Hey there! Do you want to play your sport at the collegiate level? This is the advice I wish someone had told me about playing in college. I was recruited and am currently a Division 1 athlete at an Ivy League school, so this advice stems from personal experience.
Recruitment can be a brutal and often political process that is extremely taxing on athletes physically, psychologically, and emotionally. It takes years of dedication and hard work to even be considered for recruitment, and even more dedication and an unrelenting commitment to actually be recruited. Here are some of the most important pieces of advice that I learned during my recruitment process and that I wish someone told me.
- Do not confine yourself to one school. Confining yourself to one school, if you are not a top 10 recruit for your sport, will be anything but beneficial. Some teams (like football) have larger teams and therefore recruit more athletes per class. But if you play a sport with a smaller team such as volleyball or even soccer, it will be harder to get recruited because the pool of commitments shrinks. You want to have a list of around ten schools that you love, are excited about, and would be okay attending as a student, not just an athlete.
- Expect to be disappointed. As stated already, recruitment can be exceedingly frustrating and stressful for all concerned. Sometimes, no matter how good you are, coaches deem that you are not a right fit for a team. In other cases, you may not play at the level required by the school you want to attend. These things happen and rejection is almost inevitable. Both parents and athletes should expect it. It is unpleasant when rejection happens, but if you prepare for it you won’t be blindsided. Rejection can also be easier to deal with if there are a lot of schools on your radar– as stated above.
- Be proactive. The grand majority of NCAA athletes weren’t called by the coaches and asked to play at a Power 5 school the moment the contact period (when coaches can formally contact an athlete about recruitment) begins. You should email the coaches you want to play for and keep in touch with them. Not getting a response doesn’t necessarily mean they are not interested. They get hundreds of emails from athletes and it can be difficult to respond to all the athletes they want to. They will, however, notice persistence and a real enthusiasm for the sport, the school, and the team.
- Know the ins and outs of the schools you are wishing to commit to. Apart from knowing athletics, it is really important to know and research the school in which you would like to play at. Firstly, it will allow you to know more about the school and determine if you would really like to attend it. Secondly, coaches will not be impressed if you only know about the school’s athletics and know nothing about the school itself. It is important to be sure you’re attending a school you like as a student in case you decide to take a step back from athletics (whether by choice or because of injury)– it happens more often than you might think.
- Expose yourself to the schools you want to attend. Go to clinics, camps, tournaments, showcases, or wherever the coaches you want to play for will be. You don't have to go to everything, but showing up as much as possible will help your chances of recruitment. College coaches will remember you, and they keep notes on every player they are watching.
- Have a couple good film videos accessible to coaches. Whether you post on Hudl, YouTube, or some other streaming service, highlights are quick and easy ways for coaches to determine if they want to recruit you. This is especially helpful if they cannot see you in person (i.e. you are an international player, there is another pandemic, etc.) Keep them about three minutes long and make sure your highlights are your absolute best and show you doing a myriad of skills (this varies from sport to sport). Do not put loud music on in the background, use something simple and won't be distracting or irritating. My final recommendation is to upload your highlights to YouTube and paste the link at the bottom of every email you send to a college coach.
- Understand the commitment of becoming an NCAA athlete. The recruitment process is brutal and you don’t want to end up at the school and hate it or the sport. You don’t want to put yourself through it if you are not 100% sure you want to play in college. Firstly, if you end up at a college with a scholarship and you quit, the scholarship will be revoked. Secondly, the expenses it takes to become an NCAA athlete will seem futile. Thirdly, your happiness matters the most. If you don’t think you’ll enjoy it, don’t do it.
- Take mental health seriously. Mental health in athletes is of the utmost importance. Burnout, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, severe pressure, and low self-esteem are all real issues that plague NCAA athletes. Between January and June 2022, five NCAA athletes took their own lives. Sometimes quitting is the best option. As someone who went through the recruitment process during the rise of mental health acknowledgment and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is nothing more important for an athlete than mental health. It affects every part of your game from training and lifting to making smart decisions on the field. Take it seriously.
- Be a good person. This may seem obvious, but it is crucial. College coaches want to make sure they aren't just recruiting a good player but a good person, and they are usually pretty vocal about this fact. Be a supportive teammate, help clean up, pick your teammates up when they're down, and be nice, quiet, and respectful at all times. You could be an amazing player but not pleasant to be coach and you won't get recruited.
Resilience and determination separates the goods from the greats. Try not let discouragement affect you during the recruitment process, because I will tell you right now, rejection and disappointment are inevitable. But I promise you, whether you choose to believe me or not, everything will work out the way it is supposed to, and you will play where you are meant to. And finally, good luck!