Blow it up
Supreme athletic accomplishmentbreaking records, winning championships, making local and state all-star teamsis the most obvious way to put your name out there and grab coaches' attention. Time spent improving your game directly impacts how coaches view your work ethic and dedication, and the awards and recognition you earn.
Making all state teams, taking home MVP honors and being invited to all-star competitions indicate blue chip status. "Blue chip athletes will probably go on to play college ballno matter what they do to market themselves," says Jon Underwood, owner of Scout USA, a national recruiting service for high school athletes.
Only a select few athletes are branded "blue chip recruit," but many others go on to earn college dollars and a spot on the roster.
If you're not a blue chipper, you need to take action off the field. "If a top college program is legitimately interested, you'll start hearing from them your junior year," says Rob MacInyre of CSA-PrepStar, another national recruiting service. "But if you haven't heard anything after the first few months of your senior year, you need to start looking at and contacting colleges."
Don't forget that politics and subjectivity can influence who's recognized and who's not. So whether or not you're a blue chipper, keep working hard for your shot to make it to the next level.
Get on the horn
Identify the schools you'd like to play for and start contacting the coaches as early as your freshman year. But remember that NCAA recruiting rules dictate when and how college coaches can communicate with student-athletes. You might have to keep trying.
MacInyre recommends sending your athletic and academic credentials directly to your colleges of choice. "That will put your name on the school's watch list," he says. "They'll set up a generic profile and track your athletic progress."
Your name on watch lists means the schools are monitoring your progress. So, you need to maintain their interest with stellar performances on and off the field. "Keep your grades up, nose clean and have a good attitude," Underwood says. "If you do those things and make sure to listen to your coach, good things will happen for you. If you don't, things could be bad."
Need more help?
The recruiting process does not have to be a one-man battle. Using an athletic recruiting service, such as Scout USA and CSA-PrepStar, can ease the pressure and improve the results. These companies charge for their assistance, but they maintain national recruiting networks. They will help you create your profile, then send it to colleges across the country. They might even find financial aid or scholarship money for you. "We promote athletes," Underwood explains. "We'll send an athlete's information to up to 150 colleges when they buy our service."
MacInyre says that in addition to sending hard copies to colleges, most recruiting services create online profiles for their athletes. "Coaches can log into our web site and search for players by region, position and skill level," he says. "They can get athletes' contact info and reach them directly."
According to Underwood and MacInyre, 90 percent of their athlete clients secure scholarship money to play college sports at some level.
If playing in college is your ultimate goal, don't just sit there with an if-I'm-good-enough-they'll-know-about-me mentality. Many colleges lack the budget and/or manpower to know about every potential recruit, so it's your job to market yourself.
Don't narrow down your choices too early. Keep your options open. Playing D-I is an admirable goal, but DIAA, D-II, NAIA and D-III schools all provide great opportunities for athletes to continue their careers.
Finally, keep in mind that athletic accomplishments alone don't get you into a school. Academics play a significant role. You might be the greatest athlete in your school's history, but colleges can't offer you a spot if you don't measure up to their academic standards.
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