Early Recruiting: Seeing It from the Other Side

By Sue Stimmel, Associate Head Lacrosse Coach at Upper Arlington High School

After more than 25 years as a college coach and athlete, I began teaching high school mathematics and coaching high school lacrosse. When recruiting for a Division I collegiate lacrosse program, I thought I understood high school students. After 4 years as a high school teacher/coach, I have concluded I really did not have a clear picture at all!

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Kids and High Schools Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting

If you spend time daily with high school freshmen, you would determine quickly that they are clueless about high school, social development, individual identity… even personal hygiene. They want to be independent, yet need an overwhelming amount of guidance and direction. The maturity observed between underclassmen and upperclassmen is stunning. Their bodies change. They begin to have an idea of who they are and who they want to be. Seniors often reflect on decisions/things they did as an underclassman and laugh. The best part of teaching seniors, especially those I also taught as freshmen and sophomores, is the ability to see how they have evolved individually and to be able to have more mature and candid discussions. And even interacting with seniors, I realize how naive they still are. I feel early recruiting is bad because kids need time to grow without developmentally inappropriate external pressures. They are not ready!

In addition to these pressures, early recruiting discourages multi-sport participation, resulting in less well rounded athletes, specialization in one sport, and overuse injuries. Early recruiting also introduces a social dynamic to high school teams that focuses on individual performance. This is a time when kids should be learning to work with others, learning to deal with adversity, and forming lifelong friendships.

Parents Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting

Communities that offer a wide array of athletic opportunities for young children are good for physical and psychological development. However, specialization at an early age through year round travel teams and camps creates a financial burden. This may also create emotional stress on the parent/child relationship. Even in conversations with parents who have had older children go through the college decision process without athletic involvement, they report feeling much more overwhelmed. They feel pressured to visit multiple colleges to create early interest and to make significant decisions without all the desired information, fearing their window of opportunity may close. The timing of these visits supersede family, academics, and athletic schedules. A well rounded student-athlete needs a balanced academic and social experience in addition to athletics. Early recruiting creates unnecessary pressure at a time when balance is already difficult to achieve.

Colleges Do Not Benefit from Early Recruiting

The IWLCA submitted two recruiting legislative proposals to the NCAA, addressing concerns about early recruiting. Support of this proposed legislation is important for collegiate recruiters. In my opinion, the potential negative effect on the individual athlete, family, and high school far outweighs the perceived benefits of early recruiting. Early recruiting is likely to result in recruited athletes who are not vested in the decision but lack the maturity to navigate subsequent change. With early specialization, I am seeing more and more overuse injuries at the high school level. Because of this students are more likely to arrive on campus with chronic injuries. Others may arrive burned out. College coaches are more likely to miss economically disadvantaged kids, who cannot afford camps, visits, and travel teams. Late bloomers are heavily penalized. College coaches are forced to make decisions without knowing the dynamics of a future team. This creates a false sense of security for both athletes and coaches because significant change in four years is inevitable.

In the past high school athletes played multiple sports for fun. By the time they were looking at colleges, if they excelled at one of their sports they went on to play at the next level. Exceptional athletes received scholarships. However, at some point playing in middle/high school became a means to an end. When I ask high school athletes why they quit a sport, many reply because they do not want to play in college or that they are not good enough to play in college. When did one become a vehicle for the other?

There are so many things that are great about scholastic athletics, but early recruiting is not one of them. It creates external pressures that are subversive to healthy adolescent development. No one wins.

Sue Stimmel is currently a math teacher at Franklin Heights High School and the Associate Head Lacrosse Coach at Upper Arlington High School, the 2013 and 2015 State Champions. She coached collegiately for 21 years, including 15 as the head coach at the Ohio State University.

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4 thoughts on “Early Recruiting: Seeing It from the Other Side

  1. Great article!

    We see this all the time among our martial arts students. Kids and teens come into our program, develop confidence, strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination and feel athletic enough to add other sports and/or want the socialization that comes with participating in their school’s extracurricular activities.

    Despite our flexible schedule to accommodate a well-rounded life, other sports begin to require more and more practices until it’s an every day commitment for each sport and if they want to do a team sport they’re forced to choose just one activity at a young age.

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  2. I am the parent of an early recruit and I would like to offer the following:

    1) If early recruiting isn’t good for anyone, why is it so prevalent?

    2) Knowing where your child is going to college can make life more calm and pleasant. Yes, we can all cite the cases of superstar student-athletes who have such ability they can hold off making a college decision and everyone will wait, but the majority of them will cite the constant stress they were under and the vast majority of recruitable athletes are not this caliber, anyway. As parents, we teach our kids that when opportunity knocks, open the door. Except for a very small microcosm of a very small microcosm, opportunity will knock before you’re ready.

    3) I had to laugh when this article cited that, with underclassmen, a) college coaches will need to make a decision without all of the information they would like, b) student-athletes will need to make a decision without all the information they would like, and c) a lot can change in four years. Hmmm, welcome to “life”.

    4) It’s not like lacrosse is unique. There are recruiting patterns in other sports that give an indication of what’s to come here. The NCAA will set the rules for recruiting and coaches will rub right up against them because they have to in order to remain competitive. Lecturing student-athletes and their parents about the “evils” of early recruiting does nothing to change the college recruiting dynamic – only NCAA rules will do that. If you’re middle schooler happens to be an awesome 7′ basketball player, brace for being recruited in middle school. If your middle schooler has incredible hand-eye coordination and is a wall in a lacrosse goal, brace for being recruited in middle school.

    My experience has been that everything the author says is true, but there is nothing that the student-athlete, parent, or college coach can do about it. If the NCAA says that you can only recruit upperclassmen, then that’s how it will be and the student-athlete will stop stressing over being recruited early and will focus on enjoying their high school years and multiple sports.

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  3. Though early recruiting seems bizaar and everyone talks about how evil it is, I’m still not finding any evidence of kids being damaged as a result. The example of the 8th grader from Florida signing with Syracuse: Why not??? Syracuse is a great school. I’m sure she will find something to major in that she will enjoy. I find it hard to imagine that in 5 years, she will regret that decision and think she should have gone elsewhere…

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