A Parent's Guide To The Recruiting Process

In 2017, Rob Bethmann of Arlington, Texas reached out to MileSplit to offer a few words of wisdom about the recruiting process from a parent's perspective. He is the father of Cade Bethmann, who improved his 800m time from 1:57.51 as a sophomore to 1:52.4 as a junior and placed third at the Texas State Championship -- and later signed with Ole Miss, where he's produced PRs of 1:47.81 in the 800m, 3:41.65 in the 1,500m and 4:04.39 in the mileHere are a few thoughts from track dad Rob:

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This is supposed to be fun, but it won't always feel fun. 

There is a business aspect to college track and field and you need to face that reality quickly in the process. Schools can give 12.6 scholarships for men and 18 scholarships for women.  There is no limit on roster size, so schools can put 50 athletes on the roster and then divide the scholarships however they'd like. 

If you do the math, it's sobering. Your son or daughter may be an elite runner but that likely does not equal a full scholarship, at least not as an incoming freshman. Cross country is a separate sport as is indoor track, but there is one pile of scholarships that will be applied to cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. This means that coaches are trying to get as much talent as they can get for as little money as possible.  It's a sad reality, but that's where our sport is at the moment.

We started the recruiting process the summer after Cade's sophomore year. He had worked his way into the top ten ranked 800m runners in the class of 2017 in Texas that spring. Over the summer, he made a list of five schools and contacted them via email to introduce himself and ask for an unofficial visit. We were given a great piece of advice from a former college coach. He told us that Cade should drive the process and it should be him sending the emails, not his parents. 

If I could stress one piece of advice, this would be it: your son or daughter needs to own this. They need to be building relationships with coaches. Cade got a few responses but for the most part he received very generic form-letter type responses. One coach asked for video, which he had. Thanks, Milesplit!

The junior year is when things start to heat up if your son or daughter is running well. Cade asked his top schools what marks they expected him to hit as a junior in order to stay on their radar. I highly recommend this because it gives your son or daughter a clear picture of the expectations for the year. There are several websites out there that give "standards" for scholarships but those aren't trustworthy. You can also get a pretty good idea by simply looking at performance lists for the schools for the current or prior year. If you notice that a school is particularly strong in a few specific event areas then that's your clue that they invest scholarships more heavily in those events.

Cade has primarily run the 800m and 1600m in high school. Most schools told him they needed to see him at 1:54 in the 800m and under 4:20 in the 1600m. Cade opened his outdoor season in late February in the 800m with a 1:54.27 then followed that up a few weeks later with a 1:53.61 at the Jesuit Sheaner Relays in mid-March. The schools that he had proactively contacted definitely stayed in touch with him and at this point he heard from new schools every week. Letters were frequently delivered to school or our home.  These letters are a fun part of the process but getting a letter doesn't guarantee much of anything, but it does prove that the school knows that your son or daughter exists. Several coaches started following Cade on social media as his times dropped. 

Your son's or daughter's social media habits will definitely be examined by coaches. Remind your son or daughter that they are about to be put under a microscope that is different from their peers. Social media can be a very positive thing or a very negative thing for how your son or daughter is perceived. It's rarely neutral.

Coaches cannot call athletes until July 1st after the junior year but athletes can call coaches during their junior year. If there is a school that your son or daughter is really interested in, they can email the coach and ask for a time that works for a phone call.  These introductory calls are basically two-way interviews.  It's a great way to learn more about the school and the program and to start building a relationship with the coach. I recommend at least one unofficial visit if possible during the junior year. Cade took two.  He visited The University of Texas in the fall and Baylor in the spring. These visits will give your son or daughter valuable "practice" time talking with coaches. This is really valuable once July arrives.

If your son or daughter is a top recruit, then July will be a blur. 

July 1 marks the first day that coaches can call upcoming seniors. Cade heard from 6 schools that day.  You can help prepare your son or daughter for the phone calls by encouraging them to have a pen and paper handy to take notes. They'll need it. Coaches will likely throw out dates for home visits during these calls. Five schools ended up visiting Cade in our home. A coaching change at a sixth school prevented them from coming but we ended up driving to that campus for an unofficial visit in August because it seemed like that school could be a good fit. 

These home visits are important. The coaches want to get to know your son or daughter and find out about their training and their goals for the upcoming year.  They also want to connect with them as people.  While they are in your home, they are also considering how your son or daughter will fit in with their current team.  My wife and I had a list of questions that we covered with each coach.  We wanted to hear specifically about the academic support and the health services that were offered through the athletic department.  Our shortest home visit lasted a little over an hour.  Our longest one went over 3 hours.  During the home visit, it's likely that official visits will be discussed if the visit is going well. Cade's coach from Martin, Coach Capeau, joined us for the visits and having him there was huge. He picked up on things that we never would have noticed. For example, one school didn't really demonstrate the ability to develop athletes in Cade's events. We were just so enamored that this coach was sitting in our living room that we didn't even notice. Coach Capeau did, and that school fell out of contention shortly thereafter. 

The home visit will likely be done by the event-level coach.  You can ask for a general idea of how they value your son or daughter scholarship-wise but don't expect too many details at this point regarding scholarships. Some schools gave us a range during the visit while others said they wouldn't discuss money until the official visit. Keep in mind, if they are sitting in your living room, they want your son or daughter.

Official visits are crucial to your son's or daughter's college choice.  Cade took four of his five allowed visits. There are several things to note about these visits:

  • Parents are invited! In our four visits, there was only one trip we went on where one of the athletes didn't have a parent there.
  • Your son or daughter may stay with a "host" from the team or they may stay in a hotel with you.  That will vary by school.
  • Ask questions.  This is your chance to spend up to two days finding out how the school plans to care for your son or daughter academically and athletically.
  • Ask to see the dorms where your son or daughter will stay.  
  • You will likely eat in the dining hall where your son or daughter will eat.  If it's not on the itinerary, ask to eat there. Your son or daughter needs to know what to expect when it comes to dining. The big programs do this really well. We were blown away by the food at Texas, Texas A&M, OU, and Ole Miss.
  • These schools know what they're doing. Visits are new to you but not to them. They typically bring you in for a weekend when there is a home football game. They are putting their best foot forward and showing off their program. We attended games at three of our four visits. Cade was on the field before the football game for all three. His mother and I joined him on the field for two of them. It's a pretty unbelievable experience. Enjoy it. Remember, this is supposed to be fun!
  • Cade was never the only athlete there for the visit.  His visit to Ole Miss included 4 other runners.  There was one other runner at OU, Texas, and Texas A&M.  Bounce questions off of the other parents.  They're sort of like a support group for you because they'll understand what you're going through as they're going through it too.
  • You will likely have a meeting with the head coach during the visit. An offer may or may not be given during this meeting. Be prepared to discuss finances, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen. Some schools will wait a few days or even a few weeks after the visit before they extend an offer.

As you move towards the early signing period, your son or daughter could be facing stress regarding the decision. We tried to give space at this point but it was pretty clear that it was stressful. 

Some schools will communicate the offer only to the athlete while other schools will call you to explain it to you as well. Because full scholarships are so uncommon, there are often specific details about your son's or daughter's offer that can be confusing. It's also worth noting that offers are negotiable. Remember, they want to spend as little as possible so that they can build a deep roster. Your goal is to make sure your son or daughter gets a fair offer. You can write stipulations into the offer that if your son or daughter hits certain marks in the spring, then the offer increases. This is not a widely-known fact but it can be a big help. 

If your son or daughter really drives this process, then you'll see them grow up very quickly and they'll likely mature beyond their peers. Beginning July 1, they are basically "on call" and will need to be able to have a mature conversation with a coach at any time.  That definitely sets them apart from an average upcoming senior.