This post is the second in a series about NCAA athletics. See the rest of the posts here:
As promised in my previous post, this is the beginning of a more thorough step-by-step process about how to start navigating the maze of NCAA recruitment. If you are still unsure exactly what playing sports in college can entail, feel free to visit Looking into NCAA Athletics for some more general information. Lastly, keep in mind that the order of these steps may very well shift depending on the sport and the school.
Step 1. NCAA Eligibility Center
Before doing anything else, you will need to go on to www.eligibilitycenter.org and create an account. This will become your hub over the next year or more. It serves as a large database for coaches of all sports and ensures that you have been considered a valid candidate by the organization. You will be responsible for submitting an electronic copy of your transcripts and your testing scores to the NCAA eligibility portal at different times throughout your recruitment journey. Additionally, they have you fill out a questionnaire, generally inquiring about your amateur status.
NOTE: Sending your grades and transcripts to the eligibility center is not the same thing as sending those documents directly to a college while academically applying.
Step 2. Reach out to coaches
Once you have established your place in the eligibility center, it’s time for the scariest part: reaching out to coaches. While it can be preferred to start the discussion in person, your time frame of doing so is often restricted because of NCAA rules. However, contacting them through email is rarely a problem. Most coaches have their emails listed online within their college’s athletic department webpage. Introduce yourself, express your interest in their program and college, and ask what next steps they would like for you to take. It is to your advantage to include an athletic resume for their review with details about your height, weight, position, tournament accomplishments, etc. Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will provide specific advice on how to best phrase your emails!
NOTE: There are exceedingly strict rules regarding when it is and is not acceptable to communicate with coaches in different ways (particularly in person). There will be an upcoming post to more thoroughly explain each of these periods. For now, though, if you are at any time unsure about when those periods are, don’t be afraid to talk to fellow athletes in your sport, their parents, or even college coaches themselves; often times they will politely explain what they can and cannot do for you at the current time.
That being said, you are almost always allowed to initiate a conversation over email. You are also almost always permitted to tour their college and set up a meeting with them so long as it is 100% on your own budget (an “unofficial visit”). I began visiting coaches the summer after my sophomore year.
Step 3. Fill out their specific questionnaire
The most common request that you will receive from a coach after emailing them is that they need you to fill out a specific questionnaire to have you in their personal database. If they do not send you a direct link to this page, it can usually be found on their college’s athletic website on the specific sports’ page. These forms, while of course varying per sport, tend to be quite identical across the schools in what they ask for: your personal information, your position, left or right handed, your state or national ranking, your test scores, your transcripts, and sometimes more. In other words, they will closely mirror the content that is on your athletic resume. After completion, be sure to notify the respective coach and inquire about any other requests.
Step 4. If possible, schedule a visit in person
As mentioned previously, there are some limitations on when you can and cannot pay to visit a coach in person, and when they can and cannot pay for your to come out and visit them (this is known as an “official visit” and does not occur until later on in the process). It can greatly serve to your advantage to line up several unofficial visits early on. Not only will you establish your presence and solidify your interest to that coach, but you also will get the chance to personally see if that program is right for you.
A visit will normally begin in their office answering some interview-like questions (Why their school? What do you have to offer the program?). A huge pro-tip is to go online the night before to that college’s undergraduate website and scope out what they have to offer. It makes a noticeable difference when you are able to cite different key points like what percent of students study abroad, what the class size is, and so on. Following this, the coach will likely give you a tour of their facilities where you can ask them questions. Have a fair number of them prepared and never shy away from being direct. Just remember: these visits are your quintessential opportunity to determine if the school will be an ideal fit. Below are some things that you could ask:
- When do you practice?
- How often do you travel?
- Do you provide/replace equipment?
- Do you launder the athletic gear?
- What academic aid, like tutoring, is available for student athletes?
- Is study abroad a possibility for student athletes?
- How would you describe the team atmosphere?
- How big is your team?
- Do you offer athletic scholarships?
- What does a normal practice consist of?