Student-athletes tend to think of the more glamorous moments, like shaking hands with a coach at a match or visiting a college campus, when they picture the wrestling recruiting process. But before getting to this point, wrestling recruits who are successful in their recruiting journey do the leg work: they build a list of realistic schools, create an online profile and highlight film, contact college coaches and compete in tournaments.
Wrestling recruiting can take a lot of time and effort. That’s why it’s important for student-athletes to be as efficient as possible. Knowing the specific criteria that college coaches look for in every division, from NCAA Division 1 to NAIA, will help recruits find the right college fit. Sure, coaches aim to recruit the top high school wrestlers in the country, but outside of athletics, they zero in on student-athletes with outstanding grades and test scores who demonstrate leadership qualities in every aspect of their life. Even more, it’s essential for student-athletes to understand the wrestling recruiting rules so they can map out when coaches can contact them and establish relationships from the get-go.
Not to mention that recruiting is a two-way street. It’s just as important for the student-athlete to love the school, campus life and academic experience, in addition to the athletic program. That’s why this college wrestling recruiting guide details all the important factors that go into making your college decision. So, whether you’ve just started your recruiting journey or are already talking with college coaches, this section can help you put your best foot forward.
One of the first questions student-athletes ask us as they begin their recruiting journey is, “When can college coaches contact me?” The NCAA issues a recruiting calendar each academic year that regulates when—and how—coaches can talk to recruits. For college wrestling recruiting, contact officially starts on June 15 between sophomore year and junior year in high school.
NCAA research shows that the majority of men’s wrestling recruits receive their first communication from a college coach during their junior year. But as a result of the NCAA rule changes, this recruiting timeline has shifted earlier. Here’s what happened: the 2019 rules enforced by the NCAA set out to end early recruiting in several sports where athletes were getting offers as early as freshman year. But historically, early recruiting hasn’t been a prevalent issue in men’s wrestling, so as a result, coaches are now reaching out to athletes earlier than before, and athletes are participating in official visits earlier, as well. Understanding the NCAA wrestling recruiting calendar, as well as the effects of the NCAA wrestling recruiting rules, will help student-athletes maximize their opportunity of connecting with a coach.
From NCAA Division 1 to NAIA, every coach has a specific set of criteria that they’re looking for in a wrestling recruit—and it goes beyond the mat. When evaluating student-athletes, coaches consider academics, leadership qualities and potential just as much as athletic technique. After all, securing a college roster spot is limited, with only 2.9 percent of high school wrestlers moving on to compete in college wrestling. This section will help student-athletes understand what coaches are looking for at each division level, how to lock down in-person evaluations, when to connect with coaches and what to expect when it comes to the different weight classes in college wrestling.
A full ride scholarship is the dream, right? Here’s the thing: they’re rare. All 265 colleges that offer wrestling scholarships operate on an equivalency model, meaning coaches are given a maximum number of scholarships they can award. For example, in NCAA Division 1, the average team size is 32 athletes and coaches have 9.9 scholarships available (schools that aren’t fully funded have even less). Therefore, to make the most of their funds, coaches usually award partial scholarships, leaving student-athletes to pay for some or most of their college costs. To offset these costs, recruits with solid grades, high test scores and extracurricular activities under their belt can also qualify for grants, merit-based scholarships and academic scholarships. Student-athletes who have their sights set on a wrestling scholarship need to be proactive in their recruiting so they can be evaluated by college coaches early on.
College wrestling coaches don’t have the time to see every wrestling recruit in person, which is why a highlight video is such an important part of your online resume.
A well-made highlight video illustrates what a high school wrestling recruit has to offer in just a couple of minutes, but for your highlight video to be effective, you need to know exactly what coaches are looking for.
Wrestling camps and tournaments are an essential part of a student-athlete’s recruiting journey for two reasons. First, they help level set expectations by allowing recruits to see how they match up against wrestlers from across the country. But more importantly, they provide an opportunity to be evaluated in-person by a college coach. Like many aspects of the wrestling recruiting process, picking the right camp and tournament takes some research and planning. For example, some tournaments follow traditional Folkstyle rules, while others compete using Freestyle and Greco Roman. In this section, we cover which tournaments attract the most talented recruits and college coaches from across the country.
Between the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA, more than 500 colleges offer men’s wrestling. When it comes to searching for the best college fit, there are several factors that student-athletes and their families need to think about outside of athletics, including academics, campus life and college costs. For example, athletes looking to stay close to home should know that several top wrestling programs are situated in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Even more, late bloomers or athletes who decided to pursue college wrestling later in their high school career might find that NAIA and JUCO programs allow them to continue competing while earning a college degree.
While NCSA provides student-athletes with an in-depth recruiting education, there are several wrestling recruiting websites that families can turn to when looking for advice. Websites like USA Wrestling, FloWrestling, and The Open Mat can keep you informed about news and major events in the men’s wrestling community. For men’s wrestling recruiting rankings, student-athletes can visit NCSA’s Power Rankings, or the NCAA website.
Insider tip: Despite the impact that coronavirus had on college sports, as of June 1, 2021, the NCAA resumed its regular recruiting rules and activity! Coaches are actively working to fill their rosters, so student-athletes should be proactive in reaching out to coaches. Read up on how the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes who were most affected by the pandemic in 2020 will impact future recruiting classes.