There are more than 480,000 high school athletes competing in track and field, but only 2.7% go on to compete at the NCAA Division 1 level, 1.5% at Division 2 and 1.9% at Division 3. The competition doesn’t end there—about 9% of all international student-athletes compete in NCAA Division 1 women’s track and field, making up about 2% of Division 1 rosters. So, exactly what year in high school does recruiting begin for track and field? It’s the question every student-athlete asks. While elite programs evaluate underclassmen, most coaches are actively recruiting and making verbal offers during junior and senior years.
Furthermore, each program and coach has a specific benchmark, known as scholarship standards, that they look for in recruits. Families should use these standards to help them train toward a specific goal and build a realistic target list. Student-athletes who are successful in their recruiting research their best college fit, create an online profile and video that highlights their technique and form and email college coaches.
The NCAA regulates when college coaches can contact student-athletes. NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 coaches can personally reach out, including emailing, calling and texting, beginning June 15 after sophomore year. Even though NCAA Division 3 and NAIA coaches aren’t required to follow a communication timeline, they typically recruit during junior and senior year when ACT and SAT test scores are posted. In fact, NCAA research shows that 82% of track and field recruits first connect with a coach during their junior and senior year.
It’s important to know that these rules don’t mark when recruiting starts—they’re simply designated dates for when coaches can initiate contact. Before this time, many college coaches—especially at elite programs—are evaluating athletes and building their top list of prospects. That way, when June 15 rolls around, they know exactly which student-athletes they want to start contacting.
First and foremost, college coaches look for athletes who can make an impact right away and score points at conference, regional and national meets. Bottom line: the more points an athlete can earn for the team, the more scholarship money they can earn.
During their evaluations, coaches seek out valid and accurate data. For runners, coaches prefer Fully Automatic Times (FAT) over the use of handheld or stopwatch times. Throwers should use accurate measuring tapes and specify the exact weight of their discus, shot put, javelin or hammer throw. Furthermore, coaches take note of an athlete’s training history and consistency with PRs.
Here are position-specific qualities coaches look for in track recruiting:
When it comes to track recruiting, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every coach has different requirements for their program. For example, some coaches may prefer speed over strength, while others devote more or less time on technical training and event-specific practice. It all comes down to their coaching style and program’s specific needs.
Recruiting isn’t a linear, clear-cut process. It’s possible for student-athletes to be near the end of their recruiting journey with one coach, while simultaneously just beginning it with another. However, a little strategic planning and a good understanding of the NCAA rules and calendar will help families create a communication strategy and connect with coaches. Keep these track and field recruiting tips in mind:
Here is a general guideline you can follow year-by-year to ensure your family is on track.
Each division level has a set of scholarship standards required to compete at that level. Families should have a good understanding of these standards as they set out to build their college list. Additionally, there are several factors to consider across the different divisions. Here is a quick breakdown of each:
Club track provides an opportunity to compete against top-tier recruits at a national level and gain college coach exposure. For example, USA Track & Field’s (USATF) indoor and outdoor Youth and Junior Olympic Championships series offers a variety of meets where the most elite amateur athletes advance to the National Championships in both track and field and cross-country. Club also extends an athlete’s season, which can make a difference when it comes to improving PR’s. Overall, just under one-third of athletes competed on a track club team in high school.
That being said, state championships at the high school level are another great opportunity for student-athletes to showcase their talent to college coaches. When it comes down to it, coaches want to see how an athlete performs (and if they’re consistent) under pressure against high quality competition.
Producing a track and field recruiting video isn’t as important as having verified, accurate times and marks. However, a highlight video that showcases and athlete’s technique and form, especially for jumpers and throwers, can help student-athletes get on a coach’s radar and secure an in-depth evaluation. Here are a few key elements that every recruit should follow when shooting their video:
Sprinters should record through all phases of block work (mark, set, release, push, drive and acceleration phase). Be sure to get a front view, side view and rear view of the total race. It is also important to get a side taping of their chest work at the finish.
Jumpers and Vaulters should focus on foot placement consistency, film from the open side of the jump (right side jumpers will be taped from the left) and show off both the runway approach and position in the air. In both high and long jump, the “P” (or penultimate step) is very important for evaluation, so make sure you are close enough to show this step. Show 10 to 15 jumps total.
Throwers should include an aerial view—letting coaches see the rotation of the throw—focusing on their footwork and include distances after each throw. Show 10-15 throws for consistency of skill and footwork. Mark distances (or give approximates) for 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. Film front, rear and side views.
Middle Distance/Distance runners should show off their start, cut-in expertise and overall aggressiveness, strength and stamina. Cross country runners should send footage of the 1600M or 3200M rather than 5K courses, which are difficult to tape.
Student-athletes don’t have to tackle their recruiting process alone. Their high school or club coach can support them along the way. Here’s how:
Families should consider every factor—academics, athletics, personal preferences and cost—when researching schools and creating a target list. Student-athletes need to determine which division level is their best fit from an athletic standpoint. And then the next step is to create a list of 25-30 schools and contact college coaches to narrow down their list to a more manageable selection. Casting a wide net and being open to new opportunities is the best approach to take. Families should organize their college list into three categories:
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.