5 Important Steps Before Signing
We’ve all heard about Jumping Johnny or Sporty Susie “committing” to a college and getting a “full ride” athletic scholarship. But what does that term “committing” really mean for a high school student-athlete? Does it come when you have your signing day at your high school? Accepting a financial aid package? Or on the phone with a college coach? How about on a campus visit in the coach’s office?
Having been a college soccer coach for 14 years in NCAA Division I, II, III, and NAIA, I have heard “committing” tossed around so many times from parents, guidance counselors, coaches, and athletic directors. As the author of the book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide, I have interviewed 65 college coaches and athletic directors across all sports and divisions to educate families on the recruiting process. My desire is over the course of a 3 parts series in the next few weeks is to clear up misconceptions often found in the media and through word-of-mouth regarding the committing and signing process. Here in part 1, I will discuss steps to take before signing. Then, in part 2, I will address the actual signing process, and part 3 will aid you in steps to take once you have officially signed with the college.
First, it’s important to differentiate a verbal commitment versus and signed commitment. Verbal commitments can be made by both a coach and a student-athlete. Unfortunately, with the rise of early recruiting, more families are feeling pressure to commit early. Then, once one family on a high school or club team commits early, it becomes a domino effect of panic across the rest of the team. These would only be verbal commitments at these young ages and my recommendation is to not verbally commit to a school unless you 100% believe it is the right fit for you in terms of the location, as well as academically, athletically, socially, and financially. De-committing to a school or verbally committing while still “shopping around” tends to not turn out very well.
(Sidenote: Thank God the NCAA has approved legislature in some sports to reduce this practice of crazy early recruiting of middle schoolers. All praise goes out to women’s lacrosse for leading the way to get this approved and many other sports are in discussion to better regulate and prevent the rise in early recruiting!)
While some student-athletes verbally commit in middle school or early in their high school years, some do not make decisions until their senior year. This timetable varies by sport, level of play, and even across genders. (For example, men’s and women’s soccer recruiting cycles are often months or sometimes years apart of when coaches are evaluating, identifying and offering student-athletes.)
For NCAA colleges, you cannot currently officially “sign” with a college until your senior year. There are a lot of proposals currently being debated that this timetable may change. No matter when these timetables change to, before you do a written commitment, I would recommend you take some very specific steps:
1. Register with the Eligibility Center (formerly called the Clearinghouse).
If you wish to play at the NCAA Division I, II, or NAIA level, you must register with these governing bodies. It does not currently cost to initially register and I recommend doing it as early as your freshman year of high school. You can simply go to their websites to register and then have your test scores and transcripts sent to them as well. Make sure you also double check you are on track for the Core Courses required. (DO NOT expect that high school graduation equals NCAA Eligibility.)
2. Make sure you have all of your athletic, academic, location, and social environment questions answered.
We wrote a blog regarding link 13 Questions To Ask A College Coach that will aid you in trying to know what areas you should be inquiring about during your visit or on the phone. Make sure the student-athlete initiates these questions, not the parent leading the charge.
3. Visit the college unofficially or officially while students are on campus.
It is really hard to get a feel for a college campus if you have only visited during weekends, summer breaks, or other breaks when classes are not in session. I would highly make sure you have also toured the areas around the school and community. Remember all of those fancy college brochures that are piled up on your kitchen counter? Marketing specialists are hired to show you all of the positives about the colleges and minimize the negatives in those brochures. Make sure you see the good, the bad, and the ugly part of the school.
The coaches are also trained what to show off to you and which areas to avoid in promoting the school. For example, in one college I worked for, I would never take a recruit into our locker room. I would just point to them because they were awful inside! In another school I worked for, I would sit down and chat for a good 30 minutes inside our locker room as it was very nice and gave them a “feeling” of being a student-athlete for our program.
4. Apply and be accepted to the college.
Before you sign, I would highly recommend you complete the application process (or get a pre-read to make sure you are on track for acceptance). Most colleges will expect this process to be completed during the senior year so any offers prior to that need to push for a pre-read. Most athletic scholarship offers can be withdrawn if you fail to fully complete the admissions process or be NCAA/NAIA eligible. Long gone are the days where recruits could just think “coach will get me in”. It’s just not how it works anymore. Do your part early in applying and submit your test scores and transcripts.
5. Highly recommend you know EXACTLY how much your academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, and financial aid covers.
Make sure you have EVERYTHING in writing, not just verbally stated to you in conjunction with your completed FAFSA. Does it include room and board? Which meal plan specifically? What about books? Computer fees? Lab fees? Are you responsible for any sports fees? How much do tuition and fees typically increase from year to year? What GPA do you have to maintain to keep your academic scholarship? How do injuries impact your athletic scholarships long term? Make sure you ask all of these important questions!
Each of these areas should be addressed PRIOR to signing any official documents with the college to prevent any missteps for you. It is imperative that families initiate these steps and not just assume the coach or admissions staff will address these issues. They interact with literally hundreds of recruits a year, while you interact with a few coaches. If I am truly honest, recruiting visits become a blur for us as college coaches as we do so many of them that we often forget which questions you have asked and which you haven’t over the course of your recruiting cycle. It’s very important to be proactive and get your questions answered prior to signing on the dotted line!
Here is part 2: Important Steps During Signing Periods.
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Coach Renee Lopez
As a 17 year coaching veteran, Coach Renee Lopez is a recruiting expert for high school student-athletes. She uses her NCAA Division I, II, and NAIA Head Coaching experience to help families navigate the recruiting process to be identified by college coaches and help them find the right “fit” for playing at the next level. She has produced 3 All-Americans, over 30 All-Conference athletes and Her teams have been honored with awards for team academic accomplishments, sportsmanship, and sports ministry. In addition, Coach Renee Lopez has been named Coach of the Year by her peers.
She presents recruiting seminars across the country, has recently been featured in USA Weekly, with the National Alliance for Youth Sports, on SiriusXM Radio and ESPN Radio. She is the author of the book, Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide where she has interviewed over 65 college recruiters across all sports and college levels. In addition, she runs 9 Facebook groups to help facilitate conversations on college recruiting education, coaching education, leadership development, and sports ministry. She is also a certified speaker, trainer and coach for the John Maxwell Team, Jon Gordon Company, 3Dimensional Coaching, and the Positive Coaching Alliance.
She also does private consulting for student-athletes and their families to help in understanding the often daunting process of recruiting. (See one family’s testimonial.) If you are looking for help in the college recruiting process, please email Coach Renee Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org.