1. Register for the NCAA Clearinghouse now The clearinghouse will determine your eligibility for your first year at an NCAA Division I or Division II college or university.
Students who qualified for an SAT or ACT waiver may qualify for a clearinghouse waiver, too. See your high school counselor for details. But first, go to ncaaclearinghouse.net to register and see what courses at your school have been approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Take this important step even if you are unsure if you are a Division I or II athlete. Consider the true stories of the football player who ended up being able to walk onto the college football team he didn’t think he’d make; the high school volleyball player that the college crew coach recruited once she arrived on campus; and the basketball player who made the team after the first and second string point guards were injured.
These are true stories about Division I athletes. The football player was not registered with the clearinghouse, and had to sit out a year at his Division I university. The other two had registered just in case and were able to take advantage of their opportunities in college sports.
2. Keep an open mind
The NCAA has more than 320 Division I schools, just over 280 Division II schools and more than 400 Division III schools (where no athletic scholarships are available, but other scholarships usually are).
That means that a high percentage of college sports opportunities are at America’s NCAA Division III colleges. In addition, if you keep an open mind to the NAIA and the numerous junior and community colleges across the country, you will increase your chances of finding a place to compete in college if you are persistent. Search ncaa.org, naia.org and njcaa.org.
3. Market yourself
Market yourself as if you’re a new product!
• Starting today, think of yourself as Me, Inc., for example, “Dakota Thompson, Inc.” Take pride in your business and start positioning yourself in the market of college sports. If you invented a new product, you’d tell everyone, wouldn’t you? Your company is no different.
• Reach out to college coaches. Write e-mails and make phone calls to college coaches. Go to the athletic Web sites of 10 to 25 colleges and fill out their online recruiting questionnaires. This is true if you are a blue chip athlete (top 2 percent in the country) or an average varsity player at your high school. Choose the colleges you like, not just the ones who may be already contacting you.
• A word of caution: using a recruiting service is not the most effective way to market yourself. They can be expensive, and many college coaches throw away the materials they receive from recruiting services. Make your contact with a college coach a personal one. Send your own letter!
4. Respect the recruiting process In my conversations with college coaches, I hear one thing over and over again: “Coach Mitchell, please let high school athletes know that many college coaches are friends with each other. When athletes don’t return our phone calls, or mislead us about their intentions, it just makes them look disrespectful and deceitful. Why would I recruit an athlete like that?”
In other words, be truthful and respectful to college coaches. Remember, this is their career, too! Coaching talented athletes is the way they feed their families. It is OK to say, “I don’t know if I am interested in your school. I like X University better right now.”
5. Be persistent
After you send out all of those great letters and e-mails to college coaches, take the next step and make follow-up phone calls and e-mails. Even the average varsity athlete can make a college squad at a campus in America if they take the right steps and keep trying.
6. Tape it
Make plans to have your performance recorded several times to have footage for a college coach.
They will look for and evaluate potential, athleticism, skills, the ability to win and compete. They will also be checking out character, how coachable you are, your attitude and enthusiasm.
7. Sign up for summer camp and a summer club team
Attend a college camp this summer. It will help you get noticed by the coach at the school you choose.
Go to summer sports camp at a college that you are likely to be able to attend and where you can compete. In addition, playing your sport this summer will help you stay at the top of your game, and help you be competitive among your peers.
8. Work with your high school coach
If you don’t have a great relationship with your high school coach, get one. If you have attitude problems, can you straighten them out? Only the top 1 percent of athletes in the country get away with bad attitudes—and that usually catches up to even them.
Smile on the field! Help up opponents, and be the type of special player that a college coach won’t mind risking their career on. What will your high school coach say when a college coach calls to ask about the type of player you are?
Coach Laura Mitchell is CEO and founder of Sports Dreammakers Inc. and a former college head basketball coach and outreach counselor for the University of California. For more information, tips on writing to college coaches, and to order the booklet The Map of Your Future for student-athletes, go to athleticinspiration.com.