The trend for kids to get recruited for college sports as early as middle school disturbs many youth sports experts. But there is no doubt that kids have a better chance of playing in college if they plan ahead. The question is, how early is too early?
According to Athnet, a college recruiting site, the answer to “When should I start the recruiting process?” is: usually a lot earlier than you think. Too often athletes wait until their senior year or even halfway through their senior year to start the recruiting process, which they say is too late. Your athlete could find a scholarship at this late date, but it may not be the best fit for him. Athnet strongly encourages athletes who want to play in college to at least start thinking about recruiting and schools they are interested in during their freshman year.
Before I dive into some guidelines, here’s a general understanding of the offerings in College:
Division I is the biggest and most competitive NCAA division. Colleges that compete in Division I must offer scholarships — many of them full — to their student-athletes.
Division II athletic programs are smaller and less competitive than those in Division I. Most student-athletes don’t get full-ride scholarships, but many do get some financial aid for playing.
Division III programs are the least competitive. Division III colleges do not offer sports-related financial aid. Still, these schools recruit athletes, and being one can help you get into a college that wants you in its program. All three of my kids played division III and although they didn’t receive athletic scholarships, they did receive other types of aid.
As you begin the recruiting journey, here’s a basic timeline:
Freshmen: In the first two years of high school, your young athlete should focus on developing strength and skills, and on her academics. No matter how skilled your child is, she will not be eligible to play as a college freshman if she does not have the right high school courses on her transcript. You may say, “freshman often don’t get much time anyway”, but sportsbooks are previewing that freshman can make an impact on NCAA teams.
Keep in mind that it is not enough to have good grades and get a good score on the college entrance exam; your child must also have the right mix of courses to meet NCAA standards.
Sophomores: Your child’s sophomore year is the time to get serious if she wants to compete in college and/or get a scholarship. Your child must continue to develop sports skills and leadership abilities. She will be a more valuable recruit if she’s established a reputation for teamwork, sportsmanship and maturity. This is a process and requires consistency. College coaches want motivated athletes who contribute to team unity and stay out of trouble.
Juniors: This is the most important year in your athlete’s recruiting process, according to AthleticAid.com. The actual recruiting may take place in the senior year, but it is the junior year accomplishments that bring the recruiting phone calls. The earlier your child gets on the coaches’ radar, the better his chances of being recruited in his senior year.
During this year, your child can boost visibility to coaches by making phone calls, visiting schools and meeting coaches. There are NCAA rules that prevent coaches from reaching out until late in the junior year, but your child can contact coaches and meet with them t0 show your interest as long as you follow the NCAA rules.
Seniors: There’s a lot to juggle in the senior year.
- Make sure your child is eligible by filling holes in her transcript.
- Continue developing skills.
- Be prepared. How should you handle a home visit? If you are fortunate enough to get an early scholarship offer, is it the best you will get? Will you have to make a commitment before the signing period? What if the offer is good but you do not think that the school is right for you? What should you do and who should you see on an official recruiting visit? Take time to research and learn the answers to these questions.
Other Recruiting Tips to Keep in Mind:
- Sports like basketball, soccer, and golf recruit early (according to athleticscholarships.com)
- Don’t assume coaches will find your child if she is a really good middle school (or even freshman or sophomore) athlete.
- Keep in mind that recruiting is a four-year progression for your child. He may not be contacted by coaches in his freshman year, but the preparation definitely starts then.
- Look for ways for your child to develop relationships with coaches (that could lead to scholarship offers) throughout her high school career. If your child starts thinking about college early, it will give him more time to learn about his choices and options.
- Help your child recruit him/herself. For every star high school athlete who gets the attention of major regional newspapers and who is recruited by dozens of college coaches, there are dozens of equally talented athletes who for whatever reason do not gain the attention of college coaches and who do not compete in college. Help your athlete evaluate college sports programs and learn where her talents best fit. She may have to contact coaches, visit colleges, and highlight her talents on her own.
Thousands of high school seniors wait for “the call” or “the letter” from a college coach. Some will receive them, but many talented athletes won’t. Why?
The most important reason is visibility. Help your child work on raising his visibility among college coaches; don’t wait for the coach to come calling.
Roughly 1 out of 25 high school students goes on to compete in an NCAA school (AthleticAid.com). Half of those receive athletic aid. So the odds are that 1 in 50 high school athletes receives a college sports scholarship. This statistic seems high to me; I’ve heard odds much less encouraging. But the bottom line is this: Talent is important, but your child’s talent must be seen by a coach and by stepping out and encouraging your athlete to recruit himself, he can greatly improve his odds.