Getting a Division 1 athletic scholarship is not an easy task. However, if your student has this goal, there are definitely tips that will increase his or her chances. A few years ago, my youngest daughter, as a high school junior, gave her verbal commitment to play volleyball at a Division 1 college. In some respects, I was sad that our last college search was over. In other respects, it took a lot of stress away and allowed us to relax and enjoy the next two years of high school and club volleyball games.
Many articles have been written online about the low number of students who actually get to play sports at the Division 1 level, along with the even lower number of students who get “full ride” athletic scholarships. Believe me, we went into the athletic recruiting process eyes wide open with our daughter and never assumed anything.
As with all things related to the college search process, as a parent, I read everything I could find about the athletic recruiting process and used that to help guide our way through the process, but never took any advice as an absolute. The athletic recruiting process will be a little different for everyone. My attempt here is to generalize everything I know about this process into a set of practical tips you can use. I make no guarantees that following these tips will result in D1 recruitment, but these tips should increase your student’s chances.
D1 Athletic Recruiting Guidelines
- Understand whether Division 1 athletics is the right personal fit for your student – Division 1 is going to be the most competitive and most time-consuming college athletic division to play in. It isn’t for everyone. It requires the highest skill level and the highest commitment. It’s a lot like having a full-time job while going to college. If your student needs to make academics their primary focus in college, they may be better off looking at D2, D3 or NAIA athletic programs.
- Understand whether your student is good enough for Division 1 Athletics – This means you need expert opinions on whether your student is good enough. When my daughter was in 8th grade, both her school volleyball coach and the director of the local club she was playing with told me that she needed to get to a top notch club volleyball program because she had what it takes to play at the D1 level. I kind of brushed that off thinking that she was only in 8th grade and how could they already know she was good enough. She made the Varsity volleyball team in 9th grade and a coach from a national-level club program saw her play and said she needed to come there. Even though it was an hour from home, we bit the bullet and let her try out. She made the top team for her age level. The staff all had lots of good things to say about her. D1 college coaches started noticing her that first year at tournaments and reaching out to her coach. This is the kind of validation that tells you your student is good enough to play D1. If you and your student wonder if he or she is good enough for Division 1, you need to start asking coaches.
- If your student’s sport has “club” programs, he or she should get into one – It is possible to get recruited for Division 1 athletics without playing at the club level, but it will be much harder. College coaches come to watch club tournaments and competitions for most sports. Club programs provide a higher level of visibility and exposure for the athlete. They also provide the athletes the ability to train in the high school off season and improve their skills further.
- Division 1 doesn’t automatically mean top level – In the volleyball world, there are many Division 2 teams and even top Division 3 teams that would beat the lower end of Division 1 teams. This is true across all Division 1 sports. Top conferences like Big 10, Pac-12 and Big 12 will typically have much more competitive teams than smaller, more regional conferences. This does give student athletes a wider range of schools to explore. Some students may choose a school that’s less competitive in their sports because the school is a better academic fit. Also, the wider range of competition gives students the ability to match their own skill levels to the right level of team.
- Create a recruiting profile – There are many different sites where you can create a FREE recruiting profile. I talked about a few of them in my Best Resources for Athletic Recruiting post. The #1 place I recommend to create a FREE athletic recruiting profile is University Athlete. This is the site most used by college coaches to evaluate players at tournaments and competitions.
- Create a highlight video – This goes hand-in-hand with a recruiting profile, especially for team sports. Coaches want to see what an athlete can do. Highlight videos can be stored on YouTube or within most recruiting profile sites. You will want to read up on the guidelines for highlight videos for your student’s sport. For many sports, coaches will also want to see full game footage so that they can see everything the athlete does in a game, not just the plays you select for a highlight video.
- Have your student start reaching out to coaches – Armed with a recruiting profile and at least a highlight video, your student should start emailing college coaches. You can find suggestions online for the basics to include in an email to college coaches. This is one of the many topics the NCSA site talks about on their blog. It’s best for your student to include a link to his or her recruiting profile and/or highlight video in the emails.
- Persistence is important – Especially given the contact periods outlined by the NCAA (Division 1 coaches can’t directly contact your student until September 1 of Junior year), your student may feel like nobody is interested. Two things to keep in mind here. First, some schools start recruiting later than others. Second, a school may be saving your student’s information in order to contact him or her at a later time. Don’t assume a school is not interested just because they do not respond to an email. Have your student keep emailing any schools he or she is interested in until the point when a definite “no” is received or your student loses interest in the school.
- If a college coach asks your student to call, make sure he or she does – A request to call should not be taken lightly. This is the key to building a relationship with college coaches. As mentioned earlier, Division 1 college coaches can’t directly reach out to potential recruits until September 1 of their Junior year of high school. However, coaches can answer calls from your student prior to that date. This can turn into a challenging one-way game of phone tag. The best things your student can do are to email the coach with a time he or she will be calling the coach including the student’s phone number so the coach will recognize the number when his or her phone rings, text the coach about 10-15 minutes before the stated time to say he or she will be calling in 10-15 minutes, and if the coach doesn’t answer, leave a message with a new call time. Many students are hesitant to reach out to a coach by phone because it sounds scary. However, it is a key part of the recruiting process and like most things, it will get easier the more your student does it.
- If a college coach offers an unofficial visit, try to arrange it – Up until Senior year, your student can only do unofficial recruiting visits. That means it is on your dime. If you wait until Senior year, your student can do up to 5 official visits where the school pays for the potential recruit’s visit. However, in many sports and for competitive spots, waiting to visit until Senior year may be too late. The school visit is often the last piece of the athletic recruiting process that seals the deal for both the student and the athletic program. The student gets to assess the school, the athletic program, and the team. The school gets to assess the student’s personality and ability to fit in with the program in a non-athletic way. The visit is not about assessing your student’s athletic abilities unless he or she is attending an on-campus camp.
- Division 1 does not automatically mean “full ride” athletic scholarship – Make sure you understand how many scholarships are available at the Division 1 level for your student’s sport. This can get complicated. Even for a sport like Women’s Volleyball that is considered a “headcount” sport (meaning that 12 full scholarships can be granted per team at the D1 level), there are exceptions. In order to qualify for 12 full scholarships, the program has to be “fully funded”. As we found out with our daughter, many D1 volleyball programs are not fully funded. Those that are not fully funded may offer a smaller scholarship to all recruited team members or may only offer a few larger scholarships to the most sought after team members. In addition, although the Ivy League is Division 1, Ivy League schools do not offer any athletic scholarships. If schools that express interest in your student are able to offer him or her a full scholarship, it definitely goes a long way towards making that school and that athletic program appealing. Just be sure that your student makes the best overall decision without letting a great scholarship offer sway him or her towards a school that may not be a fit in other ways.
- Be careful about asking what kinds of athletic scholarships a school will offer – I would best describe the scholarship topic as a “delicate dance”. It is not a topic your student should bring up in his or her first phone call with a college coach. Sometimes the coaches are very up front about this and will bring it up themselves in the first call. My biggest recommendation is to make sure you understand what level of scholarship may be offered before spending a lot of money to do an unofficial visit. If your student is working with a club coach and/or recruiting coordinator, you can ask if they know much about the level of athletic scholarships offered by a particular school. If your student has gotten very comfortable with the college coach, after several conversations, he or she should feel free to tell the coach that your family would like to get some information on the types of athletic scholarships offered before making a trip to the school.
The 12 athletic recruiting guidelines listed above are what I feel are the most important keys to your student getting recruited for Division 1 athletics. In addition, I suggest that you read everything you can about athletic recruiting from reputable sources. The more you understand about the process, the better you will feel about it and the easier it will seem.