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How to Get Recruited for Men’s Track and Field

Men’s track and field recruiting—like any college sport—is very competitive, leaving many student-athletes and their families wondering when and where to start.

  • 600,000+ men’s track and field athletes compete at the high school level annually
  • Less than 29,000—4.8 percent—go on to compete at the NCAA D1, D2 or D3 level
    • D1: 1.9 percent (about 11,400 athletes)
    • D2: 1.2 percent (about 7,200 athletes)
    • D3: 1.7 percent (about 10,200 athletes)
  • 9 percent of D1 and 5 percent of D2 men’s track and field recruits are international student-athletes
  • Nearly 4,000 athletes go on to compete at the NAIA level  
  • About 2,300 athletes also go on to compete at the NJCAA level

What makes track and field unique in the world of collegiate sports is that there is no “typical” track recruiting process. Student-athletes have to be aware of the track and field recruiting rules based on where they live, as well as where they hope to compete. Additionally, every track event is recruited and scouted differently—a distance runner will have to fit different criteria than a shot putter or hurdler. 

Regardless of when or where you start, or what events you compete in, all potential recruits should be proactive and take charge of their own recruiting. College coaches can’t find all of their recruits on their own, so it’s a must for student-athletes to identify and narrow down their target schools, work hard to improve their athletic stats and stay on track in the classroom, too.  

Knowing how to get recruited for college track and field will allow you to gain an edge over potential recruits who may not be as familiar with the process. In this section, we’ve outlined the major steps involved in the recruiting process, complete with track and field recruiting tips, recruiting timelines and the key features, like a track and field recruiting video, you need to navigate the track and field recruiting process.

Find out more about NCAA track and field.

What year in high school does recruiting begin for track and field?

The track and field recruiting process can begin whenever a student-athlete decides that they want to pursue their sport at the college level. There are no restrictions on requesting or receiving admissions materials, such as college brochures and pamphlets, camp invites or on filling out athletic recruiting questionnaires

According to a 2017 NCAA study, which surveyed over 600 D1 men’s track and field student-athletes, only about 18 percent of high school underclassmen reported receiving contact from a college coach. If you’re an underclassman who hasn’t heard from a college coach yet, it’s okay. Forty-three percent of surveyed athletes reported that their first contact with a college coach occurred during their junior year of high school, followed closely by 39 percent during senior year. However, this survey was conducted before the new NCAA rules went into effect in 2019. 

In 2019, the NCAA adopted new rules to curb the rise of early recruiting—for most sports. The current rules state that D1 track and field college coaches can start reaching out to prospective student-athletes as early as June 15 after their sophomore year. For track and field recruiting, the new rules shifted the timeline up by a few months—previously, any contact was prohibited until September 1 of an athlete’s junior year—meaning that these changes may speed up the recruiting timeline. 

So, how is it possible to get a head start on track and field recruiting if there is zero off-campus communication allowed between a coach and a recruit before June 15 of an athlete’s sophomore year? 

It’s important to remember that these rules only apply to D1 programs and coaches. While D2 recruiting timelines are similar to those at the D1 level, athletes are still able to reach out to D2 and D3 coaches and to NAIA and JUCO programs. Also, there is still plenty to do when managing your recruiting process. You’ll have to stay on top of your to-do’s during every season, make sure you’re on track to meet eligibility requirements, and stick to a regular workout schedule to improve your PRs.

You can also:

  • Research the best men’s track and field programs at every division level.
  • Focus on getting verified, accurate measurables to add to your profile.
  • Explore competitive track and field meets and championships—so you’ll have an idea of the level of competition outside of your high school or local area.
  • Continue to set goals for upcoming high-school, club or competition track and field meets.

Based on the new rules, track recruiting will begin to pick up speed for rising juniors and seniors. For D1 programs, off-campus contact, official visits and unofficial visits are allowed starting August 1 before an athlete’s junior year. This means that coaches will be able to meet with potential recruits at their homes or high schools, invite them for a fully funded campus tour or meet with them on campus to talk more about their recruitment.

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What college track coaches look for in recruits

What do college coaches look for during track and field recruiting? For prospective track and field athletes, it often comes down to stats. Potential recruits will either have the times, distances and/or heights to compete at the college level or need to put in the time and effort to improve and get to that level. 

Here are four ways to stand out in the track and field process: 

  • Valid and accurate data. For runners, coaches prefer Fully Automatic Times (FAT) over the use of handheld or stopwatch times. For throwers, make sure you’re using accurate measuring tapes and don’t forget to specify the exact weight of your discus, shot put, javelin or hammer throw.
  • No guesstimating. Coaches don’t want to see projected or estimated times. If you had a great indoor time, don’t report it as a projection for the outdoor equivalent. Report your best times/marks in the specific events you achieved them.
  • Training history. Coaches want to know how long you’ve been competing in your event—did you just start running recently? How long have you been a hurdler? Did you start in high school, middle school or even earlier?
  • Accessible information. They want to see a recruit’s contact information, GPA, test scores and measurables all in one place—coaches don’t want to waste time looking for or requesting this info.

When it comes to landing a roster spot, or even getting scholarship money, all programs, regardless of division level, also have their own needs and coaching philosophies. For instance, some college coaches:

  • Prefer strength over speed, and vice versa
  • Focus on team building or bonding activities—making sure potential recruits will fit in with the team dynamic despite competing in more individualized events
  • Devote more or less time to technical training and event-specific practices 
  • Value a recruit’s character over their athletic abilities
  • Believe in different coaching styles—from motivating and educating athletes to do their best to pushing them to their limits during grueling practices 

Coaches will also be evaluating a prospective athlete’s ability to meet the academic requirements for admission, and their capacity to maintain their eligibility once in school. To succeed throughout the track recruiting process, potential recruits will need to understand the track and field scholarship standards for their top schools and how to balance their sport with their academic strengths to find the best college fit. 

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College track and field recruiting tips

Recruits interested in competing at the collegiate level should take the lead when it comes to track and field recruiting. It’s important for college coaches to see that a potential recruit is the one invested in and leading the process, not their parents or high school coaches. Track and field recruits should be the ones reaching out to and communicating with coaches, arranging visits and working to ensure their grades and test scores are up to par. 

Despite track and field recruiting revving up during junior and senior years of high school, athletes should also be prepared to do the bulk of their recruiting beforehand, including creating and maintaining an online profile, researching schools and working on their PRs to get the best times/marks for their track and field recruiting video. That way, when it comes time to communicate with college coaches and go on college visits, you’ll be more prepared and ready to navigate the track recruiting process. 

Going on college campus visits is one of the more exciting parts of the track recruiting process. Prospective student-athletes will most likely go on a mix of official and unofficial visits. Both visits are allowed any time after August 1 before a student-athlete’s junior year. Does this mean that track recruits are prohibited from attending a track meet or touring a local campus? No—but for D1 programs, they won’t be allowed to meet or talk with a college coach if they decide to visit before this date. Recruits should explore their options and make as many campus visits or take part in the growing popularity of online campus tours, as they can to make the most informed decision possible about their college destination.

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The college track and field recruiting timeline 

We’ve outlined a few key dates below that are instrumental to the track and field recruiting process, but a more detailed overview can also be found in our 2019-20 NCAA Men’s Track and Field Recruiting Rules and Calendar.

  • Any time—even as a freshman or sophomore: Prospective athletes can go on unofficial visits to D2, D3 and NAIA schools.
  • June 15 after sophomore year: D1 coaches are allowed to communicate with potential recruits and send private messages, including emails, texts, social DMs and phone calls. D2 coaches can also start making off-campus contact with potential recruits.
  • August 1 before junior year: D1 coaches are allowed to make off-campus contact with prospective track and field recruits at their school, at home or at track meets. Additionally, recruits can set up and go on official and unofficial visits.
  • January 1 of junior year: D3 coaches can begin hosting recruits on official campus visits.
  • National Signing Day—November 13, 2019: This is the day you can officially sign your National Letter of Intent with the school of your choice! The NCAA, NAIA and junior college governing bodies designate the second Wednesday in November each fall as National Signing Day. Remember – this is just the first day you can sign – the period goes until August the following year.

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What division level is right for me?

Scholarship standards for men’s track and field vary depending on the level of competition you wish to pursue. We offer divisional breakdowns of the performances required to attract recruiting interest and scholarship opportunities across the various levels of college track and field, as well as the general standards necessary to pursue walk-on opportunities at colleges on the level of your choosing. Remember, while these stats are meant to help guide you to your best division fit, they are not the only factors coaches consider when recruiting. College coaches also look at a potential recruit’s character, academic abilities and overall coachability, too. 

It’s important for potential recruits to consider what type of college experience they want. There is a big difference between playing at the NCAA D1 level in terms of time and energy spent on the sport compared to other division levels. Track and field recruits should note that for D1 athletics, their world will revolve around the sport for the next four years, while attending a D3 or NAIA school may allow them to pursue other interests, such as an internship, double-major or study-abroad opportunity.

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Club track versus high school track

There are certainly benefits to competing for both high school and club teams to maximize your visibility to college coaches during the track and field recruiting process. State championships at the high school level, as well as regional and national championships at the club level, are typically the best opportunity for you to showcase your talent to college coaches.

Similarly, many track and field organizations offer prospective recruits a chance to compete against the best of the best within their age groups and get noticed by college coaches. USA Track & Field’s (USATF) indoor and outdoor Youth and Junior Olympic Championships series offer a variety of meets where the most elite amateur athletes advance to the National Championships in both track and field and cross-country, allowing them to be recognized nationally and even worldwide. 

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Do I need a track and field recruiting video? 

Producing a great track and field recruiting video isn’t as important as having verified, accurate times and marks. This doesn’t necessarily mean recruits shouldn’t have a video at all, but hurdlers, jumpers and throwers would benefit more from having one more than distance runners and sprinters. However, track and field recruiting videos can still help a prospective student-athlete get noticed by coaches who would otherwise not get the chance to see or evaluate their scores. 

While the type of footage prospective athletes choose to include in their track and field recruiting video will depend largely on the events they participate in, there are a few key elements that every recruit should follow when shooting their video. 

  • Keep the video short: three to five minutes max and no more than three races/meets. A coach’s time is limited, so don’t lose their attention.
  • Film from the closest location possible to the event, avoid shaky or obstructed footage, and make sure you’re in focus and clear view 
  • Don’t waste time on an intro and music—coaches generally don’t care about these additions.

Once you’ve gotten the basics down, focus on position-specific skills and techniques that coaches wouldn’t be able to see just from looking at your times or marks: 

  • Sprinters should record through all phases of block work (mark, set, release, push, drive and acceleration phase).
  • Jumpers and Vaulters should focus on foot placement consistency, film from the open side of the jump and show off both the runway approach and position in the air.
  • Throwers should include an aerial view—letting coaches see the rotation of the throw—focusing on their footwork and include distances after each throw.
  • Hurdlers will want to zoom in on their lead leg, trail leg and arm drive along with block work; 300m and 400m athletes will also want to demonstrate their lane efficiency.
  • Middle Distance/Distance runners should show off their start, cut-in expertise and overall aggressiveness, strength and stamina.

Read more tips about how to make your best track and field recruiting video.

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Your coach’s role in the recruiting process 

Prospective student-athletes should understand that their ultimate success in choosing the best college fit during the track and field recruiting process is a result of the effort they put in along the way. For most athletes, their club or high school coach can advocate on their behalf and be a valuable resource in navigating their recruitment process. 

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Researching schools and creating a target list

You should evaluate colleges based on athletic, academic, social and financial fit. Your approach should be simple and straightforward: do plenty of research and cast a wide net. Determining the division level that best fits your performance level is the first step. The next step is to then put together a list of target schools you wish to attend. Start with a list of 25-30 schools and begin contacting college coaches to narrow down your list to a more manageable selection of your preferred schools. While putting together your list, organize it into the following categories: 

  • 5-10 safety schools: These are the schools that should be easy to get into both athletically and academically. While they may not be your top choices, student-athletes would be comfortable going to school there for four years.
  • 10-15 target schools: Target schools are your top picks, athletically and academically. Student-athletes should have a good shot at getting into these schools and should get excited at the thought of attending them.
  • 5-10 reach schools: Maybe it’s the price tag or the fact that they’re academically or athletically competitive; whatever the reason, these programs might be just out of reach. For most recruits, this list is comprised of D1 and academically rigorous colleges.

The best path forward is creating as many opportunities as possible, which means starting out with more schools on the list. As recruits start communicating with college coaches and learning more about division levels, college campuses and athletic programs, some might bump up a few spots on the list, and others might drop off entirely. Keep checking back on your target list and update it regularly every few weeks as you do more research, explore more options, and as your athletic, academic, social and/or financial preferences change. 

Not sure where to start? Check out the NCSA Power Rankings, which recognize the “Best Colleges for Student-Athletes” at every division level. 

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