Recruiting the Modern High School Athlete

For any parent of an aspiring college athlete, it's important to remember that the greatest catalyst in helping your child get recruited is his or her coach.
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After leading a discussion on "How Future Star Athletes Are Being Discovered" at South By Southwest earlier this month, parents have asked me for advice on kids hoping to be recruited. This is a complicated topic, but here's something parents commonly overlook:

Let's say your child begins to show promise in a sport, consistently outperforming the local competition. To play against even better competition and to increase his or her exposure to college coaches, your child begins playing on a travel team, also known as club or select teams. Now in addition to playing in a slew of ostensibly high profile tournaments, your child is also being tutored by an accomplished coach or trainer who has a track record of helping other kids get recruited by colleges and comes highly recommended by other parents.

If this sounds familiar, you are among the millions of dedicated parents aiming to help their children leverage their athletic gifts and play in college. Instinctively, parents want what is best for their children and an athletic scholarship or easier college admission are among the many benefits of becoming a college athlete. It comes as no surprise that such strong demand has made college sports recruiting a big industry, and there are a slew of services and technologies aimed at helping kids get recruited to play in college.

For any parent of an aspiring college athlete, it's important to remember that the greatest catalyst in helping your child get recruited is his or her coach.

This is because the coach is typically more objective than a parent, better experienced in the sport, and often has preexisting relationships with college coaches. Additionally, the coach must risk his credibility each time he provides his assessment of your child to a college recruiter. Put simply, the opinion of your child's coach carries more weight, which is why college recruiters usually talk to him before talking to you or your child.

To help get their children recruited in the modern era, parents commonly rely on three strategies, but ultimately, all three strategies point back to the child's coach as being essential in the recruiting process.

First, parents have their children participate in tournaments and recruiting showcases in hopes of being noticed. These events are designed to help college coaches see a large number of prospective student-athletes, given their finite amount of time and often limited recruiting budgets. But even when an athlete impresses a college coach in-person, the recruiter is still going to contact the athlete's coach to ascertain things like strengths, weaknesses, character, grades, work ethic, family dynamics, and financial needs. This is even more the case with recruiters in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) because they can contact an athlete's coach when communication with the athlete is restricted.

The second strategy is to do-it-yourself (DIY). For years, athletes have been instructed to be proactive, so they create recruiting videos and send them to every college coach that they can find on the Internet. Though without involving their coaches, athletes can put forth tremendous effort but yield little in return. Even when a college coach opens an email and watches an athlete's recruiting video, the coach needs more information because he is attempting to evaluate a human being's entire makeup and compatibility with his program. Therefore, college coaches will turn to a more objective and comprehensive source: the athlete's coach.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there are roughly eight million high school athletes in the U.S. alone, compared to less than 70 thousand total college coaches reported by the Department of Education. The number of prospective athletes dwarfs the number of college coaches, so emails from athletes clutter the inboxes of college recruiters. Amplifying the problem, some companies make it even easier for millions of athletes to email bomb a comparatively small population of college coaches. In response, college coaches have begun removing their email addresses from the team's website or simply listing a generic email address. To stand out, athletes must leverage the credibility of their own coaches and the relationships they have with college coaches.

The third strategy is for parents to hire a third party to evaluate their child's abilities, often promising to help their child gain exposure to college coaches. These are known as recruiting services, and they have rightfully been scrutinized by the NCAA. Parents must be very cautious about spending money on a recruiting service, as some of the companies are ignored and even blacklisted by college coaches.

"When I receive emails from a third party company that I had no prior communication nor relation with, then I simply delete them. Too many times, it is recognizable that the company does not 'know' the player nor our need and fit. However, if I hear from a coach who has previously built a relationship with us where we had signed a player and the athlete fits the coach's evaluation, then it excites me because I know we can trust his recommendation," says Marc MacMillan, Director of Baseball Operations at Ole Miss University & former associate head coach at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

All three strategies point back to a child's coach being critical in getting recruited. Therefore, athletes and their parents should be properly aligned with their coaches. Without being pushy or overbearing, they should ask their coaches: where do you see my son or daughter playing at the next level? What is your track record of getting your players recruited and which college coaches consider you a trusted contact? If you don't have a preexisting relationship with a college coach, what is your process for putting a prospective athlete on their radar?

It's important for parents to remember that college coaches are hired to win games. So you must ask yourself where your child can have a great collegiate experience and help the team win. If your child has the ability, he or she can play in college, but a credible and dedicated coach plays a key role.