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 athletes 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.
School’s out for summer, but that doesn’t mean student-athletes can just chill until fall. On the contrary, for the opportunity to compete in college, the summer months should be spent in thoughtful planning and deliberate activities that push the recruiting process forward. In short, recruiting does not take vacations.
While that doesn’t sound as much fun, fun, fun as going to the beach or hanging at water parks, the time your student-athlete spends upping their game, researching colleges and reaching out to coaches is time well spent and could pay off down the road. No student-athlete ever said, “I wish I had started the process later,” and summer is a golden opportunity to devote one’s attention to recruiting. These are 90 precious days when there are no classes or assignments give or take. Coaches themselves are using their summer to check student-athlete emails, watch recruiting videos, organizing whiteboards, attending camps or tournaments and, if in accordance with recruiting rules, bringing recruits on campus or visiting them in their homes.
So what should your student-athletes be doing this summer to help put them in the best position to merit recruiting consideration? Here are some tips:
Focus on getting better
The recruiting process can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. That’s why Taylor Land, assistant men’s basketball coach at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, recommends that rather than putting pressure on themselves to perform in front of college coaches in game situations, student-athletes instead “try and enjoy the process of getting better,” he observed in a recent phone interview.
“You can get a phone call one day from a Division 1 coach that says he loves you, and all of a sudden you think you’re the best player in the state, or you can go two months without hearing from anybody and question whether you will play college sports. It’s such a roller coaster emotionally. Student-athletes should do as much as they can (during the summer) to reach out to coaches and keep tabs on their academics, but at the same time, really work on their skills. Your child may play four games over a weekend and think that’s making them a better player. There are benefits, for sure, but then they don’t do much during the week before playing in another tournament the next weekend. Improving your skill sets—getting a little better each day—adds up over the course of a summer. That will speak for itself once the season starts.”
Do your homework/take field trips
Summertime! No homework or studying. How should student-athletes spend that free time? “Homework and studying,” NCSA basketball recruiting coach Eric Vierneisel offers with a laugh. Specifically, he is referring to researching colleges and building a list of target schools. For extra credit, Vierneisel recommends using the summer months visiting college campuses. “You may not get the full picture of the campus (over the summer when most students are away),” he states, “but walk around; you get a feel for it. If you are making an unofficial visit, be sure to let (the athletic department know) you are coming so you could schedule an introduction prior to the visit. But even if you don’t meet with the coaches, it’s still worth it to see the campus.”
And as a reminder with the new NCAA rule change: Division 1 college athletic departments—this includes college coaches—are not allowed to be involved in a recruit’s unofficial visits until after September 1 of their junior year.
Attend camps and tournaments
From the recruiting questionnaire to participating in tournaments, recruiting is all about getting on a coach’s radar. Summer camps and tournaments can be an impactful way to get in front of coaches at your targeted schools. If it’s an overnight camp, recruits may have the opportunity to spend the night in a dorm, which will give them a better idea of the college experience on that campus. Camps and tournaments, Vierneisel further notes, offer another prime opportunity to stay proactive in the recruiting process. “Update coaches about your schedule and what team you’re playing for,” he recommends. “Invite them to come watch you play. That’s more useful than sending an email that just says, ‘Hi coach, how are you doing?’ Getting coaches to come see you play is a great summer goal.”
Coach Land agrees. Summertime recruiting efforts are all about staying relevant, he underscores. “A lot of kids figure, ‘If I’m good enough, I’ll get recruited.’ What they don’t realize is that coaches only have the time to recruit a handful of kids on a consistent basis. All of the other recruits are on a whiteboard. You’ll try to see a kid if you can (during a weekend tournament), but you’re going (with the purpose of seeing) 10-15 others. Communicating with coaches is always important. Showing you’re taking the initiative goes a long way. Coaches always want recruits who are low maintenance.”
Make your game plan
“Summer is a good time to set goals based on an honest evaluation of the previous season,” Vierneisel states. “Take stock and determine what you did well and on what you need to improve. Talk to your current club or high school coach; ask them where they see your role in the coming season and what you can to do increase that opportunity. Use the summer to attack those areas, and then toward the end of summer, set goals for the coming season. It’s important to keep getting better. If you don’t progress, your recruiting won’t progress.”
In all seriousness, while there’s work to be done, your athlete should still take time to relax and recharge and enjoy some activities outside of their sport. It’s a great way to help avoid burn out and start the next school year ready and refreshed.