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 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.
When a student-athlete is disappointed in their recruiting process, there’s usually one reason why: they just aren’t getting personal messages from college coaches.
The common misconception is that coaches simply “discover” recruits. And when a student-athlete is comparing their recruiting to a top Division I player who receives first-class treatment, you can understand why generic emails and letters would be frustrating.
But the truth is that most recruits don’t realize just how proactive they need to be and they probably don’t fully understand how coaches find student-athletes.
Think of how you would go about getting a new job: you have to find a position, study the description to make sure you’re a good fit, research the company to personalize your resume, craft a thought-out email, prepare for the interview, follow up extensively, etc.
Recruiting is a lot like that. Your student-athlete needs to be the one doing most of the work, not the college coach. More importantly, your child should change the way they approach generic emails and letters. Long story short: college coaches create an initial list of prospects by sending basic recruiting materials and seeing who replies. In a perfect world, they would send each prospect a personal note, but honestly, they just don’t have the time.
So, a simple way your student-athlete can start building relationships with coaches is by taking a generic communication and using it as an opportunity to create a dialogue.
What to do after your student-athlete gets a mass email
First, remind your athlete that this communication could be a positive sign. Just because the college coach hasn’t watched their highlight film, or showed specific interest, doesn’t mean they should feel discouraged. Instead, they should reply to the coach, whether they’re interested in the program or not. Coach turnover is more common than you think and it’s best practice to be professional and courteous to everyone so your athlete leaves a good impression among the coach community.
Also, if the coach has sent your family a recruiting questionnaire, make sure your athlete fills it out. It’s an effortless way to get on their initial list of recruits.
“College coaches are trying to make sure they’re targeting student-athletes who are interested in their program,” says Kelly Stuntz, NCSA Recruiting Coach and a former (and highly awarded) college-athlete at the University of Minnesota. So, if your athlete decides to skip over a generic email, the college coach will assume they aren’t interested and move on.
Consider your child’s grad year
The way your athlete is going to respond depends on how old they are. Because of NCAA regulations, Division I and II college coaches aren’t allowed to send personalized messages back to student-athletes until their junior year (for most sports). Instead, the college coach will reach out to your child’s current high school or club coach and let them know they’re interested in setting up a call with your child.
So, along with a link to their online recruiting profile, your student-athlete should include in their reply who the college coach can contact. “For example, you can say, ‘If you would like to respond or send me information, please reach out to [Coach’s Name] at [phone number and email],’ and offer up a reference to make it easy for the coach,” Stuntz says.
And because you know the college coach can’t respond directly, you don’t have to list a ton of questions in your email, Stuntz explains. Focus on the basic academic and athletic details they want to know to evaluate your athlete further. They can include a personal note about why they’re interested in the program, too, as well as how they can make an impact on the team.
Juniors and seniors, on the other hand, need to play it more aggressively. “Upperclassmen should be direct and up front,” says Stuntz. While they should also include the basic information, highlight film and show their interest, this is a chance to create some back-and-forth communication because the coach can respond.
Your child can ask about their recruiting timeline, if they have filled your athlete’s position yet, and where they’re evaluating recruits. At this point in the process, your family wants to focus all your efforts on the school’s actively recruiting your child’s grad year and position. The best way to learn that information? Just ask.
Insider tip: We always tell student-athletes to follow up their emails to coaches with a phone call a few days later. Coaches are so busy that usually a phone call is the best way to make a memorable impression.
Read more: Learn more about calling coaches
How to respond to camp invites
Camp invitations are another scenario where a college coach may send an email to many student-athletes. It’s worth mentioning that just because they receive an invitation, doesn’t necessarily mean your athlete is on a coach’s radar.
That’s why it’s important to do some research before your child responds. You never want to target colleges that aren’t a fit for your child athletically and academically. And based on current email practices, we’re guessing your family will receive quite a few camp invitations.
When your student-athlete has narrowed down their top schools, they can use camp invites as a platform to connect with the coach. Coaches understand that camps are expensive and they never exclusively limit their recruiting to athletes who attend their camp. So, even if your child can’t attend, it’s a chance to let the coach know they won’t be able to make it, but they would love to learn more about their program and send the coach their highlight film for evaluation.
Remember to send newsworthy updates
Recruiting doesn’t stop at one email. Sending college coaches updates is critical to staying top of mind. Whenever your athlete has news, like new highlight film, test scores, awards, or upcoming tournaments or events, it’s important that they email the college coach about their progress.
“There are so many moving parts that you never know where a program is in their recruiting,” Stuntz says. For example, what if a coach unexpectedly has a player de-commit? Or, what if they aren’t showing interest yet because they aren’t focusing on your child’s grad year at the moment? Being proactive and persistent is a great way to show interest.
The bottom line is that recruiting, in the beginning, may feel like a one-way street. But that’s normal. Your athlete needs to be proactive and advocate for themselves every step of their recruiting. And in the end, it’s worth it.