If you’re a high school athlete looking to get recruited, you might be lost and overwhelmed. You may feel that all of these intimidating coaches are watching your every move. You might feel stressed that you haven’t been playing up to your highest ability, or maybe you have been and feel that none of the coaches are recognizing it.
The recruiting process is challenging, but I have been through it myself and helped multiple juniors get through it. The following article will outline everything you need to know about the process ahead of you.
Competing While Being Recruited
Trying to compete with the recruiting process weighing you down is no easy task. Most juniors feel a lot of pressure during this time, so don’t sweat it. Follow these tips to make sure you are doing what you can to show college coaches what you can bring to the table.
First thing is first: you need to make sure your mind is clear enough to compete. It’s a stressful time, but the coaches understand that. A common problem that I see with a lot of juniors is that they build up coaches like they are larger than life figures. Remember, college coaches are just people. They’ve seen a million matches, and a million bad matches at that.
It is important to remember that the coaches are watching your match because they already have some level of interest. Believe in your ability, because the coach watching you is there because your name has been flagged in his recruiting process.
Finally, control the controllables . You’re deep enough in your tennis career to understand that you will have good and bad days on the court. The matches that you play in front of college coaches are no different, and they know that. Just hit the ball and commit to what you usually do on the court.
What Coaches Look For at Matches
I have built some good relationships with head college coaches throughout my years. Speaking to them, I have learned what they are really looking for when they go watch recruits at tournaments.
Believe it or not, most coaches aren’t looking much at the level you can play at. Sure, they care about how you hit the ball. However, they care just as much or more about your behavior and reputation among other players and parents.
I was recently having a conversation with a coach about a junior he was recruiting. His exact words were “I really like his game and I think he has a lot of upside, but I saw him go off on his dad after a loss. I don’t want to put up with that so I decided to stop recruiting him.” This made a lot of sense to me, and since then other coaches have told me similar things about different kids. The coaches care about winning tennis matches, but why would they want to spend 4 years with a kid that is miserable to be around? A kid like this can be toxic for team chemistry, so it doesn’t matter how good of a player he is if he might make his teammates worse.
Another thing that coaches look for aside from tennis is your willingness to compete. No matter what the score is, fight hard. So much of college tennis is the ability to be gritty, coming up in the big moments, and working for every point. Coaches know that if you’re able to show that in junior tournaments, you have potential to be a great college player.
Finally, coaches are looking for problem solvers. This goes hand in hand with fighting hard for every point because you can’t have one without the other. If you happen to get down a break, a set, or more against an opponent with a coach watching, use it as an opportunity to show you are willing to find a way to win. In fact, showing that you can figure out how to win can be more impressive than winning easily.
Mental toughness is a massive component in college tennis, so if you can’t show that in the juniors, many coaches will look for other players who are willing to show those qualities.
How to Find the School for You
Because the recruiting process is so busy, it is important to stay organized and take it step by step. Following this step by step timeline will help you to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities.
Make a list
There are so many options for college tennis. Each school is unique, so the first thing you need to do is figure out what you want in a school. Do you want a big or small school? Public or private? Do you want to be at a big sports school? How important are academics? Do you want to be far from where you grew up? You don’t necessarily need to know the answers to all of these questions, but it is good to have an idea of what you want before you start searching.
After you have thought a bit about what you want in a school, my advice is to print out the rankings lists. Whether it is division 1, 2, 3, or just the conference rankings lists, it is good to visually see all of the schools that could be options for you. Find a physical list of as many schools as you can find. Below is a list of the top 22 schools at the end of the 2019 season as an example, but be sure to narrow it down from a larger pool.
Go through each school, crossing off the ones that you don’t think would be an option based on location. Then go through the remaining schools and eliminate schools that would not be an option based on academics. You will be surprised at how many schools you will be able to cross off by just taking 10 minutes to do this.
You should be able to narrow down your list of schools to about 20. This is not a final list by any means and can change at any time, but it is a great start to get the process going.
Email Schools of Interest
The next step is to get in contact with the coaches at your schools of interest. Forming a generic draft email to reach out to coaches will help the process seem more simple. This email should be professional, simple, and straightforward. It is good to send emails to coaches that sound like yourself, but below is an example of what this email should look like:
Hello Coach ______,
My name is ______and I am from ______. I am a junior player in the graduating class of ______. I have looked into (college name) and would like to learn more about the potential of playing for you there.
I would love to get to learn more about the school, the team, and you as a coach as I am beginning my recruiting process. I look forward to hearing from you!
As you can see, this opening email does not have to be long or give too much information. The coach will be able to look you up on his own, and chances are he has heard your name come up in the past anyways. This email is simply to open the door for conversation.
You can add different personalized bits to the generic email you have set up. Don’t be afraid to tweak your original email to cater to the school you are reaching out to.You should not necessarily be sending the exact email to every coach, but they can definitely be similar.
You can find the email for most college coaches on the team’s website. For example, google, “University of San Diego Men’s Tennis Coach” and you will be able to find the coach’s email.
If there were coaches that you didn’t hear back from, a follow up email is definitely worth sending. College coaches miss emails all the time and its important not to take it personally. Give them a week or two to respond, then send your follow up.
Once you hear back from the coaches you reached out to, you can start dialogue about specifics. Be sure to respond to their email in a timely manner. Leaving a college coach hanging is never a good idea. Most coaches will respond with questions for you regarding your level, schedule of upcoming tournaments, and grades. Respond to their questions as thoroughly as you can and be fully honest with them.
The biggest key here is to talk to the coaches professionally, but to remember that they are people too, so be yourself. Be respectful, but you don’t need to try too hard to impress them.
Respond to Every Coach
Starting your junior year, you will start to receive emails from coaches, as they are allowed to contact you starting August 1st. Some will be very exciting, but others you will have no interest in. It is important to handle those in the proper way.
My advice is to respond to every coach in a timely fashion, even if you are uninterested. One reason for this is that sometimes the recruiting process can become unpredictable. You do not want to burn any bridges with coaches, because you just never know where your mind will be later in the process. The other reason is that coaches talk to each other. If you do not respond, it looks unprofessional on your part, and it may hurt your reputation for a school that you are interested in.
The best way to respond to a coach that you have no interest in is to be honest. Explain why you have no interest in going to their school, be respectful, and you can move on from there. Remember, coaches are used to rejection and they would rather hear a “no” than nothing at all.
Develop a Relationship
From here, you are on your way. Depending on the NCAA rules, you can set up visits, phone calls, and face to face meetings with the coaches to get to know them better. You can find the rules for this later in the article.
The process now becomes a bit easier because the coaches are there to guide you. They will tell you what they need from you, help you set up visits, and discuss scholarship when necessary. The most important thing is to stay engaged. Keep checking in with them as the process goes on, updating them on your results and progress.
As you begin to develop relationships with the coaches, you should remember that as they are deciding if you would be a good fit for their program, you must also decide if the coach is a good fit for you. Picture yourself going to practice for the coach you are talking to. Four years is a long time, and you will see the coach almost every single day if you decide to go to his school.
Personally, I still have good relationships with the schools that recruited me in the juniors 7 years later. Being recruited is special and even though I decided that some coaches and schools weren’t the perfect fit for me, I still valued the relationships that I built with them along the way.
Telling Coaches “No”
College coaches get rejected all the time, and while it may not be the most fun part of their job, they understand. At the end of the day, you can only commit to one school. Always be upfront with them, as the recruiting process is tiresome for them as well.
Even if you ultimately decide not to go to a school, be courteous to the coach that showed interest in you. Thank them for their time over the previous months. They will understand and while it is not an easy conversation to have, they will respect your decision. Handling this process in a professional manner is not only the right thing to do, but also will help your reputation.
Now for the part that makes all of this worth it. When you finally feel that you’ve found the best school for you, it is time to officially commit. In order to commit, you need to make sure that the coach is on the same page as you.
Once you’ve told the coach that you are ready to commit, you are done with the process! The coach will tell you what you need to do from there as far as signing your National Letter of Intent (NLI).
Rules on Contact with Coaches
The NCAA has recruiting rules in place dictating when you are allowed to start certain parts of the process. There are a lot of rules in effect, but I have listed the most important ones below:
- Recruits may not engage in “recruiting conversation” with a coach until August 1st of their junior year.
- Recruiting conversation includes any contact (in person, phone call, text, email, etc.) regarding the recruiting process.
- Recruits may email college coaches whenever they want, but the coaches are not allowed to respond with answers to questions. They are supposed to deflect any recruiting conversation.
- Recruits can take visits, both official and unofficial, starting August 1st of their junior year.
- Recruits can visit the campus on their own before that, but they cannot have meetings with coaches.
By NCAA standards, the recruiting process cannot really start until a recruit’s junior year. However, you can unofficially start it earlier by making your list, getting your name on coaches’ radars, and seeing schools on your own.
There are a lot of specific and small rules for the recruiting process. See ncaa.org on recruiting for answers that may apply to your unique situation.
Preparing for Meetings with Coaches
As you start to have phone calls and in-person meetings with coaches, it is a good idea to do some preparation beforehand. Remember, you want to look as professional as possible, so make it apparent that you have done your homework.
Questions to expect from coaches
Coaches will ask fairly generic questions to see where your interests are and where you stand in the process. It is good to have answers to those questions before they ask them so that you aren’t stumbling on your words during the meeting. Below is a list of questions that I have found are the most commonly asked by coaches:
- What are you looking for in a school?
- What do you like about my school?
- What other colleges are you looking at?
- What kind of scholarship are you looking for?
- How are your grades?
- What are you looking to major in?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
- What do you do outside of tennis?
When answering these questions, be honest. When responding to any question that applies to your level, it’s important to show humble confidence. Let the coach know that you believe in your abilities, but also that you’re not full of yourself.
Questions to Ask Coaches
Coaches will generally ask you, “Do you have any questions for me?” This is a big question and if you come into the meeting unprepared, it will catch you off guard. Be curious on the visit. Take everything in, because being in person with a coach is valuable time that you will not get a lot of with each coach as you go through the process. Here are some questions that can get you started:
- How many players are you looking to recruit for my class?
- What do you see in me as a recruit?
- What level do you see me getting to as a player?
- How do you think my level stacks up against your team?
- When are you looking for a decision?
You can get creative with these questions based on what you want to know about the school. If there is something that you want to know, just ask. Avoid asking what number you will play in the lineup. The answer 99% of the time will be “I make my lineup decisions right before the season starts, and that is a long way away.” You don’t want to make it seem that your lineup position is your priority. College tennis is a team sport, so show that you will be a team player.
Official visits are the most fun part of the recruiting process because they allow you to live the life of a college student at a particular school for a couple of days. While they are a blast, they are also important.
What to expect on a visit
During your visit, your potential future teammates and coaches are going to show you what their school is all about, but they want to make sure that you have a great time. When a coach or team member asks you what you want to do, be honest with them. Your time on campus is precious and your goal is to get the most out of it while you are there.
The coach will come up with a schedule of your 48 hours on campus that will include going to a class, getting an official tour of campus, seeing a football or basketball game, eating at some of the campus restaurants, and hanging out with the players on the team. Take it all in and try not to be too judgmental during your time there. You do not need to make a decision by the end of the trip, although your visit will likely give you a good idea of if the school is right for you.
It is important to remember that while you are going on the visit to see if the school is right for you, the team and coaches are also seeing if you mesh well with the team. The coach will ask the team members how the visit went after you leave your trip. Make an effort to be social and friendly with the team, as their opinion of you does carry weight. You don’t need to try to be cool or impress them, but just make sure you are doing what you can to show that you will be a good teammate.
Should you party with the team on a visit?
Parents, look away. My short answer to this question is to do what you feel comfortable with. Like I said before, the players on the team ultimately want to make sure you have a good time and let’s face it, partying happens in college.
As a recruit being hosted by people older than you, you may feel pressure to do things you aren’t comfortable with. Don’t feel obligated to drink on your official visit. They will understand that you are still young and they will not think any less of you for doing what you are comfortable with.
If you do decide to drink on an official visit, its important to know your limits. Putting in bluntly, the worst thing you can do is drink too much, forcing the team to babysit you all night. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you drink unresponsibly on a visit. If the team sees that you may be an irresponsible drinker, they may report that to their coach as it could cause future issues with you on the team. So, in a few words, have fun on your visits but don’t go crazy.
Ending a Visit
Officially visits typically end with a meeting with the coaching staff. They will ask you questions about how you liked your time on campus, how you felt you fit in with the team, scholarship, and when you plan to make a decision.
It is important not to feel pressure to make a decision on the spot. It is more common for recruits to tell the coaches that they will make their decision in the coming months. In fact, I advise taking at least a few days after an official visit to make a final decision.
Regardless of how you handle this meeting, be sure to thank the coaching staff for having you on the visit. They likely spent a lot of money to make sure that you had a good time, so let them know that you appreciate it.
Tennisrecruiting.net is one of the biggest tools that coaches use to recruit. It is a dynamic website that allows them to see a range of things such as a recruit’ ranking, results, articles they are featured in, schools of interest, and much more.
As a recruit, tennisrecruiting.net can help you with the recruiting process as well. It is free to make an account,but you can also buy the recruiting advantage membership for $7.95/month. Through this, you can even see exactly which coaches have been viewing your profile. With the base membership, you can still see a summary of which coaches have been looking at your profile based on their conference.
Remember to keep your profile up to date so that when coaches look at you on here, the information they read is accurate. Click here to create your account and get started!
A Note to Parents
Parents, this is an exciting time in your child’s life. You have invested a lot of time and money to get them to this point and you played a huge role in their success. While it is hard to take a step back from deciding where your child will spend 4 years of their life, it is necessary for your child to be an adult though it. It is really important that while you guide them through this process, you also let them do most of the work.
The reason for this is that college coaches are looking to recruit young men and women. You will blink and your child will be off to college, ready to make their own decisions. Coaches want to see your kid is mature enough to go through this process as an individual with support. If you are overly involved, a coach picks up on that and it can cast a negative light on your child as a recruit.
Your role through this process is to support your recruit, but not do the work for them. They should be the ones emailing the coaches, talking to them on the phone, and doing the research on the schools that they want to attend. However, you should definitely be involved. Coaches want to see that a recruit has the support of their families through this decision.
My advice is to help them with their lists and the organization part of the process. Help them decide what they want. Ask questions like, “Do you want to go to a small school or a big school?” When they respond, don’t push back against it. Let them decide and be their rock through the process!
This is the biggest decision of your life up to date. While it can be stressful, it is important to remember that your hard work put you in this position and you are privileged to be in it.
I hope that this article helped to answer some of the questions you may be asking. I know that it can be a lot, but once you start narrowing your list down, you will get the hang of it. If you are confused, don’t be afraid to use the coaches as a resource for information. They’ve all been through it multiple times. Remember to be yourself and try to enjoy the process. Good luck and happy recruitment!
Need help? Leave a comment below if anything was unclear, and we will do our best to assist you!