Tips for Navigating College Sports Recruitment Process

Tips for Navigating College Sports Recruitment Process
(Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

If your MilKid is one of the 7.9 million high school athletes who has a shot at being an NCAA college athlete, navigating the recruitment process is complicated not only because of the odds, but also given that recruitment is different for each sport, each college, and each NCAA division (e.g., Division I, Division II, Division III, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). For instance:

  • Do the recruiters for your sport go to College ID tournaments and high school games, or should your child be emailing inquiries and videos to coaches?
  • Is it a sport in which full rides are awarded, or is it mostly partial scholarships?
  • Will the athletic opportunity only be found at a school your MilKid doesn't want to attend?
  • Will the level of play interfere with studies? (For example, does the coach expect practice to come before finals?)
  • Is trying to be a walk-on the only shot at playing in college?

These complications and mitigating circumstances make the MilFam network very helpful. Find another family whose MilKid played the same sport at a similar level and looked for college opportunities; this will provide a good source of credible information and a template to follow.

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General Pointers

First, to help with overall pointers on student athlete recruitment and development, Kerri Beckert (Army MilSpouse, college counselor helping MilFams successfully navigate the college admissions process, and principal of Anchor Collegiate), offers the following advice:

  • Know the rules. Every NCAA sport has some differences in their recruiting policies. It is incredibly important to know the recruiting rules. If rules are violated, the schools will be fined and sanctioned, but your student could be removed from the recruitment and scholarship process entirely! The first thing a parent should do is to understand the NCAA recruiting rules which govern the sport which their student plays. ALL sports have PDF versions of the rules on their specific NCAA sites.
  • Don't pay a lot of money for fancy websites and handlers. No amount of money is going to get a student who is mediocre recruited. You may have to pay for some things that are all part of the process (e.g., highlight reels, recruiting websites, camps, associations, showcase tournaments), but know that your student's talent is what is going to get them noticed.
  • Do your research. Don't let a coach tell you that your athlete will be first string - take a look at their roster, past performances, and recruiting history.
  • Ask your student if he or she likes the coaches and check to see if the coaches are staying with the program.
  • Realize for many students this will be the last they play, so make sure the college has an academic program well-suited for your student: because when sports end, and they will, an education will be what they begin their next phase of life with!

Resources for MilFams

Good resources specifically for student athletes include:

Sports Success Stories

My goal for my MilKids was for them to have a choice of affordable colleges. My kids played sports, but we saw that the odds made it more likely that their academics and activities would get them into better schools and better scholarships (merit-based) than athletics would. And it worked for them - let's hear it for ROTC! It's a thought to keep in mind as you and your MilKid invest time and money.

Another MilFam story to share comes from a dad who had two MilKids play Division I sports. He made sure to videotape his kids' games. Then, they put together a highlight video and emailed it to coaches (the kids did this, not the dad). His kids were offered tryouts and were both recruited to play lacrosse and volleyball at the Air Force Academy.

We knew a family stationed overseas who also put together a highlight video for their football-playing son. On top of this, the dad also researched Division I colleges and their rosters to see which teams had athletes at the same position who were soon-to-be-graduating seniors. His efforts paid off and his son went on to play Division I football.

Tom Wahl teaches business writing at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Colo., and is a freelance writer. He is married to a retired Air Force certified nurse-midwife whose career has allowed them to live, travel, and raise their kids overseas. Wahl frequently writes about navigating the college admission and application process.