Tom Hilbert has been a successful college volleyball coach for 30 years. Recruiting is his lifeblood. But when it came to the recruitment process of his own daughter, Myles, Hilbert admits he could have used a little help.
Parents of promising youth athletes across the United States wrestle annually with how much effort and resources to spend on college recruitment. It’s a process with the potential to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money — or to be an expensive lesson in dashed dreams.
Many families seeking to highlight their hopeful athletes turn to high-level club sports programs, which cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 a year, or national recruiting services with one-time fees of $100 to $3,000.
For those athletes able to land a full-ride college scholarship, those fees are a good investment.
Four years of college for a Colorado resident at Colorado State University runs $108,000, according to the university’s admissions department. Four years for an out-of-state student at CSU will cost $180,000. Four years at some private colleges can cost as much as $320,000.
Most college athletic scholarships, though, cover only a fraction of the actual cost of earning a college degree.
Hilbert, who has taken CSU’s volleyball team to the NCAA tournament in each of his 23 seasons at the school, wasn’t a big believer in recruiting services. He said he deletes as many as 20 emails a day from recruiting websites touting prospective players, without opening them.
Hilbert doesn’t believe he needs help from the services. The players he recruits for his program “stick out,” he said.
That’s true of the top prospects in just about every sport, college and club coaches said. College coaches will find them wherever they are.
But the overwhelming majority of the nation’s more than 500,000 college athletes don’t fall into that “elite” category. They have to market themselves to prospective college programs.
Myles Hilbert has played on high-level club teams with the Norco Volleyball Club for several years and attended events designed to put prospects in front of college coaches with available scholarships.
She received multiple offers and chose Colorado Western University, an NCAA Division II school in Gunnison, where she plans to play volleyball and also compete in track and field. It’s a good fit, Myles and her parents said.
Yet, if he had to do it all over again, Tom Hilbert said he and Myles’ mother, Leslie Taylor, would have used a recruiting service. He’s convinced they would have provided her with far more options than his own contacts and the club volleyball network produced.
Services such as BeRecruited.com, Next College Student Athlete, College Fit Finder, The Sport Source and dozens of others allow prospective college athletes to post biographical information, academic expectations and highlight videos to be distributed to schools based on the athlete’s preference.
“They do get you in front of more Division II coaches and the bottom side of Division I and junior colleges and NAIA schools,” Hilbert said.
“I also think that they’re a valuable tool in helping you communicate and spread information in that you, with a click of a button, are getting stuff to a whole slew of colleges. And, with the good ones, you can make your own lists, your own areas you want to go to, draw a radius. If you try to do that on your own, that’s difficult to do.
“For that reason they do have a value.”
That value, however, seldom equates to a free ride at college.
Athletic scholarships are limited
The value of an athletic scholarship varies widely. The NCAA, NAIA and National Junior College Athletic Association allow schools to award “equivalent” scholarships in most sports, allowing coaches to divvy up the money among their athletes as they see fit.
A star recruit in a sport like baseball, softball or track and field might receive as much as 50 percent to 75 percent of a scholarship, while many of his or her teammates will get as little as 5 percent to 10 percent.
Dave King, founder of Triple Crown Sports and a longtime club softball coach in Fort Collins, said every player on his top youth team who has wanted to play college softball over the past 16 to 17 years has received some scholarship money. But the average athletic scholarship received by those nearly 250 players has covered only about 25 percent of their cost of attendance.
Academic scholarships can make up a significant part, if not all, of the difference.
“It seems like schools make it easier to find academic money for athletes,” King said. “For some reason, the John B. Smith Agricultural Award goes to the kid that throws 84 miles and hour and has got some movement on the ball.
“I’ve got a girl from my program playing Division I right now, and 80 percent of her scholarship money is academic and 20 percent athletic.”
Regardless of the breakdown, the college coaches are helping the families of the athletes they want in their program find ways to make attendance affordable.
What recruitment services offer
It’s an initial connection that athletes and their families hope club programs and recruiting services will facilitate.
Next College Student Athlete, for example, has dozens of filters that a prospective softball player can use to help narrow down the 1,500 or so colleges and junior colleges in the U.S. that offer athletic scholarships in that sport.
“A lot of our role as the recruiting coaches is we are using the information from the family and again mapping out what they want that college experience to be like, what’s important to them, what schools might be a good fit,” said Jaimie Duffek, national director of softball for Next College Student Athlete, or NCSA. “Through our network, we are in communication daily with college coaches, providing information to families about position needs at certain schools.”
NCSA offers a wide range of filters to help prospects and their families hone in on the right schools in 34 different sports. Filters are based on geographical regions or distances from a specific city, or for the school’s academic ranking, programs offered, size and cost. Plug-and-play filters, Duffek said, will also sort schools by military options, public from private and faith-based schools by religion.
NCSA offers sports-specific recruiting coaches who will work one-on-one with each athlete for those who sign up for its higher levels of service, Duffek said. Each of the recruiting coaches is a former college athlete. Scholarships are available, she said, to help families with limited resources.
College coaches have free access to NCSA and its database.
“Last year alone, we helped over 20,000 athletes (receive scholarships for their sport),” Duffek said.
What you can do on your own
Many families who try to navigate the college recruiting process on their own find it overwhelming. However, success can be found with persistence.
Trinity Corney, a junior at Fort Collins High School, emailed more than 100 college volleyball coaches with a link to a personal website with her biographical, academic and athletic information, including highlight videos, before committing in September to the University of Wyoming.
The family of Madison and Max Hand, twins who play soccer at Rocky Mountain High School, sent emails in advance introducing themselves to coaches who were planning to attend showcase events their respective club teams were playing in. Those emails included photo galleries of each playing soccer over the years, highlight videos and as personal and academic information, said Kristen Hand, the twins’ mother.
“We started when we were 15,” Max Hand said. “We just talked to every coach, sent them an email saying, ‘Hey, this is me. This is what I’m trying to do.’
“And then, basically, we just let all these coaches know who we are and if they know a school who is looking for a player like us, they would talk about us to other schools. Just kind of getting our name out there is really what the main start was, just so people could know who we are to talk to about us.”
They relied on those emails and the contacts their club coaches had before signing national letters of intent last fall with NCAA Division II schools in Denver — Madison with Regis University and Max with Metropolitan State University.
How club sports pay off
Club sports programs play a big role in the recruiting process, too.
“Club sports definitely helps,” Kristen Hand said, such as “the personal requests by the club coaches to talk to the college coaches for you. I was surprised that was the most effective. You can reach out as much as you want, but when you have your coach advocate for you — always putting your best foot forward — that seemed to be what these college coaches really responded well to.”
They not only give athletes a chance to compete at a high level outside of their high school seasons, they also provide additional skill development and, most important, exposure.