As parents of young men and women, you will be looked to for guidance with what some consider the most important decision of a young person’s life. Guiding a high school student athlete through the recruiting process and ultimately helping them find the perfect fit for their college experience can be a difficult process. With the recruiting process changing on a yearly basis it’s understandable that some parents feel unsure as to when their athletes should get started with their search for a college. It’s important that your student athletes understand that not all doors remain open forever, rosters are filled, scholarships are given out, and opportunities can be missed, regardless of the talent level your son or daughter possess.
It’s a common practice amongst parents to wait until their senior year before thoroughly exploring the option to extend their athletic and academic career. In an ever changing, fast paced world, this decision can leave families not only behind, but out in the cold all together. Starting the recruiting process early will give families an opportunity to thoroughly review each and every option that presents itself and ultimately make a more informed decision on which school is the best fit for them.
Your family should have time to work this process as thoroughly as possible. You need time to identify schools of interest, gauge the recruiting needs at these universities, research each university thoroughly, make visits to see their future campuses first hand, readjust when set backs occur, and build relationships with potential future coaches. Having time to do these things will allow your athletes to identify the school that will provide them with not only the best athletic fit, but the best academic and social fit as well.
Making this decision is something that should definitely not be taken lightly. It is often said that the decision on where to go to college will not only have an effect on the following four years of a student’s life, but the next forty years as well. In most cases this will be the largest decision your athletes will be making in their life so far. Whenever making a potentially life changing decision the one thing everyone would like on their side is time; time to think, review and scrutinize every single facet of the options that are in front of them.
Ideally your student athletes should start this process as early as their freshman year. And while the early years of the process will be far less active than the later years, it’s the foundation of knowledge about the process and an understanding of what they are truly looking for out of their college experience that your athletes will come to understand during these early years that will set them up for success later on.
As you begin to guide your family through this process, it’s important to educate them on what to expect. First and foremost, you should understand that this can be a difficult and frustrating process. Like anything else in life, it takes hard work and preparation to prepare for success. Your family should be ready to put in the work if they are expecting results. Another difficult aspect of the recruiting process is that it is ever-changing. Coaches are constantly developing new ways to reach out to recruits. NCAA recruiting rules change on a yearly basis. One of the common mistakes that families make is relying off of a parent for the main source of guidance who went through the process twenty years earlier. As a parent, you need to reach out to your student athlete to explain that like just about everything else in the world, things have changed in the last few decades. It’s not the same process that parents went through and student athletes need to be aware of that. Competition for athletic scholarships is fierce. Knowing which schools to target, and marketing the student athlete properly is really only half the battle. Keeping up with rule changes and the current time line of the process is a job unto itself.
As I mentioned previously, your student athletes should really begin to undertake this process during their freshman year. And while there are critics out there that will tell you that making the dedication to become a college athlete is one that should not be made during a player’s freshman year, I would ask you to consider the following:
It is not a commitment to play in college that your athletes will be making during their freshman year of high school, but rather a commitment to being prepared for that process if they decide to pursue their sport at the next level. Even though some athletes will decide down the line that they no longer want to invest themselves in their respective sports during college, it is far better to have the opportunity to make that decision than the alternative because they simply failed to prepare for the process earlier.
During your athlete’s freshman year, they should begin to research schools. Have them focus on schools at all levels. It’s important that they begin to understand that there are options outside of the division one level. The reality of college recruiting is that less than one percent of all high school athletes will go on to compete at the DI level. The sooner your athletes become realistic about what their opportunities might be, the easier it will be for them to begin to move towards finding out which schools might be the best fit for them. Ideally your players should leave their freshman year with a short list of colleges at all the different division levels that they want to begin to target during their sophomore year. In addition to identifying possible schools of interest, it is important for you players to review the NCAA Guide for College Bound Student Athlete. This will give them a general overview of the recruiting process and more importantly it will open their eyes to the idea that they also need to focus on their academics as well since there are specific standards they must meet to become eligible to play at the next level.
As your athletes enter their sophomore year, it will be time for them to start to reach out to the programs on their short list. It’s a little known recruiting rule that student athletes, regardless of their age/grade level, can initiate contact with coaches at any time. Although coaches will have to wait until players reach their junior year (depending on the sport) before they can start to send out recruiting materials, there is no reason why players can’t begin to call schools to introduce themselves and express interest in their programs. Ideally your athlete should be looking to schedule an unofficial visit with these universities to get on campus and experience the schools first hand. It’s important to note that there may not be much contact with coaches on these visits, but they still should be viewed as a valuable way to educate themselves on the potential school of interest. Remember, the earlier your athlete can figure out what they’re truly looking for out of their college experience, the easier it will be for them to narrow their options down at a later point in the process. This will allow them to more effectively deal with the volume of schools that will begin to contact them.
Once your athletes enter their junior year, there should be no more red lights with the recruiting process. Coaches can begin to contact players both through mail, and during the latter part of the year, phone calls. After your athlete’s junior season is complete they should deliver their game film to any and all coaches that they have an interest in playing for. Starting early will allow them to have already initiated contact with several programs and the coaches should be expecting their film. This will allow coaches to get a jump on their evaluations of your players, and they should hopefully receive some early decisions on where they stand on the coaches recruiting board.
It’s important to remember that collegiate recruiting is a process. It’s not an event. Your players will need to work through the various steps to find success. Getting started early will allow them to take all the necessary steps to put themselves in position for success. You wouldn’t plan to show up in the third quarter of a game and expect to win. If you apply the same logic to recruiting, your athletes will be in a better position to find the right college fit athletically and academically.