USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
In the recruiting process, you’ll find there are a lot of “to do’s” for athletes and “to don’ts” for parents. Don’t call coaches on your athlete’s behalf, don’t approach coaches during your athlete’s game—and the list goes on and on. This lengthy list of actions parents shouldn’t take can make it seem like they don’t have an active role in the recruiting process, and that is simply not true!
To give parents a better idea of how they can help their student-athlete in recruiting, I talked to coach Chris Sartorius. Over the past decade, Coach Sartorius has coached college basketball at three Division I schools—in other words, he knows what college coaches are looking for from parents.
Help your athlete develop realistic expectations and create a diverse list of target schools
Parents have a huge responsibility early on in the recruiting process to help their student-athlete understand the different collegiate options available. There are a few key pieces here. First, parents need to help their student-athlete gain realistic expectations about the division level that best suits their talent and skills. This often means seeking input from the student-athlete’s high school/club coach and third-party recruiting experts.
Second, students tend to focus solely on one or two schools, and that’s not a realistic way to approach the recruiting process. “Force your athlete to diversify, they need to look at more than a couple schools,” Coach Sartorius advises. “Research schools for your student-athlete to show them the options out there.”
We recommend starting out with a list of 50 target schools, mixing in a few different division levels.
Third, parents can also prompt their athlete to be more educated about athletic recruiting and be proactive in starting the process. “Make sure the student fills out their recruiting questionnaires,” Coach Sartorius says. “Be engaged while allowing the athlete to take ownership of their recruiting.”
Ensure your athlete is on the path to academic eligibility
“Academic standards are huge!” Coach Sartorius says. Research and understand the NCAA and NAIA eligibility requirements. Check if they have completed the right number of NCAA designated core courses and their GPA and test scores meet the requirements. If your athlete is interested in academically competitive institutions, have a list of the requirements for that school and contact your athlete’s guidance counselor with any questions.
While pestering your athlete about grades and test scores can result in a series of eye rolls and “I knows!” reminding them of academic eligibility standards is an important piece of the college athletic recruiting puzzle. “Be engaged and know what’s going on and help make sure your athlete is prepared,” Coach Sartorius advises. Overall, the more you know about the eligibility requirements, the easier it will be to determine if your athlete is on the right path or needs some extra help to meet the criteria.
Get your athlete involved in the right camps and combines
Camps, combines and showcases have become a key part of the recruiting process. It takes some research to make sure that your athlete is going to the events that will move the needle on their college athletic recruiting. If you’re not sure which events to attend, ask your athlete’s club/ high school coach for recommendations based on the schools your student is interested in.
Coach Sartorius explains that parents can typically attend camps, combines and showcases and observe what’s going on. Notice what the coaches are doing, who they are looking at and what seems to capture their attention. While this is not the right time for parents to try to approach the coaches, you can certainly get a general understanding of how your athlete stacks up against other aspiring college athletes.
After the event, encourage your athlete to write a follow-up thank you note to the coach or coaches who hosted the event. This is a great opportunity for your athlete to keep their name in front of college coaches and continue to make a positive impression.
Communicate with college coaches—when they initiate the contact
Parents communicating with college coaches is a widely debated topic. In general, the student-athlete should be the ones that email, call, text, DM and communicate with the college coach. However, that doesn’t mean parents don’t have a place in this flurry of contact. In fact, Coach Sartorius advises parents to proofread their athlete’s messages when possible and have a general understanding of the communications that have been going on.
“Don’t hover during conversations between the coach and athlete, but understand what they talked about. Eventually, mention to the student-athlete that you want to talk to the coach. That’s not overbearing. Coaches want parents who are involved, but parents don’t necessarily need to instigate the conversation. Let the athlete instigate that the parent wants to be more involved, and have them give the coach their parents’ number,” says Coach Sartorius.
Coach Sartorius adds that, during his experience as a coach, he usually called a recruit’s parents when he was looking to give that athlete an offer. “If I can get the parent on my side, then I have more of a chance to get the student on my side,” he says. In other words, your time to talk to college coaches will come. Be patient and, in the meantime, keep up-to-date on what your athlete has been discussing with each coach.