This past week I've had the opportunity to talk to numerous elite athletes about what they learned throughout the recruiting process and in their first year running at the collegiate level. Although I'm running a few days late, I believe this article is well worth the wait! This is the one-stop shop for what all aspiring collegiate runners (regardless of division) should know about the recruiting process and heading into their freshman year. I have broken it down into a few key points that discuss the common themes that I found between the people I talked to.
Special thanks to the following for talking with me and offering their insights!
(These are but a few of these athletes' accomplishments):
Dustin Horter: Senior from Lakota East High School in Ohio; 3-time Ohio State champion; placed 30th at Nike Cross Nationals last year; holds the second fastest 5k time in the nation this year (14:36); committed to run at Indiana University next fall
Shuaib Aljabaly: High school senior from Coldwater Michigan; Michigan division 2 state cross-country champion; 14:53 5k PR; committed to run for University of Wisconsin next fall
Seth Eliason: Freshman at Georgetown University; graduated from Hopkins High School (MN); State champion in the 1600 meter; 37th at Nike Cross Nationals (2016); High School 5k PR of 14:54
Charlie Lawrence: 5th year senior captain at the University of Minnesota; Graduate of Foley High School; 2-time state champion in the 3200 meters; 2 top-5 finishes at cross country state
Hassan Mead: Professional runner with Oregon Track Club; Attended Minneapolis South High School and University of Minnesota; High school cross country state champion; 8-time Big-10 champion; 2016 Olympian in the 5k (finished 11th); 2017 USATF National Champion in the 10k; Placed 15th at IAAF world championships in the 10k; 5k PR- 13:02; 10k PR- 27:32
Craig Engels: Professional runner for the Nike Oregon Project; 4th at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 800 meters; 5th in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters; 3rd place at the NCAA D1 Championship in the 1500 meters with North Carolina State
Carrie Tollefson: 2004 Olympian; Graduate of Dawson-Boyd High School in MN and Villanova University; NCAA 3k indoor champion; NCAA XC Champion; 13-time MSHSL Champion
Mason Ferlic: Professional runner with Nike; Graduated from Mounds Park Academy High School and University of Michigan; 4-time Minnesota state champion; NCAA 3k steeplechase champion; 5th at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 3k steeplechase; 5-time Big-10 champion; 5-time USTFCCCA All-American
1) Run fast early - It sounds simple enough, however one of the best things you can do is demonstrate that you have made a concerted effort to be the best you can be.
"The biggest part of getting recruited is putting in hard work," (Eliason).
Demonstrating that you've worked hard to lower your times and push yourself to be better will attract college coaches. In almost every case, coaches will use times as a baseline for determining who they take an interest in, and it is best to try and make a statement with your times during junior year. Come fall of your senior year, many coaches have already identified their recruiting pool and it can get to be too late if you are not in that pool.
1a) Don't stress-
"I've learned that you need to focus on championship season when is gets towards the end of a season and not worry about the college stuff," (Aljablay)
College interest comes with performance, so if you perform well when it counts, interest will come.
2) Be Yourself -
"Going into the recruiting process, you have to be yourself and you have to be very honest with the people recruiting you," (Horter)
There is no point in pretending to be someone else in order to try and fit in with a team or change a coach's opinion of you. You can't fake who you are for four/five years, so find a place that allows you to be yourself. Furthermore, you need to make sure that you and the school have a similar vision. If you see yourself as being a major contributor in the future but they do not, while it is noble to try and prove yourself, you will most likely only cause yourself unnecessary grief.
3) You are a student athlete - Perhaps the most universal piece of advice that I heard from all the people I talked to was that you need to remember that you are going to college to be an athlete on top of being a student. Finding a school that is strong in an area that interests you, whether it be engineering, folklore, or German, is essential so that you can graduate with an education that will prove useful after college. Statistics show that for every sport in the NCAA, less than 2% are able to compete professionally. Find a school where you can balance your athletics with a meaningful degree, as well as a coach who understands the importance of both.
3b) Life without running - It's important that you choose a place that you will love even if you weren't a student athlete.
"On my visits, I wanted to feel like I would love it even if running was taken away from me. Injuries and sports don't mix really well so I wanted to feel at home even without my sport," (Tollefson)
"Some of the best advice I received was if you happened to no longer be running collegiately, would you still be happy and satisfied at that school? Make sure the school offers things outside of just athletics," (Ferlic)
4) Be proactive - Not every recruit can be a high school superstar who has coaches contacting them left and right. This was the case with me, and one thing I learned early in my junior year that helped me greatly was to take my aspirations of running for a D1 school into my own hands. On top of training as hard as I could, I found coaches' emails, sent them letters introducing myself, demonstrated that I had a genuine interest in them. It is okay to be persistent to the point where you think you are overdoing it.
"Coaches love to see that you have interest in their school and program," (Eliason)
Coaches admire students who want to be a part of their program. In many cases, the athletes who end up signing with a certain school are athletes who the coaches may never have discovered if he/she hadn't reached out to them in the first place.
5) Embrace it -
"Getting recruited is a very cool experience!" (Eliason)
Applying to colleges, balancing the running season, and managing school work can be stressful. It's ok to enjoy the perks of getting recruited. Getting emails, having the red carpet rolled out for you on official visits, and seeing your hard work payoff is all part of the process so enjoy it! You've earned it!
6) Ask yourself questions...then trust in the process -
"For me I was thinking: What program is going to make me better? Do I fit in here? Am I going to be able to put my head down, grind, and contribute? How do I feel about the coach, his style, etc.?" (Mead).
It's important to ask questions such as these in order to ensure that you are finding a place that you fit well with and can call home for your collegiate career.
"What I liked best about Villanova was that they wanted to make sure I felt valued and that my life as a runner was only going to get better," (Tollefson)
After you've answered these questions and you've found a program and coach that you believe in, commit to it.
"If the coach recruiting you lays it out there for you and it sounds good, buy in, and be ready to embrace the journey," (Lawrence)
"You have to trust in the development. Not everybody can come in and be the freshman star. You've got to put in the work, stay as healthy as you can, and trust that the development will come, " (Mead)
7) Don't rush it (when signing and during your first year) - Always remember that you do not, at any point, need to feel obligated to make a decision.
"I wish I could have known that making your college decision is something that can take time. I felt like I had to make my decision as soon as possible, but that isn't true at all," (Eliason)
Make sure that you weigh all of your options. If you find that you know what you want in November, sign and demonstrate your commitment, however that is not necessarily the case for everybody. When entering your first year it is also important to not stress about your performances.
"I wanted to set the world on fire as a freshman and I needed to ease my way back into it. It took me a while to remember how to run in a pack, to not panic when people passed me, and to finish further back then I had in years," (Tollefson)
Except in rare cases, you will not enter a program as the 'top dog'. That is a position that has to be earned through performance, being a good leader, and being a good teammate. All of these take time, and it is important to not get discouraged early on.