College recruiting can be a daunting and stressful process for high school track and field athletes and their parents. As a former Division I track and field coach that has spent 14 years coaching in the Division I ranks and is now coaching in the private sector, I have come to realize that many athletes, parents, and coaches are not educated enough about the realities of college recruiting when it comes to track and field. Every parent and athlete at the high school level dreams about obtaining a college track and field scholarship, but the realities of obtaining such a scholarship are difficult.
The most important thing to understand is the reason why it is so hard to get a track and field scholarship. There are years’ worth of data, collected by the NCAA and other institutions, that has shown the percentage of high school kids in the country that get a track and field scholarship, at any level, as being less than 6% for men and women. This is an important factor to understand when beginning the recruiting process.
Unfortunately, many think it is quite easy to obtain a full-ride scholarship if the athlete runs fast. However, based on years of data from the NCAA reviewing national letters of intent (NLIs) and looking at the offers that have been given throughout the country, the national average scholarship amount is less than $18,000 a year. This will be different based on each institution and the cost of tuition.
Now that I have provided you with the reality that obtaining a college track and field scholarship is not a simple process, I want to address some myths that a lot of people believe when it comes to the college recruiting process.
Myth #1: I Am Being Recruited
Many athletes feel that they are being recruited or looked at if a college coach sends them a letter or questionnaire in the mail. They post their excitement on social media without understanding that receiving a letter in the mail, asking for basic information, does not mean they are being recruited by that university. In all actuality, coaches are sending out hundreds of letters and questionnaires to kids across the country in order to gather information to create a profile for those athletes that will fit their program’s standards.
It is a numbers game for college coaches because we know that we are going to get more no’s than yes’s and we only have a limited number of scholarships to give out. Let us look at the following stats to further drive the point home:
There are 341 NCAA Division I programs in the country. If we include NCAA Division II and III, plus NAIA and junior colleges, there are a total of 1,272 track and field programs. There are over one million high school athletes that participate in track and field. Among all the college track and field programs, there are only 69,710 student athletes competing in college.It is a numbers game for college coaches because we know that we are going to get more no’s than yes’s, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
When can you say you are officially being recruited by a college/university? When the college coach talks to you on a consistent basis through phone calls and text messages. As the conversations continue to take place with the college coach and the coach begins making home or school visits, attending your practices, and planning official visit dates, then you can consider yourself as being highly recruited by that program.
Myth 2: Official Visit Offers
One of the preconceived notions that many parents and athletes have going into an official visit is that at the end of the visit there will be an official offer extended to them prior to leaving the campus. Yes, an official offer can be extended at the end of one’s official visit. However, that does not always hold true.
There are many factors at play during an official visit. From the time an official visit begins, the athlete is instantly being assessed on how they carry themselves, how they interact with other people, and the types of questions they ask.
The first factor for why an official offer may not be extended prior to an athlete leaving campus is that college coaches are aware that an athlete most likely will not accept the offer if they have remaining official visits to attend.
The second factor could be that the athlete is not one of the program’s top recruits, but the coach will continue to recruit the athlete in order to see if their top recruits will accept their offer. For that reason, the coaches are going to let the athlete make the other visits and continue having conversations with them as the recruiting process plays out. The reality is if the athlete is not highly ranked on the program’s list, then they will be on the waiting list to determine if the higher ranked recruits will accept their offer.
The third factor is how athletes present the experience on social media while visiting and how they interact. Coaches will be watching to see if the athletes are portraying a positive experience or displaying excitement. How the athlete acts during the experience can determine whether they will receive an offer while on campus. For example, colleges set up things such as college game day during football season for the athlete and their family to go down to the football field. The coaches are having the athletes take pictures with their track uniforms on and having them do mock interviews because they want to see how excited the athlete is about possibly being a part of the program and representing their university.How the athlete acts during the experience can determine whether they will receive an offer while on campus, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
If college coaches see that an athlete is closed off, keeping to themselves, not engaging with the other recruits, or not excited while on their visit, the coach may be hesitant to extend an offer. Needless to say, the athlete’s actions, body language, and words are constantly being examined by the coaches as those things can determine whether an athlete is 100% excited about the university. While on a visit, I recommend athletes limit the time they are on their phones. It’s important for them to be engaged, attentive, and tuned in.
Many coaches, myself included, will text a prospect they are highly recruiting who is on an official visit to another university and ask them how things are going. College coaches are always recruiting and trying to get a feel for where a prospect stands with their university. Unfortunately, coaches do this because we know that the prospect is most likely going to respond. Therefore, if I am seeing a prospect constantly on their phone, that tells me that they are not fully engaged. It also makes me question if the athlete is possibly talking to another coach while visiting our campus and that maybe they are more interested in another program but are taking this visit because mom and/or dad wanted them to go on the visit.While on a visit, I recommend athletes limit the time they are on their phones, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
A fourth factor is that many coaches will not extend an offer until they talk to the athletes on the team. Coaches are able to get valuable feedback from their current athletes on what they thought of the prospective athletes while they were socializing with their possible future teammates. Coaches want to see if their athletes think they will be a good fit in their culture. If the athletes report back to their college coaches any negatives, then an offer may not be extended as this feedback can determine if they are one that is going to cause issues within the team dynamics.
All these things taken into consideration can cause a prospect to be moved down the program’s recruiting list. These are only a few factors out of an extensive list that are considered when an athlete is on an official visit. All that to say, an official visit does not 100% guarantee that an athlete will walk away with an offer in their hand.An official visit does not 100% guarantee that an athlete will walk away with an offer in their hand, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
Myth #3: My Scholarship Cannot Be Taken Away
OK, this is a big one and the one that I felt had to be included in this article. Yes, you have heard many coaches at the club level and high school level say that “your scholarship cannot be taken away based off of your performance or if you get injured.” That is 100% true, for the NCAA rule does state that a college program cannot take away your scholarship based off your performance or if you get injured. So, your scholarship is safe.
Here is the big reality of everything. This must be talked about because so many people feel that once they have their college scholarship, they have obtained everything they have been pursuing since they were young and that this is why their parents spent thousands of dollars on training and traveling to summer track meets. It is the dream to get a college track and field scholarship. Parents are happy and excited that their child’s goal has been achieved and they are relieved that now they do not have to pay as much money for a college education.
But please hear this loud and clear: college track and field is a business. That is the biggest thing that must be understood. It is an amazing opportunity to have a college education paid for so you do not have to pay as much to get a degree. That is a big opportunity and to be a part of a team where you are supported, where you feel you are a part of something special, makes it that much better.Please hear this loud and clear: college track and field is a business, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
Realize that, for your coaches, this is their job, their livelihood, and what helps them support their families. Understand it is their job when the athletic director goes to the head coach and says there are certain expectations for the program: winning national championships, winning conference titles, maintaining a certain team GPA, and maintaining a certain APR that the NCAA requires. There are so many factors at play, and at the end of the day you must understand that college track and field is a business, so when you accept that college scholarship, you are basically accepting a job.
For the next four years of being a student athlete, your job is to get good grades, be responsible, go to class, and walk with integrity when representing your university as well as your family. With that also comes the responsibility of performing on the track. I always tell people this: it is like getting a regular job at McDonald’s where they are going to give you $15 an hour to serve their customers well, be productive, and meet the standards and goals they have communicated to their employees. They are expecting you to work at certain times of the day and complete daily duties that are required of you while you are employed at McDonald’s.
That example is the very same thing when one is awarded a college track and field scholarship. Your duties are to listen, be engaged, support your teammates, be a team player, and to contribute to the team’s success in the events that you participate. That means scoring at the conference level or maybe even scoring at Nationals depending on the goal of that university. The other thing that is a huge factor that plays into this is not having any issues when it comes to dealing with professors, administrative assistants (like your academic advisors), strength and conditioning coaches, tutors, and teammates.
Therefore, being given a great reward comes with big responsibilities you must fill and uphold. If you are not doing these very fundamental things, the truth is that you can always lose your college scholarship because of your attitude, behavior, and actions. By rendering yourself academically ineligible, they can pull your scholarship and you will not be able to compete. They can take away the scholarship just like firing you from a job. You better believe the coaches are documenting your behavior, your actions, your words, your attendance, your interactions with teammates, and your relationships with your event coach and the head coach.The truth is that you can always lose your college scholarship because of your attitude, behavior, and actions, says @JustinWickard. Click To Tweet
You have a file with your name on it and if you are a problem for that program, at the end of the year the head coach is going to say, “Hey, you didn’t meet these requirements that were required of you when we gave you this scholarship. You have never scored any points to contribute to the success of the team and we are giving you x amount of money for your college education. Yet the biggest reason we are reducing/not renewing your scholarship is because you’ve been tardy this many times, we’ve had these disciplinary issues with you, we’ve constantly had to talk to you about taking care of your responsibilities, taking care of your body in the athletic training room, or going to your tutors. Therefore, we are not renewing your scholarship or reducing it for the following year.”
If this happens, you will receive a letter in the mail from the compliance office and you will have thirty days to appeal it in front of the NCAA board committee that the university has set up. Understand that if that university has properly documented everything and if a lot of it has to do with your behavior or how you have handled certain things, and if the dates which you were formally addressed by the coach of these ongoing issues were recorded, I promise you from an administrative standpoint that they are going to look at that and they are going to agree with the coach and the appeal will be rejected.
So please remember that because you obtained your college scholarship, from day one when you step foot on campus you have a role and responsibility to uphold. Know that every day is a day that you must prove that you are worthy of keeping that scholarship, or maybe of earning more of that scholarship depending on what kind of offer you received.
Earning a scholarship takes a lot of hard work, but so does keeping one.
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