Stories about early recruiting have taken the college sports world by storm. Athletes as young as 10 years old are verbally committing to top Division I universities. If you’re scratching your head wondering how this can happen, you’re not alone — athletes and parents alike are asking the same question. However, the trend toward recruiting younger and younger athletes is quickly becoming the new norm.
In this article, we talk a little bit more about what early recruiting means and provide some key insights into how exactly players can get recruited — before they start high school.
WHAT EXACTLY IS EARLY RECRUITING?
Generally speaking, early recruiting refers to coaches extending verbal scholarship offers to athletes before the signing period. It’s important to note that any early offer is considered a “verbal commitment,” which is not a binding legal scholarship offer. They are “handshake agreements” between the athlete and the coach. In other words, it’s like the coach is reserving a spot on his roster for that athlete. If something happens between the time of the verbal offer and signing day—the athlete becomes ineligible or posts inappropriate content on their social media channels, for example—the coach can cancel the offer.
Many coaches, parents and athletes aren’t particularly fond of early recruiting practices. For athletes and parents, early recruiting shortens the athlete’s development process and places undue pressure on them to make very mature decisions before they may be ready. For coaches, it means scouting younger and younger players, which can be a tricky game. Athletes develop at different rates, and finding a future Division I competitor in a sea of 12-year-olds is a tough sell. But coaches are pressured to find athletes at a young age because other coaches are doing the same thing.
“Sometimes you feel so hypocritical as a coach, when you’re saying you don’t think it’s healthy to recruit kids at [a young] age, but then you’re actively in that process,” Western Kentucky women’s volleyball coach Travis Hudson told ESPNW.
HOW DO ATHLETES LOCK DOWN EARLY OFFERS?
Despite the fact that early recruiting is a controversial topic, it’s important to know how it works. Here are a few key ways athletes can snag early offers:
Be proactive and initiate contact with coaches. Division I and Division II cannot reach out to athletes before June 1 of the athlete’s junior year (for most sports). However, the NCAA does not regulate when athletes can contact coaches—and many kids take advantage of this. Start by emailing coaches and follow up with a call. Coaches can answer the phone if you call them; they just can’t call you back.
Get your high school and/or club coach involved. Your current coach can always reach out to college coaches on your behalf. They can set up a time for you to call a college coach, as well as communicate your athletic accomplishments. Approach your high school and/or club coach about this and ask if they might be willing to get you on the recruiting map early.
Go on unofficial visits. Unofficial visits are campus visits in which the recruit’s family finances the whole trip. During unofficial visits, recruits can speak with the coach in person—and often, this is when young athletes receive verbal offers. Athletes can take an unlimited number of unofficial visits at any time they would like. Before you take a visit, however, coordinate with the coach to ensure you’re making a trip at a time when the coach can actually meet with you.
Use online tools to monitor coach interest. Online tools — like NCSA’s recruiting technology — show athletes when coaches have expressed interest in their information. At NCSA, athletes can see when a coach has viewed their profiles and followed their activity. This can be a game changer in early recruiting, because athletes can see what coaches are looking at them. Then, the athlete can initiate contact with that coach.
IS EARLY RECRUITING RIGHT FOR YOU?
Elite recruits — we’re talking Division I and high-level Division II athletes — are typically the ones receiving offers extremely early on in the recruiting process. The average recruit has a little more time. Coaches realize that most 8th graders and freshmen in high school still have more developing to do, physically and mentally.
However, that doesn’t mean you should wait to start the recruiting process as a whole. As an 8th grader and a high school freshman, you can start researching schools, determining what you’re looking for in a college, and thinking about your future major.
This is also a good time to talk to your high school and/or club coach about what you should be working on to reach your goal of competing in college. The sooner you start preparing for your recruiting journey, the smoother it will be.