In our first two posts we helped you understand the overall picture of collegiate athletics, and gave you some insight into initiating the recruiting process. In this post, we'll detail how to handle visits, how to begin leveraging offers, and how to narrow down your choices.
Once you have begun the recruiting process, you inevitably will need to start scheduling visits. For all types of visits, the best thing you can do beforehand is thoroughly research the school and program. Know about the academic, social and athletic programs, and be able to ask questions about housing, tutoring, medical care and academic support staff. Doing so shows recruiters and coaches that you are both serious and detailed, which is exactly the kind of athlete most programs desire.
These are usually the least common of all visits, often due to travel budgets and other limitations on recruiting. The exception is if you are dealing with a local school or a school with a large recruiting budget. Regardless, if you have an institution who wants to visit you at your home or school, accept the offer. Even if you aren’t very interested in the school, you can always use their visit as leverage with other schools. When the coach or recruiter arrives, be polite and hospitable, but keep in mind that recruiters are essentially salesmen...it’s their job to convince you that their institution is the right choice. Some coaches will have a presentation prepared, some will do a meet-and-greet style visit. Either way, make sure you ask relevant questions, and don’t be afraid to say what is really on your mind. Coaches and recruiters want to know your honest thoughts and concerns, it helps them understand what they will need to focus on during the next phase of recruiting.
Most recruiting is done through campus visits for a variety of reasons. Before you go for a campus visit, make sure you have all the details. Will the visit be official or unofficial? How many parents or coaches are able to attend the visit with you? Will you be able to meet with admissions representatives and academic advisors from your major? Will you be able to meet the head coach and members of the team? Will you have the opportunity to tour all the facilities and meet with support staff such as athletic trainers, strength coaches, and tutors? All of these questions need to be addressed before you actually set foot on campus.
Make sure you also understand the recruiting rules regarding official and unofficial visits. Unofficial visits are paid for by you and your family. During official visits, the institution will need several items from you on file, and will usually pay for some or all of the travel, hotel or meal costs. Different divisions and governing bodies have different rules regarding how many official visits you can take and what activities are allowed during visits, so again make sure that you are aware of all the potential rules that apply.
Once you arrive on campus, ask for an itinerary or agenda if you haven’t already been given one. Some schools do visits more free-form, so don’t be offended if they don’t have a written agenda. Just try to get some idea of when you will be meeting with various people so you can be prepared with questions. Focus your questions on each person’s area of expertise. Don’t expect the athletic trainers to know about the business school or the academic advisors to know what kind of offense the team runs. Make sure you ask detailed questions and get contact information for each person you speak with. They can prove to be valuable resources if any new questions arise.
When it comes to meeting the coaches and team, be yourself. They are trying to decide if you are a good fit for them as well, so don’t try to be something you’re not.
In addition to the usual questions about playing time, expectations, and other sport-related topics, make sure you ask the coaches and team the “hard questions”. Ask them their biggest challenges as a program. Ask them the things they like least about the school and program. Find the person on the team who looks disinterested or unhappy, and talk to them. You will be surprised at how honest people will be with you.
Often schools will set you up with a host athlete who will show you around, introduce you to people, and take you out for the evening. Remember that this is someone who was hand-picked, so they are probably going to highlight the good and minimize the bad. Make sure you set limits on what you are comfortable with as well. If you aren’t comfortable with going to a team party, make sure you offer a suggestion such as bowling or a movie. Being upfront with your limits ensures that everyone is comfortable.
Finally, after all your questions have been answered, you can begin to talk about offers. If you are being recruited for a “head-count” sport (see previous article) then this process is relatively simple. However, if you are being recruited by an “equivalency” sport, this process is a little more complicated.
Since “head-count” sports don’t involve splitting scholarships, this next section really only applies to sports and divisions where scholarships are divided up. Getting offers on the table can be a touchy subject. Many schools won’t give you any kind of offer until the very end of the recruiting process. Some will give you an approximate number up front. Each school and program has its own philosophy, but most will tell you their policy if you ask.
Regardless, the most important thing you can do is make sure that you are looking at all of your offers in terms of total, out-of-pocket cost. Asking for this figure will ensure that you are comparing your actual cost, not percentages. A 20% offer at one school may leave you with a cost of $5,000 while a 60% offer at another may leave you with a $7,000 cost. Make sure you’re always comparing apples to apples.
If you already have some offers on the table, you should have an idea of how some schools value your skill set. Use this information and reach out to other comparable schools that may meet your needs. A common strategy is to contact several schools from the same conference. From a coach’s perspective, the possibility of your recruit signing with a rival school can definitely change what they are willing to offer. Additionally, make sure you ask about potentially “stacking” academic and athletic packages. For instance, while NCAA D-III doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, their academic scholarships can often still keep your cost very low while offering you an opportunity to continue your athletic career.
After you have leveraged your offers, take a step back to see the big picture. Sometimes athletes and parents get so caught up in the offers that they fail to see what they are actually signing on for. A school that gives you a high offer, but doesn’t offer great academics may not be the right choice. Also remember that while the coach recruits you, the school is ultimately what you choose. Coaches move on, retire or get fired all the time. Make sure you choose a school that suits your needs regardless of who the coach may be. Each athlete’s decision is a very personal one, based on their goals, needs and wants. Make sure that all the questions have been asked and answered, all the research done, and that every option has been reasonably discussed. If you’ve followed the process outlined in these articles and put in plenty of time and effort, the final decision will probably be easier than you think.