Parents want the best for their kids. I totally get that. I don't have kids yet, but I have a French Bulldog with constant flatulence who does the opposite of everything that I say, and I would still go to the ends of the earth for him. If he had opposable thumbs, I would probably have him play wall ball for treats and try to get him recruited too (except at Cornell…anywhere but the Big Red). Anyway, I can only imagine what parents want to do for their kids who love to play the game so much!
However, the recruiting process is one of the first times when parents just have to let go. Every parent out there makes this process more complicated than it really is. The bottom line is that your son has to be a good enough player, athlete, student and person. If he is all those things, than a coach will find him and will ask him to come to his school. Period.
Everyone is very confused by the recruiting process, but it's actually really simple. The reason that we feel it is so complicated is because we as coaches and parents actually try to control it too much. We think if we write great letters to coaches, or use the right recruiting service or put together a great highlight video with cool special effects and great tunes, then that will somehow help. However, it is totally beyond our control.
There are two people in control of whether or not a player gets recruited for college. The first person is the player. That person controls how hard he works at the game, how passionate he is about it and how much he makes it a priority in his life. The challenging part about this side of things is that for this player to get recruited, he may actually have to commit to the game from a very young age, which is a lot to ask of a young man.
The second person in control of this situation is the college coach. The coach knows exactly what types of players and people he is looking for in his program, he knows the positional needs that he has to fill on his team, and he knows what he needs in each graduating class of players. Coaches take great pride in recruiting and they know exactly what they are looking for, so most of them will decide for themselves what players they like and what players they are not interested in.
Now, with all that being said, what do you have to do to get recruited?
1. You have to be the best player that you can possibly be. You have to be the biggest, strongest, fastest, most agile athlete that you can possibly make yourself. You have to be the best student that you can be in the classroom. You have to be the best person that you can be off the field. This first step is no simple task and takes years of hard work. Ever hear about the idea of 10,000 hours to mastery? If not, read up about it and start logging those hours.
Remember, Division I lacrosse takes the top one percent of all lacrosse players, so you have to be an excellent overall athlete and person to have any shot at making it. There are more opportunities than ever at DII, DIII and MCLA schools, but all those places have high standards for who they are looking for, as well. You will have to be the best of the best to get recruited anywhere.
We overemphasize so many other aspects of recruiting and we totally forget about this part. To be great enough to get recruited, it has to be your life and it has to mean everything to you. Don't get me wrong either. If it's not this way for you, and you enjoy other things, then there is nothing wrong with that! I have chosen not to be a college lacrosse coach because I do not want it to be my whole life either. But, it has become so competitive, it is kind of like a swimmer training to make the Olympics from the time he is five years old. It is becoming close to taking that type of commitment if you want to make it to the big time in lacrosse. That is a huge decision to make and I would only advise it for the people who are truly passionate about the game.
2. You have to go where the coaches are. Now, this is the tricky part. But, if you align yourself with a good organized club team that goes to reputable tournaments and you go to some good individual recruiting tournaments, then that should give you a chance to be seen by coaches. If you are a great player, the coaches will find you.
Do not worry about writing coaches emails before the tournaments. These coaches now are getting hundreds of emails per day and do not have time to even read all of them. Also, do not get concerned about if your club team wins or loses a game or tournament. The coaches barely know who is winning the game. They are just looking for players who they like for their program.
This step is a huge point of contention for the parents as they want to know where to spend their money. Find a club team that is run by people who you trust and who takes their teams to great tournaments. Try to get your son recommended to an individual tournament or two where coaches that are appropriate for his level of play will be.
And know one thing in all of this (and this is coming from someone who runs a club program in Denver Elite), this is a terrible investment if you think this will pay off with a scholarship. If you are paying for your son to have a great experience in high school, get better at the game and have a fun time, then you are spending your money wisely. If you think you are going to see this money again through a scholarship, you are better off going down to 7 Eleven and buying $5,000 in lottery tickets. Good luck!
3. The third step is seeing who has serious interest in you as a player. This part of the recruitment process is kind of like dating. You can go after a girl who is lukewarm towards you and give yourself a ton of headaches and uncertainty. Or you can choose the girl who clearly shows that she likes you and cares about you. It's your decision. (It took me until I was in my late twenties to figure this out with women, so consider this article killing two birds with one stone.) The same is true with coaches.
You will know when a coach wants you to be a part of his program. Many coaches are sending out letters inviting you to come to their camp. That does not mean they are recruiting you! Many coaches will ask you to fill out a questionnaire. That does not mean they are recruiting you! Many coaches will talk to you if you reach out to them. That does not mean they are recruiting you! You know what recruiting sounds like? The coach will say, "We want to recruit you. We want you to be a part of our team. We want to offer you a spot and maybe even a little scholarship money." That is when you know you are getting recruited.
Also, know that there is very little that anyone can do to convince a coach that a player is right for their program. So, if a club team coach tells you that he can get your son recruited, he is full of hot air. For example, we had one player on our Denver Elite team a couple years ago who will be a very good DIII player. Coach Bill Tierney called a few of his friends who were DIII coaches back east and told them how good he was, and they still did not take him! If coaches will not listen to Coach T, are they really going to listen to your club coach?
Club and high school coaches can be great support people and can be liaisons between the college coaches and the players, but don't expect them to be huge deal makers. NFL teams do not draft players because they have a good sports agent and the same is true for college lacrosse.
4. Respond back to the coaches who reach out to you. If a coach sends you anything like a camp invite or a questionnaire, then use that as an opportunity to reach back out. Send him back an email with a link to your highlight film. Video is an important tool for this part of the process and it makes sense to get some highlights from the summer after your freshman, sophomore and junior years. Think of film as like a calling card - it will not get you recruited but it will help remind coaches of who you are. Ask the coach if he has notes on you from the summer and what his interest level is in you as a player. Refer back to step #3 from here. If they are interested, they will make it quite obvious.
The important part of this step is to be responsive when coaches contact you and do not rule any options out early on. Also, it is important to understand the NCAA rules from this perspective on when coaches may contact you and how they may do so. Make yourself familiar with those rules to keep the confusion to a minimum.
5. Congratulations if you have made it this far! If you are at this step, that means that you have been lucky to get recruited to play college lacrosse. It's now time for you to choose a program and school that fits you well. It's important to make a decision that takes all factors into account and to choose a college that really fits you well as an athlete, a student and as a person. Many athletes who get recruited go to a school just because a coach puts on the full-court press and seems really nice. That same coach who tells you how great you are as a recruit is going to be telling you how terrible you are as a freshman. So, try to keep your wits about you as you get smothered in compliments and choose a school that is a right fit for you in all areas. Even if you have not been recruited, you still get to make these same decisions in finding a place that is a great fit for you and hopefully where you can play some lacrosse too.
Okay, so there it is! So simple and so challenging at the same time. It takes hard work and dedication to make all of this happen and it has to start from a young age or it becomes too late. But, this is how it works. All the other ideas that parents and coaches get in their heads that they think will make a difference really mean nothing.
This is an awesome and huge life lesson opportunity for these young men. We give them an opportunity to play a sport. If they love it and want to play at high levels, then we teach them that they must work really hard to get there. We help them find opportunities to be seen by coaches. And then…we let go. In doing so, we show our sons, our players, our young men, that they are the creators of their own lives and it is up to them to make their own luck. The best way to support them in all of this is not to try and control the situation, or the coaches, or the club teams, or the tournaments, but to let them know that we will love them whether or not they succeed or fail. At the end of the day, all of our games or careers end and we are go back to living as a human being. And you don't need to get recruited as a lacrosse player to be a great person and live an awesome life.