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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.
One of the more confusing aspects of the recruiting process can be identifying when and where recruiting is actually happening. On any given weekend, a recruit can find a tournament, showcase or combine to take part in. Many of these events promote “getting seen by college coaches,” with the promise of being ranked and listing the colleges in attendance.
For families with a limited budget, you want to make sure the events you choose to attend are going to give you the best chance to advance your recruiting. Here’s how you can identify where you are most likely to find college coaches evaluating prospects and how to position yourself going into those events.
Understand the Recruiting Calendar and Recruiting Periods
When and where coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects is regulated by the NCAA and NAIA. The rules for each sport are explained in the recruiting calendar that lays out the recruiting periods for coaches. These articles will help you better understand the various recruiting periods.
- NCAA Recruiting Calendars: When does recruiting start?
- What is the NCAA Dead Period?
- What is the NCAA Quiet Period?
- What is the NCAA Evaluation Period?
- What is the NCAA Contact Period?
Evaluations Happen After Getting Discovered
Many recruits make the mistake of going to recruiting events and assuming they will get discovered AND get evaluated. The truth is, coaches are coming to those events with specific lists of recruits to watch and it is the job of the recruit, together with their high school or club coaches to ensure they are on the prospect lists of college programs. While it is true athletes can get discovered at events, the best approach is to do your homework, and contact coaches before you get there.
For college coaches, the recruiting process work like a funnel. Coaches create their list of initial prospects by searching online databases, emailing list of prospects, recruiting questionnaires, etc. From this list of initial prospects, they try to make their first evaluations through online film and transcripts. Once they have a list of prospects that meet their initial requirements, they are going to look for opportunities to make in-person evaluations.
For Most Sports, Evaluations Are Made At Large Events
Before the early 2000’s, most coaches relied on high school competitions to evaluate athletes. While high school teams still play a critical role in the recruiting process, the growth of travel teams and other out of high school competitions has created opportunities for college coaches to watch hundreds of prospects at a single location or weekend. These events include:
- The Sparkler/Fireworks Softball Tournaments – with 900+ teams and 16,000 athletes, college coaches have come to rely on this event for evaluating prospects.
- National Club Championship for Field Hockey – every major college program is in attendance, watching the best club teams in the country.
- Junior National Championships for Volleyball – teams come in from across the country, promising college coaches the opportunity to see the top prospects faceoff against one another all weekend.
- Zero Gravity “Majors” in Basketball – Zero Gravity is an organization that runs some of the biggest youth basketball events in the country. Their list of “major” tournaments are a hub for the top travel teams and college coaches every year.
How to Identify Serious Recruiting Opportunities
There are few simple rules to keep in mind when deciding how great of an opportunity any specific event will be for your own recruiting:
- The bigger the better (for the most part) – the larger the collection of athletes, the better for college coaches. Of course, with thousands of prospects in a single location, it is critical you are in contact with coaches prior to the event.
- DI coaches are heavily restricted when it comes to events they can attend – depending on the time of year, DI coaches are restricted from attending events where they can evaluate prospects. Recruits or their coaches should make sure that any event claiming the presence of DI colleges is happening during a recruiting period when coaches can attend.
- Some events are about media exposure – in sports like football and baseball, there are showcases and combines that won’t have college coaches in attendance, but coaches are going to be paying attention to the news coming out of those events. Evaluate these events on the follow up they do with college coaches. The best events have easy ways for coaches to get the results.