During my thirty-year college coaching career, I have had direct contact with approximately 10,000 cross country/track and field recruits. 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. Identifying the right school and program for your child presents an even greater 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.
I have had significant experience interacting with recruits of varying degrees of ability; from the number ranked athlete in the USA to a high school cross country team’s seventh runner. There is a place for everyone, whether it be at a power five school, an Ivy League institution, an NCAA I mid-major driven by revenue income generation for the university through increased enrollment or NCAA Division II / III and NAIA schools.
Over the course of my coaching career, I have identified a few basic principles that are applicable throughout the recruiting process, regardless of your child’s level of ability. The most critically important underlying themes that parents need to understand going into this process are as follows:
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 this fact, however, this endeavor is an oddly two-sided process. You have the business aspect on one side, but you also have a personal relationship between the coach and athlete on the other side of the equation. 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 an overly involved parent. I cannot enumerate the number of times a comment such as “can we truly trust this person in the heat of battle” if their parents do everything for them” was uttered. 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 to narrow down their options. Review their correspondences to coaches to ensure that their intent matches their wording. Help them weed through all of 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 critical step in their lives– do it wisely!