Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Recruiting 101: It Takes a Village – and an Oriental Rug

Recruiting 101
by guest blogger Caroline Stanistreet 

This may be an exciting time in your high school athlete’s life since he or she may be wondering if they will get the opportunity to play collegiate sports and receive a good education. There’s an exciting aspect for parents too - scholarship money may be available! 

You’ve probably heard guidance counselors say it constantly about your child’s journey through high school – “Start early.”  They are correct. Colleges are recruiting athletes as early as middle school, yes, MIDDLE SCHOOL! It sounds ridiculous, but it is a reality today, especially with some particular sports like lacrosse. 

So, what do you do?  The sooner you can establish, support and even promote your student-athlete, the sooner you can form new relationships with college coaches - who are continually looking for athletes in your child’s particular class year.  Do not wait until your child is a senior; many people have found out the hard way with some familiar responses like “thank you for your interest, but our roster for next year is full” or “we only have one spot on the team for next year and it’s taken.” Get going, and keep moving! 

Here’s where the “it takes a village” part comes in. You will find that the more people who are out there helping, the more success you will have in getting your child recruited.
But, before you even consider doing anything, talk with your child’s high school coach first. Most of them are realists, and he or she will clearly tell you whether your athlete has the “right stuff” to compete in collegiate sports, and perhaps at the appropriate level, be it D-I, D-II, D-III, NAIA or Junior college.

If you do get the support from your child’s coach, ask for a letter of recommendation as well as from teachers and even the Athletic Director.  Next, visit the NCAA Eligibility Center and get him or her registered. This is required to become a collegiate athlete in the NCAA. Also look at the NAIA and NCJAA websites (all are listed below), which are great alternatives to the NCAA.  

The NCAA and its Eligibility websites have a wealth of information for parents and athletes, and it guides your student-athlete along in the process.  For a one-time fee, you register your child who is then given an ID number.  That number will be with them throughout high school, and it comes in handy when filling out college recruiting questionnaires on each college or university’s websites. Those questions vary from school to school, but most of the sites will ask for their “NCAA ID #.” But, it is up to you and your child to keep information updated on the site, for example, once your child takes the SAT or ACT, the scores must be reported to the Eligibility Center. The NCAA will also provide you with “The Rules” – which are strict guidelines as to when student-athletes are “allowed” to contact a coach and in what format, be it email, phone, fax, and when the coach is allowed to contact your child. There are a bunch of what they call “Periods” -- “Contact Periods,” “Evaluation Periods,” “Dead Periods” and “Quiet Periods” These recruitment rules, according to the NCAA’s website, “seek, as much as possible, to control intrusions into the lives of student-athletes.”  So, read and adhere carefully!

Next, hiring a recruiting agency or a sole recruiter is something to consider. The recruiter’s job is to further explain those important recruiting rules and have information on every college, junior college and university on one website. These agencies also guide your athlete though the process and provide tips and information to keep him or her on track with recruiting timelines and creating a catchy athletic profile, making your athlete “look good” to coaches.  They can also assist with that all-important reality check of whether she has the talent to play a collegiate sport, and if so, where and at what level?  Yes, it costs money, but if you feel your student-athlete has that much potential, it may be a sound investment. 

We found that some coaches appear to rely on recruiters, since they know the information provided by a recruiter must be verified and documented. Another benefit – the recruiter will tell your child directly to keep their social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in check, as coaches monitor them often. It’s almost like having another parent watching over your kid!! 

Ask other parents if they’ve used a recruiter and how they felt about the experience (and investment), and if they think it’s worth it.  Keep in mind that the recruiter won’t do everything for your child.  They will make it clear that your child is the key player when it comes to sending emails, updating his profile, sending videos and making constant contact with coaches. 

My son, who graduates from high school in 2016, has been “competing” against kids for spots on college golf teams across the country for a few years now. Roster sizes range from 8-12 or up to 14, but my son has carefully checked each college roster to see how many seniors there are and looks at each college’s areas of study to see if it would be a good fit. He is not just looking for roster openings, but also for athletic scholarship money at a quality school.  Surprisingly, we found that many NCAA D-I and D-II schools do not offer scholarships (NCAA D-III colleges do not have any, yet 90% of NAIA schools offer scholarships and the NCJAA 

also offers scholarships,). Some of the D-I schools may just have a single scholarship to hand out each year to a lone golfer. That may not be the case for football, soccer, lacrosse or other larger team sports, so be sure to research carefully.

Since my son is also a pretty good student, there may be merit-based scholarship money out there for him as well, so have your child KEEP THOSE GRADES UP! If he needs to re-take the SATs or ACTs, then have him do it.  The college’s admissions office can tell you that an increased GPA and higher scores on the SAT and ACT can result in more additional scholarship dollars. If your child intends to leave the state, looks at the college website to determine if there is out-of-state tuition vs. in-state tuition, There could easily be an extra $10,000-$15,000 tacked onto the fee.  Also, make sure your child is “well-rounded,” as in volunteering at church or with a non-profit organization from time to time.  Coaches want to see a kind, caring student-athlete, not just a high school “jock” who only focuses on athletics. 

Depending on the sport, you may have to contend with the stigma of being a "kid from the North." Take the sport of golf for example. Most southern schools don't exactly search out our talented golfers up here, thinking they only get to play golf for a portion of the year.  My son received a return call from a coach in Florida only to get somewhat snubbed from him because – wait for it…  he played more than one sport! (though many coaches embrace the work ethic and discipline of multiple sports)  He also has had to deal with the hundreds, perhaps thousands of international athletes whose parents send them to the United States. Some will return home after attending prep schools or specialized sports academies, but some will remain in the U.S. in hopes they evolve into professionals or get recruited by a D-I school.  Yet, you need to remain optimistic 
that there is a great college or university that has a program that your student-athlete can play at - at a level that best fits him or her.

This is where the Oriental rug part of the title comes in.  The late Nancy Duffy, the longtime local journalist from Central New York (and mentor to me back in the 80’s), first advised me that in order to get into the TV news business, you should “wrap yourself in an Oriental rug and show up at the News Director’s door!”  I never forgot that advice, and for teenagers who may not understand what she was conveying to me, it simply means to separate yourself from the pack, be unique, creative and clever.  Think of different ways to approach a college coach.  Consider sending your athletic resume not just electronically, but follow up via Express mail or Priority Mail (yes, the old fashioned way, some coaches may really like that!). And when NCAA rules permit (check that out on their website), it’s OK to C-A-L-L them! Show your interest and they just might show it back!

If there is interest, then go visit the school, set up a meeting with the admissions office, take a campus tour and finally - meet the coach. Reading brochures or viewing the college website is one thing, but physically being there makes a huge difference.  Prepare questions for the admissions counselor, the campus tour guide and of course, the coach. The main objective of this visit is to determine whether your child, the college and the coach will “click.”  I still remain in contact with my college coach (and it’s been more than just a few years!), and hitting it off right at the start will open the door to a successful experience at the college both academically and athletically.  If you don’t get an all-around positive feeling from the visit, then consider your “B,” or “C” school.

No one said getting your child recruited was going to be easy, but with a firm commitment from your child and the “village” of family, high school and amateur coaches, friends, and possibly recruiting professionals - it may be worthwhile in the long run. 

Thanks to the effort of our son and his “village,” we are proud to announce that he has signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division-I golf next year!

Here are some websites to check out:

www.ncjaa.org - National Junior College Athletic Association

www.ncaa.org - National Collegiate Athletic Association   

www.eligibilitycenter.org - the NCAA’s eligibility website

www.naia.org - The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics

(I would share recruiting websites, but there are so many that it may be easier for you to do a search. Other parents or friends’ recommendations will also be beneficial)