Here are a few useful tips that will help you navigate the recruiting process successfully.
DO keep detailed notes throughout the entire recruiting process, as you will forget certain aspects of schools/programs. It was not uncommon for recruits of mine to videotape and take photos of our facilities and campus to help them remember their visit.
DO NOT close your initial email to a coach with "I am confident that I can contribute greatly to your program" if you are not yet performing at a level close to the team's current athletes. I recall reading that type of closing comment and thinking to myself, "How?" It led me to believe that the prospect did not really understand much about our program. Instead say, "With hard work and your coaching, I am confident that I can develop into a runner capable of helping your program over the span of my college career." The latter statement shows them that you understand how much work will be required to succeed at the collegiate level and will convey your confidence in the coach's ability to help you.
DO carefully proofread every email before hitting send. I cannot tell you how many emails I received from recruits specifically addressed to a rival coach expressing their interest in a rival school. A great deal of communication in the early phases of the recruiting process is going to be cut and paste on both sides; however, making a simple mistake can dehumanize the process and render the remainder of your communication less credible. It may also be helpful to send a couple of test emails to yourself first to ensure that the font or text sizes have not changed where you have cut and pasted new names.
DO NOT tell coaches "you are among my top choices." Everyone knows that both athletes and coaches have many options -- there is no need to state it. Simply say, "I am extremely interested in your program." It is far more personal and establishes a more positive relationship. Make every effort possible to prevent this process from becoming generic -- subtle word changes can make the entire process seem more personal to the coach. This is important as they will be deciding how much money to offer you or if they will give you an admissions spot.
DO your homework! Never be surprised on your visit. Have a keen understanding of the unique strengths of each school. It will go along way with the coaching staff if it appears you know a great deal about their specific school and program. Have a solid understanding of where they rank athletically and academically, what their unique strengths are and how they compare to the other schools you are considering. On occasion, I would literally have prospects in my office tell me that they were really interested in State U or Academic U, but they knew they could not get into that school or run for their team. It would dumbfound me as we had a lower acceptance rate and were significantly better athletically. Know who and where you are visiting.
DO NOT ask a coach if he or she plans on staying. It is a question that is so often asked and has no real purpose. Every coach will say yes -- they have to. Coaching is a profession, and coaches will make decisions based on what is best for their families and themselves. It is imperative to choose a school where you will be happy outside of track and field/cross country.
DO track program trajectory -- not every program is up and coming, though many claim to be. Determine if athletes in a particular program are improving over the course of four years. Specifically, look for when individual's PRs were set. Peruse program websites to determine how many juniors and seniors are still on the roster to discern if team members are quitting. If there are a disproportionate number of freshmen and sophomores on the roster, find out why to determine if there is high-level program dissatisfaction or an alarming injury rate.
DO NOT embarrass yourself on social media. This topic has been beaten to death and hopefully does not require elaboration. Plain and simple, do not give coaches a reason to question your character or lifestyle.
DO be easily found on social media. Many coaches use your personal pages as a means of reaching out initially. Remember, most coaches are a step or two behind you and your friends in terms of being social media savvy, so leave a trail for them. Beyond Instagram and Twitter consider keeping your Facebook account -- coaches tend to look there first.
DO NOT approach this process passively. Be aggressive in your outreach and email every program that you are interested in, regardless of the perceived reach. It is up to you to not only create a compelling story but also be able to tell it. Be your own greatest advocate and take charge of your future. Consider this one of the most important competitions of your high school career and prepare accordingly! The recruiting process can be daunting. There are so many unknowns; however, if you get started early, put in the work, and take an active role you will find the right fit.
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 -- www.fasttrackrecruiting.com