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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.

Three Things Track and Field Athletes Should Understand About College Track and Field Recruiting

College Track and Field Recruiting

The NCAA currently reports that over 1.5 million boys and girls participate in high school track & field and cross country. Of those 1.5 million participants, only 85,000-90,000 will compete in college, or approximately 4-7% depending upon event and gender. A large majority of that 4-7% will be asked to walk-on and not receive any athletic money.

As a result, it is imperative that you devise a plan of action early on in your high school career. You have worked too hard and sacrificed far too much to idly wait for the process to begin. Take control of your destiny in the same way you have your academic and athletic endeavors. The recruiting process will require the same such commitment from you.

Below are three factors to considering when searching for the college of your dreams.


During your freshmen and sophomore years create an expansive list of schools/programs that meet your specific needs and desires. Among factors to consider are affiliation level (NCAA I, II, III, NAIA, and JUCO), the competitiveness of the program, cost of attendance, quality of education, geographical location, intended academic major, enrollment size, public vs private, and other factors that matter to YOU.

Do not be mesmerized by the name of a school. See beyond the prowess of their football and basketball programs or their academic reputation. Make sure the school you choose meets your needs for reasons beyond it simply being cool to tell the world you will be running or studying at a particular school. Remember, you have to live, study, train and compete there every day for four years. Many brilliant scholars and successful professionals have attended state schools with less than brilliant academic reputations. Additionally, many NCAA I mid-major athletes have claimed NCAA National Championships on the team and individual level. In fact, at this year’s NCAA National Outdoor Track & Field Championships nearly 33% of the participants represented non-Power 5 schools – three were crowned NCAA National Champion and an additional 14 scored for their teams by placing in the top eight. Furthermore, US Olympian and World Championship Silver Medalist, Nick Symmonds competed at the NCAA III level while in college.

Plain and simple, choose a school that you would be happy at without track and field - just in case your athletic career does not go as planned.


Do not be passive. At the conclusion of your freshman year and throughout your sophomore year, start reaching out to college coaches from the schools on your list. In my personal dealings with high school student-athletes, I often heard prospects state that the schools on their list were comprised solely of programs that contacted them. If a program you’re interested in does not reach out to you, reach out to them! You will be surprised at how effective personally reaching out will enhance your recruiting experience. There could be many factors why a school has not reached out to you – one being as simple as you not receiving the letter that was sent to your HS coach or guidance college – this happens more than imagined.

During the summer after your sophomore year and throughout the course of your junior year, take as many unofficial visits as possible. This will give you an opportunity to meet the coach in person, tour the college, check out the athletic facilities, and possibly meet current team members. There is no limit on the number of unofficial visits that you can take – so take many!

During your senior year schedule and take all five allowable official visits. Your decision is far too important and impactful not to explore all possibilities. If the majority of your visits require extensive travel speak to the coaches about combining two visits into one trip to cut down on flights across the country, particularly if in-season.


Over the span of my thirty-year coaching career, I learned that communication is the most important element in reaching your goals. It is imperative that you learn to communicate openly and effectively with your parents, high school coach, and college coaches.

Ask your parents to help you create a series of questions to ask college coaches, begin to narrow your list of potential schools, and arrange the logistical aspects of visit coordination. However, you should be the primary voice writing the emails, taking the phone calls, and asking questions.

Clearly articulate your specific running goals to your high school coach. Ask them to create a sound developmental training plan that will allow you to fully actualize your athletic potential over the span of your high school career. Seek their advice on potential options for you to continue your athletic career based on their past experiences and ask them to email college coaches on your behalf.

Three Things Track and Field Parents Should Understand Going Into The Recruiting Process

Track Recruiting

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!



"Finding a School that will Keep Your Fire Going" - Jack Boyle

Whenever I think of athletes transitioning to from high school to college running one phenomenon that I tend to think about is why do some runners seamlessly enter the college ranks and have equal to greater success than in high school, and why do some on the other hand struggle to even maintain their past fitness and times. Obviously, each situation is different, some runners struggle with injuries, differences in training, or simply being away from home for the first time. These outside influences can clearly impact how an athlete will transition from one level to the next. When an athlete who was a blue-chip recruit or who came from a nationally ranked high school program (like myself - CBA in NJ) struggles, I often hear the term burn out associated with them when things don’t go as well in college as they did in high school. Yes, many of the external factors I mentioned may play into why certain athletes struggle in the NCAA despite immense high school success; however, I also feel like it might not have been so much one specific thing that caused the struggles but instead a combination of elements in their new situation that caused their former passion for the sport to diminish. When I think about what makes a successful track athlete passion for the sport is paramount. Most top high school coaches are able to make their athletes believe that track is not some inferior sport, but instead it is an exciting sport that can become a lifestyle. By encouraging this type of passion many high school athletes are instilled with a fire for the sport that is fed more and more as they continue to have more success and enjoyment with the sport. The transition to college can be tough as it can flip everything upside down and all of a sudden it can be unclear where this fire will be fed from. That it is why is important for high schoolers, before they even begin talking with schools, think about what makes them passionate about the sport (what feeds their fire) and try to ask each school the right questions to see if the passions are shared. For me, I came out of an elite high school program, and I wanted to find a program that had similar expectations to compete at nationals. I knew also that I was very self-motivated (at times too much maybe), but that it was important to be a part of a team with shared goals or else we could never achieve anything. I also had a goal to contribute right away wherever I went because I felt I would transition well to the longer distances in college and did not to redshirt. That is why I tried to ask each coach I visited with where they saw their program going, and what they felt I could do during my freshmen year. After I visited with Coach Wood and the Columbia team I knew this was a situation where my fire and passion would burn strong and be fed so that I could continue to grow and succeed in the sport. That is why asking the right questions that pertain specifically to you is essential during the recruiting process to ensure that you end up in the right situation where your fire for the sport can be constantly fed, and even if you struggle during the immediate transition to college your passion will remain which will ensure that you have the opportunity for future success in the sport.

Jack Boyle - Columbia University 3,000m - 8:14.10 , 5000m - 14:24.45, 10000m - 29:35.83

Recruiting Advice For Current Junior Track and Field Athletes


You are already halfway through your junior year of high school and you will be a senior in eight months. Many programs have completed their recruiting classes for this year and are now focusing their efforts on next year's class -- this year's juniors. As it is now permissible for college coaches to call juniors, the recruiting process has already begun. To ensure that you take full advantage of this process, here are a few suggestions to help you find the right fit for you.

1. Cast A Wide Net

Your junior year is about seeing what's out there and what kind of school might be a good fit for you. If you have not yet done so create an expansive list of schools/programs that meet your specific needs and desires. Among factors to consider are affiliation (NCAA I, II, III, NAIA and JUCO), competitiveness of the program, cost of attendance, quality of education, geographical location, intended academic major, enrollment size, public vs private, and other factors that matter to you.  

Think about what may impact your athletic experience the most like coaching style, athlete retention, and success of the program. Determine if you are a good fit athletically -- many schools post their recruiting standards online.  

Know what the academic requirements are for the schools you are considering to determine if you are potentially admissible.  

Continually revise your list. During my coaching career, I often saw recruits close doors too early. They would rule out programs in their junior year of high school based on a variety of factors and then end up scrambling in the end when Plan A did not work out. Make sure to keep Plan B in play as to not have to settle for Plan C at the last minute.

2. Fill Out Online Recruiting Questionnaires

The online recruiting questionnaire is a good first and simple means to initiate communication with a program. It allows the coach to assess if you are a good fit for their program. In a recent interview with the Recruiting Code, Duke University head women's cross country coach Rhonda Riley was asked, "What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you?" She responded, "The two ways to get on my radar are to fill out our online questionnaire and to follow up with an email. When a high school athlete takes the time to send an email with their contact information, personal best marks, academic information etc. it means they are serious about considering Duke as a potential university." Online recruiting questionnaires are typically very easy to find on individual schools' track and field websites.

3. Contact College Coaches

Over the span of my 30-year coaching career, I learned that communication is the most important element to reaching your goals. If you have not yet started -- start reaching out to college coaches from the schools on your list. You will be surprised at how effective personally reaching out to coaches will enhance your recruiting experience.  

Proofread every email before hitting send. A great deal of communication in the early phases of the recruiting process is going to be cut and paste on both sides, however, making a simple mistake can dehumanize the process and render the remainder of your communication less credible. Make sure you are addressing the proper institution and coach. I cannot tell you how many emails I received from recruits specifically addressed to a rival coach expressing their interest in a rival school.  

Send updates on a regular basis.  Most coaches receive dozens of emails from recruits each day so it's important that you keep yourself on their radar.

4. Take The ACT / SAT

Register and take the SAT/ACT during your junior year. If you feel adequately prepared, I would suggest taking the test in the fall of your junior year. This will allow you plenty of time to take it for the second time in the spring. Everyone's test prep is going to vary based on their own strengths, weaknesses, schedule, and goals. At the very minimum, though, all students should try to put in 10 hours of focused test prep, at least to get familiar with the format and timing of the test. Realistically, you would need to put in much more time over a sustained period to do well.

However, if you are not ready to take the test do not view it as a test-run. Do not take the test until you have prepared to do so at a level that is reflective of your academic potential.

If you are considering attending a highly selective academic institution taking the test earlier will significantly enhance your recruitment. Most selective schools will not vigorously pursue a potential-student athlete without test scores to determine admissibility.

5. Utilize Unofficial Visits

Unofficial visits can help you gather significant information about individual programs and schools. This time will allow you an opportunity to meet the coach in person, tour the college, check out the athletic facilities, and possibly meet current team members.

Do your homework - know who and where you are visiting. Have a keen understanding of the unique strengths of each school and team, as it will show the respective coaching staff how serious you are about their program. Use this time to learn as much as you can about the program and coaching staff. Identify the factors that will be most important to you in determining if you will return for an official visit. Have a short list of specific questions ready that address the most critical factors in your college decision.

There is no imposed limit on the number of unofficial visits you may take, so take as many as possible. There is no better tool to help you hone in on the best school/program for you.

In summary:  

Your junior year is quickly passing and it is time to start seriously considering where you want to continue your academic and athletic pursuits. Do not be passive -- start reaching out to college coaches now. Be aggressive in your outreach and email every program that you are interested in, regardless of the perceived reach. Be your own greatest advocate and take charge of your future.