During my 30-year college coaching career, I have had direct contact with approximately 10,000 cross country / track and field recruits of varying degrees of ability; from the No. 1 ranked athlete in the USA, to a high school cross country team's seventh runner.
One of the most common remarks made to me by their parents was how challenging it is to navigate the recruiting process, particularly if it is your first time. There is a place for everyone, whether it be at a power five school, an Ivy League institution, a NCAA I mid-major driven by revenue income generation for the university, through increased enrollment or NCAA Division II / III and NAIA schools. Identifying that right school and program for your child is the greatest challenge.
The copious amounts of information you will receive from college coaches, other parents, former and current college athletes, and the staff members at your high school will undoubtedly prove daunting. You have your work cut out for you, but if you start to logically piece together a plan of action you will be just fine.
Here are the most critically important underlying themes that as parents you need to understand going into this process:
1) THIS IS A BUSINESS
You and your child are looking for the best deal possible. In turn, the coach who is recruiting you is looking for the very best athletes they can sign. Even in the sport of track and field there is great pressure upon coaches to win. While I was a college coach, I had bonuses written into my contract that would pay me an additional 15-50% of my annual income based solely upon performance. It is important to not lose sight of the fact that this endeavor is an oddly two-sided equation.
You have the business aspect on one side, but you also have the personal relationship between the coach and athlete on the other side. The relationship in many ways will determine the success of this business endeavor. The relationship your child possesses with his coach will impact your child's overall college experience and quality of their running career. If at all possible, don't simply settle for the money -- there is too much at stake. Fight for the best deal that you are able to obtain, but don't give away quality of life for the deal.
2) EMPOWER YOUR CHILD
As a coach, one of the biggest red flags our staff identified during the early stages of the recruiting process was overly involved parents. I cannot enumerate the number of times our staff uttered a comment such as "Can we truly trust this person in the heat of battle if their parents do everything for them?" It is imperative that you have your child initiate all communication throughout the recruiting process. I would suggest strict adherence to the following areas:
Do not send e-mails on their behalf. It lessens their viability. As a coach, I received far too many, "I know they are my son/daughter, but they are truly amazing" letters and e-mails.
Make them speak even when they do not want to. They should answer the phone and ask the questions. You are not a screening service. If the coach is not important enough for you to speak with, eliminate that school from your shortlist.
Let them shine. On official, or unofficial, visits take a backseat to your child. Let them read from the list of questions you created together. Avoid speaking on their behalf or interjecting to clarify for them. Walk a couple of steps behind when touring the campus so they may converse directly to the coach or student host.
3) KNOW YOUR ROLE
Although it is important to give your child independence and let them lead the way-- guide them! Help them eliminate programs and schools to move forward in a logical direction that narrows down their options. Review their correspondences to coaches to ensure that their intent matches their wording.
Help them weed through all the hype of the recruiting pitches they will hear. In track and field, every program will sell themselves as up and coming -- most aren't! Do your research and try to determine if team members are quitting, if they have an alarming number of injuries, if there is truly a positive trajectory toward improvement.
The entire recruiting process can be daunting if you do not do your research. However, if you create a sound plan of attack it will be an amazing experience. You are helping your child with a monumental step in their lives. Do it wisely!
Willy Wood boasts 26 highly successful years of NCAA Division I head coaching experience, two decades of which were spent at Columbia University. He recently developed a recruiting service designed specifically for high school track and field/ cross country athletes -- www.fasttrackrecruiting.com