At What Age Should You Start?
We read the headlines about children being recruited out of middle school and even elementary school, so it can make parents wonder, "What age should my child start thinking about playing in college? What grade is too early?"
College is Still College
No matter how competitive your child may be, we always suggest the ultimate choice for college should come down to the college itself, and not the sports team they want to play for. If they grew up in Florida, will they be happy in a northern school where the winter months are long and cold? Does the college provide the major they want? What are the dorms like and what kind of academic advisors and support does the school offer?
The reason these questions are important is that while competitive sports may seem like the be-all, your child will still be a college student, having to adjust to living away from home, navigating classes, and learning how to be on their own for perhaps the first time, just like any other college student. So, it may be tempting to choose a school based on the sports team or coach, but the entire school package must be an important consideration.
When to Start the Recruiting Process
While elementary school and middle school may be a bit extreme, the recruiting process does actually start sooner than you think. Too many athletes wait until their senior year, suddenly deciding to try and play in college but experts say this may be too late to find a truly good fit.
The recruiting process breaks down into three different areas: academics, athleticism, and the coaching relationship. Each one of these plays an important part in your child's success in transitioning from a high school athlete to college athlete.
Up through 8th Grade
Academics: Your child should be mastering the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics. An emphasis should be placed on finding enjoyment in going to school, responding to teachers, and connecting with classmates. Set up a routine at home for getting homework finished in a timely manner, and place an emphasis on this foundation of good school habits.
Athleticism: Your child is growing into their body, learning its strengths and weaknesses, as they try different sports. It's easy to want to focus on just one sport, but experts recommend trying out several different activities until your child decides which one he or she truly enjoys and is passionate about. Your role as a parent is to encourage your child and praise them for their efforts (not solely their successes) at this young age.
Coaching Relationship: Make sure your child's coaches are positive role models at this age that also encourage effort over success. This is the age when your child learns to be a good teammate, too.
Academics: Your child should be putting that strong academic foundation into action, keeping up with a regular routine for homework and study time. Also, they should meet with an academic advisor at their school to map out which classes they should be taking throughout high school to prepare for college coursework.
Athleticism: Your child may now be focused on a specific sport, in which case it is the basic skills they should be mastering. Overall strength and conditioning will come as they work on the basics. A year-round competitive program will aid in this.
Coaching Relationship: If playing in college is on your child's radar, it is not too early to mention this to their coach. This will signal your child's seriousness about the sport and let the coach know both short and long-term goals. You can also get your student registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center, which is required to play for a Division I or II school.
Academics: Again, your child should be meeting regularly with an academic advisor at the high school to be sure they are following a roadmap for coursework. Keep up the daily routine for homework and studying, because no matter how talented an athlete your child is, they must have the grades to be recruited to play in college.
Athleticism: The sophomore year is important sports-wise to help establish your child as a team player and leader. Continue to develop the foundation of skills needed, but don't rule out sports-specific camps over the summer. (But remember, even Michael Jordan was cut from his JV basketball team!)
Coaching Relationship: Make sure your child's coach knows about plans to play in college. Work with the coach to focus on strengths as well as areas that will need improving.
Academics: This is the year your child take the SAT and/or ACT, so be sure your child is prepared. Now's the time to start looking up different colleges on the internet and seeing what the schools offer as far as majors, dorm living, etc.
Athleticism: This is a big year to get onto college coaches' radars. Remember, coaches are not only looking for accomplished athletes, but they are also looking for potential!
Coaching Relationship: Explore different college sports programs under the guidance of your child's current coach. Quite often they may have played in college or will have already coached athletes to collegiate programs, and so they will have valuable experience and advice to share.
Also, your child can boost their visibility to college coaches by making phone calls, visiting schools and meeting with the coaching staff. There are NCAA rules that prevent coaches from reaching out until late in the junior year, but your child can contact coaches and meet with them to show them interest as long as you follow the NCAA rules. Your child can write letters and send emails and this proactiveness can set them apart from other recruits. (Notice we said your child can write the letters; coaches do not want to hear from the parents!)
Academics: Colleges expect students to finish their senior years strong, even after they have been accepted. So, encourage your child to take their classes seriously, as this will be expected to continue through their college years, too. Be sure to be looking at what a college offers academically to be sure it is a good fit.
Athleticism: Continue to develop the basic skills, but place a special emphasis on strength and conditioning.
Coaching Relationship: Make sure your child's coach is also focusing on helping your child get recruited and finding the right college sports program. Continue to familiarize yourself with NCAA rules about contact with college coaches. Your child may be offered a recruiting visit to the school, and it is highly advised they go. They may be surprised by visiting the program and seeing the facilities as well as meeting the team and coaches.
So, you can see the recruitment process is not something done over just the second half of the senior year. Starting as a freshman, there are specific things you can be doing to help your child achieve their dream of being a college athlete.
Want to Find Out More?
You're invited to a special Student Athlete Open House where Coach Bill Gierke, one of the most successful high school football coaches in Florida's history, will be speaking. He's helped countless athletes get recruited and play on the college level, and so he will be giving parents his advice and answering your questions.
It's Wednesday, May 2 at Bodies by Mahmood in downtown Orlando. We've got convenient free parking and we look forward to hosting this valuable event. Click here to RSVP.