International Recruiting

Six Things for Canadian Track and Field Athletes To Consider During The NCAA Recruiting Process


International Track and Field Recruiting



Coach Wood recruited me to Columbia University when I was in Grade 11, and I joined his program in September of 2000.  He was patient with me throughout the process and allowed me and my family to ask questions and make the best long-term decision for me.  That is the most important thing to consider when you are weighing your post-secondary options as a Canadian or International student-athlete.  I will try to share some my experience as a high school and university student-athlete, as well as my experience as an Assistant Track and Cross Country Coach at both Brown University and Columbia University of the Ivy League.

As a high school athlete, I was an OFSAA Champion (400m), three-time medallist (800m, Steeple) and made the Canadian Junior final in the 800m three times.  I was recruited by a number of universities, both in the US and in Canada and took a number of official visits.

As I worked through the process, I found that the recruiting approach was similar amongst schools on both sides of the border.  Every school has something unique that it can offer you, and it is up to you to determine what is important to you, both in the short-term and in the long-term. 

When I started the recruiting process I knew that I wanted to end up living in Canada for the long-term, but that I wanted the opportunity to experience living and competing in the States.  This had me put most of my focus on American universities.  I was recruited by Ivy League schools, as well as schools in major athletic conferences and some schools so small that I had trouble believing they even existed!  You end up with so much information that it can be overwhelming.  To help with this, I opened myself up to listening to my family, and to my coach.  My parents both competed at the University of Windsor and my coach competed at Villanova University.  This provided me with diverse perspectives and guidance, and I suggest that you seek out trusted advisors that can share both experiences with you.  Being a Canadian athlete, you are well connected to your fellow competitors and coaches across the country.  At your provincial meet and at Nationals, you likely chat with Canadian University coaches often and know them quite well.  My advice is to seek out what you don’t know, challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone.

In the end, my final two choices were Columbia University and the University of Windsor.  In Windsor, I had familiarity, friends, coaches that I knew well, and training partners that I had run with for a few years already.  In Columbia, I didn’t know a single person (at first), had only been to New York City once (on my official visit!) and was scared to death.  I took some time to reflect on the choice in front of me.  Both, I knew, would provide me with great opportunities to run fast and to receive a great education, but there were a few key aspects of the process that tipped me toward Columbia.

1.     I had the opportunity to receive a world-renowned education and study in the same setting and atmosphere that world leaders and Nobel prize winners studied in.

2.     Columbia offered an opportunity to compete against not only the best in Canada but the best in the world.  I am the same age as Nathan Brannen, and by choosing to compete in the US, not only would I get to continue to test myself against him, but also hundreds of athletes that were faster than me.

3.     The student-athletes already on the team welcomed me on my official visit as if I had been on the team for years.

4.     This part was most important in my decision-making process: There were two coaches that were young, committed to creating an environment of success, and were fiercely focused on developing a middle-distance and distance program.

While it took me some time to adjust to living in New York City, running in Central Park, and getting hammered by teammates in workouts and races, I absolutely made the right decision.  Attending Columbia gave me the opportunity to compete at the Penn Relays, the NCAA East Regional at the University of Florida, the Duke Invitation, Harvard, Yale, and so many other incredible venues.  The experience at an American university opened up the door for me to work in US Congress the summer after my second-year, and then get into coaching myself for three years after graduating from law school.  While the decision was difficult, it was the right one.  I’m not saying that attending an American school is the right choice for everyone, but it was for me. 

To help you make the right decision for you, here are some things to consider:

1.     Pay close attention to the coaching staff, and the head coaches in particular.  Assistant coaches tend to change often, and almost certainly will during your time at a school, so base your decision on the head coach.  Do you trust them?  Do they have a philosophy that you believe in?  Will they inspire you?  Are they determined to make you great, or are you just another piece of the puzzle?

2.     Pay attention to their academic reputation.  Most schools in Canada have strong academic reputations.  In the US, there are so many schools and so many options, that a number of them won’t serve you well after graduation.  If you have the opportunity to attend a strong academic school in the US, give a really good look because those opportunities are tremendous.

3.     Visit the school.  Is it somewhere that you think you’ll be comfortable at?  Is it urban or rural, and which setting are you looking for? 

4.     Meet the team.  Do they get along and support each other, or is it an individual atmosphere?

5.     Talk to your family, but don’t let them make the decision for you.  Your parents will always guide you in the right direction, but know that they will always want you close to home.  Seek their input, but make this YOUR decision.

6.     What do you want out of your experience?  What do you want to achieve athletically?  Academically?  Culturally?  Will this school deliver in all three of those areas?

Best of luck in this process and remember that this is your journey.  Feel free to step out of your comfort zone.  I certainly did, and I wouldn’t trade a single moment of my experience at Columbia.  I ran fast, I set records, I left with a world-class education, and most importantly, I made the best friends in the world, and these are guys that I wouldn’t have met if I settled for something comfortable.