Essential Tips For Understanding The Recruiting Game

Photo Credit: Jameel Syed

        Advice on how to avoid running with a blindfold on during the recruitment process


        By Jameel Syed - Contributor

        Collegiate athletics are not meant for everyone, but sometimes athletes do fall through the cracks and sometimes by no fault of their own.

        For those who possess true potential and don't make it, you sometimes have to wonder, 'Why?"

        But what if there was a firm understanding of the rules and engagements of college recruitment, coupled with a bonafide road map for those to follow?

        The mission of this article is to provide a way forward for athletes, high school coaches and families and to shed light on best practices and pitfalls as outlined by college coaches across the country.

        I'm an independent track and field coach in Michigan who has developed and led several athletes to NCAA programs across the nation over a spectrum of divisions. Above all else, this is an attempt to avoid running with a blindfold on. 



        Nobody is recruiting you because you broke your school record, made varsity all four years, became county champion, PR'd in every race you ever ran, qualified for states, because you were a member of a prestigious track club or that your coach is buddies with the recruiter from your dream school. 

        These are just a few of the traps that many athletes have fallen for over the years. 

        While all of the above are valid and (some are) merit worthy, they also have differing points of value. You first have to determine which collegiate system best works for you. Division I, II or III? NAIA? How does your track record, and your experience, lend itself to a future program? 

        Don't make the mistake of leaning on these variables alone. In some cases, don't rely specifically on letting your coaches do all the work. 

        You need to have verifiable research and you need to figure out the needs/requirements/recruitment standards of the programs you are interested in.



        If you want to know whether or not you have a chance to run for your dream school, there's a quick and sure way to get to the heart of the matter. This will give you a pretty good idea:

        Your personal record (PR) must be comparable to the top eight times which scored at the outdoor championship meet for the conference of your intended school. 

        For example, let's say I'm a male 800m runner and I want to know whether or not I can run for the University of North Carolina. This is what I should do:

        • Go to
        • Search for the ACC Conference Championship results
        • Find last year's outdoor championship conference meet
        • Look for the final two scorers (7th/8th) of the 800m (in the finals) and compare your time.

        The final score for the 2022 ACC Conference Championships was 1:48.51. 

        If your PR says 1:53, you more than likely still have some work to do in order to run for that program, or at least where scholarship money is concerned. Alternatively if my PR was close to that time, there's a pretty good chance that to fall within the scope of their recruitment plans.

        This formula, according to my data, is about 95-percent accurate. The bottom line is this: "You need to run the (FAT) time" for their qualifying standards.

        Related Links: 

        Recruiting Rundown series page



        There are many roads to reach a given destination. 

        The following are some suggestions:

          • Market yourself. Your high school coaches and athletic directors (in most cases) will not. Relying on anyone but yourself is a folly.
          • Try to connect with the coach of your target school, or that school's recruiting coordinator, via email or social media. Give them updates on your times, if you are within their standards. 
          • Post results on your IG story and monitor who's watching and who isn't.
          • Do your best to qualify for state and national championship meets. That's where the recruiters will be.
          • Getting on the podium at the state or national level will get you noticed. Getting recruited sometimes takes reminding a coach or coordinator that you were on the podium and a reference of your performance. 
          • Always be polite, return phone calls and texts and show genuine interest
          • Earn an "Official Visit." This is the ultimate indicator that they are recruiting you. High school athletes are allowed five official visits during their recruitment. 
          • Never waste a college program's time. If you know you're not interested, let them know ASAP and thank them for their time. 
          • Always enter official visits with questions to ask and an idea of your future to project. 
          •  Running may or may not be in your collegiate future, so make sure you love your school

          Do not limit yourself to one school or conference. Keep an open mind to whatever options are available. Lead with your degree of choice.

          Lead with the vision for your career. Try to have a 5-, 10- and sometimes even 15-year plan.


            • They want you to run their standard time so that they can make a case to their head coach. It's important to understand they are the decision makers.
            • Qualified grades and test scores. Athletics may have some pull with admissions, but it's limited. There are no side-doors!
            • Have consistency in running times across all events.
            • Perform well in championship situations against elite competition. This will indicate you have the ability to compete under pressure. 
            • Teams will look to recruit specific positions based upon their big picture strategy. If you have the ability to score, for instance, in relays, this will help your case. Coaches project who will help them score points in the future.
            • Athletes who have a genuine interest in their program. Do not project a tone that you are shopping around for the best offer. 
            • Someone who is not going to take a long time to make a decision. Remember, offers can be taken away or re-assigned.
            • An athlete who is team-first and a leader can potentially recruit for their program. 
            • Be an asset, not a liability. Don't be a me-first individual. Athletes need to be dependable and not a magnet for problems.
            • Marketability. Programs are looking for student athletes that are going to make them look good both on and off of the track. Build and guard your brand.

            There are plenty of opportunities to run at the next level. 

            Something I always tell my athletes is this: "The goal of performing at a high level in high school athletics is to get into the best university you can and pay the least amount of money." 

            You have to decide what that means to you.

            NCAA Division I, Division II and NAIA offer athletic money, but Division III does not. 

            Coaches will recruit you across a spectrum. Offers are based upon circumstance:

            There are terms like preferred walk-on, partial scholarship and full scholarship. Fully-sponsored women's programs get 18 scholarships. Men get 12.6. 

            In many cases, coaches of high-level programs spread their money around. Full scholarships are not given often. 

            But athletic scholarship money can be stacked with financial aid. Do your homework. Understanding all these values is knowing the full picture. 

            The rest depends on how well you execute your training and how you market yourself and just how well you put yourself in a position to succeed. 

            Today we know a little more than we did yesterday and that's an advantage we can afford.


            Coach Jameel Syed is an independent track and field coach in Michigan who has helped develop and lead several athletes into collegiate NCAA programs. He can be followed on Instagram at @jameelsyedpro