Question: When Is It Time? My Daughter is a sophomore in HS. She plays great ball, and has begun asking about colleges. (She wants to play for a top D-I team, and I support her, I think anyone can do anything if they try hard enough) This past summer I have looked over the rules for NCAA and Recruiting, and I have looked into recruiting companies. 1) I would like to hear from anyone who has benefited from sending out early portfolios of their child's athletic and academic highlights. NCAA D-I coaches cannot reach out to you until July of the player's junior year, so I guess I'm asking is it worth sending out portfolios before the junior year? 2) Are recruiting companies good?... And of what benefit are these companies, can't parents do just as well?
Answer: When Is It Time? (Note: This answer is directed at them 85-90% of all players who will not commit early-e.g., as freshmen or sophomores.)
To answer your questions, my personal feeling (based on 20 plus years of working as a recruiting consultant) is that the very best "window of opportunity" for starting the college search opens at the end of the sophomore/start of the junior year. This means SAT/ACT tests in the winter-spring of the junior year, video shot, edited and put up on YouTube by winter or early spring, and letters/resumes and video links sent out to coaches with a summer travel schedule by April-May. If a player wants to do anything earlier than this--say during the sophomore year, postcards to a coach conveying basic information and upcoming travel ball schedule will be just fine. As you are aware, active recruiting by D-I coaches can't begin much before the junior year and contact recruiting--as in personal home visits, meetings at tournaments, phone calls, etc., for D-I schools--can't start until after the junior year.
While it's true that if your player is TRULY going to be the next Jenny Finch or Jessica Mendoza, coaches would want to know this early--say when she's a freshman or sophomore--in reality, doing too much very early may work against some kids. Many players aren't nearly as strong physically, experientially, etc., at the start of their sophomore year as they will be at the end of their junior summer. So making videos, expecting answers or decisions from coaches on recruiting right after she's started high school can be discouraging because many coaches won't even be looking seriously at her class.
If your player is hoping to make the team at a highly competitive college such as a Pac-12 school, her best bet is to follow a good conditioning program, get top grades and play on the most competitive travel team she can--playing "up" even at the Gold level if possible as a sophomore. Unfortunately, recruiting -- like life -- isn't fair, and many coaches tend to follow certain patterns when recruiting. Players who don't fit into those patterns will probably have a harder time getting noticed and therefore actively recruited.
Another risk you run by starting too early is that kids often get burnt out or tired of the recruiting process. Many, if not most kids are still pursuing colleges, making phone calls, sending out videos, etc., into the senior year. Starting writing colleges when you're a freshman won't necessarily change that, and continuing a high-intensity college search for two or three years can be very tiring. You'll likely get the same or better results by waiting until the junior year to start!
As for recruiting companies, yes, parents can do it themselves and be just as effective at a much lower price. Follow the guidelines in my book religiously and be very dedicated--remember, when the time comes, she has to make the phone calls because coaches aren't recruiting you, her mom or any recruiting service!
And, beware of expensive companies that want your money when she's a freshman and who promise to mass-market her to thousands of coaches. She'll get some feedback, but it's very unlikely to be from the schools you think she can play at. And again, when she's a senior and it really counts--when coaches are actually likely to be recruiting her--most of these companies have done their part and are nowhere to be seen. Before spending any money be sure to talk to people who've used a service for softball and who felt they got their money's worth.
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