Few things are certain about college recruiting, but we do know this: It's an incredibly complicated process, it's easy to make costly mistakes, and it requires hundreds of hours of work.
The process involves extensive planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to achieve specific goals. Attacking it without a well-conceived plan dramatically lowers your chances for success. Highlight films, showcases and camps are all ingredients in the recruiting recipe, but they can't be solely relied upon to produce more than what we call "mailing list interest."
Instead, you need to approach the college recruiting process like you're building your own business. If you want to generate authentic, scholarship-level interest, you have to start developing your audience and building relationships. So how do you get beyond the mailing list, build your audience, and genuinely command the attention of coaches?
Here are three things you can start doing today.
1. Make it easy for coaches to evaluate you
It's probably the simplest and most logical of the three, and yet it's the one thing college-bound athletes often fail to understand. If it's difficult for a coaching staff to evaluate you, they won't recruit you.
Remember, the recruiting process is about evaluations and relationships. Coaches don't have time to search for information and scour the web for their next superstar. You need to initiate the conversation and bring yourself to them. Coaches want your information virtually hand-delivered in a complete, concise, user-friendly format. Don't make them jump from one site to another trying to watch you play, read your scouting reports, view your transcripts and locate your game schedules.
Coaches will be impressed with your organization (and very relieved!) when you make it easy for them to get to know you and evaluate your skills.
2. Interact on a regular basis
Interacting is about sharing, which is the foundation of the digital life we all live.
One mistake many athletes make is, they send an email to a coach and then sit back and do nothing. If the coach doesn't respond, the athlete assumes the coach is not interested.
Remember (in case you forgot), recruiting is about evaluations and building relationships. Just because a coach fails to respond doesn't mean you should stop trying to interact. Stick with it. Show your persistence and your genuine interest in that coach's program.
When the coach responds, do everything in your power to continue the dialogue. Set up a follow-up schedule. After introducing yourself, circle back with another email a few weeks later and again a month or so later.
Sure, you need athletic and academic credentials to generate interest from a coach at first, but for the relationship to mature into an actual offer, the coach needs to like you. And one way to make that happen is to constantly share information.
3. Keep it personal
This goes hand-in-hand with the first two points.
As with many important decisions, people "buy" from individuals they like and trust. If you're in the market for a new car, it's easy to find the standard sticker price. Whom you buy from comes down to deciding which dealer you're most comfortable with and connected to.
The college recruiting process is no different. In fact, it works both ways. You will ultimately choose the coach and program you feel most comfortable with, so the coach needs to do a great job establishing a connection with you. On the flip side, coaches ultimately offer scholarships to the players they "like." So keep it personal from start to finish.
When you reach out to a coach, make sure to address your emails to the actual person. (Want to turn off a coach in a hurry? Send a mass "Dear Coach" letter.)
Another good idea is to send handwritten letters. It's becoming a lost art, but it still makes a powerful impression. Even if it's a one-sentence "thank you for your time on the phone the other day," coaches remember athletes who stand out from the pack.
When you speak to a coach, ask him or her if you can call again next month. Find out the coach's birthday and send him/her a short email on that day. Become friends on Facebook and follow the coach on Twitter.
It's not difficult to personalize the process. You just need to make the effort, be humble and don't be afraid to let your guard down a little once you get to know coaches. At the end of the day, the recruiting experience is more about people than about stats, awards and 40 times.
Author's note: Student-Athlete Showcase Co-founder Rex Grayner contributed to this article.
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