Overwhelmed by the Recruiting Process? Focus on Education First

I returned recently from a major east coast summer basketball camp where I had a lengthy discussion about the recruiting process with the mother of a talented junior. Her son is a good student who already holds offers from D1 schools, none of them big-time. A single mom with two kids who never went to college and never played sports, she told me she has little awareness of colleges or basketball programs. Working two jobs (they are a low income family) leaves her precious little time to deal with the recruiting process. I told her I’d had a conversation at the camp with a coach who said she was not returning his calls. She acknowledged that was a problem and said she feels overwhelmed by all the attention. “There are so many schools”, she said, “how do I handle this”?

The answer is simple, although a surprisingly large number of families never figure it out. Start with the schools offering the most highly rated educations. (See separate blog showing list). This quickly shrinks the list while having the added benefit of keeping priorities straight, often next to impossible in this process, even for those who are good at it. Focusing on the top-rated academic schools cuts the number of possible schools from approximately 265 (outside the big-time basketball conferences) to about 45, while maintaining priorities. For most, only about half of those 45 will actually show recruiting interest. Now the list is manageable and efficient, goals are intact and focus is tight. The chance of success has increased greatly.



Who’s Really Recruiting Me?

We hear it every year. Parents and players tell us coaches were watching games, calling, asking for transcripts, sending personalized letters and e-mailing regularly. Then, one day, it just stopped. There was usually no indication why, or clue that it was about to. It leaves players and parents confused. They want to know what happened, and why.

Think of the recruiting process like dating. The goal isn’t marriage, more like living together for four years. You’re going to go on at least a few dates. Some will be better than others. You’re likely to get “dumped” by some schools. There will be some unanswered questions, emotional decisions, maybe a few disasters, possibly some bad feelings, along with many very good experiences. At times you’ll wonder who you can trust. There is one thing you can count on. You’re going to learn a lot – about schools, people and yourself. Right or wrong, it’s all part of the process.

This is not a fair fight. As much as college coaches might seem like nice people, good people, and many of them are, they are professionals. They do this every day, for a living. If they don’t do it successfully, they don’t have a job. For most players and parents, this is the first and only time you’ll go through the recruiting process. This is not a fair fight.

So, how do you know who’s seriously recruiting you? It can be hard to know. Ask five different people and you’re likely to get five different answers – most of them wrong.

Talk is cheap, as the saying goes. Well, in recruiting, the only thing cheaper than talk is mail. There’s no question that mail, phone calls and other types of communication are all indicative of some level of interest. So are games or practices the coach watches. None, of these, however, is a definite indicator of serious interest.

There is one simple way to tell if they’re serious. Thankfully, it’s not subjective or based on anyone’s opinion. It’s an official visit. If the coach offers you one you can be sure they’re serious. Each school gets only a limited number of these to use each year. (Do yourself a favor and make sure you know how many. Doing your homework on details like that can allow you to use process of elimination to determine what you’re not being told). Coaches only use official visits when they’re serious or about to offer you a scholarship. Up to that point it’s all been just getting to know you. Think of it like dating.

If they don’t offer you an official visit, and you want to try to gauge where you stand, ask for one. You can also ask for a home visit, though they’re not as common as they used to be. The response you get will tell you everything you need to know.

If the answer is no, and you want to know where you stand, ask direct questions like where am I on your list. If you know what to listen for you can usually know where you stand. A coach who really wants you will not have any reservations about telling you. You’ll know the difference once you’ve heard the two different versions at least once. It’s in the way they say it.

Try using this method. You probably have some schools that you know would love to have you, but that you, for whatever reason, are simply not interested in. Maybe you have a couple D1 offers but some D3 coaches are still trying to get you. Conversations with these coaches can be very valuable. In the big picture they’re a great and underutilized part of the process. Take advantage of them. They are situations where you are less nervous, more on the offensive, and therefore act differently. Think about how these coaches sound when they talk to you. Because of your lack of interest, what you hear is not influenced by what you are hoping to hear. Now compare how they sound to the sound of the schools you hope are recruiting you. If you can do this, you will be in good shape. You’ll also be way ahead of the curve.

There are other factors that can be considered, but to the untrained ear they are more confusing than not. Stick with the official visit rule. That doesn’t mean schools that haven’t offered one won’t eventually offer one. It does mean you’ll know how to separate the two and, therefore, how to treat the two. This is critical to achieving your ultimate goals and avoiding major letdowns – or worse.

This is a long-term process. For most, it will take 3-6 months, or more, to find the right school. Even though the thrill of letters and phone calls is undeniable, try to treat it as a long-term process.