Q&A with a mother about the athletic recruiting process related to Water Polo and Track

Q&A with NCSA SportsAlthough these sports are rarely talked about, we had a mother use the information on this site to help send her children to some major college programs throughout the country.  She was kind enough to bring more from the recruiting trail and here is what she said.

In July of 2010, I wrote an article discussing 16 lessons our family learned during the water polo recruiting process as my son worked toward and was recruited by and admitted to an Ivy League school.  The following year, my daughter was recruited to run cross country/indoor track/outdoor track and has just started at a D1 university that is highly ranked in both academics and athletics.

The recruiting process was different for each of my children, due to the differences in the size of their sports, the level of objective evaluation involved in each, and the types of schools they were targeting.  I was also interested in the ways in which the recruiting process was the same.  In a series of two pieces, I’ll explain those similarities and differences so that people going through the process can learn from our experiences.  In this first post are six new things that I learned and that I did differently from our first recruiting experience to our second.  In my second post, I will confirm six constants – things that proved true no matter what the sport or the school.

1. I changed my mind about filling out every profile form that comes in. In my article about my son, I recommended you fill out all the profile forms the colleges send you and send back a note.  That was because water polo is a small sport with a small number of colleges – only 40 – D1 college teams.   I have new perspective on this advice because we couldn’t do that with my daughter. Track is a popular sport, and my daughter happened to be a popular athlete.  She was nationally ranked in her sport, and received several letters and profile forms each week. They were sent to our school coach, beginning her junior year.  She had to prioritize which schools she was interested in attending, so we devised a system to rank her targeted schools.  We added the college ranking from the US News and World Report list of top universities, to the school’s NCAA cross-country finishing rank the previous year to come up with the top 20 combination schools for her to focus on.  She filled out profile forms, responded to coaches’ letters, and sent out updates to those 20 schools.  To get to know her “Top 10” coaches and schools, we hosted several coaches in our home, my daughter made unofficial visits to those schools, or she went to sports camps on the campus.

2.  How and where the student/athlete is ranked, depends on the sport. In this very important regard, sports like swimming, track and field, and rowing are very different from subjectively evaluated sports like water polo, soccer, and football.  When my son was communicating with colleges about playing water polo, it was critical for him to be proactive and send them information and get their attention. He sent articles that were written about his games, honors and awards he received, and forwarded his SAT scores and transcripts when it was appropriate.  In many cases my son introduced himself to coaches who may never have known about him had he not initiated contact.

My daughter is a runner – results are all time-based.  At any given time, starting in 9th grade, coaches across the country could see her latest accomplishments on websites like MileSplit, and how she ranked nationally.  As soon as she ran a very fast 800 at the California State track and field meet during her Junior year, she started getting mail and was on many coaches’ lists.

3.  I had no idea that coaches would want to come to our home.   I was aware that this is common in football and other big sports but having a coach fly across the country to come to our house was a shock to me.  We had some lovely, long visits with great coaches from top academic/athletic schools.  It helped me to read the Recruiting-101 article “What is the Point of In-home Visits by College Coaches?”

4.  I now believe that if a school really wants you they will call you on July 1 before your senior year. In my original article, I said, “Don’t worry if you don’t get a zillion calls on July 1.”  That is still true – you don’t need a zillion, but both of my kids received July 1 calls from their top choice schools and ended up going there.  I see now that if they don’t call you, you’re down on the list.  My son had a top D1 school on his list early on, but by spring of his Junior year, we realized that coach was never using the “R” word – “Recruited” –in conversations with my son.  Nor did he call on July 1.  My son focused on his other top choices and never looked back.  There is a Recruiting-101 article that spells this out, “If I Haven’t Received any Recruiting Calls from College Coaches, What Should I Do Right Now?”

5.  At some point, the athlete and a parent must “face the music.”  You should meet with the coaches at his/her top 5 schools and find out who is really serious about recruiting you and getting you admitted to that school. It will save you a lot of headaches and time if you find out the timeline and be realistic about what you hear.   My daughter and I made a 5-school east coast trip to meet with her top choice coaches in June after her Junior year.  One coach told her he was looking for someone with a faster 800 time than hers so we took the hint and scratched it off the list.

After our east coast trip, my husband and daughter made an appointment to meet with her “dream school” coaches, to find out where she stood with them.  I sent them her grades and scores ahead of that meeting so they could get a thumbs-up or thumbs down from admissions.  She was lucky – when the meeting happened, it was clear that she was a top recruit for that school.

6.  It is important for a parent or other adult to accompany the student athlete to meetings with coaches. Although it is the child’s process and decision, parents do have a role to play beyond “organizer.”  I was good at pointing out my daughter’s training regimen, accomplishments and strengths which she was uncomfortable bragging about. I would accompany her on trips when she was trying to “sell herself.” She was happy to have me by her side in case she got nervous. On the other hand, when it was time to get decisions and commitments from her #1 choice, I sent my husband to that meeting.  He is a tough but realistic business person and was a much better person to be there with our daughter to get the details of the commitment and close the deal. Of course there are times when it’s not appropriate for a parent to be anywhere close by. When our daughter went on her recruiting trips, where the point was for her to meet the girls on the team and see what college life was like at those schools, both my husband and I stayed home.

CONSTANTS

1. Grades and standardized test scores always matter.  The fact is that poor grades and scores can keep you from attending the school of your dreams.  My daughter first visited the college campus where she is now enrolled when she was 5 years old.  Her uncle is an alumnus of that school, and he showed my son and daughter around.  We told our 2 kids right then, “This is a great place to go to college, but you have to be a good student to get in, so keep working hard!”  Both children always knew what their goals were, and they worked very hard to get good grades and score well on standardized tests.  The Recruiting 101 article that specifically addresses this reality is, “The Importance of Strong Academics and ACT/SAT scores in Getting an Athletic Scholarship.”

2.  Train with the best coaches you can find.  This might be difficult if you attend a small, or rural lower-division high school.   My daughter ran cross country and track at our high school starting in 9th grade.  When she showed promise, she continued to train with our school teams and additionally, we found and hired a private coach to work with her beginning spring of her sophomore year.  Even though she attended a D6 high school, her private coach trained her to achieve top notch D1 nationally-ranked times.  Athletes must focus on a sport, and practice and play year round, if possible with a club team or private coach, to get tip top instruction, teammates, competition, and exposure to college coaches.

3.  Attending sports camp in the summer is a great way to find out if you like the school, and for the school to get to know you. This was the same with my son.  I think it’s a universal constant. My daughter went to track camp at her top choice school during the summer before 9th grade, and to cross country camp for that school during the summer before 11th grade.   At camp, she got to know the coaches, team members, and they saw something they liked and they knew she would fit in there.  Starting in 11th grade, those coaches watched her athletic and scholastic achievements very closely.  I believe those coaches would have noticed her times and national ranking, but they wouldn’t have seen what a perfect candidate she was for their school if she hadn’t gone to camp.

4. A student/athlete needs find the right “fit” athletically and academically.  Know what you want, and understand clearly what you will get.  My daughter always wanted to go to the school she’s attending, knew that both the athletics and academics would be the biggest challenge she could have, and understood that she would not be the best in her sport at the beginning.  She is extremely happy with her choice, loves the team and loves the rigorous academics.  However, not every kid could handle this combination, the schedule, and the athletic and academic demands.

My son chose an Ivy League school where the coach told him when he visited, “Water Polo is just part of your life here, not your whole life.”  That has turned out to be absolutely true and he fits that school. His teammates are both athletically and academically talented and are his good friends, and he is very happy with his choice.

Don’t choose a college just for the big name or athletic reputation.  Find a situation where you can thrive and be happy. Talk to other students there –both athletes and “NARPS” as my son calls them, the “Non-Athletic- Regular- People” who were admitted on academic credentials alone.  See who you’ll be taking classes with, and know how bright and talented the general student body is.  Find out if you’ll fit in, and be comfortable and thrive there.

5.  Decide if location matters to you and if it does, don’t ignore it. My daughter was recruited by schools all over the country, and finally admitted that, especially because hers is a 3-season, outdoor sport, she is a “weather wimp.”  She chose a school in a mild climate for that reason.  The Recruiting-101 article that discusses this reality is, Location and The Importance of it During the Recruiting Process.”

6. It is sad in a way that you can’t be a student at all the colleges where the environment is so alluring, and can’t play for all the coaches who have been so kind and encouraging — but you can’t. Be sure to take time to personally call or email all the coaches who are still in the mix at the end, tell them where you’ve committed, and thank them for all their time.  You always want to be known as a class act. Thanking the schools you leave behind will make you look good, feel good, and will help bolster the reputation of anyone you are associated with from your high school career. It’s a win-win all around.

A special thanks for her help!

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