In Honor of July 1st - by Carolyn Fergus
Reprinted with Permission - Huxleyrunningco.org
June 29, 2012:
#8: In Honor of July 1st
For those of you that don’t know, it is an NCAA mandate that a college coach cannot formally recruit an athlete until July 1st of the summer before their junior year. There are loopholes to this mandate, of course – for instance, an athlete may talk to coaches before July if the athlete initializes the contact – but for the most part, July 1st marks the beginning of intense recruitment.
To honor this occasion (coming up on Sunday) I have decided to address this installment of Freshmen Fridays not to freshmen, but to the incoming high school juniors and seniors who are facing one of the most important decisions of their lives – what school to pick.
Instead of my usual rambling paragraphs, I offer those of you facing this ridiculously intimidating decision a bunch of do’s and two don’ts, based not only on my own thoughts and experiences but also on an informal survey I took of current and former collegiate runners whose ability levels and ages range from college freshmen to middle aged housewives, and from D3 to almost Pro. Here’s what they had to say:
DO: Start looking now.
My senior year, I was convinced I was going to one of two schools: both D1, both private, both way out of my price range. I saved the actual research and financial stuff for the last minute, so when I finally woke up and realized I couldn’t afford either, it was mid-April, and most schools weren’t even accepting any more applications. Needless to say, I panicked.
I got lucky. I had good friends who advised me to start contacting coaches for cheaper schools immediately, and one of those coaches helped me through the application process (though I was technically applying late) and then let me walk on to the team at Kutztown, where I have spent the last two years.
I have enjoyed every second of those two years, and I know that I picked the right program for me, but along the way, when everyone else was wearing their college t-shirts proudly, and I was still wearing crappy meet shirts from freshman year, I regretted not being more proactive. I stumbled onto the right school, but it was a horrible, nerve-wracking process…so don’t make my mistake. Start looking at schoolsnow.
DO: Once you’ve picked a few, meet with the coaches and teams in person…
…And not just on an “unofficial” (meaning you meet the coach and a few members of the team briefly and take a walking tour of the campus). Do an “official” (an overnight stay), no matter how awkward or inconvenient it is.
“Officials” are important for one huge reason: you get a real, mostly unedited view of the team dynamic. During the brief unofficial visit, the coach accompanies you everywhere you go, which means you see only the side of the team that they want their coach to see (Sorry Coach Hoffman, but it’s true). When you’re hanging out with them at night, things will be said that would definitely not be said in front of him, and they will be honest things. Pay attention to those things, and remember them when you make your decision.
DO: Be up front with the Coach about what you can and can’t do.
This is mostly about money. If you can’t afford a school and are banking on a scholarship, tell the coach there right away. I found that if I mentioned up front that I was paying my tuition mostly out of my own pocket and needed help making things work, he would either say “ok, yes, we can make that happen” or “no, I’m sorry, this isn’t the school for you.” Coaches want athletes that fit in to their program, so if you’re honest with them, they’ll be honest with you.
This also reminds me to say that if a coach isn’t actively pursuing you, that doesn’t mean you can’t email him or her your PR’s and your academic stats and see if there is a spot for you on their team. That’s what I did when I realized how lost I was, and everyone I emailed was really receptive. So be proactive: sometimes names and times get lost in the shuffle…don’t let yours.
DO: Be a creep.
Yep, you read that right. If you’re really interested in a program, this is one of the absolute most important things you can do. Why? Because no matter how honest a coach or an athlete has been with you about their program, they won’t be as honest as the raw data is – so that makes it your responsibility to do some good old fashioned cyber stalkin’.
Start at TFRRS.org, where you can search for the program you want under the “teams” tab. Once you’re there you’ll see their entire roster; pick the first name on the list and head on over to MileSplit.us, the easiest way to find anybody’s high school PR simply by typing their name into the search box at the top. Once you have their high school PR, click back to TFRRS.org and see if they’ve improved. Repeat this process for the rest of the roster, and take note of any trends. Have most of them gotten better? Great; this is a good program. Have most of them stayed the same, or gotten noticeably worse? A red flag should go up, and you should consider crossing this team off your list completely.
DON’T: Choose a school for their name alone
This is a horror story I have heard repeated too many times to count. It’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing their school, and results in huge numbers of first year transfers every single year. So, here it goes, my overly shouty attempt to hammer this into your heads:
NOT EVERY DIVISION 1 SCHOOL HAS A GOOD TRACK PROGRAM. NOT EVERY IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL HAS A GOOD TRACK PROGRAM. DO NOT CHOOSE ONE OF THESE SCHOOLS JUST TO SAY YOU WENT D1 OR IVY LEAGUE. IT’S ONLY IMPRESSIVE UNTIL PEOPLE REALIZE YOU’RE UTTERLY MISERABLE THERE.
Don’t get me wrong, both categories are very impressive. But if I had gone to the mediocre D1 programs I was looking at in high school instead of the competitive D2 program I ultimately wound up at, I don’t think I would have improved at the rate that I have, based on the results they have gotten with similar girls, nor would I have been as happy as I am now. This goes along with the previous Do; stalk the program thoroughly instead of letting yourself get dazzled by the words “division 1” or “Ivy league”. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
DON’T: Choose a school for your parents, or your friends, or your coach.
Instead, choose a school because it has a sick engineering department, and you’ve always wanted to be an engineer. Choose it because you think the campus is gorgeous, or because you really liked the team, or because it’s just close enough to your house so that your parents can visit, but far enough away that they won’t be breathing down your neck. Consider the kids you see on your visit and whether you could be friends with them. Sample the food in the dining hall. Could you eat that food day in and day out for four years? Choose that school because the coach was cool and when you did the research you saw he was legit and you want to learn from him. Choose it because you met a Professor on your visit that made an impression on you, and you want to learn from her. Choose it because when you walked into the sports complex you knew in your gut that you were home.
Remember that your mom and dad aren’t going to be living there and neither is your high school coach, and while your friends may be going there, they probably won’t be on the track team with you. So when it comes down to it, those opinions do not matter. The only opinion that matters is yours.
I hope this has helped, if only a little bit. I know the process is incredibly overwhelming, and I wish everyone the best of luck! I’ll be back next Friday, but until then, I’ve really enjoyed the feedback I’ve gotten so far – keep it coming to Cferg313@live.kutztown.edu