The summer can be one of the most important times in the athletic recruiting process. It is a time when college coaches are free to recruit and high school athletes are free to visit colleges and play in different athletic venues that potentially have college coaches in attendance.
Ask yourself this question: When does my high school season take place?
Now ask yourself this question: When does a college season in my sport take place? The answer is the same time as your high school season does, which limits the ability of college coaches to find recruits during (their season) and your season. WHICH IS THE SAME SEASON!
While you may want to go to the beach this summer or play some golf, college coaches are at camps, tournaments, summer games and showcases. Your job is to make sure you are doing what is needed to put yourself in a better position to be recruited. The summer is an extremely important time for college coaches to recruit. It’s the time when they have TIME. Depending on their needs, their level of play and their resources, some will travel the country looking for recruits, others will stay more local to their school and hit known venues and tournaments that have potential recruits. But all view the summer as an extremely important time to recruit.
Here are several things you can think about heading into the summer….
Many families don’t learn the recruiting process until after it is too late, and they say, “Well, had we known this or done that, we might have gotten more interest or exposure.” Don’t let the recruiting process sneak up on you. You need to know what is required of you, what your role is and what actions you need to take. Spend some time learning about the college recruiting process on varsityedge.com and you will have a better understanding of how to proceed. The responsibility of researching colleges and contacting college coaches is yours and yours alone. Better yet, check out our 241 page guide, The Making of a Student-Athlete. Many of the parents purchasing the book tell us they have kids in 8th or 9th grade now and are trying to learn the process before the process begins.
COME UP WITH A PLAN
What do you want to accomplish athletically this summer? Do you want to play games, do you want to go to camps and clinics, do you want to work out in the gym, do you want to visit as many schools as possible, or do you want to go to Australia and surf?
Ask yourself what you think would be best and then find a way to accomplish that. Playing more doesn’t mean playing better. Lifting weights doesn’t mean you will get stronger unless it’s done properly. Attending camps at colleges you don’t have the skills to play at will be of no benefit! If you are receiving many inquiries or offers already from coaches, you might want to concentrate or skill-building this summer rather than working on more exposure. See our article on Exposure in the college athletic recruiting process and How to increase your ability to choose what college you attend.
Other players will need to focus on putting themselves in front of college coaches at schools they might want to play at through different tournaments and events. If you live in New England, where there are over a 100+ colleges, and you want to attend school locally, there are many different events that can help you get in front of college coaches in that area. If you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin and have aspirations of attending school in Texas or Florida, you are going to have to come up with a plan that helps you display your skills to coaches in those states, as most of them probably won’t be flying to Minnesota to recruit you unless you are 7 feet tall or weight 330 pounds or run a 4.3 forty. If you live in Florida or Louisiana, you might be dismayed to find out there is only one Division 3 school in either of those states (Louisiana College), and if you are not a high level D1 or D2 player, you need a plan to get out of those States to a State with a college you can potentially play at.
ATTEND A CAMP
Whether you were the star on your high school team this year or wore a hole in the bench, camps are a good way to learn new skills and gets more reps in. They are also a good way to meet other players in your state or region and get a read on where your skills fit in relative to those players. As an added benefit, many college coaches use camps as an additional recruiting tool as it gives them an opportunity to see you play for multiple days. It also gives that coach an opportunity to learn more about you as a person which is difficult for them to do simply by showing up at one of your games for a few hours. As an added benefit, attending a camp gives you the opportunity to spend some time at a college and to get a better feel for what life might be like at that college.
Simply showing up at a camp and expecting to be recruited is not a recipe for success. You need to research individual colleges and programs to find out if that particular school might be a fit for you, both academically and athletically. Once you have done that, initiate contact with the coach to express interest and find out their recruiting needs (yes coaches recruit on need). The next step after that is to see if there is mutual need and interest and then perhaps attending their camp is the next logical step in the process. Many naysayers who spout “camps are just money making ventures for colleges and coaches” either don’t understand how recruiting works and/or probably attended a camp at a college they weren’t qualified to play at. If you cannot play football at Notre Dame or basketball at Kentucky, plunking your money down and attending their camps will not get you recruited at those schools. But I know some college coaches where 80% of their roster consists of players that attended their summer camp! See Making the summer college camp circuit work for your recruiting process
PLAY ON A TRAVEL TEAM
If you have a desire to play college athletics further away from your home, you are going to have to go to where the coaches are and travel teams are one way to do so. Not only do travel teams travel to other parts of the country, they also give you exposure to other players throughout the country and that can help you get a better sense of how your skills match up to other players. Yes, we know the travel team experience is getting a little out of control and costing more money and pulling high school athletes in more directions than they want to go in, but they still serve a purpose.
If you head down south to play against players that have the opportunity to play their sport 365 days a year and you struggle, that might help you assess your skills as they apply to different levels of college. From a college coach’s standpoint, travel teams offer the ability to see 30 or 40 players in one place (a big plus for them) who all have an interest in continuing their career at the college level. That is something they cannot get at an average high school game where they might see one or two players who have the skills (and desire) necessary to play at the college level.
ATTEND A SHOWCASE
The word showcase has almost become a four letter word and there are so many showcases now that parents and college coaches have a hard time deciding which ones to attend. While showcases are one tool in the recruiting process, they can be an important tool in the recruiting process, and allow a large number of coaches to see an even larger number of recruits in one place. Buyer beware, not all showcases are the same and some will have 40 college coaches in attendance and some will have 7. You should try to find out the format of each showcase and what schools will be in attendance prior to the showcase. If you are a D3 talent and a showcase is attracting D1 coaches, then what benefit will that be to you? If there are schools you have no interest in going to, what is the benefit of attending? If you have a 2.3 GPA and a low SAT score, attending a showcase with Ivy League or Patriot League coaches who have very high academic standards will not get you recruited either.
Much like summer camps, to make the showcase route work for you, you need to do your research on individual showcases and contact college coaches prior to the showcase to alert them not only of your attendance, but to make them aware that you are possibly interested in their program and potentially meet some of the qualifications they seek in a recruit.
Another buyer beware. While many coaches attend showcases, they will rarely recruit players solely off of a showcase alone, so the home run you pimped might not be enough to get you recruited by Big State University. Like video, college coaches will use showcase performances to see whom they want to pursue further and ultimately, college coaches want to see you play in meaningful games with something on the line, as opposed to you taking some cuts off of a pitching machine at a showcase. Showcases are great for showcasing but they rarely are able to re-create the sweat, tension and pressure of a meaningful game that has an impact on your season! What is a meaningful game you ask? it’s a game where something is on the line and a coach can see how you handle pressure, how you interact with your coaches and teammates, how you interact with ref’s and umpires, how you interact with your opponents, how you handle winning and losing, how you prepare for the game before the game. All of that is hard to see at a showcase. See Making the summer showcase circuit work for you
EVALUATE YOUR STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
If you just came off a spectacular high school season and you don’t foresee the ability to gain a lot of skill or exposure over the summer, you may want to look into a strength and conditioning program. Becoming a little stronger, bigger, or faster, may be the extra edge you need to separate yourself from the competition.
WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESS
Everyone has a weakness, but no one likes to work on things that are difficult or hard. How many kids do you see down at the courts on the summer shooting free throws, dribbling with their left hand, working on their backhands, working on passing? Find out what your weakness is and work to eliminate it. Every time I turn on a college basketball game, I see 6’11” guys playing basketball that can’t make a shot unless it’s a dunk, which is a product of them being really tall and athletic in high school and not having to actually shoot because no one can guard them. Once they face other athletic 6’11” guys who have the same scholarship they do and they can’t get to the rim, they turn into a puddle!
While colleges are out for the year, you can visit schools and college coaches and until you visit multiple schools, you will have a difficult time deciding what you are looking for. Inevitably, you are going to visit schools you do not want to attend to find one you might like to attend. Some tours fill up fast, so when in doubt, schedule a tour ahead of time if need be. No two schools are alike. Take for instance Boston College and Boston University. While both technically in “Boston”, the schools have completely different campuses. Boston University is a city campus spread out with buildings that go down several city blocks. Boston College is outside of the city and is more contained in a central campus like its own little city. At BU, you can walk to the city of Boston or take a very short subway ride. At Boston College, you are far removed from the city and if you want to go to Boston, it might be a 40 minute subway ride. It’s important to see how a school with 2,000 students compares to a school with 10,000 students before you dismiss one or the other or how a school in the middle of nowhere compares to a school in or near a city.
Now that college coaches are done with their season, they have a little more time to field calls. Calling a coach directly can have a powerful effect on your recruiting process, but this is something that is rarely done by recruits. Often, high school players are shy or don’t know what to say to a coach or ask a coach and they settle for a letter or email. Pick up the phone and dial, and watch what happens. Call some coaches and tell them who you are and where you live and that you are interested in their program and they will take over the conversation from there. I will give you the first and only line you will need:
“Coach ____________, my name is __________, I am a junior at ___________ high school, and am interested in your school and program. – Let the coach take over from there. A lot of players and parents call coaches armed with stats and accomplishments and none of those are going to get you recruited off of the first phone call. Simply introduce yourself and the coach will ask the questions that he or she wants answers to. Please note, while the NCAA has different rules for when college coaches can call you for D1 and D2 coaches, you can call them anytime as often as you want on your dime. If you leave a message and it’s not the proper time to call you back, you may have to call them again until they answer. If you leave a message, please let the coach know your year and graduation date so they can determine if they can call you back per NCAA rules.
Many recruits or parents who call coaches arm themselves with a long list of stats and accomplishments. College coaches do not recruit stats and they could care less about them. In order to be recruited they need to see you play in some capacity so they can evaluate your skills and abilities, and then they need to learn more about you as a student and a person. Be prepared to talk about your academic record, what you might like to study in college as well as your skills and desires for your future. See How to contact college coaches
MAKE A VIDEO
Find someone with a video camera, a tripod and a brain; possibly the kid who works in the school library, give him $40 and go down to the field and shoot footage of various drills from different angles with your dad or coach or another player. If that doesn’t work for you, find a video service in your area. Compile a tape about 5-8 minutes long and send it to coaches you have spoken with previously at schools that are a potential fit for your skills. Add on some game footage at the end. While a video alone won’t get you recruited, it will help a college coach decide if they want “or need” to invest more time in seeing you play in person, which is the ultimate goal. See video making. If you aren’t sure what to make, ask college coaches you are communicating with what they like to see. Some like highlights, some like actual game footage so they can see you make mistakes that you won’t show in your highlight video. See How to create successful athletic recruiting videos
WHAT’S THE RECRUITING TIMELINE?
Some schools will even have their recruiting wrapped up with commitments before seniors step foot in class in the fall depending on the sport or program. When people ask me when coaches make offers or when coaches recruit, there is no one answer I can give. It is different for every coach and every team and every school. The lacrosse coach at John’s Hopkins is probably recruiting players at a younger age and extending offers before those kids step foot in class senior year because competition for the players who can play at that level is extremely intense. A small D3 school and lacrosse coach probably has a less aggressive recruiting timeline and might not be following any sophomores yet or might not extend offers until the fall or winter of senior year.
FRESHMAN AND SOPHOMORES
All (nearly all) college athletic websites have online recruit forms that you can fill out that go directly to the coaching staff and let a college coach know you found their website and are taking an active interest in their program and your recruiting process. A college coach that knows you play a sport and knows you exist can get you started in the recruiting process. While that coach cannot call you or really email you, they can see you play at a particular showcase or tournament should you alert them to your attendance. And a year or two down the road, that can work to your advantage. Many families and even some club programs think emailing coaches your freshman year will help you. While it might get your name in a system, both you and the college coach are not in a position to evaluate a particular program or a particular recruit at such a young age so try to hold off on communication until you are at least into your sophomore year, unless you are an athletic phenom.
If you just wrapped up your sophomore year, you are entering an 18-month time period that is very important for recruiting purposes. Over the next 18 months (June of the end of your sophomore year to December of your senior year), it is important to start to research colleges, put yourself in a position to be recruited, communicate with college coaches and narrow down a list of potential colleges. At the end of this 18 months, it will be the fall/winter of your senior year and by then applications will start to be due and most college coaches will have extended offers to you either in the summer or in the fall. College coaches at the NCAA D1 and NCAA D2 level can begin to call you. See specific Contact Rules for each sport and division
If you just wrapped up your junior year, it is time to get going in the summer and get going quickly. The summer before your senior year is for many, the most important time in the recruiting process. As we have discussed in the beginning of this article, it is the time when most coaches have time to recruit and are on the road at different camps, tournaments and showcases evaluating prospects they are actively recruiting or prospects that have contacted them and expressed interest in their program. This is the time when you need to plan your summer schedule both for what events you will be attending and what colleges you will visit based on feedback and ongoing communication you are getting from college coaches. By the end of the summer, you should have a clear indication of what colleges are interested in recruiting you and you can use the fall of your senior year to narrow down your decisions. For some fall sports such as football or soccer, a strong senior season can help you get recruited, but for many winter or spring sports, your senior season will be too late in the recruiting process to have any real influence.