The Secrets to Recruiting

By Samantha Ekstrand, Attorney  @SJEkstrand5

[Editor’s note: The author currently serves as legal counsel to the IWLCA, the IMLCA, and the NFCA. She played college lacrosse, coached college lacrosse, now coaches club and rec lacrosse. She has five children who play lots of sports.]

My English teacher always said to catch the reader’s attention with a compelling title. With the impending NCAA decision about the September 1, junior year recruiting contact rule this week, I thought now would be a good time to share some thoughts about recruiting. After over 20 years in college sports, here it is – advice on how you, as prospective student athletes (“PSAs”), parents, and coaches should approach the recruiting process.

1. Take your time. Recruiting is not a race. It is not about securing the commitment first or fast. Rushing the process means you will likely miss important details that should factor into your decision. And it also means you might miss other opportunities. Be patient. Be deliberate. Realize the magnitude of this decision. Take the time to make a well-informed, confident decision.

                    Photo by Gothard Lane.

2. Do Your Due Diligence. That’s a legal term for “do your homework.” Research. Ask questions. Visit in-person. Talk often, particularly before you make a decision. You want to get to know the people involved, their background, their values, their expectations, their experiences, their way of thinking, their process. What is it really like to play on that team, day in and day out?

3. Realize your role. This has a few  meanings.

  • For PSAs, there is your role in this recruiting process. Selecting a college is one of the most important decisions in YOUR life. Read that again: YOUR life. This is your process. You are the one who will be attending the school you choose, traveling to and from, waking up every day, going to classes, studying, living, practicing and playing there. You. Not anyone else. Where do YOU want to be?And then, there is understanding your potential role on the team you are considering and being considered for. There are no guarantees. Even as juniors, there is so much time and development between now and when you matriculate. Still, the college coach likely has an idea as to what you role could play in the program. In the recruiting process, you will want to learn more about the coach’s assessment of you as a player, your strengths and your areas to improve. Will you be an impact player? A development player? Or a support player? You want to have these conversations before making your decision.
  • For Parents, we had our turn choosing a school. That time is over. Do not be a snowplow, or a bulldozer, or a helicopter or any other metaphor for interference. Exercise some self-restraint. We need to let our child lead this process: they should write the emails, make the phone calls, arrange the visits. We also need to be calm, patient, kind, and supportive during a likely stressful, selective process.Of course, as parents we have opinions and most likely will have some or all of the financial responsibility here. However, it is not our decision because we will not be there going to school with our child. We need to help and encourage our children to gather information, think through this decision carefully and thoroughly, and allow them the time and space to figure it out.

    Also, parents, know that college coaches watch, listen to and are told about how we act on the sidelines. Often times, assistants are standing near or around us, and we might not even notice. What we say, how we say it, to our kids, to the team, to officials, and to any fan, can be a recruiting red flag or even a deal breaker. I have heard about college coaches literally crossing off a player’s name from their list after observing that player’s parent on the sidelines.

    Be positive. Be encouraging. Don’t be “that” parent, coaching from the stands, acting as if a dropped pass or missed shot just ended the world, or worse, being critical or condescending. This is high school girl’s lacrosse. What we really need to be thinking about is: how can we best help our daughters perform and more importantly, enjoy playing? As my high school coach still says, “play for the love of the game.”

  • For High School and Club Coaches, you are a connector, a facilitator of information, an advocate for your players. While you do not have a “duty to disclose,” you do have a reputation. You should answer questions from college coaches honestly. Or it will affect your credibility and the chances of future players to be recruited – or not. You should also help to set reasonable expectations for your players and their parents. Not an easy task at all, but so important in this process. You are not an agent, nor should you want to be one, however your experience, observations and communication are an integral part of a successful recruiting process.
  • For College Coaches, you have heard me say this before: each offer you extend is an invitation into your proverbial house. This is not just about talent identification. This is about vetting each recruit and her family and feeling confident that they are a good addition to your team. Be responsive to club and high school coaches with the “red light/green light” interest indication if you are a Division I coach. Communicate well, as how you wish to be communicated with.

4. Think about what makes a “good match.” Notice I did not say the “perfect match” or even the “best match.” I do not believe that there is a college out there that is equivalent to your educational soulmate. I believe that there are many places where a student-athlete could attend and be happy. However, I do think there can be matches that are “better” than others, depending on what the student-athlete likes and is interested in.

There are a lot of factors that go into the calculus of finding a good match: academics, athletics, size, geography, culture, admissions, cost, and more. That is why the recruiting process should not be rushed because PSAs and parents need time to gather a lot of this fundamental information, determine likes and dislikes, and prepare generally for the college search process, part of which includes recruiting. The college search process should begin before and continue with the recruiting process.

To be clear: recruiting is not a ticket to college. Can it help with the admissions process? Yes, it can, once admissions standards are met or exceeded. But not always – recruiting is not “the answer” to the question “how can I get into that school?” This decision is not transactional; rather, it is a commitment to both the school and an athletic program, which is often incredibly demanding.

The real question for PSAs is: do I love playing this sport so much that I want to continue to play in college? Am I ready to give my time, my energy and my heart to this program? That is the essence of the recruiting decision.

Can recruiting help with the affording college? Sometimes, a little, but there are no “full rides.” This can be a recruiting reality check.

A “good match” is not a name, or a resume builder, or a bumper sticker. A good match means you, as the student-athlete, will enjoy the experience of attending that school. For parents especially, see above, know your role.

5. Everyone’s recruiting process is their own. Some may be easy, some may be exhilarating, some may be disappointing at first, some may take a long time, and some may ultimately result in the decision not to play sports in college.

PSAs, this is your journey. Parents, we are along for the ride. The road may be bumpy, but it is not our job to make it smooth and pain-free. The phrase my youngest sister coined, “patience and love” comes to mind. These are must-haves on the recruiting path, along with faith – a core belief that everything really does have a way of working out.

And remember, this is not a race, it’s not about getting it over and done. Taking that approach is one sure way to miss the boat altogether.

Best of luck. Enjoy the journey. I will see you on the sidelines, cheering.

One thought on “The Secrets to Recruiting

  1. […] Do Your Due Diligence. That’s a legal term for “do your homework.” Research. Ask questions. Visit in-person. Talk often, particularly before you make a decision. You want to get to know the people involved, their background, their values, their expectations, their experiences, their way of thinking, their process. What is it really like to play on that team, day in and day out? – Samantha Ekstrand […]

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