the right college fit is about more than just finding a place you can compete. You have to consider several other factors, such as the size of the school, how far it is from home, how much free time you’ll have, where you’ll live, what majors are offered, etc. In the end, you’ll find that giving yourself options—and not narrowing your search immediately—will provide the most opportunities.
Read more: How to build your target list
They stay organized, respond quickly and follow instructions
It may seem easy enough: a college coach emails you, so naturally, you reply. But with all the moving parts of the recruiting process and the flood of generic materials you may receive—like recruiting questionnaires—you could accidentally overlook a communication. And when this happens, coaches tend to move on to other prospects because they assume the student-athlete isn’t interested. Top-tier recruits, on the other hand, keep an organized list of their coach communications and respond promptly when they receive something, whether it’s a personalized direct message or a generic camp invitation. And even more, they carefully read what the coach has sent and follow all of the coach’s instructions. More likely than not, they’ll ask you to complete a task, and you need to show your ability to follow instructions.
They want a scholarship, but don’t ask for it
There’s a difference between asking “for” and asking “about” a scholarship. Student-athletes who get recruited ask about them. For example, they ask the coach what kind of athlete they’re looking to recruit and what qualities would put them at the top of their list. It’s actually your responsibility to figure out what you need to do to earn a scholarship spot on the team. If you simply just ask for the scholarship, you’re making the coach solely determine if you’re qualified for it. Instead, you want to be proactive in showing them how you’d make an impact on the team and can earn a scholarship.
When you take a step back and look at these five traits, what you begin to see is that there’s nothing remarkable–there’s no magic trick. It’s really just about doing your research, putting in the hard work, keeping your focus and staying determined.