Want to Play Sports in College? Take Control of the Recruiting Process

istock_000003705748small11.jpgWith school back in session, I have posted an article that I wrote last fall for the Dobler College Consulting blog, published by college admissions consultant Eric Dobler.

My recruiting experience was rather unremarkable and probably similar to many of those who were interested in playing Division II and III athletics upon graduation from high school. After playing organized football for seven years, I simply wanted to keep playing. My college search was simple – I looked for a good school where I would have the opportunity to play football. My approach to recruiting was similarly simple – I responded to letters I received from schools and applied to a few others that I thought might be a good fit.

In hindsight, my approach was too reactive, when I should have been proactive. With school back in session, here are some ideas on handling the recruiting process:

1.         Draft Your Team

The recruiting process is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the coaches that are recruiting you, it is routine. To account for the vast difference in experience between you and a coach, you need to surround yourself with a team of individuals who can help navigate the process.

Parents can be good resources, especially if they have been through the process before. If your parents have not been through the process, they can still be a great resource, but consider seeking out other parents from your school or area who have been through the process with their children. Seek out your coaches and athletic director. Coaches from other sports at your school might also have experience with the recruiting process.

The team will look different for each student-athlete.  It doesn’t matter who makes up your team, but be sure that you can consult with people who can provide guidance throughout the recruiting process. Remember, you’ve never done this before.

2.         Make Your Plan and Share It

No matter the level of collegiate athletics, you should have a plan for navigating the process. If you are a top Division I athlete, the schools may come to you. If so, do your best to determine what you’re looking for (academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, other important criteria to you) and match the schools that pursue you with your objectives. Otherwise, you might lean towards the last school to contact you, or the last school you visited, while losing sight of your objectives.

For most student-athletes who seek to play Division II and III athletics, a more proactive approach may be needed. You need not limit yourself to schools that contact you. Research the schools that you might be interested in and contact them. Make lists of the schools that interest you, or those that are interested in you. Find out if any of your coaches, athletic director, teachers, parents or friends’ parents have any contacts at those schools. If so, they may be able to provide valuable information and introductions.

Once you have a plan, share it with everyone: your recruiting team; all of your coaches (who may not be aware that you want to compete at the collegiate level); your teachers; your family and friends. You’ll be surprised how many connections you’ll find and how many helpful suggestions you’ll receive when a team of people are on the lookout for opportunities.

3.         Sell Yourself

During my recruitment, I preferred one school over the others, but I was stuck on that school’s wait-list. The schools at which I was accepted were all fine options, but none stood above the others. I simply needed more choices.

I visited a school that had an excellent football program and solid academics, but hadn’t sent me a single letter.  At an open house I introduced myself to the football coaches.  As I later discovered, the head coach knew my athletic director, who helped me assess the opportunity, and helped the coach assess my ability to play football for that school.  I applied, was accepted, and was invited to play on the football team. Once the first day of practice began, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t recruited.  I had the opportunity to compete with everyone else.

The lesson is that even if a school is not recruiting you, that shouldn’t stop you from contacting that school.  Explore your options.  Send out more game films.  Ask your coach to contact schools on your behalf.  If you think you have the ability to be a scholarship athlete, there is no reason that you can’t take a proactive approach to your recruitment.  The same applies to non-scholarship athletics.  At the non-scholarship level, it doesn’t matter if you are recruited or you recruit yourself.

In recruiting, the most important thing is not that the right school finds you, but that you find the right school and the right athletic program for you.  Taking control of this process should be the first step in planning your athletic future.

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