"Coaches will find you if you are good enough."
The above quote is one of the most frustrating things I hear when I talk with high school athletes and their parents. Athletes who rely on this statement often find themselves behind their peers in the recruiting process. In order to stay ahead of the curve, here are a few things to keep in mind when navigating the recruiting process. (See also STACK's 2013 Recruiting Guide.)
Be Proactive, Start Early
The biggest thing an athlete can do is to start the recruiting process as early as possible. It's no secret that college coaches are making offers to athletes even before high school. Serious athletes should start planning their recruiting process during their freshman year of high school. Every athlete who waits falls further behind members of their class who are already far along in the process. Recruiting classes begin to take shape early and rapidly. (See How to Proactively Recruit Yourself.)
Create a Gameplan
Instead of waiting for coaches to reach out to you, take the initiative and create a map of where you want to go. Compile a list of schools that interest you, basing your choices on factors such as academics, athletics, available roster spots, location, etc. After creating your list, start researching the programs, find contact information and plan unofficial visits.
College coaches must follow strict rules on how and when they can contact athletes, but athletes themselves are free to reach out to as many schools and coaches as they want. Instead of blindly calling or emailing athletic departments, find out which coach (generally an assistant or position coach) is in charge of recruiting in your area or for your position. Depending on your graduation year, coaches may only be able to send you a letter thanking you for your interest, but it does put you on their recruiting radar. (Learn How to Network.)
Have Game Film
Coaches want to see your game film before deciding to pursue you as a recruit. A high quality, professional looking highlight tape will pique the interest of coaching staffs. Even in sports that may not seem to require film (tennis, track and field, etc.), having a reliable tape will highlight your strengths and allow coaches to see your mechanics. (See Highlight Tape Necessities: What Coaches Want to See.)
Athletes rarely commit to the first school that recruits them, even if it's at the top of their list, so having multiple alternatives is essential. An athlete with several schools showing interest is more valuable than an athlete with a lone school showing interest. Schools have been known to make an offer to an athlete without even knowing him, based on other offers he has, especially if he is eliciting strong interest from schools in the same conference. In the recruiting process, it is always better to have more offers than not.
Athletes need to be aware that recruiting is a full time job. If serious interest from a school has not been forthcoming early in your high school career, chances are coaches already have other athletes on their radar. This is not to say that the other athletes are more talented than you, but it might indicate that coaches do not know you are. It's up to you to tell them. Recruiting is like driving a car: the only way you can get anywhere is if you put your foot on the gas.
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