Three Things High School Coaches Must Understand Going Into The Recruiting Process

I have spent nearly 30 years coaching track and field and cross country. My entire coaching career was spent at the collegiate level, including two decades at Columbia University. I have interacted with thousands of high school student-athletes, parents and high school coaches.

However, my personal interactions with high school coaches was surprisingly low.

Undoubtedly, this may be attributed to the volume of prospects college coaches are recruiting at one time, in addition to tending to the needs of their program. Concurrently, high school coaches are representing numerous graduating seniors and deal with the demands of a full-time teaching schedule.

Time often makes communication between the high school and college coaches difficult to coordinate, but it is essential to the student-athletes being recruited and transitioning into college. I can state with great certainty that I read each, and every e-mail sent to me from high school coaches regarding a prospect I was recruiting. A compelling story or essential background information influenced how our staff proceeded.

There are three critically important ways for high school coaches to be an active participant in the college preparation and recruiting process of their athletes.


The landscape of collegiate track and field and cross country is continually changing. Programs that may have been extremely competitive or perceptually perfect for your student-athlete may no longer be. I experienced this first hand from the other side of the equation.

As our program emerged from a traditional bottom dweller of the Ivy League to a national level program, high school coaches seemed slow to realize we were recruiting significantly higher caliber athletes.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the high school coach to stay up-to-date regarding which programs are on an upward trajectory and which programs may be the right fit.


Participation in college athletics will be significantly more demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. The competition is fierce and the required commitment level is intense.

As coaches, you are in the unique position to logically and deliberately prepare your athletes for this transition. Often during an official visit, I would meet with a prospective student-athlete to discuss their goals, which were typically to be an NCAA All-American or Olympian. Though these are both noble and wonderful goals, however the magnitude of what those statements meant eluded the prospect.

Mentally prepare your student-athletes for the amount of work that will be required. Let them know where they stack up nationally. Furthermore, let them know what marks are needed to be successful at the collegiate level. Don't discourage them, simply give them an understanding of what the game is about to become.

For instance, a 4:28 high school boy's mile is a very respectable time. However, when that 4:28 miler gets to college, they will quickly discover that over 100 runners will be able to run faster than that pace for 5000m.

You have four critical years to prepare your athletes for the physical demands of increased intensity, density, and volume of training. Plant seeds early on regarding the time demands and lifestyle commitments that are required to achieve at a higher level.


Your feedback will provide college coaches with crucial information that can enhance your student-athletes recruiting process. For instance, are they coachable, a good teammate, or a leader? You have the ability to build their case and make them more than simply a time, height, or distance.

Most likely, you'll have to be patient and stay persistent. College coaches can be hard to get responses from -- stay the course until they get back to you. A well written e-mail or a 5-10 minute phone conversation can make a huge difference for your athlete. 

I encourage you to stay objective and see beyond the hype and glitz of the more heralded athletic or academic schools. Remember, you are trying to help your student-athlete find the best fit for them, not simply latch on to the highest star.

In summary, be an active part of the process. As the high school coach, you are almost certainly the most important third-party contributor to the success of the recruiting process. Your involvement is crucial to ensuring student-athletes' successful recruitment and their smooth transition from high school to college.

Read more: Three Things Parents Must Understand Going Into The Recruiting Process


Willy Wood boasts 26 highly successful years of NCAA Division I head coaching experience, two decades of which were spent at Columbia University. He recently developed a recruiting service designed specifically for high school track and field/ cross country athletes --