Determine Potential Fits
Every prospect has an ideal college experience waiting for him or her, and identifying important operatives that define your personal goal is half the battle. Self-awareness is a powerful tool and growing an appreciation for what potentially appeals to you in a college experience is a great place to start. I suggest you begin by meeting as a family to identify “college descriptors” (i.e., academic strength, level of athleticism, geographic location and size of undergraduate population) that will help you formulate your initial college list.
Research a small but equal number of D-1, 2 and 3 colleges and their sports programs. Read about the team's level of success and dig into a few gymnast profiles and online videos to determine the general level of the athletic skill of their roster. Take into account the conference they participate and their strength of schedule.
Identify Your Position of Strength
One question I strongly encourage prospective student-athletes and families to ask is: “Do I want to use my strength as an athlete to gain an athletic scholarship, or do I want to leverage my athletic ability to gain admission to an academically select institution?”
Just over 25% of all college athletes (in all sports) qualify for athletic scholarship and the competition for these grants is fierce. College coaches use simple strategies when recruiting prospects and scholarship athletes are typically blue chip, immediate impact athletes.
Coaches from select college programs (Ivy, Patriot League, and D-3) use a slightly different formula when identifying potential prospects. The evaluation begins in the classroom and not on the field and they are hungry for academic information (transcripts, high school profile and standardized testing) that will help them compute a rough “admissions index.” Once prospects pass this hurdle, coaches aggressively begin the sport evaluation.
NCAA Rules and Procedures
Gathering information is critical to the successful organization of any worthy project. Building a college recruiting information base can begin as early as middle school and as a fun family hobby that should increasingly grow into a highly organized, disciplined project by the end of the junior year in high school.
Make a commitment to understand and embrace the NCAA recruiting rules. This will help you identify the rules of the game that will streamline your planning and organizing into a simpler and more effective format. Visit: http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/resources to preview the Division 1, 2 and 3 recruiting manuals and devote your time with the chapters on recruiting, eligibility and financial aid.
The high school athletic director and sports club administrator can be tremendous resources in providing you with an easy to understand scaled down version of NCAA rules. These leaders likely have strong experience in working with former high school prospects and will serve as great resources.
The Bigger Picture
Every prospect should get excited about potentially contributing their athletic talent to a worthy college team. That aside, it is important to look beyond the college athletic experience when identifying a school that will position you strongly in your professional field of interest.
Select, “non-athletic scholarship institutions” can, in many cases, offer significant assistance in Admissions. It is important that prospects, families and high school advisors clearly understand the role the college coach plays in this process and make every effort to develop a sincere and strong working relationship with them throughout the college search.
This option for prospective student-athletes and families may appear daunting, but considering the long term benefits one can receive, makes this potential choice very appealing. That aside, there will be a level of sacrifice that needs to be made to reach your ultimate goal and student-athletes who bring solid academic credentials to the table and have the ability to strongly impact an athletics program, could bring a very strong and competitive “chip” to the college recruiting game.
If your mission is clear, communication becomes the vehicle to move with definite purpose in your chosen direction and should be initiated early on by the prospect. College coaches have clear restrictions to when and where they may contact prospects and families, but a prospects and families may call or e-mail a coach early in the recruiting process and with very few exceptions.
An initial letter of introduction accompanied by a profile is a great way to begin, but it is very important to follow up regularly with significant updates that have “grip” (competition results, academic and video updates etc.). The prospect that practices “proactive persistence” with respect, will grab the college coach’s attention.
Implementing a systematic and well-researched college recruiting plan will help you identify, work toward, and hopefully secure admission to the college of your choice – one that is an ideal academic and athletic “fit.” It will be well worth your efforts knowing that you were part of a team that guided your child as he or she embarks upon an important and meaningful process that will have great effect on their future careers and personal growth.
About Tom Kovic:
Tom Kovic is a former Division I college gymnastics coach (Penn) and the current director of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for families on college recruiting. Tom is the author of “Reaching for Excellence”, an educational guide for college athletics recruiting. For further information visit: www.victoryrecruiting.com
Editor's Note: Publication of this article is not an endorsement of any recruiting service. Always check with the NCAA or your school's compliance officer for any questions regarding recruiting rules, the latest timelines, or other issues.