In the past 8 years, our student-athletes have received over 2 million dollars in athletic scholarships to varies Universities.  Top D1 schools like Norte Dame, Rice, Northwestern to UCLA.  Here are some tips on getting recruited by a college. 

Rob Bethmann of Arlington, Texas reached out to MileSplit to offer a few words of wisdom about the recruiting process from a parent’s perspective. He is the father of Cade Bethmann, who improved his 800m time from 1:57.51 as a sophomore to 1:52.4 as a junior and placed third at the Texas State Championship. The senior at Arlington Martin High School committed to Ole Miss in November.

Here are a few thoughts from track dad Rob:

This is supposed to be fun, but it won’t always feel fun.

There is a business aspect to college track and field and you need to face that reality quickly in the process. Schools can give 12.6 scholarships for men and 18 scholarships for women.  There is no limit on roster size, so schools can put 50 athletes on the roster and then divide the scholarships however they’d like. 

If you do the math, it’s sobering. Your son or daughter may be an elite runner but that likely does not equal a full scholarship, at least not as an incoming freshman. Cross country is a separate sport as is indoor track, but there is one pile of scholarships that will be applied to cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. This means that coaches are trying to get as much talent as they can get for as little money as possible.  It’s a sad reality, but that’s where our sport is at the moment.

We started the recruiting process the summer after Cade’s sophomore year. He had worked his way into the top ten ranked 800m runners in the class of 2017 in Texas that spring. Over the summer, he made a list of five schools and contacted them via email to introduce himself and ask for an unofficial visit. We were given a great piece of advice from a former college coach. He told us that Cade should drive the process and it should be him sending the emails, not his parents.

If I could stress one piece of advice, this would be it: your son or daughter needs to own this. They need to be building relationships with coaches. Cade got a few responses but for the most part, he received very generic form-letter type responses. One coach asked for video, which he had. Thanks, Milesplit!

The junior year is when things start to heat up if your son or daughter is running well. Cade asked his top schools what marks they expected him to hit as a junior in order to stay on their radar. I highly recommend this because it gives your son or daughter a clear picture of the expectations for the year. There are several websites out there that give “standards” for scholarships but those aren’t trustworthy. You can also get a pretty good idea by simply looking at performance lists for the schools for the current or prior year. If you notice that a school is particularly strong in a few specific event areas then that’s your clue that they invest scholarships more heavily in those events.

Cade has primarily run the 800m and 1600m in high school. Most schools told him they needed to see him at 1:54 in the 800m and under 4:20 in the 1600m. Cade opened his outdoor season in late February in the 800m with a 1:54.27 then followed that up a few weeks later with a 1:53.61 at the Jesuit Sheaner Relays in mid-March. The schools that he had proactively contacted definitely stayed in touch with him and at this point, he heard from new schools every week. Letters were frequently delivered to the school or our home.  These letters are a fun part of the process but getting a letter doesn’t guarantee much of anything, but it does prove that the school knows that your son or daughter exists. Several coaches started following Cade on social media as his times dropped.

Your son’s or daughter’s social media habits will definitely be examined by coaches. Remind your son or daughter that they are about to be put under a microscope that is different from their peers. Social media can be a very positive thing or a very negative thing for how your son or daughter is perceived. It’s rarely neutral.

Coaches cannot call athletes until July 1st after the junior year but athletes can call coaches during their junior year. If there is a school that your son or daughter is really interested in, they can email the coach and ask for a time that works for a phone call.  These introductory calls are basically two-way interviews.  It’s a great way to learn more about the school and the program and to start building a relationship with the coach. I recommend at least one unofficial visit if possible during the junior year. Cade took two.  He visited The University of Texas in the fall and Baylor in the spring. These visits will give your son or daughter valuable “practice” time talking with coaches. This is really valuable once July arrives.

If your son or daughter is a top recruit, then July will be a blur.

July 1 marks the first day that coaches can call upcoming seniors. Cade heard from 6 schools that day.  You can help prepare your son or daughter for the phone calls by encouraging them to have a pen and paper handy to take notes. They’ll need it. Coaches will likely throw out dates for home visits during these calls. Five schools ended up visiting Cade in our home. A coaching change at a sixth school prevented them from coming but we ended up driving to that campus for an unofficial visit in August because it seemed like that school could be a good fit.

These home visits are important. The coaches want to get to know your son or daughter and find out about their training and their goals for the upcoming year.  They also want to connect with them as people.  While they are in your home, they are also considering how your son or daughter will fit in with their current team.  My wife and I had a list of questions that we covered with each coach.  We wanted to hear specifically about the academic support and the health services that were offered through the athletic department.  Our shortest home visit lasted a little over an hour.  Our longest one went over 3 hours.  During the home visit, it’s likely that official visits will be discussed if the visit is going well. Cade’s coach from Martin, Coach Capeau, joined us for the visits and having him there was huge. He picked up on things that we never would have noticed. For example, one school didn’t really demonstrate the ability to develop athletes in Cade’s events. We were just so enamored that this coach was sitting in our living room that we didn’t even notice. Coach Capeau did, and that school fell out of contention shortly thereafter.

The home visit will likely be done by the event-level coach.  You can ask for a general idea of how they value your son or daughter scholarship-wise but don’t expect too many details at this point regarding scholarships. Some schools gave us a range during the visit while others said they wouldn’t discuss money until the official visit. Keep in mind, if they are sitting in your living room, they want your son or daughter.

Official visits are crucial to your son’s or daughter’s college choice.  Cade took four of his five allowed visits. There are several things to note about these visits:

  • Parents are invited! In our four visits, there was only one trip we went on where one of the athletes didn’t have a parent there.
  • Your son or daughter may stay with a “host” from the team or they may stay in a hotel with you.  That will vary by school.
  • Ask questions.  This is your chance to spend up to two days finding out how the school plans to care for your son or daughter academically and athletically.
  • Ask to see the dorms where your son or daughter will stay.

You will likely eat in the dining hall where your son or daughter will eat.  If it’s not on the itinerary, ask to eat there. Your son or daughter needs to know what to expect when it comes to dining. The big programs do this really well. We were blown away by the food at Texas, Texas A&M, OU, and Ole Miss.

These schools know what they’re doing. Visits are new to you but not to them. They typically bring you in for a weekend when there is a home football game. They are putting their best foot forward and showing off their program. We attended games at three of our four visits. Cade was on the field before the football game for all three. His mother and I joined him on the field for two of them. It’s a pretty unbelievable experience. Enjoy it. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!

Cade was never the only athlete there for the visit.  His visit to Ole Miss included 4 other runners.  There was one other runner at OU, Texas, and Texas A&M.  Bounce questions off of the other parents.  They’re sort of like a support group for you because they’ll understand what you’re going through as they’re going through it too.

You will likely have a meeting with the head coach during the visit. An offer may or may not be given during this meeting. Be prepared to discuss finances, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Some schools will wait a few days or even a few weeks after the visit before they extend an offer.

As you move towards the early signing period, your son or daughter could be facing stress regarding the decision. We tried to give space at this point but it was pretty clear that it was stressful.

Some schools will communicate the offer only to the athlete while other schools will call you to explain it to you as well. Because full scholarships are so uncommon, there are often specific details about your son’s or daughter’s offer that can be confusing. It’s also worth noting that offers are negotiable. Remember, they want to spend as little as possible so that they can build a deep roster. Your goal is to make sure your son or daughter gets a fair offer. You can write stipulations into the offer that if your son or daughter hits certain marks in the spring, then the offer increases. This is not a widely-known fact but it can be a big help.

If your son or daughter really drives this process, then you’ll see them grow up very quickly and they’ll likely mature beyond their peers. Beginning July 1, they are basically “on call” and will need to be able to have a mature conversation with a coach at any time.  That definitely sets them apart from an average upcoming senior.

Three Things Athletes/Parents Must Understand Going Into The Recruiting Process

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, over 1.7 million boys and girls participated in high school track & field and cross-country in 2015-16. Of those 1.7 million participants, only 85,000-90,000 will compete in college, or approximately 4-7% depending upon event and gender. A large majority of that 4-7% will be asked to walk-on and not receive any athletic money.

As a result, it is imperative that you devise a plan of action early on in your high school career. You have worked too hard and sacrificed far too much to idly wait for the process to begin. Take control of your destiny in the same way you have your academic and athletic endeavors. The recruiting process will require the same such commitment from you.

Below are three factors to considering when searching for the college of your dreams.

1) DETERMINE THE BEST FIT FOR YOU

During your freshmen and sophomore years create an expansive list of schools/programs that meet your specific needs and desires.  Among factors to consider are affiliation level (NCAA I, II, III, NAIA and JUCO), competitiveness of the program, cost of attendance, quality of education, geographical location, intended academic major, enrollment size, public vs private, and other factors that matter to YOU.

Do not be mesmerized by the name of a school. See beyond the prowess of their football and basketball programs or their academic reputation. Make sure the school you choose meets your needs for reasons beyond it simply being cool to tell the world you will be running or studying at a particular school. Remember, you have to live, study, train and compete there every day for four years.

Many brilliant scholars and successful professionals have attended state schools with less than brilliant academic reputations. Additionally, many NCAA mid-major athletes have claimed national championships on the team and individual level.

In fact, at this year’s NCAA National Outdoor Track & Field Championships nearly 33% of the participants represented non-Power 5 schools – three were crowned NCAA National Champion and an additional 14 scored for their teams by placing in the top eight. Furthermore, two-time US Olympian and World Championships silver medalist, Nick Symmonds competed at the NCAA Division 3 level while in college.

Plain and simple, choose a school that you would be happy at without track and field – just in case your athletic career does not go as planned.

2) TAKE CHARGE

Do not be passive. At the conclusion of your freshman year, and throughout your sophomore year, start reaching out to college coaches from the schools on your list. In my personal dealings with high school student-athletes, I often heard prospects state that the schools on their list were comprised solely of programs that contacted them.

If a program you’re interested in does not reach out to you, reach out to them!

You will be surprised at how effective personally reaching out will enhance your recruiting experience. There could be many factors why a school has not reached out to you – one being as simple as you not receiving the letter that was sent to your high school coach or guidance counselor – this happens more than imagined.

During the summer after your sophomore year, and throughout the course of your junior year, take as many unofficial visits as possible. This will give you an opportunity to meet the coach in person, tour the college, check out the athletic facilities, and possibly meet current team members. There is no limit on the number of unofficial visits that you can take – so take many!

During your senior year, schedule and take all five allowable official visits. Your decision is far too important and impactful not to explore all possibilities. If the majority of your visits require extensive travel speak to the coaches about combining two visits into one trip to cut down on flights across the country, particularly if in-season.

3) COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY

Over the span of my 30-year coaching career, I learned that communication is the most important element to reaching your goals. It is imperative that you learn to communicate openly and effectively with your parents, high school coach, and college coaches.

Ask your parents to help you create a series of questions to ask college coaches, begin to narrow your list of potential schools, and arrange the logistical aspects of visit coordination. However, you should be the primary voice writing the emails, taking the phone calls, and asking questions.

Clearly articulate your specific running goals to your high school coach. Ask them to create a sound developmental training plan that will allow you to fully actualize your athletic potential over the span of your high school career. Seek their advice on potential options for you to continue your athletic career based on their past experiences and ask them to email college coaches on your behalf.

As a recruit, ask college coaches very specific questions in regard to your admissions’ viability, scholarship opportunities, program goals, training philosophy, academic support, sports medicine support, and the program’s relationship with the strength room. Do not be reticent to eliminate programs that you know you are not interested in. Trust me, a coach would prefer to remove you from their prospect list if you are not interested than keep calling you.

During my 30-year college coaching career, I have had direct contact with approximately 10,000 cross country / track and field recruits of varying degrees of ability; from the No. 1 ranked athlete in the USA, to a high school cross country team’s seventh runner.

One of the most common remarks made to me by their parents was how challenging it is to navigate the recruiting process, particularly if it is your first time. There is a place for everyone, whether it be at a power five school, an Ivy League institution, a NCAA I mid-major driven by revenue income generation for the university, through increased enrollment or NCAA Division II / III and NAIA schools. Identifying that right school and program for your child is the greatest challenge.

The copious amounts of information you will receive from college coaches, other parents, former and current college athletes, and the staff members at your high school will undoubtedly prove daunting. You have your work cut out for you, but if you start to logically piece together a plan of action you will be just fine.

Here are the most critically important underlying themes that as parents you need to understand going into this process:

1) THIS IS A BUSINESS

You and your child are looking for the best deal possible. In turn, the coach who is recruiting you is looking for the very best athletes they can sign. Even in the sport of track and field there is great pressure upon coaches to win. While I was a college coach, I had bonuses written into my contract that would pay me an additional 15-50% of my annual income based solely upon performance. It is important to not lose sight of the fact that this endeavor is an oddly two-sided equation.

You have the business aspect on one side, but you also have the personal relationship between the coach and athlete on the other side. The relationship in many ways will determine the success of this business endeavor. The relationship your child possesses with his coach will impact your child’s overall college experience and quality of their running career. If at all possible, don’t simply settle for the money — there is too much at stake. Fight for the best deal that you are able to obtain, but don’t give away quality of life for the deal.

2) EMPOWER YOUR CHILD

As a coach, one of the biggest red flags our staff identified during the early stages of the recruiting process was overly involved parents. I cannot enumerate the number of times our staff uttered a comment such as “Can we truly trust this person in the heat of battle if their parents do everything for them?” It is imperative that you have your child initiate all communication throughout the recruiting process. I would suggest strict adherence to the following areas:

Do not send e-mails on their behalf. It lessens their viability. As a coach, I received far too many, “I know they are my son/daughter, but they are truly amazing” letters and e-mails.

Make them speak even when they do not want to. They should answer the phone and ask the questions. You are not a screening service. If the coach is not important enough for you to speak with, eliminate that school from your shortlist.

Let them shine. On official, or unofficial, visits take a backseat to your child. Let them read from the list of questions you created together. Avoid speaking on their behalf or interjecting to clarify for them. Walk a couple of steps behind when touring the campus so they may converse directly to the coach or student host.

3) KNOW YOUR ROLE

Although it is important to give your child independence and let them lead the way– guide them! Help them eliminate programs and schools to move forward in a logical direction that narrows down their options. Review their correspondences to coaches to ensure that their intent matches their wording.

Help them weed through all the hype of the recruiting pitches they will hear. In track and field, every program will sell themselves as up and coming — most aren’t! Do your research and try to determine if team members are quitting, if they have an alarming number of injuries, if there is truly a positive trajectory toward improvement.

The entire recruiting process can be daunting if you do not do your research. However, if you create a sound plan of attack it will be an amazing experience. You are helping your child with a monumental step in their lives. Do it wisely!

College Recruiting FAQ File – Track and Field/Cross Country

1. Can colleges and universities offer as many track and field/cross country scholarships as they want?

Well, yes and no. But mostly no. In NAIA, member institutions are limited to 12 full-ride, or the equivalent thereof, track and field scholarships for both of their men’s and women’s teams. Theoretically, they could give all 12 as full ride scholarships (though they never do). Typically, they will multiply the effect of the scholarships by giving them out as partials. So, if they gave out one-quarter scholarships on their men’s track and field team, they could give out as many as 48. If they further reduced the amount covered by those scholarships they could give out even more, but at some point this becomes impractical.

NCAA Division III institutions have no athletic scholarships (and therefore will not be discussed any further in this article). NCAA Division II institutions may give out as many as 12.6 full-ride, or the equivalent thereof, track and field scholarships for both their men’s and women’s teams. The same 12.6 limit applies to men’s track and field programs in NCAA Divison I, but DI institutions are allowed up to 18 full-ride scholarships, or the equivalent thereof, for women’s track and field programs.

All that said, not every institution is “fully funded.” That is, an institution may, for example, compete in NCAA Division II, but offer only 6 (for example) of its allowable 12.6 scholarships. NJCAA member institutions are allowed up to 20 scholarships for both of their men’s and women’s track and field programs.

2. Do I have to send ACT and/or SAT scores to the NCAA or NAIA?

Yes, absolutely, and much more as well. Part of the college recruiting process is establishing your eligibility to be a collegiate athlete. Your test scores are an important part of that process. So is your high school academic work and your amateur standing. For more information on each of these items, please reference the NAIA and NCAA prospective student-athlete handbooks linked at the bottom of this page.

3. Can I participate in college athletics without signing a National Letter of Intent?

Yes. The NAIA has no binding contract that is equivalent to the NCAA’s National Letter of Intent. And, the National Letter of Intent only applies in the NCAA for athletes who are getting scholarship money for being part of one of the school’s athletic teams. But, you still must meet academic eligibility requirements to be able to participate, which means going through all of the NCAA or NAIA eligibility processes and checks.

4. Can my athletic scholarship be supplemented with other scholarship awards?

Yes. In fact, this is more the rule than the exception. One way schools give “full-ride” scholarships to the most promising athletes is to make sure the athlete in question is getting any available academic scholarships and then making up the difference with an athletic scholarship, up to the full cost of attending the school.

5. What are the basic rules about contact with college coaches?

As an (unwritten) rule, you should contact coaches of any schools you are very interested in attending rather than waiting (and hoping) for them to contact you. The rules vary by type of contact. For Division I schools, electronic contact and phone calls may happen between a coach and a prospective student athlete at any time after September 1 of your junior year. You and the coach are not allowed to have off-campus contact, however, until after July 1 between your junior and senior year. Official visits are not allowed until the first day of school of your senior year. You may visit each DI member school once only, with a limit of five official visits to all DI member schools combined. Until you have signed a letter of intent, a college coach may not contact you or your parents more than three times.

Rules are much more lax for NCAA Division II. You can make official visits beginning January 1 of your junior year. You and the coach may have unlimited numbers of phone calls. You may have off-campus contact with the coach any time after the end of your sophomore year. You may make as many official visits to DII institutions as you wish.

There are very few restrictions on the NAIA recruiting process. The NAIA does not have an “official visit.”

6. Will any official visits I make be paid for by the school?

That is entirely up to the school. If your parents go along, their expenses may not be covered. The school can cover as much or as little of your expenses for an official visit as they choose.

7. If I make a visit to an NCAA DI or DII institution, does it automatically count as an official visit?

No, you are welcome to visit a school on your own initiative as much as you like, but you may or may not be able to spend time visiting with members of the coaching staff and mix with the team while you are there.

8. Are athletic scholarships automatically renewed each year?

Not automatically, but they are, generally speaking, renewable. You must remain a member of the team in good standing, and you must remain academically eligible. It does sometimes happen that student athletes are dropped from an athletic scholarship from one year to the next apart from their own initiative, but this is usually not the norm.

9. Can my athletic scholarship amount increase from one year to the next?

Yes, but there must be room in the overall athletic scholarship limits in the program for that  to happen. In practice, awarding scholarship funds to non-scholarship athletes who are performing well tends to take priority over increasing the amount of a scholarship athlete’s award, though both can and do happen. Conversely, a scholarship award could also decrease from one year to the next though in practice it’s more likely to be withdrawn altogether than to be reduced.

10. Under most circumstances, how long can an athletic scholarship be in place?

Barring unusual circumstances, up to five years or four seasons of the sport, whichever comes first. Scholarships, of course, are issued one-year at a time, up to a limit of five years. With track and field/cross country, you have four years of eligibility for each of cross country, indoor, and outdoor, but still only five years, total, of eligibility.

11. Are athletic scholarships ever offered as an enticement to attend the school, apart from strictly athletic considerations?

Yes. Tuition and fees are rather steeply marked up at most colleges and universities around the nation. Let’s take a hypothetical example of a school with a 100% mark-up on costs and an offer of a 20% athletic scholarship. That 20% scholarship only eats up 40% of the mark-up on tuition and costs, meaning that the school still makes a nice sum of money when you attend. Colleges and universities regularly discount the sticker price of attendance as a means of attracting students. Athletic scholarships are by no means immune to such handling.

You probably weren’t thinking of asking that question, but it’s a good thing to know just the same. Part of drawing you to attend a particular school is luring you into thinking you’re getting a great deal. Many, if not most, schools support athletic teams ultimately because doing so helps keep dorms and classrooms full, and tuition payments coming in. Colleges have a stake in all this as well.

12. Should I ever use a recruiting service to help me get a track and field scholarship?

Probably not. There is a very small number of schools that actually look at athlete profiles they are sent by recruiting services. For the most part, however, college coaches toss information received about an athlete that was not sent by the athlete. Don’t believe me? Ask a college coach. If you’re not interested enough to make your own inquiry, they’re not interested enough to look over some glossy report a recruiting service made to market you. Moreover, it’s not like a recruiting service can tell a coach something about an athlete that isn’t readily accessible, anyway. Comprehensive athlete stats are as close as the athlete’s MileSplit profile. And, test scores and high school course information are required information that must be sent to colleges before they will spend any time recruiting you. Spend your money on other things.

RECRUITING 101

During my 30-year college coaching career, I have had direct contact with approximately 10,000 cross country / track and field recruits of varying degrees of ability; from the No. 1 ranked athlete in the USA, to a high school cross country team’s seventh runner.

One of the most common remarks made to me by their parents was how challenging it is to navigate the recruiting process, particularly if it is your first time. There is a place for everyone, whether it be at a power five school, an Ivy League institution, a NCAA I mid-major driven by revenue income generation for the university, through increased enrollment or NCAA Division II / III and NAIA schools. Identifying that right school and program for your child is the greatest challenge.

The copious amounts of information you will receive from college coaches, other parents, former and current college athletes, and the staff members at your high school will undoubtedly prove daunting. You have your work cut out for you, but if you start to logically piece together a plan of action you will be just fine.

Here are the most critically important underlying themes that as parents you need to understand going into this process:

1) THIS IS A BUSINESS

You and your child are looking for the best deal possible. In turn, the coach who is recruiting you is looking for the very best athletes they can sign. Even in the sport of track and field there is great pressure upon coaches to win. While I was a college coach, I had bonuses written into my contract that would pay me an additional 15-50% of my annual income based solely upon performance. It is important to not lose sight of the fact that this endeavor is an oddly two-sided equation.

You have the business aspect on one side, but you also have the personal relationship between the coach and athlete on the other side. The relationship in many ways will determine the success of this business endeavor. The relationship your child possesses with his coach will impact your child’s overall college experience and quality of their running career. If at all possible, don’t simply settle for the money — there is too much at stake. Fight for the best deal that you are able to obtain, but don’t give away quality of life for the deal.

2) EMPOWER YOUR CHILD

As a coach, one of the biggest red flags our staff identified during the early stages of the recruiting process was overly involved parents. I cannot enumerate the number of times our stadd uttered a comment such as “Can we truly trust this person in the heat of battle if their parents do everything for them?” It is imperative that you have your child initiate all communication throughout the recruiting process. I would suggest strict adherence to the following areas:

Do not send e-mails on their behalf. It lessens their viability. As a coach, I received far too many, “I know they are my son/daughter, but they are truly amazing” letters and e-mails.

Make them speak even when they do not want to. They should answer the phone and ask the questions. You are not a screening service. If the coach is not important enough for you to speak with, eliminate that school from your shortlist.

Let them shine. On official, or unofficial, visits take a backseat to your child. Let them read from the list of questions you created together. Avoid speaking on their behalf or interjecting to clarify for them. Walk a couple of steps behind when touring the campus so they may converse directly to the coach or student host.

3) KNOW YOUR ROLE

Although it is important to give your child independence and let them lead the way– guide them! Help them eliminate programs and schools to move forward in a logical direction that narrows down their options. Review their correspondences to coaches to ensure that their intent matches their wording.

Help them weed through all the hype of the recruiting pitches they will hear. In track and field, every program will sell themselves as up and coming — most aren’t! Do your research and try to determine if team members are quitting, if they have an alarming number of injuries, if there is truly a positive trajectory toward improvement.

The entire recruiting process can be daunting if you do not do your research. However, if you create a sound plan of attack it will be an amazing experience. You are helping your child with a monumental step in their lives. Do it wisely!

Willy Wood boasts 26 highly successful years of NCAA Division I head coaching experience, two decades of which were spent at Columbia University. He recently developed a recruiting service designed specifically for high school track and field/ cross country athletes — www.fasttrackrecruiting.com