Getting recruited for college sports: When should it begin?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 9/20/2017

The trend for kids to get recruited for college sports as early as middle school disturbs many youth sports experts. But there is no doubt that kids have a better chance of playing in college if they plan ahead. The question is, how early is too early?

According to Athnet, a college recruiting site, the answer to “When should I start the recruiting process?” is, usually a lot earlier than you think. Too often athletes wait until their senior year or even halfway through their senior year to start the recruiting process, which they say is too late. Your athlete could find a scholarship at this late date, but it may not be the best fit for them. Athnet strongly encourages athletes who want to play in college to at least start thinking about recruiting and schools they are interested in during their freshman year.

Before I dive into some guidelines, here’s a general understanding of the offerings in college:

Division I is the biggest and most competitive NCAA division. They offer scholarships — many of them full — to their student-athletes.

Division II athletic programs are smaller and less competitive than Division I. Most student-athletes don’t get full scholarships, but many get some financial aid.

Division III programs are the least competitive and do not offer sports-related financial aid. All three of my kids played Division III, and although they didn’t receive athletic scholarships, they did receive other types of aid.

As you begin the recruiting journey, here’s a basic timeline:

Freshmen: In the first two years of high school, your young athlete should focus on developing strength and skills, and on academics. No matter how skilled your child is, they will not be eligible to play as a college freshman if they don’t have the right high school courses on their transcript.

Keep in mind that it is not enough to have good grades and get a good score on the college entrance exam; your child must also have the right mix of courses to meet NCAA standards.

Sophomores: Your child’s sophomore year is the time to get serious if they want to compete in college and/or get a scholarship. Your child must continue to develop sports skills and leadership abilities. Your child will be a more valuable recruit if they established a reputation for teamwork, sportsmanship and maturity. This is a process and requires consistency. College coaches want motivated athletes who contribute to team unity and stay out of trouble.

Juniors: This is the most important year in your athlete’s recruiting process, according to The actual recruiting may take place in the senior year, but it is the junior year accomplishments that bring the recruiting phone calls. The earlier your child gets on the coaches’ radar, the better their chances of being recruited in their senior year.

During this year, your child can boost visibility to coaches by making phone calls, visiting schools and meeting coaches. There are NCAA rules that prevent coaches from reaching out until late in the junior year, but your child can contact coaches and meet with them to show them interest as long as you follow the NCAA rules.

Seniors: There’s a lot to juggle in the senior year.

Make sure your child is eligible by filling holes in their transcript.

Continue developing skills.

Be prepared. How should you handle a home visit? If you are fortunate enough to get an early scholarship offer, is it the best you will get? Will you have to make a commitment before the signing period? What if the offer is good but you do not think that the school is right for you? What should you do and who should you see on an official recruiting visit?

Take time to research and learn the answers to these questions.

Other Recruiting Tips to Keep in Mind:

Don’t assume coaches will find your child if they are really good in middle school (or even freshman or sophomore) athlete.

Keep in mind that recruiting is a four-year progression for your child. Your child may not be contacted by coaches in their freshman year, but the preparation definitely starts then.

Look for ways for your child to develop relationships with coaches (that could lead to scholarship offers) throughout there high school career. If your child starts thinking about college early, it will give them more time to learn about their choices and options.

Help your child recruit him/herself. For every star high school athlete who gets the attention of major regional newspapers and who is recruited by dozens of college coaches, there are dozens of equally talented athletes who for whatever reason do not gain the attention of college coaches and who do not compete in college. Help your athlete evaluate college sports programs and learn where their talents best fit. They may have to contact coaches, visit colleges, and highlight their talents on their own.

Thousands of high school seniors wait for “the call” or “the letter” from a college coach. Some will receive them, but many talented athletes won’t. Why?

The most important reason is visibility. Help your child work on raising their visibility among college coaches; don’t wait for the coach to come calling.

Roughly 1 out of 25 high school students go on to compete at a NCAA school ( Half of those receive athletic aid. So the odds are that 1 in 50 high school athletes receives a college sports scholarship. This statistic seems high to me; I’ve heard odds much less encouraging. But the bottom line is this; talent is important, but your child’s talent must be seen by a coach and by stepping out and encouraging your athlete to recruit themselves, They can greatly improve their odds.

Janis B. Meredith is a sports parenting blogger, podcaster, and life coach. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about good sports parenting habits in her book 11 Habits for Happy & Positive Sports Parents, available on Amazon.