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 important and can set the tenor for how the recruiting process plays out. We covered several phases of the recruiting process in our last installment, and now offer some more advice from college coaches.
- Discussing Finances – People’s definition of honesty can vary, especially situationally, and disclosing financial information is one of the situations that can be difficult to discuss honestly. While very few people may tell outright lies during the recruiting process, not telling the entire truth, or telling it in a timely manner, can feel dishonest to the other party. One Division III head coach was very blunt on the topic, saying “I just wish they [prospects and parent] were honest sooner,” about the family’s finances. This often comes up during the recruiting process – at both scholarship and non-scholarship programs. According to a Division II head coach, “I think it is important to talk about financial need as early as possible so that both the family and the coach can take it into consideration when the time comes to make an offer.” On the other hand, one Division I head coach cautioned that “If a recruit brings up finances and scholarships during the first conversation we have with them, it’s a real turn off. That conversation should happen once there is mutual interest and it becomes apparent that there is a good fit academically and in terms of lacrosse.”
- Communication by Proxy – Almost all coaches will tell you how important it is for the prospect to take the lead in terms of communications with the coaches that are recruiting them. But there are times when it is appropriate for parents to become more vocal in the process, or have a high school or club coach communicate with the college coach. Admittedly it can be a difficult situation to navigate. But one veteran Division II head coach had this advice for parents: “Don’t try to speak for them or on their behalf.” A long-time Division III assistant added that, “It’s important to let the athlete take charge of her recruiting process and be proactive, but parents should not shy away from asking questions that concern them.” Similarly, communications from the high school or club coach can really help move the process forward. “I like to hear anything and everything from their coach, especially about their skill level and how they are as a teammate,” said one Division III head coach. According to a Division II coach, “the recruits that stand out to us are the ones whose coaches took the time to call. This shows the coach is invested in the player’s success, but it also gives college coaches an opportunity to gather more about the player’s non-lacrosse skills.” Of course, said one Division I head coach, “It’s only worth hearing from the coach if they are honest. That means they have to tell us the great things about their player, but also disclose the weaknesses and challenges the player has so we can get a good sense of what to expect.”
- Communicating Authentically – Almost every coach we spoke to emphasized that getting to know a prospect as a person during the recruiting process is very important to them. “I think there is such a ‘pomp and circumstance’ to this process where everyone is putting their best foot forward to the point where it can be a little inauthentic,” said one Division III head coach. A Division II head coach added that “It’s ok to ask non-lacrosse questions in order to build a rapport. Questions like these will help a recruit get to know more about her potential coach, and they will also help a recruit stand out.” A Division I assistant added that “one of the most important things a recruit can do is be themselves. It’s important for us to know who they are so we can determine how they will fit into our program.”
What are coaches looking for?
It’s obvious that coaches want to recruit prospects that will fit into their institution academically and into their program athletically. But what else is important to coaches as they go through the recruiting process? One Division II head coach wants to know if prospects participate in community service activities, or have a job. “I think this demonstrates to me that they can multi-task and have a good chance of being able to handle the college workload and budget their time.” An assistant coach for a Division I program said their recruits “need to have high moral character and thrive in structure,” while a Division III coach added, “I love to see recruits who show initiative and who don’t give up.” A different Division II head coach listed “attitude and hard work” as something they look for in prospects. “A student who is comfortable in her own skin is a great intangible because it also indicates some level of self-awareness,” said a Division III head coach.
Navigating Camps and Clinics
Camps and clinics directed and staffed by college coaches have become a big part of the recruiting process in recent years. “I think camps and clinics are great for a prospect because they can get a glimpse of how the staff works, how they interact with other staff members, and how they interact with other players,” said one Division II coach. Camps and clinics, he continued, “should also demonstrate whether the prospect feels comfortable with the coaching staff and whether or not they feel the staff can elevate their game within the four years that they will be playing under them.”
A Division I coach explained that camps offer her staff a different type of evaluation opportunity than a tournament does. “We get to coach them at camp. We can see how teachable they are, and how willingly they leave their comfort zone. I also like to see how they interact with the other players and what kind of energy they have.” According to a Division II head coach, “camps and clinics show characteristics you cannot see in a snapshot: soft skills, like communication, attitude, and personality. When I build my team, I focus first on soft skills, because team culture is so important to me.”
Several coaches also acknowledged that it can be difficult for prospects to determine whether they have been invited to a camp or clinic because they are a “top recruit” that the coaches want to evaluate further, or because they will drive enrollment and pad the bottom line. One DII coach said that “a prospect should be able to recognize whether this is a bona fide recruiting tool that the staff uses or whether they are using it as a money maker.” Another coach added that “I do not believe in the philosophy of ‘come to my camp or you won’t be recruited’ that some schools feel is important in their process. However, I can say from experience that some of my best players that have come through the program were identified at one camp or another.” A Division I assistant summer it up this way: “Our camp raises money for our program and we also use it for evaluations. Whether you are a top prospect or someone we’ve never heard of, we’re still going to coach you the same way at camp, and as long as you’re willing to be open, you will become a better player during camp.”
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 Danie Caro, IWLCA Director of Communications at firstname.lastname@example.org.