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College athletic recruiting process

I play a sport with timed results. Will that help me get recruited?

Do you play a sport like swimming or track and field with timed results? How can you use those to your advantage in the college athletic recruiting process?

My friend reached out to me recently and asked the following: In your expert opinion, for sports with factual results, like running times, or jump heights, how important is it for a college coach to see you perform? Or do they just pick kids in rank order based on their performance?

I try not to lump all college coaches into one category. They are all individuals who often look for different traits in a potential recruit and they all recruit differently. Most college coaches, however, need to see an athlete perform multiple times and usually in a meaningful game. What’s a meaningful game you ask? It’s an event where something is on the line if you win or lose, unlike say, a showcase game. This can give the college coach a sense of how you handle pressure, how you handle winning, how you handle losing, how you treat teammates, coaches, ref’s, opponents and so forth. This is an important step in the recruiting process. A college coach needs to know not only what type of athlete they are recruiting but what type of person. To many coaches, your character and desire is more important than your skill, especially when you start to look at colleges more focused on academics than athletics.

I spoke to a college coach years ago who went to a game to see a prospect and they left before the game started. Why? Because 10 minutes before the game the player had his shirt off and was talking to a bunch of girls. Maybe he hit 3 home runs that day, but we will never know! The coach wanted a player more focused on THE GAME. Maybe that player had amazing stats, but college coaches don’t recruit stats.

I also know coaches that coach in places that less people have heard of or at new programs and they will reach out to me and say “Dave, do you know any female golfers that want to play in college? At this point I will take anyone that knows what side of the tee to tee up the ball or else I won’t have a team to field this season!” Yes, that is a true story!

College athletic recruiting process

While sports that are timed like swimming or running can give you an advantage in the recruiting process because it’s a tangible score that can be compared to other high school or college athletes, the college coach will ask themselves three important questions when evaluating a high school athlete.

1 -What is this athlete’s technique like?

2 – How much will they possibly grow physically?

3 – Given question 1 and 2, how much better could more experience and my coaching make them?

If you were a track coach and saw Tom Brady glacially run his 40 yard dash at the NFL combine 20 years ago, you might say to yourself, “His technique is awful, but with a few years of training (both in technique and weight lifting and/or running drills), I can probably shave a few 10ths of a second off his running time, so he hasn’t peaked yet and I can make him faster!”

The same coach might see Usain Bolt and say ‘Wow, he’s peaked physically and his technique is amazing and there is nothing I could improve for him and he probably won’t get much faster!” Obviously no one is faster than Bolt, but you get the point! One athlete has peaked, and the other can only improve.

So a coach will look at a high school athlete and try to see where they are now and what their potential is. If they have peaked physically and their technique is good, the coach may think that they are, for example, running or swimming about as fast as they will run or swim. I say peaked physically with a grain of salt. Everyone can get a little bigger or faster or stronger, but some high school athletes have already hit their growth spurt physically where others have not. Lebron James in high school is a good example of someone who was physically ahead of virtually every other player at that age.

In this scenario, if your times are as good if not better than the college times of the school(s) you are interested in, it may be easier to get recruited purely on your times regardless of whether you have peaked physically because you are in a sense, already good enough and your times prove it!

If your times are slower and you have peaked physically to some degree, a coach might pass because they might not see the ability for you to improve much beyond where you are. So in this case your times can impact you negatively in the recruiting process.

On the flip side, if they see the potential to greatly improve your technique and improve your physical traits (think Tom Brady running at the NFL combine again) and your times are close to that of the college times but not quite there, the coach may realize that you will only improve with more training and experience. That is where your recruiting advantage can come with having a physical time to compare to someone or something else. As they often say, the scoreboard doesn’t lie! In reality, every college coach will try to project your potential regardless of what sport you play.

That’s a very long-winded way of saying it really depends on the individual coach and the individual athlete. If you are the fastest kids in the country and have good grades, a coach 3,000 miles away might take a flyer on you with some good recommendations about your work ethic and personality without having to see you actually perform. But you have to factor in grades, team needs, work ethic and desire and so forth, and none  of that can be shown by simply telling a coach how fast you run or how fast you swim or how high you jump. Even at the pro level, there is a long list of athletes who were amazing athletes but didn’t stick around because of their work ethic, attitude or addiction to something detrimental. Antonio Brown come to mind?

Every high school athlete involved in the athletic recruiting process needs to research different programs and reach out to college coaches to see what their needs are. Once you have done that, you need to find a way to display your talents, personality and work ethic to those coaches so they can evaluate you. That goes for every sport. If you play a sport with physical times, that can give you an advantage in the recruiting process, but there is so much more a college coach looks for.