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Recruiting column: 10 most common questions on recruiting

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn't about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide.

Every athlete who goes through the college recruiting process is going through the process for the first time. High school athletes have no experience on what to do, when to do it, or how to go about it. In addition, the recruiting process is different for every athlete in every sport. Therefore, almost all athletes and parents have questions and don't know where to turn. Here are the 10 most common questions we hear about the college recruiting experience and some answers that should help make the process a little easier.

1. When should the recruiting process start?
The college recruiting process actually should start earlier than most people realize. Many college coaches look to connect, develop and maintain relationships with athletes during their freshman or sophomore year. Athletes interested in playing a sport in college should approach recruiting as a four-year process. As a freshman, educate yourself on the recruiting process. Understand the definition of recruiting terms such as contact period, evaluation period, official visit and unofficial visit. As a sophomore, start identifying schools that are a good fit and reach out to those programs by sending an introductory email, filling out recruiting questionnaires and attending camps. Your junior year is perhaps the most important year in the process. Reach out to appropriate colleges and get your coach involved. Be patient, but persistent and you will find your way.

2. What are my chances of playing in college?
Only two percent of high school athletes will play their sport in college, but don't let that statistic discourage you. In fact, it should motivate you. The only statistics that matter are the ones you put up in your sport. If you are a serious athlete, research the teams that interest you, analyze how you stack up with their current players and you are realistic about your abilities, then chances are you can play in college. Understand that every team is looking for something a little different in their athletes and you just need to find the one looking for a player like you.

3. Who should I rely on to help me get a college scholarship?
The only person you should rely on for your college search is you. This is not your parent's scholarship, your coach's scholarship or a "recruiter's" scholarship. The decision on where you go to college is one of the most important decisions you will make. Why would you trust someone else? Coaches can help, parents should be there for advice and support, but ultimately you need to take ownership of your college recruiting process.

4. How do I determine which schools to pursue?
This may be the most difficult question when it comes to recruiting. There is no reason to waste your time pursuing schools that aren't a match for your athletic and academic abilities. In fact, pursuing the wrong schools may be the most common reason why many talented athletes don't find a college team. If you aren't sure which colleges are a fit athletically, ask your coach (or coaches) for an honest evaluation. If you aren't sure which colleges are a match academically, talk to your high school guidance counselor.

 5. What can I do to get noticed?
Take control of the recruiting process yourself! Find colleges that are a good fit for you and contact the coaches. Send emails, connect on Twitter, or just pick up the phone. Be persistent and don't get discouraged. When an athlete contacts realistic schools expressing sincere interest in their program, at a minimum it will spark engagement from the coach. This is how college coaches fill a large part of their roster, with players that want to be in their program. The worst thing they can say is "our roster is full." At least then you can scratch that school off your list and focus on colleges that might really need you!

6. When am I allowed to contact college coaches?
Athletes are allowed to contact college coaches at any time. It is against NCAA rules for a coach to contact a recruit during certain times; however, if you initiate the conversation or contact, they can reply. Don't make a habit of contacting coaches too often. Make sure you have something worth telling them, or have a well thought-out question to ask.

7. How important is a highlight video in the recruiting process?A highlight or skills video can be very important in recruiting. Most coaches can watch 30 to 45 seconds of a video and know if they are interested in an athlete. That being said, you don't need a professional video, set to music with terrific graphics.

Here are some tips on how to make a good highlight video:

  • Keep it short: Two or three minutes is long enough.
  • Put your Best Highlights First: You only get one chance at a first impression.
  • Post Your Video on YouTube or Vimeo: Post your video online and provide college coaches the link in your first correspondence.
  • Know What Coaches Want to See: Different sports require different approaches. For example, baseball and softball coaches would rather see video of your skills rather than game footage. Highlight videos for sports like basketball and football are the opposite.
  • Show all Your Skills: Showcase all your skills and use clips that show you're a well-rounded athlete.
  • Video Quality is important: Quality video is important, but it certainly DOES NOT have to be done by a professional. If your high school team uses HUDL, that is a great option.

8. How can I involve my coach?
Most coaches are willing to help their athletes make it to the next level, but you have to help them help you. Your coach doesn't know every college coach in the country. For that reason, they need direction and guidance, as well as help in reaching out to programs in which you have interest and are a match for your abilities. Coaches are extremely busy; therefore, give your coach an easily executed game plan and the information they need to contact coaches on your behalf. Give them the coach's contact information for your top 3 to 5 college choices along with your athletic/academic resume so they have all the information they need when they make the first contact. Finally, be sure they agree the schools are a good fit for you, or they may not be comfortable making the call.

9. If I am invited to a camp or asked to fill out a questionnaire am I being recruited?
You are not being recruited if you get invited to a camp. The primary purpose of camps is to make money for the school and the coaching staff. There may be legitimate recruits at the camps, but 99% of the attendees are not on the school's "short list" of scholarship candidates. If you receive a letter or email from a college coach asking you to fill out a recruiting questionnaire then you have been noticed, but you aren't being recruited yet. Being recognized or noticed is the initial stage in earning a scholarship. Make sure you complete the questionnaire right away and fill it out as accurately as possible. A good rule of thumb is you are not being recruited unless a college specifically contacts you or your coach.

 10. I'm not getting any responses from coaches. What does that mean?
A lack of responses might not mean anything at all; however, it probably means you are targeting the wrong colleges, or they have no way to verify that you are a realistic candidate for their program. Be certain that the schools you are contacting are a fit athletically. It is ok to pursue dream colleges, but you should also pursue realistic colleges and "fallback" colleges. With respect to your abilities, your video will be important and you need to include the contact information for your current coaches in any correspondence you send. Finally, an email from your coach endorsing you for their program will go a long way with a college coach.

There are many other recruiting questions. Don't be embarrassed to ask your coach or someone familiar with the process!

Athletically,

Barbara Berry
Founder of The Way to Win

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