by Catharine Aradi

In my work with student-athletes, I often hear that parents and players are confused and frustrated by the way college coaches recruit. It's not hard to understand this confusion when you consider there are over 1200 four-year teams---three NCAA Divisions and NAIA schools---not to mention junior colleges, and they all have their own rules and recruiting timetables. In this article, however, I want to focus on helping families become better prepared for the recruiting process by looking at some of the differences in how coaches recruit.

I'll start with some generalizations that apply to all types of colleges. First, it's wise to keep in mind that coaches are people too! Some coaches are outgoing, like to talk on the phone, communicate well with strangers, and so on. Others may be quiet, even shy, and perhaps feel more comfortable showing skills, running practices, or planning game strategies. These personality differences can shape a coach's recruiting style. The head coach may leave 90% of the recruiting to an assistant coach. Or the head coach may do it all himself. The coach who does most of the recruiting may hate phone calls, or hate email, or lack time management skills. He or she may leave recruiting to the end of the day or routinely put it off. Some coaches communicate better with adults than teens; others will be just the opposite. One coach may feel touching base with a recruit once a month is more than enough; another may want to talk to you every couple of weeks; a third might email you three times a week once the process gets underway.

You need to keep these personal, philosophical, and style differences in mind when you start communicating with college coaches or they with you. Families may get upset because a coach isn't attentive enough or because a coach says she'll call and then doesn't follow through. I always favor the proactive approach. If a coach promises a phone call and it doesn't happen, there is no reason you can't call him yourself!

I'm a big believer in moving the process along whenever possible. Don't sit around and wait for answers if you can go out and get them. Since most coaches recruit several players at any given time, it can be a mistake to take anything for granted. Rule number one is this: If you have questions about what a coach is doing or why she's doing it, ASK! And don't expect every college coach to be the same in how they recruit, (not to mention how they view your skills, your experience, and your potential to contribute to their program.) 

It's also very helpful to understand all the NCAA and NAIA rules on contacts and recruiting as they differ not only from each other, but within each division. For example, if you know that D-I coaches can't talk to you in person on
or off campus until the start of your junior year, you're less likely to be upset if a coach doesn't stop to chat with you at a tournament during your sophomore year.

Let's look at some of the major differences in recruiting based on the differences in programs. There are always exceptions, but these are general trends I've observed over the years.  Parents or players often complain that while many of the Div. I schools they've written have responded (if only with a form letter), the D-II or NAIA coaches haven't sent word one in reply. This is not unusual, because there are often notable differences in both recruiting styles and timetables. From D-I to D-II or from NAIA to D-III, for example, recruiting simply will not be the same.

Even within divisions, there will be differences. Big D-I schools with well-funded teams are more likely to have full-time staffs, and their coaches often spend a lot of time on recruiting. They may have an established routine—-e.g., letters are opened and videos are reviewed as they come in, and if the player looks promising, a file is set up for her. In many cases, if you send a letter** to one of these programs, you'll get an answer back fairly quickly. Coaches at the bigger Div. I programs usually start tracking prospects earlier, initiate contact earlier, and make recruiting decisions earlier. A coach who wants to identify top prospects as freshmen or sophomores will be very proactive. He or she may invite you for a visit and ask for a commitment sometime during your junior year.

At smaller D-I programs that aren't as well-funded, the coach may not even have a full time assistant. Consequently, recruiting might move at a slower pace. You may have to be more persistent in following up, and you may not know their interest is serious until you are a senior. Still, most D-I programs will try to have commitments in hand a year or more in advance. So unless an unexpected need arises or the coach happens to be looking for recruited walk-ons, you can find many D-I colleges have finished recruiting by the time you start your senior year.

The timetable at other levels of competition is usually different, however. Coaches at well-established D-II, D-III or NAIA programs-— those with good staffing and good funding-—may start looking at juniors over the winter and into the early summer, assuming their current recruiting needs have been met. But It's also not unusual for these coaches to postpone active recruiting until summer or even fall. If they have generous scouting budgets, they'll try to see kids who've written them, and some will begin follow-up contact right away, trying to schedule visits and looking at fall commitments. But other D-II and NAIA coaches---since they are permitted to have players on campus for workouts---may elect not to do much with players beyond emails or phone calls until they're ready to schedule those tryout dates.

Some NAIA and D-III coaches will wait until the first "crush" is over. They often want to know the prospects they like are really willing to consider their schools. In other words, the coaches want to be sure the players have adjusted their expectations after the big D-I programs have turned them down. These coaches may put off active recruiting until the end of the fall after the early signing period is over.

Another factor in the recruiting timetable is money. Since D-II and NAIA coaches might have scholarship money to offer, they may be more interested in getting commitments earlier than Div. III coaches. D-III coaches will not be offering athletic-based aid, so they know players often don't make their final decisions until they've been accepted and gotten a financial aid offer from the college. That's why it's not unusual for Div. III coaches to have to wait until spring to solidify their commitments for the upcoming year.

In most cases, a realistic "Target Zone" and your pursuit of programs within that zone will be the key to successful recruitment. If you're really interested in a particular team, pick up the phone and let the coach know it! Request a visit, ask about applying, and keep calling until you get an answer. Just make sure that you're targeting schools where you have a strong Wow Factor---i.e., the coach is highly likely to see you as a potential impact player! Calling the coach at Arizona every day just because you want to go there will not---unfortunately---guarantee you're recruited, particularly if he doesn't consider you a strong prospect for his team!

By the time you reach the fall of your senior year, you should begin seeing results from your marketing efforts. D-I coaches can start returning your calls at the start of your junior year, so here's an important guideline. If you've reached your senior year, and you've sent your information to a big college program, called and left several detailed messages, and no one has returned your calls, it's safe to assume they're not interested. Move on and start calling D-II or NAIA coaches who are in the process setting up workouts and visits with prospects. The same thing applies if you're writing a lot of Div. III coaches. They can't have you come for a workout, but they'll probably be happy to hear that you're now serious about their programs.

Let me say it again. With so much competition out there, and with recruiting styles and schedules so dependent on the type of college as well as the type of coach, you need to be proactive. Look at each college you're contacting, and consider the factors that might affect when or how that coach responds to you. Then, make your follow up phone calls and stick with it until you get an answer-—even if that answer is no. While that big Div. I college might be done recruiting before you even start your senior year, the odds are great there will be another coach---maybe at a Div. II, III, NAIA, or even another D-I school---who would love to have you as a member of his or her team!