Athletic Recruiting in 2020
Athletic recruiting in 2020, with COVID-19 looming, has become a very different and very challenging process. As college campuses shut down across the U.S. in early 2020 turning to online learning instead, the NCAA had no choice but to shut down active athletic recruiting efforts. This left families of high school students wondering how their student was going to get recruited.
High school Spring sports were cancelled, club sports were cancelled, tournaments and showcases were cancelled, and the NCAA had to extend a recruiting dead period (as of April 6, 2020 when I am writing this, the dead period is scheduled through May 31, 2020) due to COVID-19.
At the same time, the NCAA declared a signing period from April 15, 2020 to August 1, 2020.
For both high school Seniors still hoping to be signed and for younger prospective student athletes looking for that critical contact to move towards a verbal commitment, this is a very frustrating time as sheltering at home is not helping them to reach these goals.
There is much uncertainty about when college athletics will be back in full swing. Now, more than ever, prospective student athletes need to approach the college search process from two angles:
- Is this a college where I have a realistic chance of playing my sport and where I would want to play my sport?
- Is this a college where I would be happy if I couldn’t play my sport?
By all means, prospective student athletes should approach their search assuming that college athletics will be back to normal at some point, and it’s best to think positively that it will happen sooner rather than later.
Also, make sure both you and your student understand the general recruiting contact rules as defined by the NCAA for Division 1 and Division 2 athletics.
What can these students be doing now to get the visibility they need? Plenty! Below are the steps your student needs to be taking now to keep their athletic recruiting process moving forward.
Students can use their extra free time to start researching what schools may be looking for athletes with their skill set. In my Upside Down College Search process, I talk about 3 types of “fit” when it comes to selecting a college – academic fit, personal fit, and financial fit. For those students looking to play intercollegiate sports in college, there is a 4th type of fit added to the mix – athletic fit.
If being on an intercollegiate sports team is a “must have” for your student, it can be a waste of time for them to pursue colleges where they will not be a good athletic fit.
How should your student assess which schools are a good athletic fit? It is always helpful to have a club coach or someone else with solid industry experience who can advise on which schools are a good match for your student’s skill set. I will talk about that more in another section below. However, here are the steps your student can take to begin this assessment:
- Head to a school’s online team page for the sport.
- Find the roster page and look at the statistics for the current athletes. For sports like basketball and volleyball, height is very important. How do you compare to the current members of the team, especially for the position that you play?
- Find the team and individual statistics for the last season. How do these compare to your current level of performance? For track and cross country, this is easier – compare the times for the athletes to your own times. For scoring based sports, percentages are a better gauge than pure numbers.
- Do you know any of the current players from club or high school sports? If so, this is a good way to assess your skills. Did you compete against them? Did you watch them play? How did your skills compare?
- Find the conference’s website. Compare the schools in the conference. Where does the school you are evaluating fall? Do they beat most of their conference rivals or are they at the bottom of the conference? A school will be looking for a “leg up” against the competition so if you think you are just good enough to compete at a school at the bottom of their conference, you may not attract the coach’s attention.
- Search for video footage from games. How does the level of play compare to what you are used to in high school or club?
Once your student has evaluated whether a school looks like a good athletic fit, it is also helpful to attempt to evaluate openings for their position. Of course they aren’t going to know for sure without reaching out to coaches, but by evaluating the current roster, they can get a general idea. How many players are currently on the team in your student’s position? What years are they? How many players will graduate the Spring before your student starts? This will be a little more challenging for Spring sports as current team members who lost their opportunity to compete in Spring 2020 due to COVID-19 may be sticking around for an extra season.
While your student is out there checking out all the college teams, they should look for the recruiting questionnaire for their sport. College coaches use these questionnaires to get information about prospective student athletes who are interested in their teams. For ultra-competitive teams, the prospective student athlete may never hear back from a coach after filling out the questionnaire. For less competitive teams, it is very likely that the prospective student athlete will receive an email from a coach.
Making contact with the team’s coaches is the number one thing your student can do right now to express interest. They should not take filling out a recruiting questionnaire to count as contacting the coaches.
While your student is checking out the team’s website, it is a good idea to write down the email addresses for the head coach and all assistant coaches. A good way to record all the school information, including the coach emails, is by creating an Athletic Recruiting Spreadsheet. I have a template available on my Resources page. You can download this and add any additional columns you need.
Prospective student athletes often struggle with where to start when emailing coaches. Here are some important tips:
- Personalize the email with the coaches names (you can send one email to the head coach and cc the assistant coaches, or just address your email to all the coaches together) – for example, use “Dear Coach Smith, Coach Robbins and Coach Johnson” and not just “Dear Coaches”
- The subject line should at minimum include First Name, Last Name, Graduation Year and Position – Here is a good resource with subject line examples by sport: Writing a Subject Line for Your Emails to College Coaches
- Keep the email as short and concise as possible
- Things to include in the body of the email:
- First Name, Last Name, Graduation Year
- City and state player is from
- What high school or club team a player is on and what uniform number for each team
- What player is interested in majoring in
- GPA, ACT/SAT score and class ranking (if available)
- Why this college is of interest or a good fit
- Player’s contact info (email and phone #)
- High school or club coach contact info (email and phone #)
- Link to video footage (see the section on video below)
- Applicable during COVID-19: What player has been doing to practice and stay in shape
- When life is back to normal: Include details about matches, meets, competitions where the coach could come to watch the player compete
Here’s a good sample email template to follow: How to Email College Coaches
Emailing college coaches is an ongoing process. Often the prospective student athlete will not hear anything back from the coaches on their first email. It is important to be persistent. Best practice is to send the first follow-up email a week later and to continue to follow up weekly unless the coach sends back a “thanks, but no thanks” response.
Video footage is the only option for a prospective student athlete to demonstrate their skills to coaches right now in this COVID-19 world, other than for strictly time or distance sports. Video has always been important, but has now become the critical factor, especially for current high school Seniors still looking to get recruiting.
Compiling the best footage from meets/games/matches into a highlight video is step one. The highlight video should ideally be 5 minutes or less. Given all the emails that coaches receive, they have a limited attention span. You need to “wow” them with a highlight video and then get them to watch further.
Step 2 for team sports is full game/match footage. Coaches know that the highlight video only contains the best segments. They want to know how the prospective student athlete plays and reacts throughout the entire game. If they like the highlight video, they would normally want to come see the athlete in person. Since that can’t happen right now, watching full game footage is the only way for them to get a realistic view of the athlete’s whole game.
Aim for posting two full games/matches for coaches to view.
The easiest place to post all the videos is on a YouTube channel. You can lock it down so only people who have been given the link can find and view the videos.
Given that your student has more free time now, a great time filler is to sit them down with all the game/match footage you have collected over the past couple years. If they don’t currently have a highlight video, or have an old one that needs to be updated, have them review video and select clips to compile. Also, have them pick the best games/matches to post.
What if you don’t have any video footage? Many teams record their games to review later. Check with high school and club coaches to see if they have recordings they will share. Also check with other parents on the team to see if they can share recordings.
Outside of researching schools, contacting coaches, and compiling videos, the best thing your prospective student athlete can do is to keep up their skills. For team sports, that can be extremely challenging when they can’t get together with teammates. In that case, workouts are the best option. If your student isn’t sure what to do, have them first check with club or high school coaches who may be able to provide workouts. Otherwise, YouTube is a great place to look. Search for things like “baseball workouts”, “best volleyball workouts” and the like.
Getting the Right Kind of Help
If you and your student are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of athletic recruiting right now, or don’t have a good idea of which schools to target, it’s ok to ask for help.
If your student is part of a club sports team, most clubs have recruiting specialists on staff for just this purpose.
For students who don’t have a recruiting specialist to use, there are professionals available to help you, like Dave Morris of College Athletic Advisor, if you are willing to spend the money. Most offer a free consultation.
These professionals can help match your students skills to specific college teams that would be a good fit and are looking for recruits.
I recommend sticking with small companies or individual specialists who have established relationships with coaches, and not the big firms like NCSA.com, sportsrecruits.com or berecruited.com. These may seem like a better deal up front, due to lower cost, but they work on volume and may not have the same level of expertise or individualized touch.
For more general athletic recruiting tips and resources, check out these other posts:
During this strange and challenging time, these are all the things your prospective student athlete can be doing to maximize their chances for athletic recruiting. As I said earlier, we don’t know when athletic teams will be able to pick back up. It all depends on how long COVID-19 lingers. Therefore, your student’s college search needs to focus on schools where they would be happy both with and without athletics.
Good luck and feel free to reach out if I can answer any additional questions you have!