The Ins and Outs of Camps, Combines and Other Events
Every year, student-athletes from around the country participate in sports camps, combines, tournaments and showcases to sharpen their skills and gain exposure to college coaches. Coaches value the opportunity to see the best of the best compete. The more chances they have to evaluate a player, the more likely they will be to recruit them. Attending these types of events can be a crucial step in your recruiting process, but it’s important to know how to make them worth your while, as they can be fairly costly and time consuming.
Breaking down the different events
The types of events you can attend vary by sport, but here are the main categories:
- Camps: At the middle school and early high school level, camps are focused on fundamentals and building skills under the instruction of (usually) a high school coach. As the student-athlete advances, they can attend college camps, which give them a chance to play in front of college coaches who might want to recruit them. These can sometimes be invite-only.
- Combines: These events are held to test student-athletes’ athleticism. They usually involve specific conditioning drills that assess speed, strength and overall skill (e.g., the 40-yard dash for football). Combines and showcases do not typically require an invitation and are mostly attended by third parties that can help student-athletes get exposure, not coaches.
- Showcases: These events usually include both sport-specific drills and actual competitions.
- Tournaments: Usually put on by third parties, tournaments give college coaches a chance to see top recruits compete against each other.
How do I choose which camps and combines to attend?
Most camps and combines will let anyone attend, but that doesn’t mean you should attend all of them. Your time is limited, and the costs for these types of events can add up. Plus, you need to be honest with yourself about your own abilities. If you’re not likely to play Division I, it’s largely pointless to attend a camp at a DI school with DI-level recruits.
Insider tip: If you’re a freshman or sophomore, it’s wise to focus your event efforts on camps that target skill development. There’s no real need to attend a combine or showcase at this grade level, as your athleticism will change and you won’t be providing coaches with your numbers until later.
By the time you’re ready to attend camps and combines, you should have your list of target schools. Ideally, you’ll also already be in contact with the coaching staff at those schools. As you build your relationship with the coaches, it’s wise to ask them which camps and combines they plan to attend. That way, you will know ahead of time that the schools you’re interested in will have a presence where you’ll be showcasing your talents. There’s nothing worse than hoping to be evaluated at a camp only to find out that none of the coaches likely to recruit you were there to see you.
Insider tip: For DI and DII recruits, make sure the event you’re looking to attend is not during a quiet or dead period. Learn more about the NCAA’s recruiting calendars.
For more help on figuring out which camps, combines and showcases to attend, check out NCSA’s Director of Regional Recruiting–and former D1 and professional football player–Julian Jenkins break down how to choose the right event, how to prepare for recruiting events and how to build relationships with college coaches.
Do I need to get invited to a camp or combine?
For the most part, camps and combines require no invitation. There are elite showcase camps and sponsored camps that are invite-only, but those are mostly for top performers. If you receive an invitation to a camp, that does not necessarily mean you are a top recruit. Coaches invite hundreds of student-athletes to their summer camps because they help financially support the program. It’s up to you to be smart about which camps and combines to attend based on your skill level and schools of interest.
Insider tip: If you receive an invite to a camp, do not ignore the invitation. If you will not be in attendance, decline and thank the coach who invited you. Your behavior in these small moments leaves good impressions on coaches who might someday work at a program you’re interested in.
How do I get noticed at a camp?
Performing well at a camp or combine isn’t an automatic guarantee that you will be recruited. There are certainly instances of unknown student-athletes wowing coaches at a camp and getting an offer shortly after, but coaches are much more holistic when evaluating potential recruits. A camp superstar with poor academics and a bad attitude is not likely to make it to the college level.
To put yourself in the best position to succeed at a camp or combine, you should first make sure the coaches you want to notice you will be there. This can be as easy as sending a quick email reminding them you’re going.
Give it everything you’ve got while you’re playing, but be aware that coaches are evaluating much more than your athletic abilities. Every moment you’re at a camp or combine is fair game for assessment. That means your attitude when you’re off the ball, your demeanor when grabbing water or picking up equipment, and the way you talk to other potential recruits. Learn more about how coaches evaluate body language during a game.
What is the parent’s role at a recruiting event?
College coaches understand that parents play a pivotal role in the recruiting process and often attend camps, combines, showcases and other types of recruiting events to support their student-athlete. NCSA Recruiting Coach and former D1 baseball coach JC Field says that when he was recruiting athletes, he and his fellow coaches looked for “parents who are involved because they are the biggest fans and on the road with us. Their role is to be there and help [their athlete] through this process.”
However, parents are often surprised to hear that college coaches don’t just evaluate student-athletes at recruiting events—they evaluate parents, too.
Here’s what parents should avoid doing at recruiting events to ensure a coach’s main focus remains on their athlete:
- Acting like nobody’s watching. Whether a parent is in line at the concession stand or sitting in the bleachers, they should act as if a coach is always around—because they most likely are. In these moments, a parent’s behavior becomes a reflection of their entire family, including their athlete. Even if an athlete isn’t interested in getting recruited by the coach or coaches running the event, coaches have a widespread network, and word travels fast.
- Helicopter-parenting. It’s a phrase that’s often used by coaches to describe parents that are (or appear to be!) overbearing or intrusive. Coaches don’t like to see parents coaching their athlete from the sidelines, complaining to or with other parents or even worse–parents yelling at coaches or officials about playing time or about a certain call.
- Not knowing the rules. We see it happen all the time: a parent approaches a coach at an event, only to be cut off or ignored completely. Rest assured that the coach isn’t being rude, they’re likely just following NCAA contact rules. Depending on the coach’s sport or division level, there are plenty of times throughout the year—called evaluation periods—when NCAA D1 and D2 coaches can watch athletes compete live but aren’t allowed to talk to them or their parents in-person.
- Introducing themselves or approaching a coach at the wrong time. If you have to ask, “Is now a bad time?”, it’s a bad time. Parents shouldn’t try to chat up a coach just as the event is starting or while they’re coaching. One of the best times to reach out to the coach is shortly after the event—athletes are typically in the locker room and you can have a quick word as the coaches have a little down-time.
Insider Tip: Parents can–and should–connect with a coach during an event, especially if the athlete already knows or has a good relationship with the coach. It’s okay for a parent to approach a coach and introduce themselves—a straightforward “Hi Coach, I’m so-and-so’s mom/dad” will do! If a coach is interested, they’ll keep the conversation going.
At the end of the day, a college coach is recruiting the athlete, not the parent, but a parents bad attitude or unsportsmanlike actions can also end up hurting their athlete’s chances of getting recruited. Parents should make sure they’re making a good impression for themselves and their athlete.
For more tips, watch NCSA’s Regional Director of Recruiting and former D1 track and field athlete Paul Putnam break down a parent’s role in the recruiting process, including what they should do at recruiting events:
The critical last step: following up
Your work doesn’t end after you return home from a camp or combine. Following up with a coach after you attend their university camp or receive new combine numbers is key to staying on their radar and building your relationship. Ask the coach directly if they had a chance to evaluate you and if they had any feedback. It’s OK to ask where you stand in their recruiting class.
Keep contact rules and calendars in mind when reaching out to coaches.
Insider tip: If you took new video of your performance at a camp or combine, now is a good time to update your highlight video and let coaches know.
Ready to find your big event?
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