So, you want to be a college athlete? Awesome. Pursuing that dream is undoubtedly exciting, as playing sports in college is something only a fraction of people ever achieve. However, the process can also be a bit intimidating.
College athletic recruiting is a very personal experience, and no two athletes will have the same journey. Prospective student-athletes come into my office regularly asking how and where they should be getting started if they want to play sports in college. I always recommend a checklist of seven points that can help them make immediate progress and get their arms around a process that can occasionally seem overwhelming.
1. Read the NCAA's College-Bound Athletic Guide
Whenever I start working with a high school student who wants to play varsity sports in college, the first thing I do is assign the NCAA's College-Bound Athletic Guide to read as homework. The guide itself is long if you plan on reading it cover to cover, but the table of contents does a great job of breaking down each scenario so you can jump to whatever you want to learn more about. This is a great overview with regard to setting your own expectations for the process moving forward.
2. Get an Unofficial Copy of Your Transcript
Whether coaches are constantly reaching out to you (which would make you a "blue-chip recruit" in recruiting parlance) or you're the one reaching out to them (making you a "yellow-chip recruit"), one of the first pieces of information coaches need from a prospective student-athlete is their transcript. It allows them to work with their respective admissions office and see if you'd be a qualified applicant from an academic standpoint.
Most coaches prefer to get an electronic copy from prospective student-athletes, so be sure to have a copy saved to your phone in some way (camera roll, email, etc.). Needing a hard copy is becoming increasingly less necessary, but it's always good to have a physical piece of paper with your grades on them, just in case.
3. Create an Athletic Resume
Along with a highlight video, which we will cover in the next point, an athletic resume gives college coaches all the information they need to make an initial assessment on your athletic ability prior to seeing you play in person.
When it comes to an athletic resume, students should be highlighting academic and athletic accomplishments/information. If you're hoping for some guidance on structure, the Google machine is very powerful. There are plenty of templates to look at before deciding how you plan on creating one!
4. Make a Short and Sweet Highlight Tape
Highlight videos should be short (no more than 4-5 minutes) and have time dedicated to both skill demonstration and game clips where you can be easily identified. The more time and effort coaches have to spend trying to figure out who or where you are on the screen, the more likely they are to stop watching. Depending on when you start reaching out to coaches, it's possible you may end up having more than one highlight video created. That's perfectly fine, as coaches will want to see how your skills progress over time.
5. Fill Out the School's Prospective Student-Athlete Questionnaire
Personally emailing a coach is the best way to initiate the outreach process, but they may not respond right away for a whole number of reasons. Another way to get on a program's radar is to fill out their prospective student-athlete questionnaire.
This questionnaire will always be somewhere on a school's official athletic website. If it's not easily seen there, head to that specific sport's homepage. If you're still unable to find it, ask your college counselor for help. If all else fails, pick up the phone and call that school's undergraduate admissions office. They'll have no problem pointing you in the right direction.
6. Create a Tracking Document
Reaching out to a coach and getting a response is awesome. However, the momentum potentially gained is lost if you miss their reply because you don't regularly check your email or aren't tracking your communications properly.
I always urge students to create an excel document to keep track of the programs and coaches they're reaching out to. Some information to keep track of includes: name of college, coach's name and contract info, date of initial communication, date of coach's response, date of highlight video/athletic resume sent, etc. This will help you stay in consistent contact with coaches and avoid allowing great opportunities to potentially slip through the cracks.
7. Register for the NCAA Eligibility Center
There is no hard deadline for students to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center, but with regard to the overall recruiting timeline, I've found it's best to do at the beginning of a student-athlete's high school junior year. The Eligibility Center certifies whether a prospective student-athlete is qualified to play at the Division I or II level by reviewing a student's academic record, standardized test scores, and amateur status.
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