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Five Factors That Will Determine Your Success or Failure in the Athletic Recruiting Process

What factors do we need to consider in the college athletic recruiting process?

There are many things to consider in the college athletic recruiting process for high school athletes and their parents. What works for one family will not work for another. Where one family succeeds, another might fail. While there are some best practices, there is no set path to success and no road map to follow that will guarantee the outcome you desire. There is a lot of luck too! With that being said, I believe there are 5 non-negotiable factors in the recruiting process that you must check off in order to succeed as a college athlete and graduate with a degree.

ACADEMIC SUCCESS

This one is pretty simple. Your grades will ultimately determine what colleges you can get accepted to. The first question a college coach will usually ask you is “how are your grades?” For them, if they aren’t up to par, it’s not worth their energy to pursue you because no amount of athletic skill is going to get you accepted at most institutions if your grades and test scores are too low. We aren’t even discussing NCAA eligibility, because the criteria for that is far lower than what most colleges require academically for acceptance. Do coaches have some sway on the acceptance process? They sure do. College coaches can submit lists of high school recruits they are actively recruiting and would like to see attend their institution for consideration to their admissions department. This practice and the strength of this practice varies at every school. Regardless of how prevalent this practice is, the most important factor needs to be that your grades and test scores need to be extremely close to what the school considers in every student that applies each year. Want to go to Vanderbilt? Fantastic, 94% of their admitted applicants in 2016 were in the top 10% of their graduating class. The next important piece of this puzzle is that while schools may bend, they will only bend in a few instances, meaning they might let one fringe student-athlete in for the soccer team and one for the baseball team and one for the field hockey team and so forth. Since you cannot control who the coach is recruiting and who the other 20 coaches at that school are recruiting, you might be on the low end of the low end of recruits who are on the bubble academically. At the end of the day, if you cannot get into the school with your academic record, your recruiting process is over and no amount of skill or ability is going to change that for many schools!

ATHLETIC SKILL AND SUCCESS

Once you have cracked the academic challenge, the next biggest factor is your athletic skill. There are 3 NCAA divisions and roughly 1,200 colleges that compete. No two schools or programs are alike. What one college coach values, another may not. Where one college team succeeds, another in their conference may not! While Rudy was a great movie, Rudy would have been better served attending a small D3 college if his goal was to play college football. While your desire may be to play basketball at Kentucky or Baseball at LSU, or football at Notre Dame, only a few elite high school athletes have the skills to play at those levels. While we encourage high school athletes to aim high, you need to aim where your skills and abilities will be a good fit! At the end of the day, if you cannot play at a given school given your athletic abilities, your recruiting process for that school is over. Matching your athletic skills with a given program is challenging. You need to do some self-reflection, seek out opinions of other skilled coaches who have seen you play and you may need to get out of your town or league and compete against other high school athletes to get a better sense of where your skills lie. Once you have done that, you need to research different college programs in detail. Who do they play against? What is their success rate? What types of players does the coach recruit and from where? The very best programs recruit players from the entire world. The smaller programs might recruit players within 50 miles of their school but it’s different for EVERY school!

5 factors in the college athletic recruiting process

5 factors in the college athletic recruiting process

FINANCIAL NEED

College is expensive, even the public colleges are creeping up in price. Finances plays a role in every family’s college choice and no one wants to leave school with massive student loan debt that will hound you for years after graduation. We always tell families to never dismiss any college until you have explored the financial aid process for that college to see what aid you might qualify for but past that, finances must be considered. With the exception of football and basketball at the D1 level, there is very little athletic scholarship money to go around. Other sports simply do not generate revenue at the college level and less resources are given to those programs in the form of athletic scholarships. I know many D1 programs that have one or two scholarships for the entire team. The other factor to consider is that even if a team is fully funded with the max level of athletic scholarships, the coach usually divides those to many players. A D1 baseball team is allowed 11.78 scholarships per team, but most rosters will contain 30+ players. If you are an elite player, you might get some full scholarship offers in baseball, but in most cases, the coach will divide those scholarships up into percentages like 33%. If you want to attend private school and receive a 33% athletic scholarship, you may need to find an additional $40,000 to cover tuition. You must explore all your options financially. Grants, loans, merit aid, financial aid and academic scholarships. At the end of the day, you must be able to pay for college and/or decide how much student loan debt you can tolerate after graduation.

YOUR SOCIAL DESIRES

Let’s stick with the theme here, every college is different. Some colleges have 40,000 students and some have 2,000. Some are in big cities and others are in the middle of cornfields. Some are sprawled across 20 city blocks where you take busses to classes or dorms and others can be walked end to end in 10 minutes. Some will have students from all over the world and others will have students that all live within 50 miles from your hometown. Some colleges might be too liberal for you, while others might be too conservative. The social aspect of a college and how that will affect you might be harder to figure out, but you need some understanding of who you are and what you are looking for. If you dislike cities or crowds, then I wouldn’t suggest going to a big school in a city. If you think you will be bored at a small school with 1,500 students’, you very well might be. You need to spend some time on college tours to try and understand the school and understand whether you will be happy there for four or five years. And if your athletic scholarship is tied to you being happy, then you really need to pick the right school socially for you.

GEOGRAPHY

The geography of a school can play a dual role in your success as a college athlete. One, geography can determine how good a given athletic program is. Colleges that play in warmer climates often attract better players who want the ability to play more games in better weather. The State of Florida is a great example of this, not only does the State produce many talented high school baseball players, but top players from throughout other parts of the country gravitate to colleges there from colder climates because playing baseball in April in Michigan or New England in 40 degree weather simply isn’t that enjoyable. The second factor that geography can play is how far you want your safety net of home and how involved you want your parents in your athletic career. My parents drove down from Massachusetts to Connecticut every weekend to see me play. Had I been somewhere else, they might not have gotten to experience my college athletic career. I was also afforded the ability to travel home more easily given the shorter distance when I needed to. But geography can play opposite role as well. Several years ago we met an extremely talented golfer who was being recruited nationally. One would think he would have chose a school where it is warm year-round so he could play year-round. The opposite happened. He chose a school in a colder climate that had a real winter. When we asked why, his answer made sense. He said, “I needed to go to a place where it snowed in the winter so I would get a mental and physical break from golf, and I knew if I went down south, I would be at the range or the course every day for 9 months and that is simply something I didn’t want to do!” It’s really important to understand how geography plays a role in the skill of a given college program and how the coach recruits. Geography can play a huge role in your success or happiness. There are fewer elite players in warm climates beating down the doors to go play at colleges where it snows in the winter, but there are thousands of elite players beating down the doors of other colleges where the weather is better. It’s also important to understand how being 20 miles from home or 2,000 miles from home is going to affect your psyche. Some high school athletes cannot wait to get far away from home, and others struggle with distance.

So how do these five concepts affect my recruiting process? Excellent question! The first two will greatly impact your recruiting process. If you cannot gain acceptance to schools you are potentially interested in, or schools where coaches want to recruit you, your process is over! If you do not have the skills to play at certain programs (or any program), your recruiting process is over. The financial, social and geographical concepts are tricky. You might not be thrilled with any of the three but you might be able to function and succeed as a college athlete depending on how tolerant you can be with any and all of them. Perhaps your parents are happy flying out once a year to see you play. Perhaps playing baseball or soccer in colder weather isn’t terrible because you are at a great school and getting a great education which will have value down the road in your professional career. Perhaps you don’t have time to interact with the students that are too liberal or too conservative at your school because you are so busy with your studies and your athletic career! Perhaps you absorb some student loan debt at a better college because it will offer you the chance at a better job upon graduation and will be easier to pay off.

Perception vs. Being Realistic in the Athletic Recruiting Process

How Common misconceptions hurt families in the athletic recruiting process

Success or failure in the athletic recruiting process often is determined by a family’s beliefs about how they think the process works. Some believe good high school athletes will be found or discovered because that’s what college coaches do. Others think their high school coach will handle the recruiting process for their son or daughter. A few are also chasing athletic scholarship money that might not ever appear because of the sport you play and the level have the ability to play at. Learn some of the common myths and realities below.

 

I need athletic scholarship money so I should target D1 or D2 schools, because D3 schools do not offer athletic aid

There are two fully funded sports at the NCAA D1 level. Those would be D1 football and D1 basketball (for men and women) What’s that mean? It means if you are lucky enough to be offered an athletic scholarship in those sports, it will be for the full amount. There are no partial scholarships. No other sport at the NCAA level guarantees you will receive a full scholarship. Are there other NCAA sports that will potentially offer me a full scholarship? Yes, there are but it is more rare for two reasons. 1 – Virtually every other sport at the college level does not generate enough revenue to justify being fully funded. 2 – Most teams require more players on the roster than there are athletic scholarships available. For instance, NCAA D1 baseball is allowed 11.78 athletic scholarships, but most rosters are comprised of 30 players, so the coach (if they are lucky enough to be fully funded) will divide those scholarships up to more players.

So how does D3 fit into this equation if they cannot offer any athletic scholarships? Well, many D3 colleges offer very attractive financial aid packages for amazing students through grants and merit aid packages. What’s great about this money is, it is not tied to your athletic participation, happiness or success. If you accept a D1 athletic scholarship of any kind, your aid package is tied to your participation in your sport. If you accept academic grant money and also play lacrosse at a D3 school, but want to quit playing lacrosse after a year or two, you will still retain your academic money provided you meet the grade requirements of the academic money (assuming there are some.)

 

The major I choose is very important

Part of the benefits of college is living on your own for 4 years with new people and learning how to learn and learning how to do work on your own, or in a group and how to meet deadlines you might not want to meet. It’s a good primer for when you enter the working world and have to work both as an individual and as a team member in a company. That’s why employers like to hire college athletes. If you want to be a nurse, we would suggest attending a school with a nursing program and majoring in nursing. If you want to be an engineer, we would suggest attending a school with engineering and majoring in engineering because we want that building you design to stand up for a while. But some jobs and some majors can cross over and employers aren’t simply looking for employees that “majored” in something but employees that have various skills, drive and determination. Speaking and writing is extremely important and many successful business people were English majors. Business degrees where you study marketing, finance, or accounting can lead to jobs in thousands of additional areas. All Ivy League colleges are liberal arts degrees, but those students go on to careers in many different fields because they are smart, fast learners and highly motivated students who have been that way for years.

 

I don’t want to go to a small school because my high school was small and I didn’t like it

Two things that make your high school seem small is that it probably is small, a few buildings or one big building. But the bigger factor is that you know many or most of the students because you have lived in the same town and gone to school with them for 10+ years. Many high school students want to escape that small college feel after high school because of certain experiences they have had in high school. Any college you attend will be a fresh start. You probably won’t know a single person when you arrive and that’s a good thing. A small college with 2,000 students will have a campus much larger than your high school with students living in different areas or off-campus, so it will not be remotely like high school. You may also arrive at a school with 30,000 students and feel overwhelmed with its size.

Being realistic in the athletic recruiting process

Being realistic in the athletic recruiting process

The best players play at D1 colleges

We try to tell families never to judge a college athletic program by what division it is and to research every school and team on an individual basis. Past success, location or the uniqueness of a certain school can greatly affect the talent of individual athletic teams. Teams like the Wheaton (Illinois) swimming teams attract top talent from all over the country due to their unbelievable success at winning national championships. Teams like the Methodist University (North Carolina) golf teams attract top golfers from around the country because they are one a select few colleges that offer a PGM major, which is a major in professional golf management (think business major but for the golf industry). There golf teams have also won multiple national championships. College baseball teams in the State of Florida have extremely talented baseball teams because the State products a high number of high school players who play all year round and have little incentive to leave the State of Florida to play college baseball because the schools are less expensive and the level of play is high.  Hockey rules the northeast and many D3 teams have unbelievably talented players who didn’t play D1 for simply a lack of roster spots available.

 

I won’t qualify for a lot of financial aid

We could write for days on the financial aid process and we would be no closer to answering this question. There are many factors that go into how much aid a person gets and what one family might get is not necessarily what another family might get. We try to tell all families to never dismiss a college because of finances until you have gone through the aid process, either federally or institutionally or both. There are many factors that go into aid awards such as income, marital status, how many kids in the family, retirement savings, your house value and so forth. The federal government will also look at things differently than individual colleges will when determining institutional aid packages.

While there are colleges turning away students, there are other dying for students and/or college off the beaten path that are trying to attract students from farther away in the country. If you live in New England, you might find a small D3 college a 1,000 miles away looking to bring in more students from your region and might offer you Merit aid. Why? Because colleges are businesses that constantly need new business each year, and if they expand their reach of students, they expand their brand and can/will attract more students from around the country.

 

My athletic skill will get me recruited even if my grades are low

Depends how low! College coaches are allowed to submit lists of players they are actively recruiting to admissions for consideration and how much impact this has is different at every school. In order to be on this “secret list” you need to be actively recruited by the coach and you have had to tell them that you are committed to their program. Then it’s up to the school to decide how many recruits they want to bend their admissions criteria for. If you are on the bubble academically of what that school looks for, this might help you squeak in. However, bad grades will get you un-recruited faster than anything you can think of. While Big State U might be able to slide a great football player in the back door of admissions, that’s not how most colleges operate. The first thing a college coach is going to inquire about is your grades and if they sniff a problem, they are going to pass extremely fast on you.

 

College coaches will find me if I am a talented athlete

College coaches work extremely hard at recruiting. Some recruit locally, others recruit in their State, and others recruit across the country or world depending on their needs and resources. Some recruit specific areas of the country because there is good talent there and/or they have created relationships in those areas with other programs and coaches. College coaches rarely attend high school games to scout random players. Not only is it not a good use of their time, but their season takes place during your season! Think about that for second. How is a coach supposed to come to your high school games when they are in the middle of their season? If a coach attends a high school game, it is usually on an off day to see a specific player they have or are currently scouting. Your job is to research colleges that might be a good academic and athletic fit and then to reach out to those college coaches to introduce yourself and to discover the needs of the coaching staff and how you might be considered for recruitment down the road. Most athletes are not discovered, they are recruited through hard work and contacting multiple coaches on their own.

 

College coaches need my stats to recruit me

College coaches could really care less about statistics. They tell coaches very little about you as an athlete or as a person. There are roughly 20,000 high schools in the country, and thus 20,000 leading scorers or leading hitters on every team. Not all those leading scorers or leading hitters are capable of playing in college, despite leading their team in some statistical category. I like to tell the story of Dave Winfield, the former pro baseball player.  Winfield was drafted in pro baseball, pro basketball and pro football. He was an extremely talented baseball and basketball player in college, but Winfield didn’t score a single touchdown in football. He didn’t have single tackle or sack. He didn’t have a single interception or fumble recovery. He didn’t kick a single field goal or extra point. He never blocked a single person on a football field. Not only did Dave Winfield never play a down of college football in college, he never stepped foot on a college football team or put a uniform on. So how does a player get drafted for football that doesn’t have a single “football stat” and never played? Easy, he was 6’7” 250 and excelled at two other sports and pro football teams saw his athletic ability as his biggest asset. While parents are assembling 5 pages of stats to send to college coaches, those coaches are looking for talented athletes who play the game well with good instincts and techniques. Not every coach is looking for a pitcher that throws 92, but they want to see if you can get players out with what you do throw. They want to know how you handle winning, how you handle losing, how you handle adversity, how you prepare for games before the game, how you interact with teammates, coaches opposing players and umpires. Virtually none of that can come from statistics.

 

I cannot control what college coaches recruit me

There are some things you cannot control the athletic recruiting process, namely who a college coach chooses to recruit or not recruit. However, you can stack the deck in your favor and improve your odds. First and foremost, college coaches want to recruit high school athletes that can get accepted to their college or university. If your grades and test scores are poor, it will not really matter who good your jump shot or fastball is, if you cannot get in, your recruiting process will not get off the ground. College coaches also like to recruit players of high work ethic and character. If they sense you will be a problem for four years, then they may pass on you. College coaches like to recruit good athletes. Some players are good at just their sport, but some coaches are looking for more well-rounded athletes that not only can run fast, or jump high but have great technique and intelligence for the game and are great all-around athletes. Now, let’s take those 3 elements (good grades, great work ethic and character, and great athlete), and see how those affect the recruiting process. If you are applying or looking at colleges where your grades and test scores are on the bubble for acceptance and your athletic skill is average for what that coach and program might look for in a recruit, then you are going to find that you have less ability to choose what college you attend. You have no leverage and the coach may have a list of 100 other recruits just like you. If, however, you have amazing grades and test scores, and are a hard working talented athlete who seeks out programs where your skills are above what that college coach might look for in a recruit, you will find that you can have multiple college programs that wish to recruit you. Ultimately, if you target the right schools and enough schools, you can have the ability to choose.

 

I can get recruited off of a good showcase performance

It’s possible, but coaches need to see more. Many a player dream of dinging a few home runs at a showcase while college coaches drool over your swing and in reality, that’s not often how it works. While a showcase performance can get the ball rolling in your recruiting process and get you on a coaches’ radar, most coaches need to see much more out of you before they potentially invest in 4 years of you as a player on their team. They need to see you play in meaningful games in some capacity! What is a meaningful game? It’s a game where there is something on the line for you. They want to see how you handle winning and losing, how you handle pressure, how you interact with your coaches and teammates, how you interact with your opponents or referee’s/umpires, how you handle making a great play or a bad play, or how you react to a teammate doing the same. These are things that can rarely be learned with a few shots or a few swings at a showcase so most coaches use them to decide whether or not they want/need to see more of you.