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How to Get Recruited for Women’s Track and Field

NCAA Suspends In-Person Recruiting Until May 31: In response to the coronavirus, the NCAA has suspended all in-person recruiting though May 31. Schools have also been asked to suspend official and unofficial visits. This time period will be treated similarly to a dead period, during which time phone calls and digital communication are still permitted. It’s possible the NCAA will decide to extend this date again. Read more here.

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.

What year in hs does recruiting begin for women’s track and field?

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.

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What women’s track coaches look for in recruits

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:

  • Sprinters: Elite sprinters who can compete over multiple events stand out.
  • Middle distance and distance runners: Because scholarships are shared between track and field teams and cross country, coaches will look for middle distance and distance runners who can compete on and score points for both teams. 
  • Throwers: Dominant throwers could mean more points at each meet. Javelin and hammer throwers are less common at the high school level, so coaches favor throwers who are willing to try new events. 
  • Elite level jumpers: Coaches look for the best jumpers who have proven they can score points on the big stage. This is especially important because these athletes usually compete in only one event. Therefore, coaches tend to reserve scholarship money specifically for their jumpers.  

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.

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Women’s college track and field recruiting tips 

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:

  • Know the qualifying times and marks needed. Coaches at each division level have a specific criteria they look for when recruiting athletes, and families should understand where they can make an impact right away. Plus, recruits who are consistent with their PR’s stand out the most.
  • Post athletic and academic resumes online. Women’s track and field college programs aren’t usually fully funded, so coaches rely on online profiles. That’s why it’s important for recruits to provide coaches with organized records of their times, statistics, academic information and track and field recruiting videos (if they have them).
  • Create track and field recruiting videos. While statistics and best times are what interest college coaches the most, creating informative track and field recruiting videos are a way to highlight form and illustrate that an athlete has good technique.
  • Excel academically. The NCAA Eligibility Center determines the academic eligibility and amateur status for all NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 athletes. Understand the requirements to stay on track.
  • Be proactive. Start by sending an introductory email that includes your online profile, best times, highlight video, academic information, and personal interest in the program. NCAA Division 1 and 2 coaches can’t reach out personally until June 15 after an athlete’s sophomore year, but they’re actively reviewing online profiles and evaluating athletes before this time.
  • Consider club. While club track isn’t necessary to getting a scholarship, it’s worth mentioning. Competing on a club team can really help track and field athletes because it essentially doubles the length of their season, which doubles their chances of improving. Not to mention it’s a great way to gain more coach exposure. 

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The college women’s track and field recruiting timeline

Here is a general guideline you can follow year-by-year to ensure your family is on track. 

Freshman year

  • Fill out questionnaires online and respond to coach materials. College coaches can send recruits general materials, such as questionnaires, camp information, non-athletic information about the school and materials published by the NCAA.
  • Meet with your guidance counselor and set academic goals for the year to keep your academic eligibility on track.
  • Research colleges from all division levels.
  • Create an online profile. 

Sophomore year

  • Post a track recruiting video to your online profile if you have competitive footage to provide.  
  • Check that your sophomore year classes meet NCAA academic eligibility standards and register for the NCAA Eligibility Center.
  • Send introductory emails to college coaches at your target colleges.
  • NCAA Division 1 and Division 2— Student-athletes can receive personal contact and recruiting materials starting June 15 after their sophomore year. Coaches can call athletes, send text messages, direct messages and emails, as well as make verbal offers. Top Division 1 athletes are getting interest from college coaches at this time, and several Division 1 and 2 programs will begin reaching out to athletes during their junior year.
  • NCAA Division 3—Off-campus contact is allowed after sophomore year. 

Junior year

  • Take the ACT or SAT and submit your scores to the NCAA Eligibility Center. Upload your transcript to the Eligibility Center, as well.
  • Update your highlight video.
  • Email college coaches with updates to your online profile and current academic standing.
  • NCAA Division 1—Recruits can take unofficial and official visits starting August 1. Many recruits will visit colleges throughout the track season to get a feel for campus life. 
  • NCAA Division 3—Official visits allowed starting January 1 of junior year.
  • If you’re not getting interest from coaches at the schools you’ve been contacting, take a new look at your college list. Most coaches are actively recruiting during the season of an athlete’s junior year. Division 1 coaches and some Division 2 coaches are wrapping up their rosters the summer after junior year.

Senior year

  • Update your highlight video.
  • NJCAA Signing Date—November 1 marks the JUCO signing period.
  • NCAA Signing Date—NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 athletes can begin signing their National Letter of Intent starting November 13, and the signing period runs until August 1.
  • Apply for the FAFSA on October 1.
  • Register with the NAIA Eligibility Center, if you’re interested in those programs.
  • Request final amateurism certification beginning April 1 in NCAA Eligibility Center account.
  • Division 3 and NAIA teams are finalizing their rosters during senior year. JUCO programs are also recruiting student-athletes at this time. Consider these schools if you haven’t secured a roster spot yet. 

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What division level is right for me? 

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: 

  • NCAA D1: D1 programs are highly competitive and being an athlete is considered a full-time job. Simply put: these are the top recruits across the country. D1 coaches can provide athletic scholarships, though most tend to be partial scholarships.
  • NCAA D2: D2 schools tend to be a mix of smaller to mid-sized public and private schools. Like Division 1, they offer athletic scholarships (mostly partial). Many student-athletes appreciate the balance between academics, athletics and social life at these institutions.
  • NCAA D3: Most of these institutions are private, and they tend to be smaller schools. D3 athletes’ schedules are not quite as demanding, so they are able to have a well-balanced college experience.
  • NAIA: NAIA schools are smaller schools, typically with student bodies of 2,000 or less. The athletic competition is closer to that of the D2 level, but there is still a good balance between academics, athletics and social life.
  • Junior College: Junior colleges offer two-year associates degrees and can also provide athletic scholarships. Many student-athletes use JUCO as a chance to improve their skills and figure out what path they would like to take athletically and academically, before competing at the highest level.

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Women’s club track versus high school track 

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.  

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Do I need a track and field recruiting video?

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:

  • If possible, station the camera on a tripod to keep it steady.
  • Avoid excessive background noise and make sure the person filming isn’t cheering.
  • Film from the closest location possible to the event, but make sure the camera view isn’t obstructed (people in stands).
  • 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.
  • Don’t add music to the highlight film. 

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.

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Your coach’s role in the recruiting process 

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:

  • Character references. College coaches want to learn as much as they can about their top recruits’ talent, including their leadership qualities and attitude. So, they call the recruit’s high school coach to talk about the athlete’s potential. That’s why it’s important for families to keep their high school coach in the loop.
  • Honest feedback. High school coaches may be the best people to turn to when student-athletes are looking for feedback during their college search. They can use a coach’s expertise and insight to create a college list of realistic programs—based on their talent and grades—where they can be a real contender.
  • Video help. Don’t hesitate to ask your coach for help when creating a highlight film. The truth is—they’ve probably done this before.

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Researching schools and creating a target list 

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:  

  • 5-10 safety schools: These are the schools that should be easy to get into both athletically and academically. While they may not be the top choice, student-athletes would be comfortable going to school there for four years.
  • 10-15 target schools: Target schools are the top picks athletically and academically. Student-athletes should have a good shot at getting into these schools and feel excited about 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.

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