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. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe 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.
Like it or not, recruiting hotbeds are a real thing. For a variety of reasons, certain regions produce athletes of a higher caliber, which then elevates the level of competition, and creates a cyclical effect that produces more talented athletes.
For example, according to SB Nation, Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, and Ohio produced more than half (52.7%) of the blue-chip college football recruits in the country over the past five years. It’s not just football—according to Inside Lacrosse, more than 40% of DI lacrosse players are recruited from Long Island (NY), New Jersey, the D.C. metro area, Massachusetts, and upstate and central New York. Take a closer look at recruiting data and you’ll find that in hockey, recruits often come from Minnesota, Michigan, and the Northeast. For basketball, it’s often New York City, the D.C. metro area, Chicago, and Southern California. And so forth.
When there’s a deep well of talent, college coaches naturally gravitate toward it. It makes sense: not only do coaches want to see the best athletes, but since there’s more talent in the region, coaches can visit several schools in the same area instead of traveling all over the country. It’s cost-effective and efficient. After a while, coaches keep coming back to the region because they like to work in areas that they know and have experienced success, and this creates another cyclical effect.
But if you’re not located in one of these recruiting hotbeds, don’t panic. Fortunately, technology has helped level the playing field a bit in the past fifteen years and continues to do so. Focus on doing everything you can, follow these tips, and you’ll stay on track to show up on the recruiting radar no matter where you’re located.
Cast a bigger net
Sure, who wouldn’t want to play basketball for Duke or football for Alabama? These are storied programs that regularly compete for a national championship these days. However, if you’re looking to get recruited from an overlooked region, you’ll be facing plenty of stiff competition when it comes to grabbing the attention of a top-tier program. It’s important to realize that you’re starting off the recruiting process at a disadvantage, so you’ll want to make sure you give yourself every opportunity to get noticed. And that means casting a wider net for college options, including smaller schools that potential recruits from hotbed regions may be overlooking. Also, think of it this way: While you may not be receiving a lot of attention for your play right now, you can show everyone what they missed out on once you’re competing in college. You just have to make sure you get there first.
Make sure coaches see you in person
If coaches won’t come to you, perhaps you can figure out a way to go to them. Fortunately, camps and combines are usually well-attended by college coaches looking to spot roster-worthy athletes. For some coaches, nothing tops seeing a potential recruit compete in person, so this is a great way to get on a coach’s radar. However, you’ll have to be smart about where you travel. Of course, traveling to combines and camps can get expensive, and some events might be a better fit for you than others. Do your homework before making travel plans, and also make sure to reach out to coaches that will be in attendance ahead of time. Coaches are much more likely to remember your camp or combine performance if they’ve talked to you or exchanged emails beforehand. Make sure to put your communication skills to work before impressing on the field.
Make a great highlight video
This is where you can make your tech skills shine. Coming from an under-recruited region, your highlight film might prove to be your best tool for getting noticed. After all, college coaches simply do not have the time to travel everywhere and see all their potential recruits in person, so the highlight video becomes an integral part of their recruiting process. Make sure to start collecting video footage early and often and continue to edit and update your highlight film as you improve your skills. Ask other people for video that they may have shot of you and get all your pertinent athletic and academic information in there. Basically, your highlight film becomes your resume, and you’ll want to treat it as a priority.
Impress with academics
News flash: College coaches pay attention to your grades and test scores. At some programs, academics are considered to be just as important as athletic performance. Perhaps you can’t compete with the top recruits in your sport as far as physical skills go, but if you focus on schoolwork you can beat them in the classroom. At the very least, if a coach is considering you and a comparable athlete, and you have an impressive transcript, you’ll make a better impression every time. Show coaches that you’re a student-athlete that’s the complete package, and your chances of getting recruited will improve.
Utilize social media
College coaches are no strangers to social media. According to a study by Cornerstone Reputation, 85% of college coaches and recruiters have performed online searches of recruits, and 19% of staffs have rescinded an offer as a result of finding negative online content. With such a high percentage of college coaches checking in on social media platforms, optimizing your accounts for their eyes is a smart move. You can show off highlight clips, follow college programs you’re interested in, and even send Direct Messages to coaches. Just make sure to set your accounts to public and not to post anything that would make you look bad. Be smart, stay humble, and show off what you can do.