“Free” Agency

I get a lot of email, readers. Many come from three college counseling list servs to which I belong – one for the the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), one for the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and one for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). All three provide a forum for educational consultants (like me), college admission professionals, and school guidance counselors to exchange information and ideas – of which we have many. And like any forum, you can imagine that we often wind up circling ’round and ’round a topic of the day (or week) and discussing it ad nauseam while different points of view are explored and expressed.

A week or so ago, one of the much-discussed topics was that of athletic recruiting agencies and their place in the college search spectrum. And whereas sometimes such topics find the group divided as to the value of such a service, on this topic, all voices united:

Athletic recruitment is a process best accomplished by the students themselves.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that athletic recruiting services are useless – in particular, I think that if students need assistance with assembling athletic resumes and/or editing highlight videos because they lack the time, knowledge, and resources to assemble a high-quality video product or simply need additional support, recruiting services can be very helpful. After all, their staff deal specifically with these items every day and are in many cases former coaches themselves, so there is no one better-qualified to identify a student’s strengths and commit them to paper and a digital video file. And there are also many very robust athletic recruiting services that specialize in working with athletes in all parts of the college search and application process and making the right fit on all fronts when it comes to matching the student to the school (athletics, academics, campus culture, financial aid, etc.). The staff at these recruitment firms – like me – are members of the highly ethical organizations I listed above because we understand that it isn’t enough for a student athlete to be matched on just one facet of their life, but that if they are to succeed at the collegiate level, they need all facets taken into consideration.

As for the other recruitment services out there? The “marketing firms” that help students present themselves to college coaches on just the athletic level?

You’ll be ahead of the game if you do it yourself.

The counselors’ consensus online during last week’s discussion was that we are often frustrated by companies that make students and parents afraid that the next level of sport won’t become available unless they hire professional help to “package” the student’s athletic gifts. What’s more, these companies promise an edge for those who partake of their services and use competitive language knowing full well that, competitors that they are (both the parents and the students!), no one wants to miss the opportunity to gain advantage over other prospective student-athletes with the same goal.

(And who created the fear and fans the flames of competition between these families in the first place? You guessed it – those very same recruiting services.)

The important thing you need to know if you’re in the market for someone to help guide your college search and assist with the athletic recruitment process is how to discern the pure marketing firms from the true athletic recruitment experts.

A marketing firm:

  1. Focuses on only one part of the college experience. Athletics are often more a driver for college-bound students than (ahem!) the other elements of higher education (academics, campus culture, costs, etc.), but regardless of the student’s priorities (and the contrary arguments you may read), college students aren’t professional athletes and their education must come first. While marketing firms aren’t blind to the educational side of the equation, their primary focus is to match the student to the coach as opposed to the student to the educational, athletic, and overall culture of a particular school.
  2. Uses a “wink and a handshake” approach to connecting with colleges and coaches. “Get noticed by more coaches!” “Maximize your opportunities!” “Our connections will get you scouted!” These screaming taglines typically pervade the web sites and advertisements of marketing firms. Some may even go so far as to guarantee their results for you – which should be a significant red flag, as admission offices have the final say in decisions regarding all students and no college advisor or recruitment firm can know with total certainty that a student will gain admission.
  3. Emphasizes attendance at recruiting showcases or tournaments as a way to get in front of coaches. While recruiting showcases have their uses and coaches do attend them, it’s still a hit-and-miss proposition that you might be at the right showcase at the right time and having the game of your life at the exact moment that the coach for your dream school sees you. (We in the equestrian world have our own recruiting showcase through the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show held twice annually and I’ve seen many a student get nervous and come off an unfamiliar horse in the heat of the moment.)

In contrast, an athletic recruitment specialist who encompasses all parts of the college search process:

  1. Focuses on total college fit. He or she will ask about a student’s academic aspirations, a family’s budget considerations, and get to know the student’s personality so that the school (and athletic) recommendations made will offer many wonderful opportunities both on the athletic field and off. (After all, if a student becomes injured and can’t play for a semester or year – or even leaves the sport altogether – it’s vital that the school be a great fit for him or her in every other way so that a transfer isn’t necessary, which might result in lost credits and money.)
  2. Encourages the student to make campus connections. The transition to college is often one of the first steps a student takes into adulthood – which is why athletic recruitment services that encourage students to forge connections with coaches, faculty, and admission staffers on their own (making their own phone calls and keeping up with their own email correspondence – in short, taking full control of their own recruitment process) is so important. Coaches want students who are capable of making good decisions, have strength of character, and aren’t afraid to face challenges head on – what better way to demonstrate this than to take initiative in your contact with them?
  3. Emphasizes strategic planning for the best recruiting experience. Depending on the student’s needs and goals and the colleges that make a student’s short list, an athletic recruiting service might recommend a particular recruitment showcase – but they might also forgo that recommendation in favor of a well-scheduled campus visit, sending good video footage, and developing a dialogue with coaches that keeps them updated on your successes during your competitive season. Great athletic recruiting services and their staff know how to help students as individuals instead of feeding them through a traditional step-by-step pipeline.

So as you begin the college search and athletic recruitment process, don’t be swayed by fancy marketing (remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true) but instead follow the instincts you’ve cultivated through participation in your sport to find not only the athletic match for the next step of your career, but the academic and cultural match as well.

(Would you like my assistance? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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