10 Tips for College Recruiting Process

10 Tips for Recruitment Process

(It was years ago that I was recruited to play basketball at Stanford, but now, after having been an assistant coach at Stanford, I wanted to share 10 tips that would help any athlete in any sport to enhance their own personal recruitment process or to create a recruitment process from scratch.  And in fact, this article could apply to activities and academic pursuits beyond sports, such as music, drama, speech & debate, and young business leaders of America in their entreprenuerial endeavors).  

10. Send Letters to the schools you are interested in:  When I was getting recruited in high school, my mom told me, “You need to send letters out to all of the schools you are interested in.”  I felt timid and I didn’t want to bug any schools or attempt self-promotion.  I thought to myself that “the school would find me” if they were truly interested.  Well, my mom won, and in one night she helped me send out about 200 letters to schools all over the country.  Some of these letters made their way through all the red tape and my recruitment process immediately was enhanced with many other schools interested or at least sending me correspondence.  I even sent letters to North Carolina and Duke even though at the time I thought to myself, “Why would I waste my time sending a letter to those amazing basketball schools.”   More high school athletes, in both men’s and women’s sports should be proactive and send letters out.  To enhance this even further, try sending out a handwritten note to various assistant coaches and head coaches at schools you like.  You never know what will happen.

9. Call the school and call the coach: I loved my experience at Stanford as both a player and a coach and would never trade it.  But the truth is that I wanted to be recruited by Duke and North Carolina too.  Most high school players do not realize that when they are freshmen and sophomores in high school, university coaches are not allowed to call them due to NCAA rules.  But, coaches can sometimes accept inbound phone calls without any type of infraction or violation of rules.  Find the phone numbers of the basketball programs that you are interested in.  In fact, you should also try to find the mobile phone numbers of coaches.  Reach out to them and call them.  Try to catch them on the phone.  You will learn quickly if they are interested in you as a player or not.  But don’t give up if you don’t get them the first time.  Keep trying.  If you do catch them on the phone ask them honestly if they would have any interest in recruiting you.  If coaches don’t have an interest, they will usually be honest and disclose that.  For example, here is the directory to North Carolina and their basketball office.  Chances are you can get someone on the phone even if it’s an administrative person.  Tell them that you are all-conference in your high school conference in Northern Minnesota.  Tell them that you would be willing to even consider walking on.  Tell them how you would be an amazing practice player.

8. Attend Summer Camp at your Dream School:  There is no better way to give yourself exposure to a school than to attend their summer skill development camp in the given sport.  When I was 14 years old, I actually wrote down a goal that I wanted to get a basketball scholarship to BYU which was where some of my siblings had attended college.  I went to their camp for about four or five years and stayed with cousins in the area.  I loved the camp.  By the time I was into high school I was thinking more about staying close to home in the Bay Area.  But attending a school’s camp will give you many different benefits.  First you will have the opportunity to showcase your talents to the school and the coaches there.  But secondly, you will be pushed and see all of the other talented players out there at the camp and you will have a desire to get better, to improve your game, and to put the necessary work in to improve as a player and be your very best.  Lastly, you will have the chance to speak freely with the coaching staff and begin to build a relationship with them which would be tough to build otherwise. If you take this advice, you need to introduce yourself to every coach on staff at the school.  Express to each coach your desire to attend their school.  You should know their names and you should know a little bit about each coach’s background.  If you go in prepared they will remember you.  I’ve included a link here describing the UVU Men’s basketball team camp.

7. Choose the right Traveling Team or Summer Program (AAU):  Every sport has a different summer circuit where college recruiters go out to try to find the best talent and to see the best competition.  When I was recruiting high school basketball players to Stanford as an assistant coach, one of the most common concerns that I heard was that a young player was on an AAU team where nobody passed the ball to them.  This is serious.  Some AAU coaches feature the wrong players and there are all sorts of messed up relationships in AAU basketball.  Maybe a parent is a big time donor to the AAU program and consequently, his son or daughter gets preferential treatment.  So, conduct your own due diligence carefully on which AAU team to play on. There may be some merit to going to a lower profile AAU program where you will actually get more real game time action against the best players, rather than either sitting on the bench or never getting any shots.  When I was in high school, I didn’t want to play AAU at all.  Some friends of mine from Palo Alto High school put together a makeshift AAU team which was kind of last minute but every single one of us had the chance to play major minutes.  That was a big benefit to myself and others on the team in terms of gaining valuable experience at major tournaments.

6. Take Care of Business in the Classroom: Some schools have very strict academic requirements and you will simply not be admitted without certain core classes and certain GPA requirements.  In the same breath, I believe the NCAA itself requires a baseline of academic achievement in order to be eligible to compete in college.  But regardless of eligibility, many coaches are biased towards taking players with good grades.  If a player has demonstrated responsibility in the classroom, a coach will probably feel like he can put his or her own reputation and job on the line by bringing a young athlete to their University and giving them a scholarship.  If coaches recruit “knuckleheads” then they put themselves at risk of having a public incident that is not flattering to the school, or to the coach who recruited that player.  So do everything in your power to take care of business in the classroom even as a high school aged student athlete.  It will pay big dividends for you especially if you experience an injury or if the sport does not work out the way you are hoping.

5. Show the coaches your personality: Coaching any sport at the college level can be very challenging.  Coaches have to deal with the media, the alumni boosters, and they have to win.  It is a very stressful job.  If you can make the recruiting process fun for the coaches, it could mean the difference on a borderline offer.  Remember that coaches are human.  If there are two players and one scholarship, think about it, if the two players are close to even in talent level, the head coach is probably going to make the offer to the student athlete who they like more.  So, be yourself and be your own likeable self.  Don’t be afraid to joke around with the assistant coaches and with the head coach.  Make them laugh.  They are stressed out a lot of the time anyway.  It will make everyone’s job a little bit easier and lighten the monotony a bit.  It might even be that little slight difference to make you shine a bit more in the coaches’ minds and gets you the walk on slot or gets you the spot on the team.  Don’t be afraid to send the head coach a text and joke with him a little bit and make his day a bit more fun.  He or she will appreciate it!

4. Physical Conditioning and strength: If you are not in physical condition, college coaches will look at you and ask themselves, “Does he care?”  or, “Does she even take this sport seriously?”  You never want to be unprepared in your sport, or in life.  Whether you are just beginning your sport or whether you are about to attend the event with the largest number of college scouts, never be out of shape.  Being in good shape involves a lot of different aspects.  First, get plenty of rest and don’t be out all night and don’t stay up late into the night.  Sleep will help you in your sport.  Get sleep!  Secondly, you should cut out certain foods from your diet altogether.  Any athlete who drinks soda should cut it out right away.  To be honest, I’m not even a big fan of Gatorade due to the high sugar level in the drink.  If you truly want to be your best don’t drink alcohol either and don’t smoke.  Drugs shouldn’t even be in the question.  When I played for Phil Jackson as a Laker he talked constantly about “playing basketball with great energy.”  He always referred to having energy on the court.  Playing any sport with energy is a skill and a gift in the same way that shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball is a gift.  Have great energy.  Get your sleep, eat right, and stay away from the bad stuff.

3. Prepare Video: Most of the recruiting duties at any university or college fall to the assistant coaches and these coaches are always looking for a “diamond in the rough.”  First of all, prepare a highlight video. But when you prepare video, never send a DVD.  Many coaches no longer even have DVD players and while the video coordinator at the school will have a DVD player, don’t take that risk.  It’s possible that the coach won’t want “to bug” the video coordinator with converting the DVD over to digital format.  Experiment with video editing software and put up a professional looking YouTube video.  Set the YouTube video to music and make it fun for the coach to watch.  Include any relevant data such as who you are playing against in the video and the strength of the opponent or conference.  Make the YouTube video publicly accessible so that when a coach hears your name in his/her office they can look you up and find video immediately.  Even though I only coached at Stanford for one year, I looked up tons of basketball players on YouTube.  Some had video and some did not.   Maybe even spice it up and set the video to some Snoop Dogg or classical Beethoven.  Make the person watching your video smile.  YouTube has all sorts of editing tools such as “Annotions” and “Captions.”  You can almost spot-shadow certain aspects of your video. This might be your only “FaceTime” in front of a decision maker.  Make a beautiful video.  Now, if you want to “go the extra mile,” also include up to a full half or a full game of video of yourself on Youtube.  Anyone can put together a highlight video, but how does the player look over the course of a normal game.  Be SURE to set this to music because it may be boring for the coach to watch, but if the coach is doing his/her job, then they will watch this video to see the totality of the player’s game and talents.  They coach will look to see what you are doing on defense away from the ball.  Do you have good reactions to help your teammates?  How do you react when your teammates makes a mistake?  What is your body language like?  Does your body language show an attitude of Blame?  Or an attitude of helping your teammate.  You never want your video to be stuck in a huge inbox.  Get your video in front of the eyes of the coaches.  If you are a talented player, and if you make the video entertaining also, it might just get to the head coach!

2. Share other schools that are recruiting you:  Nobody likes to make a mistake in recruiting a college athlete.  When it’s all said and done recruiting high school student athletes in not an exact science.  If you pick up offers or even if another school is sending an assistant coach to come watch you at your high school, don’t be afraid to casually share this with your dream school at the right time.  Your dream school might still not work out in the end, but if your dream school keeps hearing about all of the other schools who are recruiting you and coming by your high school to watch you play, it will surely garner interest and increase your stock.  Keep your stock going up by honestly sharing the other interest in you as an athlete.  Never overplay your hand or make things up though.  Most coaches are friends and talk even across schools and conferences.  You never want to make something up because it will probably come out and you don’t want to misrepresent your recruiting situation either.

1. Always be working on your skills:  Growing up I used to see a T-shirt that said something to the effect of, “Somewhere, someone else is working harder, longer, and with more intensity than you. And one day you will meet them on the court….”  In a way it’s true for sure.  I can’t even begin to write down all of the high school and college players who are not recruited highly, but because of their persistence and perseverance, they overcome long odds and they have the chance to play their sport in college, or they even achieve their lifelong dream and make it to the pro level.  Never give up and never stop sharpening your tools, no matter what sport you are in.  I am amazed at all of the things I am still learning to this day around the game of basketball that I wish I would have known when I played.  Always work and never give up.

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Stanford, Pac-12, Stanford Cardinal
When I was a coach at Stanford, we were told in a marketing meeting: We are sending a bit of a confusing message with the block S, the Tree, and then the “Cardinal.” Even if it’s confusing, it’s still the school I love! Go Stanford, Go Pac-12!

2 thoughts on “10 Tips for College Recruiting Process”

  1. Mark,

    Great suggestions for high school athletes new to this process. I’ve seen the college camp opportunity as especially helpful for those athletes who are strong players but maybe haven’t had a chance to show it due to other circumstances (such as being an underclassman on an exceptional team and so not getting much playing time). If they treat the camp like a tryout it gets the coach’s attention. Though, I’ve also noticed that college coaches recognize this and now a. they all seem to have camps and, b. they all are pretty aggressive about inviting recruits to attend their camp–sort of an, “If you’re really interested then you’d come to my camp ($$$).” So that’s become trickier to navigate.

    Also, very much in line with your comments about finding a good club team: many sports have national programs which begin at the regional level. And, even if not driven nationally, others have all-star teams. As you mentioned, this have the great benefit of demonstrating to a college coach one’s ability: just having that on one’s resume is a real highlight, assuming you make the team. But also, as you mention, it helps you to gauge just where you are athletically–sometimes it’s hard to really tell this as we all tend to get myopic and think, “Well, I made Second Team All League, I must be good!” And we don’t realize that there are thousands of leagues throughout the country. It’s a tough balance between having an athlete maintain the needed confidence to perform at a high level and also a sense of realism of where they stand.

    I will pass this on to the athletes I work with. Thanks for putting it together.


  2. As a Palo Alto native – growing up as a Stanford fan – the stadium shadows were our playground…There is nothing confusing about the block S and the tree and the cardinal – It is Stanford. Your athletic director is wrong about the message. Stanford just is. good post – 3 of my sons were D- I track and field athletes – one an all American, going on to compete for USA track and field . Sports is in our blood. But what I remember as their Mom, was the annoying hassle of working with the NCAA clearinghouse, because their high school did not have a counselor who kept up on the yearly submission requirements. you touched on that a little – but it is an essential element to the academic side of preparation – to understand eligibility requirements, take the right courses and hopefully the high school stays up with what they have to do help those student athletes become ready. Nice post.

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