By the sound of it, Dave Thorson is no fan of idle time.
Thorson, the energetic, longtime boys’ basketball coach at Minneapolis’ DeLaSalle High School, continues coaching his troops well into the summer. And, when college recruiting heats up, Thorson’s guidance only intensifies for a program that had roughly 40 Division I college coaches visit last year.
College recruiting has become an increasingly intense endeavor. Now, more than ever, there are lessons to be learned. Thorson and other veteran coaches have some tips on how to guide star players through the recruiting process.
Tip No. 1: Sift through less-than-legitimate contact
“Recruiting is when the coach offers you a scholarship and he’s eyeball-to-eyeball with you,” noted Thorson, who led DeLaSalle to a state title in 2016. “People on a mailing list, you can say that’s recruiting, but it’s not.”
As a coach, give yourself a homework assignment. Research college suitors on your player’s behalf.
“I try to do work on my end,” explained Jason Schmidt, the head boys coach at Monticello (Minnesota) High School. “I want my kids to go somewhere (collegiately) where they’re treated well. I don’t want them to go somewhere, get jerked around, and then a year later they’re looking for somewhere else to go — if you can prevent some of that on their journey, it’s worth it.”
Said Lakeville (Minnesota) North boys’ coach John Oxton: “The biggest thing is just being able to advocate for the player. … I try to just look at the facts — the substance of the program.”
Prep coaches should also provide tutorials to parents, letting them know what to expect when college coaches come knocking at their door.
Tip No. 2: Be supremely professional
These days, everyone involved in the recruiting process should treat it like a business. After all, college sports can be cold; there were more than 700 Division I men’s basketball transfers in 2015 alone.
Recruits should Google colleges until their thumbs are sore. They should peruse lists of possible college majors. They should take advantage of all possible college visits — preferably between sports seasons, and as early as possible — to gauge their fit with a program’s other student athletes.
And, above all else, recruits and their high school mentors should be respectful of all involved.
“You always want to do a good job of handling business,” Schmidt explained. “If you get a call, return your call. Don’t (just) do the easy thing.”
In short, prep sideline generals should stay involved, and build relationships with college coaches.
Tip No. 3: For the most part, set social media aside
Yes, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are a way of life these days. However, that doesn’t mean athletes — or their high school coaches — need to bare their soul in the digital world with regard to recruiting.
When an athlete garners college interest, they’re going to be elated. So will their parents; that’s understandable. Prep coaches, though, might want to think twice before letting the world know of every twist and turn along the recruiting trail.
“I don’t think recruiting should play out on social media,” said Thorson. “Social media has created a certain amount of hype around recruiting. There’s always a comparison, where ‘this guy is like this player;’ I don’t think that’s always helpful.
“If your focus is to go check every day where you’re ranked, or the hype part of it, your focus is in the wrong place,” Thorson continued. “Your focus has to be ‘What am I doing to get better and get stronger?’ If you do that, the recruiting process will work out.”
Tip No. 4: Avoid getting charmed by college coaches
If there’s a pattern to all the previous lessons, and an over-arching message, it’s to keep the peaks and valleys of the college-recruiting process in perspective.
If you’re fortunate enough to coach a college prospect, you should treat their suitors with transparency. Ask honest questions. Keep your player’s best interests at the forefront — even while being glad-handed by coaches who make six figures or more.
“When college coaches come here to recruit,” Thorson noted, “I always (ask) … ‘Take your recruiting hat off. What did you think of this practice? … What’s one thing we could do better?’ Take that filter out. Don’t give me any jargon. Be honest. Then you get a real sense of what programs are all about.
“Then,” Thorson typically requests, “’Tell us what it’s really like at (your college). Tell us.’”
Remember, prep coaches: The recruiting process isn’t about you. It’s about helping your pupil navigate the occasionally turbulent recruiting waters. Honesty, empathy, and respect are usually your best options.