Game, Set, Match: Athletic Recruitment 101

So your son or daughter dreams of being the next LeBron James, Serena Williams, or Lionel Messi…but you’ve made it clear: college comes first. That’s okay for them because they’ll be recruited by top schools AND college will be paid for with an athletic scholarship, right? Not necessarily.

One of the most confusing, and frustrating, aspects of the recruitment process for families of student-athletes is understanding the proper course of action for playing sports at the collegiate level. Many students have misguided aspirations of being courted by schools that will whisk them away to be superstars on campus without spending much time in the classroom. Much to the dismay of students, this is not quite how the scenario will play out.

The reality is that students interested in continuing their athletic endeavors at a university will need to be proactive in the recruitment process. According to Derek Fox, Associate Director of Admission at Lehigh University, a Division I school in Pennsylvania, contacting coaches is the first step a prospective student-athlete should take.

“The biggest mistake students make is assuming that all coaches will seek them out when really students should send an email or call the coach expressing interest,” says Fox. “Make sure to list a schedule of competitions or tournaments at which the student will be participating and include the name of their team, their number, and what color uniform so the coaches know who to look for at these events.”

Also, although many parents may be tempted to call college coaches, Fox advises against this.

“Parents should not contact coaches on behalf of their children,” stresses Fox. “Coaches do not want to hear from the parents during the recruiting process…they want to hear directly from the student-athlete.”

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), college coaches have guidelines to follow as to when they may contact a student-athlete, typically waiting until after the student has finished their sophomore year. This means that the actual time of year that students will be contacted may vary for international students or U.S. students living abroad since school calendars vary from country to country.

“There is generally no difference in the recruitment process for international student athletes or students abroad,” says Jan Macko, Associate Director of Admission at Lynn University, a Division II school in Florida. “The only caveat is that if the student-athlete’s sophomore year ends after June 15th, coaches need to wait until the end of the student’s sophomore year before they are allowed to actively begin recruiting the student.”

Kevin Coveney, former Vice President of Admissions at Washington College, a Division III school in Maryland, encourages student-athletes to visit the schools to which they are applying.

“If a student-athlete is being actively recruited, they usually make visit arrangements directly with the coach who will in turn coordinate planning with the Admissions Office,” says Coveney. “At the Division III level a highly-desired recruit can be, and often is, given preference in the admissions process. Top recruits will often be asked to make an early enrollment commitment and may be encouraged to apply Early Decision.”

Just as a violinist or a leader in the student government can add something to the student body of a university, a prospective student-athlete’s talents can certainly be a factor used by admission officers when reviewing an application.

“Prospective student athletes bring a unique talent to the university which is generally considered a strength in the admission process,” says Macko. “The same would hold true for a student listing a strong extracurricular activity on their resume.”

According to the NCAA, just 2% of student-athletes are awarded some type of college scholarship based on their athletic performance. This fact surprises many families who have aspirations of “full-ride” awards for their student-athlete. In fact, athletic-based scholarships are awarded only at the Division I and II levels, while Division III schools are prohibited by NCAA regulations from awarding funds based on athletic performance.

“Unless you are dealing with football or basketball, there are few ‘full rides’ offered,” says Fox. “There are scholarships offered in other sports, but most coaches find that offering some athletic scholarship money in addition to other merit scholarships or institutional funds allows them to stretch their scholarship funds a little further.”

So what should students do once they’ve decided they would like to play a sport at the college level? Follow these simple steps:

1) Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center BEFORE the senior year of high school,

2) Have the high school counselor send a copy of the transcript to the Eligibility Center,

3) Begin contacting coaches at schools of interest,

4) Schedule campus visits and,

5) Maintain a focus on academics. It’s important for parents to remind their children that, regardless of their athletic talent, they will be a “Student-Athlete”, not an “Athlete-Student”!