Editor’s Note: With the recruiting season in full swing, we thought it would be helpful to post some information on the recruiting process. Guest author Jim Brown has put together the following comments which are of use to throwers of all levels looking to compete at a college or university.
Jim Brown is a USATF Level I Certified Coach with more than fifteen years of experience as a collegiate and high school throwing coach. He currently is the head coach of Steel Throwers Club in Nashville where he has guided athletes to state and national titles. Jim is also a successful thrower having set the school record and earning three all-conference honors as a hammer and weight thrower at Marshall University. More recently he has won six masters national championships.
Reaching for the Next Level, It’s Business
One of the most challenging experiences for high school and club coaches, parents and athletes is navigating through the business of college recruiting. This article is not intended to inflame passions but to provide food for thought for coaches, parents and athletes as they enter the business of Division I College Recruiting. Each program is different; this article is intended to add perspective so expectations are better in line with reality.
As coaches and parents of athletes that desire to compete at the NCAA Division I level, know going in that since money and jobs are involved, this is business. Yes the growth and education of the young woman and young men are involved, but at the end decisions that involve Collegiate Athletics are simply about sound business. As parents and coaches we have a biased emotional perspective. However, college coaches hold the purse strings, they will get the best available athlete with the resources available at the time.
NCAA Division I programs have 12.6 Men’s Scholarships available per team, which includes Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track. In the major conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12), the coaches are hired that with the expectation they will not only win, their respective conference meet, but to compete for the NCAA National Championship. If they consistently fail to produce, the Coaches will be fired. So, every athlete on the team must be capable of scoring. Now it is understandable why college coaches are not willing to take a chance on an Athlete who “might “develop.
All coaches want to win but the “major” conferences are deeper in talent, and are structured to be competitive at every level. As a result they have fully funded programs that have multi-million dollar budgets, training facilities, specialty coaches, dieticians, and on and on. In return, the scholarship athletes on the team are expected to produce the desired results in their first year of competition.
While all Division I programs are bound by the same rules, the emphasis in recruiting is not the same. A program that competes in a lower profile conference such as the C-USA, Atlantic Sun, or, Southern Conference, have different performance expectations so these programs often willing to take a chance on an athlete who is developing. They also my offer more to a top athlete up front because they simply don’t have the talent on campus. A lower profile school may offer a developing athlete more in scholarship wise than a top prospect gets at a larger university. It will depend on the needs of the program at the time of recruitment.
Just because our athletes are good locally or in our state, does not mean they are worthy of a full scholarship. The chances of a track and field athlete getting a full athletic ride to a university in the “major” conferences are slim. The majority of American track and field athletes, coming out of High School are not capable of performing at levels necessary to justify a full scholarship. Not a pretty thought, but it is our reality.
When considering colleges take the time to look the results from the individual conference meets. Ask the question where will my Athlete place in these meets right now? Be honest, track has the advantage of objective results so you know what the competition is doing. Also consider that many programs bring in older international athletes. How deep is the competition at a specific school? Then look at Dyestat.com and Milesplit.com and see where your athlete ranks nationally. If you have to go past the Top 50 to find their name, chances are they will have fewer scholarship offers. Also ask why do you want to go to X University in the first place? The NCAA has stated that 99% percent of all Athletes go pro in something other than their sport.
One PR at the county championship is nice, but it only shows that you did it once. The same PR at New Balance Nationals or an AAU or USATF National Championship meet shows that the athlete can adapt to the environment and perform regardless of the external distractions. It also shows that the PR was valid. If you have been involved in track and field for any length of time you know that some results are inflated. Just look at the difference between seed times and final results. By competing in national championship meets the athletes performances are unquestionably validated.
Track and field athletes who compete at the national level also develop an advantage. They are competing with kids who are just as good, if not better than they are. When your athlete has to truly perform to make finals they begin to understand what it will take to successfully compete at the collegiate level. The elite athlete who has been narrowly beaten starts getting the infamous “chip on his/her shoulder.” That “chip” means they become willing to work a little harder to prove they belong.
Respect the Process
This often is a hard pill to swallow, even if we don’t like the process it is the reality. Work within it not against it, there are boundaries, as high school and club coaches we are not the parents. The parents are not the coaches. We all bring the best interest of the athlete to the table but, the ultimate decision maker on where to go to college should be the Athlete. Parent involvement in the process is vital, which is why most collegiate coaches do a home visit. Parents if the college coach is serious about your athlete will come to your house, you do not need to go to them. Let me rephrase that, parents do not need to go on official visits. NCAA rules dictate that parents must be invited but it does not mean they should go. The rule was put into place because of the abuses that occurred during footbal, basketball, and baseball recruiting. Track and Field is totally different.
The official visit is the first step in the relationship between the college coach, the current athletes and the prospective athlete. The prospective athlete is there to learn if they fit in. The current athletes are judging if the personalities are compatible because in Track and Field the training group relationship is critical. The coach school is evaluating behavior and demeanor in a new work environment. No matter how talented, will he or she be able to improve the team?
The official visit is an important first step. For all practical purposes it is a job interview. If Mommy and Daddy go to the job interview what does that say about the athlete? Consider this, if the athlete does not possess the maturity to go to a college campus, for an adult-supervised, NCAA regulated visit for 48 hours on their own, is this the right time for the athlete to go to college?
If the athlete has the questions about the school after the official visit, make the time and go back for an unofficial visit. Now is the time for parents go to the school. Are the statements made during the home visit reality or were they exaggerated? On the un-official visit the athletes and parents can talk with the coaches in a more detailed and precise manner. You may even enhance the athlete’s opportunity because you showed the school that there is respect for the athlete coach and program.
Division I coaches are where hired based on merit. Many high school and club coaches are good, we have a passion. We, with very few exceptions, do not pay our mortgages and feed our families based on our abilities as a track and field coach. The men and women who are coaching collegiately have dedicated themselves to their profession. They have all earned respect.
Parents, high school and club coaches need to understand that once an athlete has stepped foot on campus, you are no longer their coach. Do not cook in somebody else’s kitchen un-invited, even if you are invited clean up don’t make it a habit. If your former athlete is struggling, help the kid learn how to improvise, adapt and overcome. Sometimes the problem is that we taught bad technical habits, and now the college coach has to go back to basics and fix stuff. Often the problem is that the athlete has only heard one voice and the performance cues are different. Help the young men and women process and assimilate new information. Do not enable them to not resist change.
At the collegiate level coaches change. When my eldest son was recruited, one of the criteria I encouraged him to evaluate was the longevity of the coach (sounded good in my head). After his freshman year, the coach rightfully did what was best for his family and accepted a better position, hence there was disappointment and confusion. I forgot that collegiate athletics is a business, not to be taken personally.
Program emphasis will change, coaches get fired and the school will do what is best for the school. Some will release the athletes some will hold on to the built up equity in order to attract the new coach. Again as parents and former coaches our best role is to the help the athlete to process, adapt and overcome the challenge.
Most of the Division I recruited athletes have blown away the majority of their competition, with little effort. That was then this is now, your athlete will now be on a year round periodized training program. Not the social show up of high school and club track. The athlete’s world will now be class, training, study hall, repeat. Oh and they are at the bottom of the food chain until they prove themselves worthy. If they display an attitude, poor work ethic, they can be cut and shown the door. Remember that major Division I programs will hold the athletes financially accountable for their performance.
If an athlete fails to perform in training, the classroom or in his or her events, they will be released from the team and school. Recently several athletes were released by a Head Coach, before they ever competed. Wow that doesn’t sound fair, well, fair is the thing you go to in late summer with the chickens, goats and rides, fair has nothing to do with the reality of the business of collegiate athletics. It is about performance. The coach made a difficult decision for the benefit of the Team. The why does not matter, it only matters is that there was something that did not fit. When a decision is made, accept, adapt and move or don’t drag it out with rants and whining.
College athletes are essentially paid to perform it is not charity, coming out of high school scholarships are provided with the expectation of performance. If something happened that indicated that the performance was not forthcoming, then the Head Coach has a responsibility to change the dynamic. Parents can be as angry and upset as they so choose to be, but it will not change the reality of who is in charge of the program.
It should be common sense if an 18-19 year old student gets in trouble, then they are a dumb kid. If an 18-19 year old student-athlete gets in trouble it is a reflection of the University, Coaches, ect. So if the unfortunate happens, prepare in advance, and just ride out the storm. Again it is a calculated business decision, one kid in a non-revenue sport versus millions of Alumni donation dollars. Not a future multimillionaire athlete who gets paid for their autograph. Again go to my definition of fair.
Suggestions for Athletes
In a culture dominated by social media, athletes, coaches, and parents need to remember that an innocent post, silly picture, or angry tweet can find its way to a coach’s smart phone. Before you get recruited look at your Facebook, etc., and ask is this how I want Adults to see me? Get rid of connections with those who don’t represent common sense.
In High School focus on the 3 A’s: Academics, ACT’s, Attitude. Work hard in the classroom. A 3.8 GPA with a 25+ ACT is a whole lot easier to work with when it comes to admissions and academic scholarships, than a 2.5 and an 18 ACT. Plus it indicates that the athlete is willing to sacrifice and work to achieve excellence.
Get over you. What you may have accomplished in High School, AAU, USATF, took hard work. I salute you. The colleges know already or else you would not have been recruited. Now put the rings in your drawer leave the plaques and trophies at home, because when you step on campus (even for a visit) you are starting over. If you want attention and respect, earn it, daily, if you are on a scholarship, there are older athletes on the team who want your money. They put in the work, but the timing was wrong. So be prepared to out- work, out -perform, out-hustle every single day. Don’t whine, don’t complain just work and let your progress speak for you.
Hopefully these thoughts and observations will provide food for thought and help as families and coaches as they go through the recruiting process. As we sit at the table on signing day, we can finally exhale and know that we have done all that we can do. It is a journey that for each individual and their families will mean different lessons to be learned. But the desired end result is the same the success and best interest of the young men and women we coach and care for.