The Top 5 Mistakes Students Make When Contacting Coaches

Two or three weeks ago, I contacted an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) coach I’ve gotten to know fairly well through not only my three visits to his campus, but our shared affiliation with the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show. (I’m kind of in love with the programs at his school; what can I say?) This time, however, I reached out on behalf of a client whom I think is a potential fit for his school and riding program – an “e-introduction,” if you will.

I didn’t receive a response right away.

Okay, make that I received a response yesterday. As in, a full 12 days after the initial email went out.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t worried (and a little perturbed) when I didn’t receive a quick reply. In the past, this coach has emailed me back the same day – even during a vacation with his family! – so it wasn’t like him to ignore something as important as a message about a prospective student. Still, I wasn’t panicked, however, because this is the start of the busy season for college riding coaches and I knew his team was on the road. There were also lessons to teach and the barn to manage, and all of that is time-consuming.

So let’s just say I was surprised at the lag time and let it go at that.

In the meantime, I met with a new client who has had zero success in reaching out to various other coaches at the colleges she’s looking into, which of course brings up questions:

Is it something about coaches (riding coaches, in particular) that they just don’t answer email or is there something wrong in the system?

How can prospective riders reach out to coaches and guarantee a response?

Based on my most recent experience with a coach who is both a friend and colleague, it might be easy to just assume that the answer to the first question is no, coaches don’t do email. (After all, if they aren’t responding to you, Randi, when it’s your job to talk with them, that can’t be a good sign.)

But this is one of those situations that isn’t black or white, readers. It’s very (very!) gray. And if you’re not me (a person who spends a ton of time cultivating relationships with equestrian team coaches because it’s my job), there are five distinctive mistakes you must avoid if you hope to make successful contacts.

They are:

  1. Don’t expect coaches to read emails that look like novels. I’ve read countless introductory letters and emails from prospective students that they plan to send to riding coaches and the single theme that runs through most of them is they’re too long. Remember, it’s an email, not your autobiography; keep it short. Which brings me to…
  2. The resume should be attached as a PDF and should be one page only. Your email introduction is exactly that – an introduction – and coaches who want to learn more about you can open your resume. The short resume. The one that has everything on a single page in readable font and only hits the major highlights of your riding career from ninth grade onward. (Seriously – unless you’re Bertram Allen’s little brother Harry, coaches only want to see stuff you’ve done in high school.)
  3. The video link should also be attached and the video itself shouldn’t exceed five minutes. Here’s the thing about intercollegiate riding, readers – you’ll be on a strange horse with little or no warm up for your class, which means the judge will make a snap decision about you as a rider within approximately two minutes (or less) of you swinging aboard this (unfamiliar!) horse. Thus, a coach looking for new team riders will make similar snap decisions about how much he or she wants to know about you from the first two minutes of your video (or less). He or she might not even finish watching it – so I guarantee the 18 minute opus you’ve spent the last month editing was time you should have spent on your AP Biology homework.
  4. You also must make a point of following up with coaches. Whether you hear back from a coach after your initial email or not, the chances are very likely that he or she received your message and viewed your resume and video. But as I outlined at the beginning of this post, it’s the busy season, so time for coaches to return emails is limited and often responses to their administrators and current students take priority. So if you send an introduction in September, then have a really good show in October, update the coach with your results. When you schedule your campus visit, send your itinerary to the coach. Don’t be a nuisance – but if you’re serious about a school, don’t be invisible either!
  5. Don’t forget the admission counselors are your advocates in the process – use them! Particularly at smaller colleges, the admission counselors are plugged into everything (and usually everyone) on campus – so if you haven’t received feedback or a response from the riding coach, let your admission counselor know. Don’t assume that the left hand and right hand are in conversation with each other – I guarantee you they aren’t – so leverage them both together! Tell the admission staff you want to meet with the coach during your campus visit and have them reach out to the coach on your behalf if you haven’t been successful in your attempts.

The sport of intercollegiate equestrian is fundamentally different both from the traditional horse shows you might be used to from your junior riding career and from the more traditional recruiting structure some of your friends might be experiencing with their sports. The bottom line is that there isn’t always a straight-line recruitment pipeline from where you are onto the college riding team you hope to join so you’ll have to take the initiative to build it yourself.

(Good thing equestrians always keep duct tape handy!)

(Need help putting together your recruitment pipeline onto a college riding team? Need duct tape? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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