by Calli Newberry
Early Decision Day for most colleges is about a month away, and I know there are a lot of decisions to still be made. Most won’t be made by that Nov. 1 deadline, and that’s okay — It’s a big decision to make.
It’s exciting to see where some of the Blue Water Area’s top athletes will decide to go, or if they even decide to go anywhere. I see a lot of their posts on Twitter about campus visits and official offers and it’s so fun to see them all go through this process.
And that’s what I’d like to talk about today: the college recruiting process.
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It seems a lot more complicated than it was just five years ago. Granted, I ran track so the only statistics a coach really needed from me were my times. But still. I didn’t have college coaches following me on Twitter to see if I was getting offers from or talking to other schools. I didn’t have the pressure of compiling highlight film or coordinating team workouts either. It’s honestly quite a lot to think about for a high school senior.
Even my brother Curt who’s now playing baseball for the third year at Concordia University in Ann Arbor didn’t have to do all of that. He managed to get in before the pandemic struck, which I think is part of the problem. More athletes are staying for fifth (even sixth) years, making roster spots more limited, plus there are basically two recruiting classes waiting to move on. The system kind of got jammed up I guess.
So now there’s more pressure for athletes to stand out whether it’s on film or on Twitter so coaches notice them. And I’m afraid kids will start choosing a college based on who notices them rather than if that college is best for them. It becomes like dating the guy or girl who simply gives you the most attention which, most often, doesn’t end well.
And I get it, for some kids, college is a unique opportunity that wouldn’t be available if it weren’t for their sport, and they should take it if they can. But for the high school seniors who are about to make the big decision, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice from my own experience.
1. You better like the coach. A college coach will have such a big impact on not only your athletic career, but also your college experience as a whole. I’m thankful to have had a great college track coach. He knew there was more to life than track and he made sure we as athletes lived that way. If we had to go to office hours with a professor for a challenging class, he accepted that we might be 15 minutes late to practice. Or if we ever had to go off-campus for a job interview or for something important with family back home, he was okay with that too. But he also expected a lot from us and challenged us to be the best we could be. He made us send him weekly reports of our training, even when we were on breaks, to hold us accountable, and we won four conference championships as a result of that.
So the next time you go on a visit, ask the current athletes what they honestly think of their coach. Watch the team culture and the way the coach talks to the team and even other staff members. That will give you a better picture.
2. Ask questions. I was the nerd who showed up to my college visits with a binder for notes and questions. You don’t have to be like me, but at least have some questions and notes typed on your phone. You get a lot of information thrown at you over the course of the one or two days you’re on campus and you’ll forget a lot of it. Write the important stuff down so you can re-evaluate later.
Some of the helpful questions I asked were:
- What does a typical week of training look like?
- Do kids often get injured on your team? How do you handle injury?
- What event(s) do you think I’ll be running? (Or more general, What do you see my role on the team being?)
- Does the team typically get along? What is your team culture? Are we expected to do a lot together?
- And ask an academic-related question, that’s ultimately what you’re there for. What kind of opportunities are there for me to gain experience in my desired field? Are there summer internships I could do? Where are some of the alumni in my potential major employed?
3. Don’t get caught up in the prestige. You do not have to go to a DI school. If you’re talented enough and you love the program and you think you’ll play an active role on the team, then go for it! That’s awesome. But if you have the choice between a Division II program you’ll actually play for and a Division I program where you’ll just be another body on the bench, choose DII. Being a college athlete, regardless of level, is an honor and an achievement.
I know Division I schools will give you a lot more gear and perks and you’ll get to do more travel, but honestly, you can only have so many backpacks and hats. I competed for a Division II program and we still traveled, we got gear, and most of the members on the team played a role in scoring at our conference meets. We didn’t have to leave half of the people behind because they didn’t make the cut. If you’re going to be on a college team, choose one that you’ll get to really feel a part of.
Being a college athlete is actually a lot of work, but it is also a lot of fun. Do your homework first and make sure the experience is still going to be best suited for you four years from now.