It is an extremely exciting time of life as a student-athlete finishes high school and looks forward to college. Having the possibility of playing college sports is a rare privilege and gaining a meaningful education while earning a college degree should be the ultimate goal. Sports is one way to assist in pursuing that experience and achieving social mobility that may not be otherwise available.
College sports are a competitive business. Everybody wants to win, and many coaches depend on it for their career. There are a limited number of scholarships, and the college coach needs to be wise about how he/she invests them. He is looking for athletes who will take his program to the next level! As a result, coaches take recruiting very seriously. To earn a scholarship athletes, and their families, need to be serious too!
Take the initiative, get educated, be prepared, use every resource available to you. There are hundreds of student/athletes who are also pursuing one of those precious scholarships. Student/Athletes need to separate themselves from the pack through their character, academics (grades and test scores), athletic ability/performance, and presentation. Being mindful of all of that, here is a guide to how to put yourself in the best position possible and maximize your God-given potential! The following outlines the Recruiting Process from the Student/Athlete's perspective:
1. EARN GOOD GRADES AND TEST SCORES. It's not a myth. The first questions recruiters ask are "What is his/her GPA, what classes does he/she take, and what are his test scores (SAT or ACT, possibly SAT II)."Check web-sites and College Directories for requirements per school. For NCAA Division I and II the NCAA Clearinghouse determines your college athletic academic eligibility. It is best to register with the Clearinghouse by the end of your Junior year. Get a form from your Counselor. NAIA schools individually determine your athletic academic eligibility using their national guidelines.
2. PLAY AND EXCEL AT HIGH SCHOOL AND/OR CLUB SPORTS. In basketball, for example, the college coaches will do a majority of their scouting at off-season camps, showcases and high school and club tournaments (especially in July) where they can see numerous players play in one location, at one time. They usually use the Camp and Club season to do initial evaluations, and then use the high school season to do some final evaluation and tracking. But be sure to enjoy your high school experience, and sell-out for the schools' team! Some student/athletes over-emphasize the recruiting process and end up under-achieving because of the excessive pressure they put on themselves to impress recruiters, an over-emphasis upon statistics, or saving themselves for college. Work hard, hustle, and play your game to help your team! Be coachable! The second question recruiters usually ask is, "is he/she coachable?" The first place recruiters will go for more information on you is to your high school and club coaches. Recruiters are looking for leaders/impact players. Be a leader and positive influence on your team!
3. DISPLAY A GOOD ATTITUDE. When coaches go to game, they don't only watch you to see if you make any great plays. They also watch to see how you interact with your coach, teammates, opponents, and the officials. Always hustle on and off the court, and NEVER display any negative emotion. Even when you are on the bench, a coach may be watching.
Sit by the coach and pay attention, cheer for your teammates, and hustle to the table to check back in, and then communicate with the player coming off the floor. Always remember that someone may be watching and evaluating you.
4. BRAINSTORM a list of colleges you are interested in that offer the degree that you might like to work towards. Meet with your Counselor and Coach to discuss your academic and athletic potential. Try to trim your list to 4-6 colleges by the start of your senior year. Make a list of schools on three levels:
1) Ideal colleges
2) Realistic colleges
3) Back-up colleges
Get educated on the variety of levels of college athletics. Colleges determine which level they are going to compete at, not by their size or enrollment but by how much they are going to financially invest into athletics. Be careful to choose the best level for your needs, abilities, and desires. Strive for your goals, but be realistic. Here's a brief, generalized description of the various levels:
NCAA Division 1: Offer the most scholarships, all full.
NCAA Division II: Offer 50-67% of the scholarships Dl offers per sport.
NCAA Division III: NO athletic scholarships. Will help with grants and financial aid based on need and achievement.
NAIA: Offer full and partial scholarships, and will help with grants and financial aid.
Level of competition ranges between NCAA D II and D III.
All levels have walk-ons on their roster or non-scholarship players who earn a spot on the team (either pre-arranged or earned at try-outs), pay their own expenses, but is treated as a regular player in every other way. Also, most programs will have a Red-Shirt program. This means the athlete practices with the team, but doesn't participate in any games. After the year the athlete will still have four years of Athletic Eligibility remaining.
5. GO TO COLLEGE GAMES AND PRACTICES. Go and learn from the best. Become a student of the game. Don't compare yourself to high school players. A large percentage of them won't play college ball. See what level you have to take your game to. Watch the best players' work ethic and technique. Most college teams will allow you to attend their practices by appointment (ask your coach to call). Colleges will allow you to attend games for free, usually with a guest or two. Ask your coach to call to get you on the Guest List. Check out all levels.
6. SEND A PACKET Introduce yourself to the coaches at the schools on your list. Take the initiative. If you are interested in a school don't wait for them to "discover" you. Contact them (or have your coach do so, which often carries more weight), and let them know you are sending information, then they are more likely to review it. Have several packets on hand and send them to whomever you contact, or they may request them. Packet should include a cover letter, resume, unofficial transcript, letters of recommendation, video, high school and club schedule, and roster.
Business Format: Letter Head.
Single space - Double space between paragraphs
Font: 12 pt. Times New Roman or Courier or New Century Schoolbook.
Four brief paragraphs:
I. Thank the coach for his interest in you (or his time if you are initiating contact). Remember that you are hoping for a scholarship that is valuable to him. It is worth a lot of money, the success of his program, and possibly his job, and is dependent upon his wise investment of this limited resource (the scholarship, aid, or roster spot).
II. Tell the coach why you are interested in his college and athletic program. One thing that can set you apart from the crowd is your interest in his school, and your initiative.
III. Tell the coach how you would benefit her program. Remember that the coach is looking for the best student/athletes with the best character who will specifically fit into her program. Include relevant team and individual honors, awards, and statistics here.
IV. Thank the coach again for his time. Remember that humility, "Thank you," and "Please" are attributes and terms which are rarely used these days.
Resume: Information can include as much of the following as you'd like
Personal Information- Name, Graduating Class, Date of Birth, Location of Birth, Address, Phone, Fax, Social Security Number, Name of Mother, Mother's Occupation, Mother's Work Phone Number, Name of Father, Father's Occupation, Father's Work Phone, Brothers & Sisters Names and Birthdates. If anybody in your family has a history in sports as a player or coach, include the details.
Academic Information- Current School, School Address, School Phone Number, Principal's Name, Guidance Counselor's Name, Coach's Name, Coach's Work Phone Number, Coach's Home Phone Number, List GPA, List PSAT, List SAT, List ACT, List Rank In Class, List Academic Interests, List Academic Awards and if applicable, List Any Previous Schools.
Athletic Information- Position, Height Without Shoes, Fingertip Arm Span, Weight, Shoe Size, Annual Statistics (Win/Loss Record, 3FGM, 3FGA, FGM, FGA, FTM, FTA, AST, OREB, TREB, BS, STL, PTS, PPG. Feature statistics Against Ranked Teams, Honors/Highlights
This is a crucial part of the Recruiting process, especially for the lower division colleges who don't have the staff and budget to recruit like the Dl schools. Make sure the video is clear, doesn't have distracting audio (such as cameraman yelling at the referees, or making negative comments), and the view often includes all players (not zoomed in on one player). As long as the following format is followed, the quality of the tape is not as crucial as some think. Obviously coaches need to be able to identify numbers on the tape, so dark and far away is not good. But an expensive, professional quality production with special effects, music, and graphics is nice but certainly not necessary. Now it is very easy to put those videos online to make those videos available to coaches. The following is an outline for an ideal video. Only # 3 is mandatory.
I. Brief personal introduction: Dress casual/nice and introduce yourself on camera. State your name, position, school and coach, club team and coach, and any other information you want, such as some pertinent academic and athletic statistics, what number you are and what the following games might be. Be out-going, well-spoken, =and friendly.
II. Individual highlights. Less than a minute at the beginning of the tape. Coaches do not want to see just highlights, but rather continuous action of you playing.
III. Game video. When sending a videotape to colleges you want to highlight your positive attributes. Believe it or not, some coaches also view parts of a tape when you are not in the game to evaluate your "body language" on the bench in hopes that it can help them assess your attitude. In basketball, include at least three (3) or four (4) continuous halves. Pick your best halves that display a variety of things that you do (shooting, passing, defense, rebounding, etc) These should be your best performances with a good start. If you don't do much for the first eight minutes or so the coach is likely to stop watching. Remember, he has dozens of other tapes to watch. Optional: Maybe finish with another thirty seconds of highlights containing a voice over regarding you collegiate goals.
7. SCOUTING SERVICES are an option and some can be useful. Services may cost upwards of $1000 and some can be thousands of dollars. You can choose to use a scouting service, or bypass the service by tracking down all the contact information and trying to contact colleges on your own with the help of your parents, coaches, and counselors.
8. KEEP AN UPDATED LIST OF HONORS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Have an updated resume available and update it regularly. This includes academic, athletic, civic, team, extracurricular honors, awards, and activities.
9. CREATE YOUR OWN WEB PAGE. Many internet providers, blogs, and email services will allow you to set up a small web page. These can normally be completed in under thirty minutes by someone with little, or no, computer saavy . Use this to set up an online resume` and promote yourself to several colleges. Provide an information center for them to check on your progress. Include contact information, height, weight, statistics, GPA, SAT, schedule, photos, etc. This is a good place to post or link some video, referring to the guidelines above. You can include a link to the page in emails to colleges or print the page for a ready-made resume.
10. APPLY TO THE COLLEGE Once you have the college choices narrowed to a reasonable number, many of them will want you to apply for admission. Make sure to meet these deadlines (many of which are in Jan/Feb of your senior year-some even earlier). You may qualify you for application fee waivers at several colleges. You must apply for a fee waiver through your school counselor. Many schools also will waive the application fee if you use that schools online application service. This step is crucial otherwise you may cut your options significantly.
11. SUBMIT THE FAFSA. Applications will be available in your school counseling office in December. This single application determines your eligibility for government grants such as Stafford Loans, Pell Grants and loans. States may also have financial aid programs. For example, in California there is also the CAL GRANT. The CAL GRANT A award provides over $3,400 to UC's, $1,500 to CSU's, and up to $9,700 at independent colleges. Other states have similar programs and I advise everyone to look into financial aid very early in their high school years. You may also qualify for FSEOG grants, Federal Work-Study, subsidized and non-subsidized student loans. The first day you can submit the FAFSA is January 2. Deadline is around March 1.
12. YOU KNOW YOU ARE A SERIOUS RECRUIT When the college coach offers you a visit you are a serious recruit. Coaches begin the recruiting process by sending out tons of letters. Most colleges will begin the recruiting process by sending you a questionnaire. Don't throw it away. You never know how the recruiting process is going to end and that school that you have never heard of may end up being the best situation for you. Each coach on the staff then may make phone calls to dozens of players
Until then, the coach is constantly checking what recruits are interested. When they narrow their list down to their top prospects they start offering "Official Recruiting Visits." In NCAA Divisions I and II these are limited, so the coaches only use them on their top recruits and they cannot offer those until your junior year and only after they have one or more of your qualifying test scores (PSAT, SAT, etc). An NCAA Division I and II Official Visit includes paid for transportation and expenses while visiting. NAIA and NCAA Division III schools usually do not pay for transportation, but pay for expenses during the visit. The NCAA only allows recruits to take a maximum of five Division I and II "Official Visits." NAIA and Division III don't limit the number of official visits. A recruit can make an unlimited number of "Unofficial Visits." This is defined as the recruit paying for all of his own expenses. Make an appointment with the coach before you visit. The college is under some restrictions on how often they can call you, but you can all them anytime.
An athletes Senior Year should be the best year of their life. It should not be dominated by recruitment, but rather maintaining a balance that will allow them to participate in all of the school and extracurricular activities of their choice while laying the groundwork for attending college in the fall. Going into their senior year, they should be able to determine if it appears they will receive an early scholarship offer, if they will keep their options open for scholarship opportunities offered during the post-season signing period, or if they will need to participate in the traditional college application process.
Either way, don't stress too much, enjoy the ride and make the best of it. Be realistic, have an open mind, and do your due diligence in making a selection. For further information and some questions to ask along the way, check out http://basketball4all.net/Recruiting.html and most definitely read "Compete: A Guide for College-Bound Basketball Players" by my friend Marc Isenberg, author of "Money Players: A Guide to Succeed in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes ". You can also follow Marc in Twitter @MarcIsenberg