Over the last 20 years recruiting has changed dramatically. I remember vividly that during my first several years at Lehigh, there were only a handful of recruiting events to attend and the majority of recruiting was done by phone through contacting high school coaches. Most prospects were not pressured to make decisions in the junior year and for the most part, waited until they received their official admissions notice in March before they made any final decisions.
By the time prospects made their decision, most of them had visited a university at least two times and had the opportunity to make an official (overnight) visit that enabled them to have a very good sense of where they wanted to spend their next four years. The extended recruiting process also assisted coaches in getting to know each prospect a little better. There didn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency, and consequently, I believe that coaches and prospects were able to make a more informed and educated decision.
Today, with the majority of top prospects making their decisions in their junior year or earlier, it has become increasingly more difficult for the coach to get to know the prospect and for the prospect to get to know the coach, the program, and the university. The consequence of making these less informed decisions is that I’m finding student athletes are struggling more in their first year on college campuses because they did not take the time (nor were they afforded the time!) to fully investigate the academic climate, the competitive environment, and the social culture. As well, I believe that more coaches are spending more time counseling, mentoring, advising, and in general nurturing freshmen through their challenging first year experience.
Interestingly, I’m also finding that student athletes are less committed to fulfilling their four year experience with the initial institution that recruited them. In other words, when the going gets tough, whether it is in the classroom or on the soccer field, today’s student athlete seem more inclined to see it as the grass is greener (read that easier) elsewhere. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, parents seem more willing to support their son in transferring (at the first sign of difficulty), rather than encouraging them to hang in there and muscle through the trials and tribulations of college life. I guess it comes as no surprise that we see more and more club players jump from club to club throughout their youth playing experience as a result of being unhappy in the current environment. I am surmising that there is a strong correlation between the two.
While there is no easy answer to managing these challenges particularly when there is increasing pressure both on prospects and college coaches to make earlier decisions, I do believe it requires us to be more thorough and thoughtful in who we recruit. It is becoming easier to predict the likelihood of young players succeeding at the Division I level relative to their playing ability, and I think that it is easier to determine the likelihood of a prospect succeeding academically after evaluating transcripts and test scores, however, it is much harder to predict whether or not the 17-year-old prospect has what it takes to endure the rigors of college life.
It is therefore incumbent on prospects and parents to do a thorough investigation, beginning as early as their freshman year in high school, regarding potential fit to a university. This should involve visits, meeting with coaching staffs, meeting players, watching the team play, attending camps and clinics and doing as much research about the academic and social environment for every university. Most college coaches will exercise due diligence in their investigation of the prospect through playing evaluations, conversations with club and high school coaches, meeting with prospects on campus, and involving other professional staff on campus to meet prospects. This second party meeting, whether it is a professor, athletics administrator, admissions officer, or a coach from another sport, is essential in gaining an unbiased perspective.
It is often said that college is the best four years of your life. I feel strongly that college should be an important four years in your life that should be experienced at the same institution whenever possible. If we are to believe that college is the best four years of your life, it certainly does not give you much to look forward to after the age of 22!
Dean Koski, the all-time winningest coach in school history, is the Head Coach of the men’s soccer program at Lehigh University. Coach Koski holds a USSF “A” license, the NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and the England FA Preliminary and International Diplomas, and serves as a staff coach for both the USSF and NSCAA coaching schools. He was chosen as the 2000 NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year and sits on the NCAA Division I Regional Advisory Committee and has chaired the Patriot League soccer coaches committee.