Athletic Recruiting News Worthy Starting Early

These Colleges Coaches Are Examining How To Recruit Young Athletes

young athlete
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In theory — and according to NCAA regulations — the amount of contact college coaches should have with student-athletes prior to their senior year is really restricted.

That’s because in the history of recruiting, colleges were racing to get younger and younger athletes to join their rosters. (Our founder, Chris Krause, wrote about this in his definitive guide to recruiting, Athletes Wanted.)

Sound familiar?

We keep seeing stories about break out stars, and the college who race to be first to talk to them. We wrote about this when two sixth-grade boys were uploaded to Rivals.com. And we talked to the New York Times in 2014 about eighth graders who have been verbally committed.

Does recruiting young athletes help college coaches?

But racing to get younger and younger athletes isn’t helping anyone — even college coaches. A New York Times article today describes how women’s lacrosse, softball, men’s lacrosse, and all Ivy League universities are trying to curb early recruitment.

As the athletic director of Harvard, Bob Scalise, wrote in an open letter to the NCAA in October,

In today’s recruiting environment, the sooner a college coach can commit a player, the sooner that athlete comes off the market. Moreover, parents today are increasingly acting as agents in the recruiting process and marketing their children to college coaches with the goal of locking down athletic scholarships or admissions commitments. Students-athletes, experiencing pressure from both sides, feel like they must leap at the first opportunity or risk it passing them by.

This is a serious problem for student-athletes, their classmates, high schools, and the recruiting institution on many levels. Students who are too young to know what they want out of college are being asked to make an important decision about their future without taking the necessary time to mature, explore their interests, meet their athletic potential, or understand their full range of options.

For coaches, there’s a trade-off in the gambit of an early verbal commitment.

The pros:

  • A verbal commitment typically takes a student-athlete “off the market.” (Although, as we’ve covered here, decommitment from a verbal commitment can and does happen.)
  • There’s one less roster spot to worry about filling in an upcoming class.
  • As long as the student-athlete continues to develop their skills, they will have a talented individual playing for their team.

But all of these are counterbalanced by strong cons:

  • No one is bound by a verbal agreement. That includes both student-athletes and coaches, but it also includes the school. That’s the point Ivy League schools make in the letters they send to verbally committed student-athletes; that commitment doesn’t guarantee admission.
  • There are a lot of changes that occur in young student-athletes’ bodies and temperaments in high school. The player a coach recruited in middle school, quite literally, won’t be the same player by their senior year — for better or for worse.

Verbal commitments include a fair amount of smoke and mirrors, and are truly a gamble.

“Verbal commitments are a gamble for coaches and students.” Tweet this! Tweet: Verbal commitments are a gamble for coaches *and* student-athletes. @ncsa Coaches are sick of recruiting young athletes bit.ly/1m8E7hu

Will the student-athlete still be a great fit for the roster? Will the academic programs and rigor of the university still match the student-athlete’s major and educational goals? Will the student-athlete want to go to the same school as an eighteen-year-old that they wanted to attend as a thirteen-, fourteen- or fifteen-year-old?

What families should understanding about coaches recruiting young athletes

As Duke’s coach of women’s lacrosse, Kerstin Kimel, told the New York Times, “If we think it’s just going to miraculously stop from getting earlier and earlier, we are kidding ourselves.”

That is: Covering these conversations about how young some student-athletes are recruited doesn’t mean that a ten-year-old softball player has no chances of playing in college if they aren’t getting looks. Or that a hockey player who doesn’t want to play in prep school needs to hang up his skates.

Rather, high school student-athletes and their families should know that these practices are occurring – for a certain tier of athlete.

And understanding how much you’re being recruited can help your family set realistic expectations about the recruiting process. (This fun and short quiz can help you understand your level of recruitment.)

The problem with the way athletic recruiting scales younger and younger is similar to conversations parents have about all aspects of their child’s life: Is private school worth it? And to what extent – is private school kindergarten worth it? Are all of these extracurricular activities helping your student-athlete pursue their interests — or are they just causing stress?

Families can feel like you’re racing against a clock. And it is stressful – a lot more than it probably should be. That’s why we offer checklists, guides, webinars and more all for free — to help student-athletes and their families understand what course of action to take.


A conversation with one of our scouts can also help you sort out where you are in recruiting, and what kind of options might be available to you. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.

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About the author
Andy McKernan

Andy McKernan is the content strategist at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. A content marketer with a background in creative writing, Andy brings several years of experience to NCSA.