SCOTT BAKER’S WALKIN’ THE SIDELINES: Are You A College Recruit? Part I of II

This is the first of a two-part series on college recruiting. Part one will feature my observations on the subject over the years and part two will feature thoughts and advice from college coaches.

Are you a college recruit? Really? Do you have the desire to play in college? Really? Do you desire for your sport to become your job? Do you love to train year round? Do you enjoy lifting weights? Do you enjoy conditioning?

Please note, there is a huge difference between wanting to play in college and having the ability and true desire to do so. Many young athletes contend that they want to play in college but simply lack the ability and/or desire to do so. In fact, often a player’s desire to play and his or her work ethic is at least as equally important if not more than their talents.

Sometimes you can hear talk of college scholarships even at youth sporting events. I must be completely honest here. I find that to be a mixture between hilarious and infuriating. When I hear it, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or both. Admittedly, I know that sometimes this is all spoken in a joking manner. But, I also know that in many cases it is not. Quite honestly, this talk most often occurs because the voice speaking about those scholarships does not understand that the world is full of good and better athletes.

Yes, it’s a big world out there…a world full of exceptional athletes. They are big. They are fast. They can run. They can jump. They can hit. They can throw. I think you get my point.

Judging a player’s talent and ability solely on the standards of a local league is quite frankly dangerous. Similarly, judging a player’s talent based on his or her performance in high school competition alone can also be dangerous.

Look, let’s face it, the vast majority of parents who have kids playing sports want to think that their kid is next level material. I did. They want to believe that their kid is going big time. I did. They want to believe that a full ride is just around the corner. I did.

Oh, if it were just that easy. You see, as a parent, I wanted to believe but fortunately I knew better. Thankfully, because I knew better I could be realistic…realistic about my son’s chances of playing college sports and at what level. Being realistic ultimately allowed me to help guide him on the right path. I firmly believe that as long as you are willing to be realistic, there is a place at the next level for most who desire for it to be a destination.

The statement, “I’m being recruited or my son or daughter is being recruited” is something that has been commonplace in high school sports for many years. However, over the last few years, the issue has become bigger and bigger.

In fact, I believe that this issue has become as big or bigger than any issue facing high school coaches today, including playing time. Why? Because it has implications for the coach and team that are unfair.

Problems occur because of misunderstandings about the recruiting process. For example, I’ve found that on more than one occasion, a player and/or parent believed that the player was being recruited because they had received numerous letters from schools in the mail.

Those letters were invites to prospect camps and or college visits. Because of those letters, the parent and player can’t understand why the high school coach doesn’t play the kid or play the kid in the right position.

Well, on that note, a couple of things. First, it is important to be very clear that colleges do recruit. Colleges today are competing very hard to fill seats in classrooms. Those letters from the colleges could be just for that purpose and have nothing to do with sport recruiting.

Also, prospect camps are often times a good way for college programs to make money. Bringing kids on campus to take a look at them and having the kids pay for it is a whole lot better proposition for the school than going on the road to recruit.

Therefore, it is highly likely that those letters are to encourage the prospect to come to a school to fill a seat in a classroom or provide financial support to an athletic program. Second, I will be crystal clear on this point. It is not the job of a high school coach to decide who gets a college scholarship and who doesn’t.

The reason? High school coaches have no scholarships to award. That is the job of the college coach. His or her job depends on the decisions he or she makes in that regard.

As for the high school coach, his or her job is to coach the high school player to be the best that they can possibly become. Similarly, the high school coach is also attempting to develop the best team possible. If that results in a college coach showing up to recruit a player with a scholarship in hand, great. If not, don’t blame the high school coach. No high school coach should be expected to make decisions for his team based on a college coaches recruiting plan.

There is a great misconception by many that there are an unlimited number of college scholarships available. That is simply false. Also, many student-athletes and parents simply have no real concept of what it takes to be a college athlete or of how the recruiting process really works.

That is not a statement that should offend anyone because there is no single plan that all college coaches follow when recruiting. Rather, each coach is looking for something different and following an individual plan to get what they’re looking for.

My advice on this point is for the player and parent to be realistic. Now, I know that this may be hard at first but I would strongly suggest several things be considered.

First, it is very wise to speak to your high school coach about what he or she believes is realistic for you or your child in terms of playing at the next level. Realism…so important when it comes to this issue.

Now don’t get me wrong, I get it, everyone wants to go DI. Penn State or Ohio State football. Duke, Carolina, Kentucky or Kansas basketball. UNC soccer. PSU wrestling. LSU baseball. Each sport has its dream schools.

However, let’s face the facts. Those schools are elite schools in their sports because they can get the best. The best in the state. The best in the country. The best in the world.

So as an athlete you must ask yourself, are you one of those? Perhaps you are. Perhaps you are not. As a parent, you must ask the same questions about your son or daughter…realistically instead of with your heart.

Being realistic will help you answer those very critical questions. Speaking candidly to your high coach is a good place to start. It is very important to note though that when doing so, you must be willing to listen to the truth.

What is of critical importance is understanding that where you would like to play and where you can play are two different things. The reasons for this are numerous including the player’s size, speed, sport, academics and the list goes on.

Again, by being realistic, a wise decision on where the player may or may not fit at the next level can be made. You see, there are numerous levels of play at the collegiate level including DI, DII, DIII, Junior College and NAIA.

Each one of those levels provides great opportunities when all things are considered. However, you must consider all things. This includes again, the player’s talents, physical attributes, grades, character, work ethic and so much more.

So being realistic and seeking advice from those who can make an unbiased assessment on the player’s talent can go a long way in ensuring the prospect finds a fit that is right at the next level if one exists.

Sadly, I’ve witnessed cases where a player and/or their parents’ unwillingness to be realistic and/or seek the advice of non-biased sources on the matter including the player’s coaches, resulted in the player failing to find the right fit or any fit at the next level.

Now to be sure, these are just my observations on this very complex topic…things that I’ve observed and experienced over the years. Just my opinions…just my thoughts. In the next edition of Walkin the Sidelines, I talk to a number of college coaches to gain their insight into this topic. Their advice will hopefully help athletes and parents to know when recruiting is real and how to find the right fit for the student-athlete at the next level. Stay tuned.

Part two will be published in this column on Wednesday, September 27th.