Many high school and club coaches, as well as prospective student-athletes (PSAs) and their parents, find the college recruiting process difficult to navigate. Some of that is due to the myriad of NCAA rules that exist and the lack of education surrounding those rules for those engaged in the process. On top of that, each sport has a unique recruiting climate that can be greatly varied depending on the division, the type of school, or even the individual coaches involved in the process. While there is no “one size fits all” answer to your recruiting questions, there are some answers that will apply to the process no matter the sport you play or the schools you are considering. Read on to hear directly from the experts on several recruiting related topics.
The art of communicating with coaches is critical to navigate the recruiting process. There are several phases to the recruiting process, and how a recruit contacts coaches at various points will vary.
- Initial Contact – You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Almost all coaches prefer that the initial contact be made electronically (either via email or by completing a recruiting questionnaire) and be made directly by the prospect, as opposed to their parent or their coach. “We don’t have a specific preference for how we are contacted, but typically we receive the majority as email introductions from either the student-athlete or their coach. We also get several students who fill out our online questionnaire as a first contact,” said one Division III head coach. “It’s really important that the recruit provide all the important information in their first contact, including name, graduation year, club team, position, and contact info for their coaches. If we don’t get that information up front, we don’t always have time to seek it out, so the players that don’t send it are hurting their own recruiting efforts,” according to a Division I assistant coach.
- Tournament Season – During the tournament seasons (generally November and the summer months), communication is largely centered on ensuring the college coach has the information they need to be able to find you at events and evaluate your play in person (things like specific team name, jersey number, what position you’ll be playing, etc). The key to this type of communication is to do it early – before the coach hits the road to travel to recruiting events. One Division III head coach said “Every year the recruiting events are getting larger more numerous, so it can be overwhelming for both coaches and players. Typically, the Monday before an event is a great time to contact us and let us know that you will be at a certain event.” A Division II assistant shared that “if a recruit emails me the day before, or even during an event, it’s usually too late for me to watch them because my boss already made a schedule of games I need to watch.” And according to a Division I head coach, “It’s really not that difficult to send an email in a timely manner with the information I need to watch them play. But it’s amazing how many kids don’t include what I need or send it early enough to be useful.”
- Visits to Campus – As the process continues, PSAs will have the opportunity to make unofficial visits (at the prospect’s expense) to campus, and an official visit (expenses may be paid for by the institution) to campus. The dates for when a prospect is permitted to make an official visit vary by Division. Many prospects are unsure of whether they should wait to be invited to take a visit, or if they should initiate the request themselves. The answer to that question usually depends on the coach, but most will appreciate the prospect showing interest and taking the initiative to schedule a visit. “When working with prospective student athletes on campus visits, I don’t think it matters who requests the visit—them or me,” said one head coach at the Division II level. “Either way, interest has been expressed and it opens the door for more open dialogue about campus and the team. However, I feel strongly that prospects work directly with the coaching staff to express interest in the lacrosse program instead of through the admissions office. In my opinion, that shows a greater interest and stronger initiative, two characteristics I look at when recruiting for my team.” Another Division II head coach added that “I like it either way. If I really like a kid, I will always offer a visit. But I like it when they ask for themselves, it shows they care. No matter how it is done, you have to visit and try to do an overnight when possible so you can really get a good feel of the school.” One Division I assistant coach said that their staff always likes recruits to take the initiative to schedule a campus visit early in the process. But, she cautioned, “when it comes to an official visit it can get awkward when a recruit asks to come to campus. We normally only host official visits for our committed recruits, or those we plan to offer a roster spot. So if a recruit asks about an official too soon, it could be a turn off, especially if we’re not sure where they stand yet compared to other recruits on our list.”
Use of Video
The importance of having a recruiting video available for coaches will vary based on the individual coach, and sometimes the Division of the schools a prospect is considering. Many smaller schools, particularly in Division II and Division III, do not have the staff or the recruiting budget to attend numerous recruiting events and tend to rely more on video to evaluate a prospect, at least initially. “I definitely think that seeing video is an important first step in evaluating the talent of prospective student-athletes,” said one experienced Division III head coach. “As long as we can see the context of the play (good or bad), it helps us understand a player better. Because of where our campus is located, it’s not always possible to see every prospect live, so video is certainly valuable to us in the recruiting process.”
The good news is that for the IWLCA recruiting events, every single game is filmed and made available to IWLCA member coaches for FREE so they have access to film on every prospect that participates in those events. It is never a bad idea to have video available for coaches when they ask. “We use film to make an initial determination about whether a recruit is worth watching in person,” said a Division I assistant. “And we sometimes go back to the film later in the process to remind us what a certain player’s strengths or weaknesses are.”
The Role of the Parent
Being a parent during the recruiting process often means walking a fine line. Most coaches like to see parents engaged in the recruiting process and supporting their daughter, and they recognize that ultimately the parents are largely responsible for the financial aspects of the college decision. However, every college coach has at least one (more likely several) horror story about over-involved parents that ultimately caused them to stop recruiting a prospect. One Division III head coach explained: “I like the parents who let their daughters navigate the process on their own. This includes allowing them to own their process and speak for themselves. I often enjoy visiting with parents and most of my experiences are positive. However, there are sometimes one or two moments that throw my decision to include parents in meetings by the wayside. For example, a major negative for me is when parents answer for their daughters or when the daughters look at their parents for the answer when the question is clearly directed to her. In my opinion, this indicates a lack of confidence and independence on the part of the student.”
The prevailing sentiment among college coaches is that parents should “let your daughters take the lead,” as one Division II head coach phrased it. But that does not mean parents should disassociate themselves from the process. “The recruiting process is a major rite of passage and an opportunity for growth in both the student’s life and in the relationship between parents and student. Guiding students to look inward during this process is something every parent should have the courage to do,” according to a Division III head coach. “Especially since the focus for most of these students is ‘outward’; for example, ‘my friends are all committing,’ ‘coach thinks I should reach out to school A,’ ‘my club team wants me to commit to school B.’ There is too much noise around these kids to even hear what is within themselves. It’s the parents’ role to bring them back to center, take a deep breath and guide them inward.”
One Division I head coach said her staff “can really gauge what kind of player and person a recruit is based on how she interacts with her parents. It’s really easy to see whether the relationship is a positive and supportive one or a co-dependent one that could raise some red flags for us because it often predicts how they will interact with us when they arrive as freshmen.”
This blog entry was compiled using IWLCA member coaches’ responses to questions posed to them on various aspects of the recruiting process. Coaches identities have been kept anonymous to allow them to be honest about the process and their experiences, in order to share their insights without fear of repercussion. We plan to make this type of post an ongoing feature on the blog, so if you have a specific question about the recruiting process that you’d like to see answered, please email it to Danie Caro, IWLCA Director of Communications (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment.