USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft. Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Softball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse are just a few sports in which competing for a club team has become synonymous with getting recruited by college coaches. And the number of sports that focus on club play is on the rise.
However, simply being part of a club team may not be enough for some sports. Now, families are paying extra for their athletes to compete on elite teams that tend to attract attention from top college coaches during tournaments. Some families pay upwards of $14,000 to ensure their athlete is on the right field at the right time during tournaments. And, while those elite teams do tend to draw the attention of DI and DII college coaches, this pay-extra-to-be-seen model just may not be realistic for some families.
If your athlete competes in a sport in which club play is extremely important, they probably will need to join a club team by their freshman year of high school to have the best chance of getting recruited by DI colleges. UCLA’s softball coach Kelly Inouye Perez, who’s led her team to 11 NCAA championships, told the LA Times that she “can’t remember” the last time she went to a high school practice to evaluate a recruit. “It’s all about travel ball and watching summer training,” she told LA Times.
Similarly, Stanford assistant volleyball coach Denise Corlett says, “Once or twice a year, we’ll get to a high school match of a kid we’re trying to recruit. You see them enough during the club season.”
However, I’ve outlined a few tips that will help your athlete get the exposure they need to get recruited, even without joining the most elite club team.
How to get in front of college coaches
While elite teams might be the right fit financially and athletically for some recruits, they aren’t the best fit for many athletes. To discover if a club team is right for you, ask the coach these questions. Regardless of what team you’re on, here are a few key ways to get in front of coaches.
Build a robust online presence. If your athlete isn’t getting the attention they need through their club tournaments, it’s essential that they ace their digital recruiting strategy. For most sports, athletes need a strong highlight or skills video to send to college coaches. Coaches often use videos to conduct their initial evaluation of recruits. Your athlete can also use social media to show more about their personality and to connect with coaches through direct messages. It takes some leg work, but athletes who effectively promote themselves to coaches—and have the academics and athletics to back it up—will get attention.
Reach out to coaches before your upcoming tournament and let them know your schedule. College coaches go to tournaments with a list of prospects they are recruiting. If your athlete is on that list, the coach will take the time to watch them compete, even if they aren’t on the most viewed field or on the most elite team. To get on a college coach’s radar, have your athlete call, email or text them before the tournament.
Many recruits also lean on their club coach to facilitate an introduction to a college coach, especially if the college coach isn’t allowed to start recruiting athletes yet according to the NCAA rules. Have your athlete talk to their club coach and see if they will reach out to college coaches. The club coach can either arrange a call between the recruit and the college coach, or they can simply invite the college coach to watch your son or daughter compete.
Club teams are a great way to see how your athlete stacks up against other top competitors, while ensuring that they compete in front of college coaches. However, the costs can quickly add up, especially for families who pay top dollar to join elite teams. Some families find the extra fees to be worth it when their young athlete commits to a top DI school. However, for families trying to cut costs but still wanting to get recruited, focus on maximizing digital recruiting methods to help your athlete get more exposure to college coaches. From email to social media and online recruiting profiles, there are plenty of options to help your athlete get noticed.