3 Things Athletic Recruits Can Do to Get Ahead During COVID-19
By Matt Musico
Traditionally, the college athletic recruitment process is a big ball of intimidating unknowns for students and families trying to navigate it. In the midst of a global pandemic, though, let’s just say things haven’t gotten less stressful.
COVID-19 and its continued impact on just about every facet of life has disrupted many things in higher education, with college athletics being a hot-button topic. In the past, high school student-athletes depended on playing a full regular season for their respective sport, along with getting in front of college coaches at showcases, tournaments and clinics, and physically visiting college campuses.
If high school sports have come back in your area, there’s a good chance the proposed season isn’t what it normally is. Current juniors and seniors who were looking forward to this past summer for showcases had them all cancelled. Most NCAA Division I coaches haven’t been allowed to conduct in-person recruiting since the pandemic started, either.
It’s easy to view COVID-19 as an obstacle. However, while the pandemic has generally made life more difficult, it has also created opportunities athletic recruits can take advantage of. Here are three things every high school athlete can do that may help them manage the recruitment process and may also help improve their recruitment chances during COVID.
1. Focus on Improving Your Game
Getting spring, summer, and/or fall seasons taken away or significantly altered is no fun. Neither is having showcases, clinics, and tournaments cancelled -- especially when student-athletes were hoping to show some college coaches what they could do.
However, this is the perfect opportunity to make significant progress in your own development.
Do you wish you could throw more weight around in the gym? Is there a certain aspect of your game you’d like to strengthen but never had the time to do it? Well, now you finally have a chance to make significant progress.
There’s no need to do this alone, though. Developing a plan of attack is crucial toward achieving any goal. Reach out to a trusted adult (trainer, high school coach, club coach, etc.), share what you’d like to accomplish during this extra time away from structured competition, and devise a plan to follow so you can get there.
Once the time comes and you’re finally getting evaluated by college coaches in person or it’s time to make that highlight video, you’re likely a vastly different – and better – athletic version of yourself than you were even just a couple months ago.
2. Learn How to Market Yourself
The college admission and athletic recruitment experiences provide lessons high schoolers can use forever. One such skill that’s uncomfortable for many is marketing yourself. It may not be comfortable to put yourself in a vulnerable position to receive criticism, but it’s necessary, especially if you’re not a blue-chip recruit.
Learning how to get your name in front of college coaches obviously gets harder when in-person evaluations or conversations aren’t happening. However, here are three things you can do from the comfort of your own couch to help improve your recruitment chances:
- Submit prospective student-athlete questionnaires. If a college offers athletics, it’s likely that some sort of athletic questionnaire lives on the college’s athletic website – it’s just not easy to find all the time. Some colleges have it right on the athletic home page, or on each sport’s homepage, or in an obscure location on the school’s website. What’s good about filling this out, though, is that doing so puts your information right into a coach’s recruitment database. For a sample, see Clemson University’s Football Recruiting Questionnaire.
- Send introductory emails to the coaching staff at each school. In addition to filling out the questionnaire, it’s important to follow that up with an email to the coaching staff introducing yourself, while also sharing relevant information (athletic resume, highlight video if it’s available, transcripts, etc.). Don’t opt for sending this to only the head coach. The coach may have the final say, but there’s likely someone else on the staff in charge of recruitment efforts. Send this email to everyone on the staff so you increase your chances it gets in the right hands.
- Leverage social media and the power of the internet. Even with the limitations COVID has created, technology has been integral in keeping everyone somewhat connected. It also allows coaches to feel productive by watching highlight videos. Don’t be shy about posting clips of yourself, and make sure you tag any accounts that can help increase exposure (@flagroundapp and @flatgroundbats are great examples for baseball players – there’s a lot out there to find with just a little searching!). You also shouldn’t be shy about following and/or direct messaging coaches or recruitment departments. Just be thoughtful about the way and how often you communicate. This is the time to get creative and let the power of social media potentially help you get ahead.
If you’re looking for an easy way to find the athletic department of colleges you’re interested in, the NCAA’s Search for a School function is helpful.
3. Do Thoughtful (& Thorough) College Research
There’s nothing wrong with having athletics drive your college application experience. However, just be mindful that there are many factors that are considered when evaluating an application.
Coaches and administrators can leave or get fired. Upperclassmen teammates will either graduate or transfer. You could get injured, and it’ll change your entire trajectory, or maybe you won’t even be able to play anymore. The last thing any college athlete needs to realize is he or she is only attending a school for the athletics program, and actually hates every other aspect of the school.
This is where thoughtful college research comes into play.
Always check out the athletics program and do your due diligence, but also apply that to everything else. What kind of majors are available? What kind of internships do students in those programs get? How are the dorms? Is the food bearable? What does the general vibe of the campus seem like?
There are no wrong questions to ask — if it’s on your mind, it’s worth finding out. The goal of a final college list is to be excited about every single one of the schools that land on it, whether sports are part of the picture or not.
COVID has completely turned recruitment upside down for at least the immediate future. While it’ll be harder to get yourself seen and recruited by college coaches, it’s still possible. As Charles Swindoll once said, “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Don’t get paralyzed by this being an obstacle – get creative and find ways to take advantage of the opportunity given to you.”
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