by David Justice
Growing up as a fan of KU basketball, I thought the athletic recruitment process would be easy. My chosen sport was baseball, and I figured I’d establish myself as one of the top baseball players in Kansas and then coaches would be knocking on my door trying to convince me to attend their school.
Boy, was I wrong!
While I never quite established myself as I had expected due to some ill-advised changes to my offseason routine the winter of my junior year, I now know looking back that things were never going to be as simple as I had expected.
Today’s post is all about recruiting. We’ll cover topics ranging from how to put together a list of schools you’re interested in, how to get in touch with coaching staffs, and what to do to get on the radar for coaches whose schools you’d like to play for one day once you’re in college.
With that, we’re off!
Take Care Of Business Academically
Do yourself a favor and focus on your studies during high school so it doesn’t come back to bite you when you’re applying to colleges.
Growing up in the Shawnee Mission School District was a blessing for me. Getting a quality education was always of utmost importance from the day I started kindergarten to the day I graduated from high school. Once I began going through the recruiting process however, I quickly realized that wasn’t always the case everywhere you look.
Here’s a scenario for you: A college coach has one scholarship remaining and is trying to decide between Player A and Player B. They both have similar skillsets, played pretty well at the university’s camp for prep athletes, and seemed like good, well-rounded kids off the field. But Player A has a 2.3 GPA and barely qualified with his ACT score and Player B has a 3.8 GPA with a much higher ACT score.
Can you guess who the coach will give the scholarship to 9 out of 10 times?
Player B. Because the last thing any coach wants is to recruit somebody who is constantly on the verge of being ineligible. Being hounded by academic counselors is one headache coaches will go out of their way to avoid if at all possible.
One last point here – be prudent about your academics from the very beginning of your freshman year. It’s possible to dig yourself a huge hole after merely one or two bad semesters that forces you to spend the next two to three years digging yourself out of in order to qualify with the NCAA Clearinghouse. Don’t even let it happen in the first place.
Make A List
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra
While Yogi Berra was the king of whimsical sayings, this is actually really practical if you take a minute to think about it. As with anything, a general sense of the direction you’d like to go in will help take you much further than going at it blindly.
Just be sure to keep it simple – no need to over-complicate things. Jot down roughly 15-20 schools you’d be interested in playing for. Then, divide the list into three categories:
- Dream schools that you’d love to attend in a perfect world
- Realistic schools with respect to your talent level, proximity, cost, etc.
- Fallback options to keep in your back pocket in case something changes on you last minute
In a way, I unintentionally did this (more on that later). The mistakes I made however are that I waited until way too late (my senior year), I placed way too much emphasis on my dream schools (none of them even came close to fruition), and I completely ignored my fallback options (who in reality were the schools that wanted me the most).
To avoid making the same mistakes as I did when it comes to athletic recruitment, try following these suggestions:
- Start making this list during your sophomore year (or early on during your junior year)
- Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to your dream schools
- Don’t have any preconceived notions about your fallback options – give them a fair shot
The first two points above are pretty straightforward. I’d like to take a minute to elaborate on what I said about #3 though. The majority of the schools that recruited me were junior colleges in Kansas, Missouri, and there was even one in Texas. But I ignored them out of sheer pride. I wanted nothing to do with junior college baseball at the time, because in my head, JUCO was for screw-ups that messed up academically in high school and I thought that I was above that. No matter the fact that multiple JUCO coaches told me they could get me to a D1 program if I spent a year or two under their tutelage – I was set on attending the biggest possible school that wanted me directly out of high school
Looking back, part of me wonders how things would have turned out if I had given schools such as KCKCC, Fort Scott, Longview, or Odessa a chance. There are a lot of very talented baseball players at the JUCO level, and the Jayhawk Conference in Kansas is highly touted as one of the best conferences in the nation for baseball, football, and even basketball.
Contact Coaches (YOURSELF)
There are too many parents these days trying to make things happen on behalf of their children. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing to a certain extent, but when it comes to making decisions about college, it’s best for the parents to stay out of it. Coaches get emails, highlight videos, and letters every day. They don’t want to deal with an overbearing parent telling them how their child is the greatest thing since sliced bread. They would much rather recruit athletes who can think for themselves and who aren’t afraid to make the initial contact on their own.
This is exactly how I ended up at Northwest Missouri State. One day during my senior year, I heard that somebody I knew who played the same position had signed with a team in the MIAA conference. That bothered me, because I felt that I was a better player than he was. So I went and did some research on the conference and ended up writing personalized, handwritten letters to roughly half of the head coaches in the MIAA whose universities I was interested in playing baseball for.
Shortly thereafter, I received a response from assistant coaches at two of the universities, both of whom included an invite to come visit and workout in front of the respective coaching staffs. Which brings me to my next point…
Go Be Seen
Unless you’re a high-profile athlete who is being recruited by the likes of bigtime programs like KU basketball, coaches probably aren’t going to come to you. Which means you have to go to them to prove you’re worthy of a spot on their team.
There are several ways to accomplish this:
- Summer camps held by most universities for prep athletes
- Pros: direct access to schools and coaches you’re interested in, ability to showcase yourself in an in-game setting
- Cons: large number of individuals present makes it harder to stand out
- Individual showcases that take place during your sport’s offseason months
- Pros: multiple schools often present leading to greater levels of exposure, if you test well during drills or showcase other skills being looked for, coaches will at the very least follow up with you
- Cons: limited amount of time dedicated to each individual, individual drills don’t always showcase strengths the same way an actual competition would
- Travel teams
- Pros: likely to get in front of even more eyes than at individual showcases, playing against better competition translates well to increased performance against typical school opponents
- Cons: very expensive and time-consuming
There’s no right or wrong answer here with regards to which one(s) will work best for you as everybody’s situation is a different. I utilized all three to varying levels of success.
The one camp I went to was for KU baseball, and it was in late October, several weeks after my fall season had ended. Unfortunately, in those few weeks I didn’t keep up with baseball activities, so by the time the camp came around my timing at the plate was off and I wasn’t throwing very well due to the time off from playing catch.
As far as individual showcases, I got absolutely nothing out of those despite trying time and time again. For those of you that have seen me in person, I’m not particularly tall, fast, or athletic, to be quite honest. Therefore, I didn’t test well by the standards of a baseball showcase. So while I was a good game manager from the catcher position with a high baseball IQ, this wasn’t the best format for me to put my skills on display.
When it comes to travel teams, I would highly recommend giving it a shot – at least for one season. But not for the reason you might think. No, my mailbox wasn’t flooded with letters from college coaches after the summer I played for the KC Sluggers, but you know what I got out of that experience? The ability to play against some of the best traveling baseball teams from all across the country. We played teams from Texas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and various other teams from around the Midwest. That alone made me better and more confident that I could compete with the big boys once I returned home and started playing against Sunflower League again.
Use Athletic Recruitment Services
If you’ve tried everything listed above and would either prefer to have additional guidance or for whatever reason things don’t seem to be working out for you, don’t worry – there are plenty of companies out there that specialize in helping high school athletes get in touch with universities and assist them throughout the course of the recruiting process.
This was a burgeoning industry when I was in high school but I can’t really speak from experience. I’ve had clients who have utilized these companies with great success. If this is something you would be interested in pursuing, be sure to do your research and look at the company’s track record for placing past clientele. One thing to note however, is that these services tend to be expensive. As with anything, you’ll get what you pay for.
I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes and that this helps your recruiting process be more productive and less stressful than mine. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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