April 25, 2021
The pandemic abruptly halted many things, but college sports recruiting wasn’t one of them. You may feel overwhelmed by all the changes in recruiting rules—perhaps you feel there’s not much you can do [in the college recruiting process] for your graduating athletes—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Opportunities haven’t disappeared, they’ve just changed form. We are here to help you navigate the new rules of the college recruiting game, 2021 style.
Tip #1—Understand COVID-related NCAA changes
College coaches were permitted to have live contact with recruits starting April 15. Football coaches could contact high school juniors as early as February 2021. Here’s what the delay meant and how to act going forward.
Since February 2021, coaches and players communicated through social media, text, email, and old-fashioned phone calls. Division II (D2) schools could resume their typical recruiting procedures in September 2020, and Division III (D3) and the NAIA have few hard and fast rules, except that official visits can start on Jan. 1 of the student’s junior year. Across the board, many in-person events, camps, meetings, and visits have become virtual during the pandemic.
Tip #2—Host an informational “college night” for families
If you didn’t know the pandemic-related changes, it’s highly likely athletes’ families didn’t either. As schools that care about the recruiting process for their graduates, bring this information to the families in organized informational evenings, virtually or in-person.
Parents are already stressed about the process, and the impact of COVID-19 makes it even more difficult for them. College counselors, coaches, and Athletic Directors can unite to fill the knowledge gaps for families.
To organize an event:
- decide whether you will use host panel discussions or rely on individual presentations from coaches and college counselors;
- determine if you should hold one overall informational night, or schedule nights for various sports or seasons;
- choose the length of the presentation or series of panels and speakers, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours and, if possible, record and post as a resource for families who couldn’t make it; and
- include specific info for each sport, financial aid planning, and the differences between each division level’s recruiting processes.
Tip #3—Train coaches to share solid information
Coaches are the on-the-ground resource families need to navigate uncertain times. They may not have the time, resources, or knowledge necessary to inform individual athletes and families on what to do differently this year. But, with adequate training from the Athletic Director, your coaches can be brought up to speed.
Empower your coaches to communicate clearly with families at pre- and post-season meetings; be sure they are comfortable using the same communication tools that families have become familiar with over the years.
Your coaches should also be encouraged to network with other high school coaches and, along with your counseling department, to follow college news on social media. Additionally, coaches and athletes can work on the student’s college plan by committing to an off-season conditioning program.
Tip #4—Collaborate with teachers and counselors to refocus on academics
While it may seem the pandemic slowed down the recruiting process, it’s still going on and it just may not feel as active—leaving students with more time and energy to focus on increasing test scores and their grade point average (GPA). Encourage students to enroll in SAT prep programs, increase their study skills, and collaborate with teachers on how they can improve their GPA by performing better in the classroom.
Time won’t be wasted as they wait for the “dead period” to end, ensuring they have a strong hold on the “student” part of “student athlete.”
Tip #5—Encourage students and families to create a college list
Help student athletes dig into meaningful research about colleges and their athletic programs.
As part of their college list creation, they should look for answers to these questions.
- What school will be best for my potential major and my sport?
- How long has the coaching staff been there, and how many years are left in their contract?
- Will I be playing for a coach who is about to leave in a year?
- How many players are already there, and who would I be playing behind?
- Will I have playing time based on this information?
- Why am I selecting this school?
The answers will help guide students through the recruiting process as it opens further.
Tip #6—Help students stand out through their highlight tape
Getting film in front of college recruiters is a hotter strategy than ever, as coaches have not been able to attend local high school events. There’s an increased likelihood that a student athlete who sends a video now will have a coach actually watch it than during another time when they can go see the player in person.
To take advantage of this trend, athletic departments should help families access tools like HUDL and Pixellot to upload their highlights so that the student’s high school coach can preview the video and help families share the finished product with college coaches.
Tune in to ask questions related to this Source article or other topics you've encountered lately.
Tip #7—Educate students about social media presence
While students may think they are experts in social media—they may not realize a single picture (even if they’re tagged by a friend) that shows them at a party could leave a bad impression on a recruiting coach.
Help your students define the presence they want to display on social media; now more than ever, this may be the only personal connection they will have with a recruiting coach. Talk about thinks like:
- the posts and content they like and share;
- how their images and message are perceived; and
- what message they want to convey to represent themselves as students, athletes, and people.
With these tips and collaboration between coaches, Athletic Directors, school leaders, and student athletes' families, the college recruitment process can go just as smoothly during the pandemic as it did before.
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