Want to Play College Sports? Read This First
These 10 tips can boost a high school athlete's chances of getting noticed by college coaches.
It’s a no-brainer that a high school athlete seeking a college scholarship needs to have the talent to get noticed. But players and parents are so focused on developing physical skills, they don’t realize talent is just one of the ingredients needed for a recipe to success.
Choosing the right school is about the entire college experience, says Mark Leinweaver of Perfect Playcement, a company specializing in helping student-athletes find their ideal school.
“College is not about playing the sport, including kids that go the D-1 level,” Leinweaver told me in a 2016 interview. “It’s about choosing every component in college. It’s about setting yourself up for what you’re going to do in life.”
The NCAA estimates that out of the nearly eight million high school students participating in sports, 480,000 compete at the collegiate level. This includes Division I, II and III programs.
So how does one go about getting noticed by a college coach, particularly in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Even blue-chip recruits can get lost in the seemingly never-ending carousel of great players.
Besides the talent factor, here are 10 strategies athletes and parents can use to successfully navigate the recruiting process.
1. Start planning early
Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) has a recruiting checklist for high school athletes at each grade level. Freshmen should start taking classes geared toward NCAA eligibility. It’s important to keep taking such classes each year. Guidance counselors, varsity and club coaches can provide support, from reaching out to recruiters to providing evaluations and recommendations. Each offseason is a good time to start and maintain a regular training routine to make sure you’re in shape for next season.
2. Make good grades
This may seem obvious but isn’t always easy when juggling a busy athletic and academic schedule. AthleticScholarships.net, a recruiting information resource for parents and athletes, says grades and test scores are one of the first things a recruiter will ask after establishing contact. Being a good student allows parents and athletes to give a truthful answer to this critical question. Success in the classroom may not guarantee a scholarship offer, but it will certainly be an advantage.
3. Prepare for the unexpected
Suppose you get injured your first week of practice as a college freshman, or struggle in your performance? What if that coach who promised you a spot resigns to take another job or is fired?
If you’re attending as a non-scholarship athlete, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you focus only on athletics, Leinweaver explains. Instead of getting discouraged or transferring, ask the coach if you can involve yourself in some other way. This could mean volunteering to keep score, handing out meal money, or helping break down game film.
“That coach is going to give you something to do, I guarantee it,” said Leinweaver, a former Division II baseball player.
4. Play as many games as possible
Game film is important, but nothing beats competition, says Fred Bastie of Playced.com. High school or travel games, camps and showcases give coaches an opportunity to see a player in person or through streaming services. Showcases are a great way for potential recruits to shine against some of the best in their sport. Bastie advises sending game schedules to coaches of schools a player is interested in.
5. Make your video stand out
When sending game film, Leinweaver says it’s important to go beyond the usual highlight reel. Towering home runs or amazing slam dunks are nice, but coaches want to see what you do in specific situations. Did you hit that home run on a full count with two outs to win the game in the final inning? Was that dunk or three-pointer taken in the final seconds with the game on the line?
Coaches receive lots of inquiries and videos, so yours needs to stand out. It’s also a good idea to contact the coach in advance and ask what he or she is looking for.
6. Don’t try to buy a scholarship
Tim Saunders, a high school baseball coach in Ohio, told me this recently during a discussion about recruiting. Hiring the best private instructor or trainer doesn’t guarantee anything.
Like a company that has a checklist of what they’re looking for in a prospective employee, college coaches know what they want in a player.
“Just because an athlete had a private coach or attended as many showcases as his parents could afford doesn’t mean a college coach will be interested in him/her,” Saunders said. “It all comes back to athletic ability.”
7. Develop good character
Cheri Naudin, head of Collegiate Sports Advocate, asks kids what they think coaches look for in a player. She often hears responses like, “teamwork” or “a positive attitude.”
“It’s really the opposite; coaches want the biggest, best player who hits home runs or strikes everybody out,” Naudin told me recently.
This is not to say character isn’t important, especially when coaches are trying to fill the final spots on a roster. If players succeed academically and can follow instructions, it makes every coach’s job easier.
8. Be coachable
Like building good character, a player should also be willing to learn and improve. Even professional athletes constantly look for ways to step up their game.
MaxPreps founder Andy Beal has a checklist of what it takes to be coachable. Tips include being grateful someone is willing to help you improve, remain open to feedback, and put in the work required to become an elite player.
9. Research your dream schools
Before making a recruiting visit, Leinweaver advises players and parents to find out as much as you can about a school. Make sure it’s a good academic fit, and that it’s affordable in the event a scholarship isn’t offered.
Arrange to meet with the coach or an assistant, and watch a team practice if possible. When coaches see a potential recruit researching his/her school of choice, they may be more inclined to call back or even come watch a game.
10. Be realistic about your child’s talent
It’s easy for parents to believe their kid is the best around. That may be the case on a local rec team, but competition gets tougher the higher you go.
Beal says an honest talent assessment is a good first step in determining the best school for a player. He also tells parents not to limit their child’s options.
“Don’t rule out NAIA or NCAA Division II and III schools if they can help your child attain their academic goals,” Beal wrote. “Casting a wide net will improve your child’s chance of being successfully recruited.”
Getting that coveted athletic scholarship is difficult, and in many cases a long shot. This doesn’t mean athletes should abandon their dream of a college sports experience. Developing a strong academic plan, doing extensive research, and competing against the best should increase the chances of success. Above all, remember college is about preparing for life beyond the playing field.
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About the Creator
Stephen Michael Kerr
Stephen has covered sports as a journalist for over 30 years. His passion for creating a better sports environment for kids led him to devote his full attention to tackling issues facing youth sports. Follow him on Twitter: @smkwriter1
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