On the surface, it might seem like the college recruiting for high school athletes is simple:
- Play well at your sport.
- Get offered a scholarship.
In reality, the process is not quite that simple. College coaches look at much more than just box scores when building their rosters, especially when a coveted scholarship is on the line.
A Well-Rounded Resume
Getting recruited by a college program is much like getting a job as an adult. High school athletes that want to play at a particular school often have to fill out a ‘recruit me’ application on an athletic department’s website that asks for GPA, SAT/ACT scores, awards won, as well as sport and fitness-related numbers. Instead of a LinkedIn profile, coaches want to see highlights on YouTube, statistics and measurables on recruiting services like Hudl or 247Sports. Some may even be looking for participation in other non-sport activities to show that a recruit has interests beyond their sport and can balance more than just sports and going to class. Prospective college athletes need to consider their social media image as part of this resume and their overall ‘brand’ as well.
While it may be subtle, how an athlete handles this process says a lot about their character. Taking the time to provide all requested details can highlight a recruit’s initiative and attention to detail (or lack thereof), as does maintaining timely contact with an interested coach. With thousands of athletes to consider every recruiting cycle, it pays to make a coach’s job as easy as possible.
Grades are a mandatory prerequisite, especially the further away you get from the top echelon of college athletics. The NCAA outlines eligibility requirements for its three different divisions, but just earning the stated minimum 2.3 GPA in the 16 core classes (for Division I) still won’t be enough for many college programs. Many have much higher minimum GPAs or other specific requirements, such as taking calculus and achieving minimum ACT/SAT scores. Regardless of an athlete’s on-field talent, to a coach it’s not worth the effort if they won’t be able to clear school admissions.
In addition to the numbers themselves, some coaches may be looking to see how they were achieved—did an athlete with just average grades bust their tails in the process, taking more challenging classes and spending time with after-school tutors? Did an athlete with above average grades coast on easy classes and minimal effort? Will the latter be able to handle the tougher academic load at the university level and know how to seek out help if needed? To coaches, grades are more than just a barrier for entry to getting a player they want, they’re an insight into their character.
Talent and Passion
It’s naive to pretend like talent doesn’t matter—it does, a lot. In addition to game tape (where possible) and statistics, coaches will look at the relevant metrics (e.g., strength numbers in football, race times in cross country, etc.) and how they have improved over the course of an athlete’s high school career.
Stagnation in this department could lead to some questions such as if the athlete has had injuries or simply doesn’t have the will to work out (or push themselves) regularly. Coaches want talent plus high potential, not an already-reached peak. Ostensibly, earning a spot on a college team means the athlete is better than X number of recruits vying for that same position, and will have to continue working to improve in order keep their spot—it doesn’t mean they have been ‘chosen’ for having a high ceiling alone and then the college’s training program will perform magic. An athlete has to want to be better and have shown that by the way they approach practicing, academics, and all other areas in their life, not just when the game is on the line.
Coaches know not everyone can be team captain (and that just because someone was captain doesn’t necessarily mean they are a great leader). Regardless of title, coaches want to know how an athlete responds to difficult game situations when they are both playing and on the bench. Do they withdraw and sulk in tough circumstances when things don’t go their team’s way? Or do they remain vocal and act as a rallying point for the rest of the team?
Leadership goes beyond just the context of game, too. An athlete that shows proven leadership experience in other areas of life (such as in a school club or the weight room) communicates they know how to take initiative, likely won’t need to be handheld, and are a team player.
Letter of Recommendation
No one can better attest to any of the above or answer the tough questions about an athlete than their high school or club coach.
In addition to tatent, grades, and how an athlete responds to adversity, hundreds of other little cues go into evaluating and making a decision on a high school prospect: are they ever late to practice or team meetings? If so, is it because they are seeking academic help or involved in another activity? Have they ever asked what they can do on their own to improve? Do they balance sport and school well, perhaps by doing homework on the team bus? Are they dedicated to taking care of their bodies through proper nutrition and mobility work? How is their attitude toward critique and feedback from coaches?
For many athletes, being able to sign the bottom line of a Letter of Intent comes down to a bigger bottom line: earning praise and a recommendation from their current or previous coaches.