Monday, September 8, 2014

When High School Athletes Aspire to Be College Athletes

A Sports-mom's unofficial guide to saving your sanity during the recruiting process.

Do you have a student athlete? Do they have hopes and dreams of playing in college? Trying to figure out how to get them the best exposure? Overwhelmed? 

You certainly aren’t alone.

As a Mom who has been there, done that, I am not here to sugar coat the process. The college recruiting/exposure process is a lot of work, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself by cutting out some unnecessary stress and financial strain. If your teenaged athlete has the talent and the heart, being a college athlete is within reach. Step one in the process is understanding your son or daughter’s true capabilities. Everyone thinks their kid is the best, but do yourself a favor and look at your athlete from outside your Mom and Dad bubble. Most likely, their high school or club coaches will have clued you in if they see a high level of talent in your child. Take the time to ask the right questions to the coaches if you are unsure. They work with your son or daughter day in and day out. They know their potential and have observed their work ethic, leadership, and technical abilities. A coach isn’t going to tell you your kid is NCAA Division I worthy, if they aren’t. If it is communicated that the end goal is to be playing that sport at a college level, their coach will be up front with that reality and will, typically, do what they can to help them achieve that….if it’s achievable.

As parents, we have to do our research on the right fit for our son or daughter. There are tons of recruiting websites, sports columns, message boards, etc. out there to give us direction, but because there are SO many, it can be overwhelming not knowing where to start. I received guidance from a fellow mom of a college student athlete. She helped point me in the right direction for my son who aspired to play college basketball. So I decided to give my personal advice after gaining knowledge from my own experience with getting my oldest recruited as a college student athlete.

Here are the key points to getting on the right track with the recruiting process:   

1. Know the difference between NCAA Divisions and the academic requirements. 
Divison I: the big league schools for college athletics with the highest level of competition. There is more of an emphasis on “athlete” than “student”. Practice times, games, and travel take up most of an athlete’s time during season. Athletes are the best of the best. Academically, a 16 core-course requirement (4 years of English, minimum 2.3 GPA in core courses) has to be met. 
Division II: Slightly less competitive, typically smaller that Divison I schools with more of a balance between “student” and “athlete”. Competition is still very strong. Academically, a 16 core-course requirement (3 years of English, 820 minimum SAT) has to be met. 
Division III: Great option for athletes who want to play their sport at a college level, but have more time to focus on their education. Practice times are limited, travel isn’t as intense. There are no academic requirements set by NCAA. 
A great source for more information on each of these NCAA Divisions is here: http://www.shmoop.com/college/ncaa-division-1-recruiting.html

2. Know the four year time line. Courtesy of www.athleticaid.com/
FRESHMEN: Read the NCAA Guide for the College Bound Student Athlete. Download the free PDF. Plan your high school schedule around it so that all requirements are met. You have to have the right mix of courses to meet the NCAA standards.

SOPHOMORES: It’s time to get serious. Learning about recruiting and the rules around sports scholarships will put you ahead of the game when it counts. Start raising your visibility. Sophomore year is about development. This means both your sport skills along with leadership abilities. You will be more a more valuable recruit if you have built a reputation for teamwork, sportsmanship and maturity. This reputation is a long process and requires consistency. College coaches need motivated athletes who contribute to the team and stay clear of trouble.

JUNIORS: The most important year of recruiting. The accomplishments of your junior year we bring in the recruiting phone calls. The earlier you get on the coaches radar, the better.  Boost visibility by making phone calls, sending emails, and visiting schools. Remember coaches have to abide by NCAA rules and are unable to reach out to you until late in your junior year. You can contact the coaches and meet with them, showing interest as long as you follow the rules.

SENIORS: Time is in short supply. Fill in any holes in your transcript. Show continued development. You may start receiving calls and have requests for visits. How should you handle home visits? If you get an early scholarship offer, how should you handle that? Decisions, decisions!

** Don’t panic if you just realized you may be behind since your son or daughter just started their junior or senior year. Yes, early prep is best, but it doesn’t mean you’ve missed your window to get them exposure. I didn’t get my son’s name out there until just before his senior year.
3. Realistically understand which level of talent your kid falls into: Check out sites such as www.berecruited.com, www.maxpreps.com, www.scout.com, www.ncsasports.org. Don’t fall into the trap of paying for the subscriptions for these sites unless you absolutely feel the need. I, personally, use them primarily as a gage for where my son is in comparison to others his age, size, playing his sport, his position, etc. Most sites have free profiles that you can set up and I encourage you do so. You can pay extra to see who is looking at your kids profile and for additional profile features. Here’s the deal; while coaches and recruiters will look at these sites for information, if your kid is THAT good, create the free profile, but save your money on subscriptions and invest in a good video camera. (see number 4)

4. If your son or daughter has their sights set on specific schools, email the coaches directly. Don’t bog down their inboxes with gigabytes of video. Instead, create a free YouTube account with video clips of your athlete and send out the link. Try to keep it within reason; between 2-4 minutes. Go to their school webpage/athletics/coaching staff, and the assistant/recruiting coach’s email is almost always listed. Keep your email short and sweet. Address that particular coach by name in your opening remarks. Send individual emails and not one bulk. It takes more time, but a coach isn’t interested in the desperation email with 25 other schools CC’ed. With my oldest son, I included his high school, graduation year, height, weight, position, average points per game, average rebounds, and anything else that would make him stand out from others. For instance, he led his team in charges; a stat that doesn’t necessarily make the stat sheet, but it distinguished him as a strong defensive player on top of offensive stats. Be sure to list their contact information; email and phone number. Stats and contact info is important, but let the video do most of the “talking”. And don't worry if you aren't a professional videographer. I asked for footage from my son's high school games and trimmed them in Windows Movie Maker, a very user friendly program that publishes right to YouTube.

5. Remember that only NCAA Division I and II colleges can offer athletic scholarships in addition to merit based scholarships. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get money from Division III schools. If they want your athlete, they will find scholarship money to offer you. My son was offered quite a bit of merit based scholarship money from Division III schools. But before you lock in to anything, ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS!!!

  • What is the best way to update the coach on your athlete’s progress? 
  • What does it take to earn a scholarship (merit or athletic) with that particular school’s program?
  • Does an athlete lose their athletic scholarship if they get hurt and are unable to play out the season? Typically, awarded merit based scholarship stays in place through their stay unless they drop below a certain GPA. Each school has a different policy for injured players with athletic scholarships. Know that policy!
  • Always, always, always ask about grants and other financial aid. If they want your child enough, they will find additional money.
  • Can scholarship monies increase/decrease each year?
  • How many players are being recruited for the same position?
  • What type of off-season commitment/activities are expected?
  • What are the admission requirements for an athlete? 
  • What is the housing situation for athletes?
  • When is a good time to visit the campus and meet with a coach?
  • During a campus visit, ask to meet a current student athlete.  This is an opportunity to ask someone “living it” about college life, the real-life commitment, how they juggle projects/assignments/exams and workouts/practices/travel/games.

Do your research on their athletic program. Ask specific questions. The more genuine interest you show as a parent and your child shows as an athlete, the better impression you leave the coach.

Lastly, if you do nothing else, familiarize yourself with this website: http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes. This website lists equirements for all 3 NCAA Divisions. It also outlines the rules with coaches being able to contact your player. Coaches are bound by NCAA rules that prohibit them from reaching out to athletes and their families during certain times. However, you, the parent, can contact the coach at any time.

I am no way an expert on college recruiting, but I am a mom who has lived it and is living it with 3 others on the horizon. As a sports parent, we dream that the endless schlepping to practices, freezing our buns off at games, getting rained on, snowed on, puked on, yelled at…. there’s some reward in the end. Ultimately, I see sports as a means to help my sons, financially, with their college education. Let’s face it; I am not raising the next Tom Brady or Michael Jordan. However, if by chance I am (and no one has clued me in on this talent as of yet), disregard this entire blog. Mama’s going house shopping!


Happy recruiting!