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.
It’s that time of year. Pumpkins are everywhere, leaves are changing, and fall sports are in full swing. College coaches are inviting some student-athletes on game day visits to soak up campus life and be a part of the season. Here’s everything you need to know about attending a game day visit this year.
What are game day visits?
Game day visits are considered unofficial visits, meaning you’re required to pay for travel, accommodations and food during the trip. However, the school provides you with three tickets to attend the game. While they’re most popular in football recruiting, other sports conduct game day visits as well.
College coaches use these visits during their season as an opportunity to get recruits on campus. Student-athletes can watch the team in action, get excited about the school’s atmosphere, and tour the facilities.
Read more: Your guide to unofficial visits
Should you attend a game day visit?
Seeing your top college choices in person almost always helps with your decision—either one way or the other. Maybe being on campus completely validates your assurance in attending, or it makes you realize you’re looking for a different experience. That being said, you have to keep in mind that game day visits are unofficial, so they can get costly. If it isn’t practical for you to visit all of your top choices, you should be strategic in your selection.
Most importantly, you want to visit the schools where you know the coach has real interest in you as a recruit. Some programs will target seniors for game day visits and have the athlete meet with a position coach, and possibly even receive an offer. But in other cases, college coaches may invite several (even hundreds) of recruits in their database on game day visits. Not to mention that unlike official visits, your one-on-one time with the coach is cut short (or you may never have any at all) because they need to focus on the game. So when you’re sifting through your game day visit invitations, start with the coaches you’ve already been in contact with, or you know they’ve conducted an initial evaluation of your skill set. That way, you’re maximizing your chances of getting recruited.
Read more: How to contact college coaches
Then, when you’re ready to attend, here are a few tips to help you leave a great impression.
Look presentable, but don’t get too dressy
It’s worth stating that you don’t need to overdo it on game day visits. On an official visit, you would probably dress up a bit—maybe khakis and a collared shirt, or a dress. But game day visits are a little bit more casual (It’s not a job interview, so wear something practical, and comfortable while cheering in the crowd). For example, something you would wear on a Friday night out—clean and presentable, like dark jeans (no sweats and hoodies.)
Follow the code: Only talk to the coach who invited you
You could find yourself in a position where more than one coach is recruiting you. Sounds great, right? But when it comes to game day visits, there’s proper protocol you should follow. For example, let’s say you were invited to the game by the home team, but you know the visiting coach has also shown interest in you and is actively recruiting you. The unwritten rule is: priority always goes to the home team/the coach who invited you on the visit. Even if you are interested in both schools, you should respect the coach who invited you (and supplied you tickets) by focusing on their program and college.
“Talking to the other coach is like going on a date and flirting with other people at the bar,” says Joe Leccesi, an NCSA Recruiting Manager and former NAIA football player and coach.
Always follow up with a thank you note
Don’t forget to send an email to the coach and staff thanking them for the chance to watch their team play in person. Even if you didn’t meet with the coach personally, you should still follow up, especially if you’re interested in the program. You want to continue to proactively reach out to the coach and update them on your progress as you continue through your recruiting journey. Plus, you want to ask about next steps and feel confident about where they are in their recruiting timeline.
Example game day visit schedule
To help you prepare for what to expect, here is a typical game day schedule for a D1 football program.
Hawks vs. Wildcats
- Arrive at Game Day Center
- Game Day Presentation
- Recruiting – Bob Smith, Recruiting Coordinator
- Tour the Hall of Legends
- Walk to Smith Arena and experience the pre-game excitement
- Address by John Jackson, Head Football Coach
- Walk through the famous Hawk Tunnel
- Pre-game warm-ups on the floor of Hawk Stadium
- Prospects and their guests: Return to the tunnel entrance of Smith Arena. Visit with the Hawk coaches on the floor of Smith Arena.
- Follow up with thank you emails
Game day visits are just like unofficial and official visits, in that you want to make a good impression with the coach and team. You should always be respectful to your parents, the coaches and people around you, and you should be engaged and interested in the school while you’re there. Don’t look at your phone the whole time, or stare at the floor when a coach asks you a question. Instead, feel confident and excited to evaluate the program. College visits are a chance to picture what life would be like on campus and as a college-athlete. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s one step closer to finding the right college for you.