Tuesday Tip: When Do Coaches Begin Recruiting?

Last week’s Tuesday tip offered some insight into what coaches are looking for when they embark on the recruiting process.  But when does it all begin?  How will I know if a coach is interested in me?    Today you get a two-fer of “Twelve Things Every Recruit Wants to Know…But is Afraid to Ask.”

Question Two:  When does a coach begin to identify potential recruits?  How do I know if a school is really interested in me?

Recruiting today is a never-ending process.  Southern Illinois’ Rick Walker says simply, “We never stop.” 

That’s because talent can turn up in unexpected places and because there’s no shortage of competition for those types of kids who can elevate a program.  Generally speaking, most coaches agreed that they have an idea of who they’re going after sometime during the Junior year.

“Sophomore year swims are important for initial recognition,” explains Florida’s Gregg Troy.   After that, college coaches will begin talking to club and high school coaches.  They’re trying to, explains Brooks Teal of NC State, strengthen relationships and build their recruiting lists.

That’s not to say the process doesn’t start earlier.  “We identify potential recruits as early as ninth grade,” says Tennessee men’s coach John Trembley.  Stan Crump the women’s coach at Brigham Young also begins the process early, in part because of the sheer number of recruits out there.  ““I have knowledge of a lot of kids by their freshman year,” he says, “but I know I am not aware of everyone.”

By September 1st of your Junior Year you’ll know if they’ve locked onto you.  That’s the date that Division I and II schools may begin contacting you by mail and if you’re good – expect a lot of it.  Some schools send you mail periodically, while others are relentless in their use of the US Postal Service.   (Prior to September 1st of your Junior year coaches may only send you an athletic questionnaire and camp brochure. ) 

The next stage comes prior to the start of your senior year.  After June 15th, Division II schools may begin calling you once per week.  Two weeks later (July 1st), Division I coaches begin exhausting their cell phone limits.  July 1st also marks the first date that a college coach may contact you off-campus and coaches put plenty of miles on the road visiting practices and meets.

If you’ve never felt popular, you will after July 1st.   In some ways the phone calls, visits, and fawning of coaches over you is akin to some unusual courting ritual you’d see on the Discovery Channel.  The methods and frequency used will differ from coach-to-coach, the simple fact is they’re interested in building a relationship with you because they want you to become a part of their program.

But how do I separate genuine interest with a sales job?

“If a school makes the effort to send a piece of non-form letter mail,” says Denver’s Brian Schrader emphasizing the notion of non-form letters, “that means they are interested.”

During phone calls Teal will explain what qualities he likes in each recruit.  If a coach can comment about something specific to your technique, your racing skills, or your poise on deck, you know they’ve been paying attention.

Of course, “one phone call to the prospect does not necessarily mean interest,” says Ohio State’s Bill Dorrenkott. “Multiple calls and building of a relationship over time shows interest.

Other gauges of interest include  off-campus contacts.  According to Dorrenkott, “If a school takes the time to come out to your club or make a home visit they are certainly interested.” Conversely, says Crump, “if they are only mildly interested, coaches won’t normally go to all that trouble.”

Princeton’s Susan Teeter offers another “You’ll know a school is really interested in you,” says Princeton women’s coach Susan Teeter, “when the HEAD coach is calling.” 

That opinion however, wasn’t echoed by all coaches.  The reasons fell into a couple of categories.  A handful noted that their primary focus was on their current team with one explaining, “any recruit should appreciate the fact that if they come here, they’ll have my primary attention.”

Another common theme reflected coaches’ changing opinions about the recruiting process.  “In a lot of ways, the tail is wagging the dog,” she explained.  “If I have to fall over myself to get a recruit, its really a false proposition.  Either they’ll come here with unrealistic expectations of their place in our program OR I’ll undermine the trust and faith I’ve built with current swimmers on my team.”

Far and away, however, the biggest concern was TIME.   Even for the best recruiters and largest staffs, recruiting can be overwhelming.   Dan Tudor, a recruiting consultant, asserts that “80% of a coach's time is spent selling or recruiting in some way,” and that they “really only get to coach 20% of the time during an average year.

One coach of a top-twenty program described the “10% rule” that guides their recruiting.  At the start of a classes’ junior year, he explained, they would contact nearly five-hundred swimmers with the potential to help their team.  From that, they’d expected to hear back from roughly ten percent (50) of them.  Working from that list of fifty, they could reasonably expect to sign five. 

Many coaches, when faced with the enormity of the task, encourage the swimmer to take an active role in the process.  Rather than focus on whether a school is interested in you, Eddie Sinnott of Southern Methodist thinks, “The question should be are you interested in the school.”  If the answer is yes, “take steps to make sure the coach knows.”

Stanford’s Ted Knapp agrees.  “The coach’s interest in you is very important but more important is for you not to make a decision just based on the interest of the school.  You should actively pursue schools you are interested in.”

“If you wait for coaches to contact you,” adds Bob Groseth of Northwestern, “Then you are limiting your choices.  Don't leave it to chance. Identify the schools that interest you and let them know of your interest. “

When initiating contact, you want to both market yourself, but also ask where you stand in regards to the school.  In the mind of Florida’s Gregg Troy, “The best way to judge interest is to be very forward and ask....especially if you just flat out ask about aid up front.”  

Indianapolis’ Gary Kinkead says athletes, “need to be assertive.”  As much as coaches don’t like dealing with prima donnas, busy coaches have little time for parents or athletes who are hesitant or beat around the bush.  Of course, in asking tough questions, you should also prepare for potentially tough answers.  After you’ve expressed interest in a school, Kinkead feels coaches should be able to communicate to you scholarship standards and the criteria for making the team.   

Oh yes, scholarships.  There’s perhaps no dicier set of questions than those that deal with the perceived holy grail of intercollegiate swimming.

That’s what we’ll turn our attention to in the next three Tuesdays.