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Navigating Recruitment: Some Next Level Truth for Parents and Wrestlers

I’ve seen the college recruiting process of boys from almost every angle. The rules of the game are complex and changing all the time. This can be the hardest part of getting to the next level. It is filled with NCAA regulations, most of which don’t help the student athlete. The path is rocky and lonely: some coaches rat each other out for infractions, don’t stay up to date on all the rule changes and the complexity is often hurry up and wait in nature; just to name a few of the challenges regulations create. Many parents play coaches against each other or fabricate things making the trip even more filled with peril. I can honestly say I don’t ever recall a wrestler or parent saying that the D1 recruiting process was fun. But it can be a necessary step to advance to the higher levels of wrestling.

Parents and maybe wrestlers should know that recruiting wrestlers is usually one of the least favorite parts of the D1 college job. Why?

  • Tight resources: 9.9 Scholarships, if fully funded, make fielding a team of 30 something boys a real challenge. A couple mistakes can set a coach and team back significantly.
  • Trouble finding the truth about a recruit is an epidemic. Almost everyone lies to the coach along the way. Coaches, guidance counselors, teammates, teachers, etc. all want to see the wrestler get to the next level but so many kids that might be better off not in D1 are there because of the rosy stories told by references. I don’t know the exact figures but from years of observation the percentage of wrestlers that quit wrestling during college is pretty high.
  • Recruiting travel is just more time for coaches to be away from their own family after an intense and consuming wrestling season.
  • Recruiting is one of the big reasons coaches make or break it. There is a ton of pressure on them during this process. The newer coaches usually have more pressure on them as they haven’t quite figured out their sweet spot in the recruiting pecking order.
  • The money game between parents and coaches can be a challenge at best.
  • Coaches might be waiting for other kids ranked higher to make their decision, making answers and timelines frustratingly vague. The game is complex and stressful for all involved.

Parents! Don’t go looking for college wrestling to fund you child’s education. Very rarely is a wrestling scholarship a huge windfall. The shoddier the program is the more money your kid might get but there is a reason the team isn’t as good. It will likely affect how good your kid gets, if that matters.

If you want to look for high rates of scholarship money look at lacrosse. Colleges are adding the programs rapidly, wrestlers do really well in the sport and High Schools can’t keep up with demand.  It has the highest rate of high school participation in college.

My recruiting advice is the same for almost every college wrestler I talk with: take all 5 official (allowed by NCAA regulation) visits and then be patient! Don’t give in to the impulse to commit after just one or two. Wait.  If your wrestler has their heart set on 1 school and you know the coach, program etc. and get a great offer you should consider it.  But not without some considerations first – read the article below.

Parents: you need to know the recruiting rules. Here is a link.

Temper your kids’ emotions after each visit.  Have the student write down what they want in a program and then refer back to it. Parents can help remind the wrestler what they are looking for.  Here’s a starter checklist:

  1. Academic major is a strength of the school.
  2. Like the coaching staff and they are secure in their positions, especially the coach that will be your workout partner.
  3. Team culture is evident, consistent and jives with your values.
  4. Logistics: if you want to see your kid wrestle in person while in college, make sure you can afford at least some of their travel schedule.
  5. Academic support for athletes: advisors and support staff to make sure academics don’t slip. This has been a major area of difference in some schools.
  6. Off campus safety might be a consideration for some schools.

The two biggest things that I hear kids say that they love or hate about a school: is there a team feeling among the wrestlers and do the coaches care about them? It is hard to get a real feel for the second one on a recruiting trip but you can kind of get a feel from your hosts.

Other points to remind them about:

  • They need to factor their post D1 wrestling career into their college choice.
  • Are they a cultural fit for the team? Sometimes city, suburbs, country or religious views don’t mix well.
  • Team culture: your wrestler will be with this group more than any other for the next 4/5 years. If you’ve been around wrestling long enough you’ve seen coaches lose control of teams. Stay away if you have doubts. No matter the money offered.
  • It’s good to get a feel for the head coach but that usually isn’t whom your wrestler will be interacting with the most. If your son is a lighter weight, he should have a good feel for the coach he’ll be working out with on a regular basis. If you like him, you’ll want to figure out how stable he is in that position. Assistant coaches are much more stable than the volunteer and graduate assistant positions. I think that if you have goals of being an All American the coach your working out with should have at least been an AA.
  • Phase of the coach and team: New coaches building a team are trying to change culture and can churn though recruits that gravitate to the old culture. A team on the rise is looking for different things than a team at the top and might offer more money. It’s a gamble.
  • If starting immediately is of importance, start googling commitments, talk with the coach and go from there. I’ve never seen a coach that thought stiff competition internally to gain the starting spot was a bad thing. Your wrestler needs to be ready for that possibility and the difficulty that goes a long with it. Back in my day I knocked a well-liked senior out of the starting lineup. We were a marginal team but the rift caused me problems with the coaches and some of the team.
  • School costs have soared over the last 2 generations. Make sure that your kid is going to a place where his academic interests are fullfillable. I’ve seen lots of kids gravitate to schools that don’t have their academic areas of interest just because they have friends there or they really like the coach. In 99% of the cases you can’t make a living off of wrestling after college. Choose a school for the education, unless your realistic goal is to be the best wrestler in the world.
  • School costs have soared over the last 2 generations. Make sure that you’ve exhausted every avenue of money: scholarships, grants, work/study internships etc. 50% scholarship sounds great doesn’t it? But even if your wrestler is getting 50% off of their tuition they could walk away from school after 5 years with substantial debt, $50,60 or 70K in debt after 5 years is a big hole to dig out of in this economy.
  • When you’re signing with a school there is a verbal agreement with the coaches of which weight your wrestler will be at. I’ve seen coaches pull scholarships when a kid has missed weight once and be thrown off the team for missing weight twice.  Being a D1 head coach is serious business, there are less than 80 of them, you’d better make damn sure they can make and keep that weight that you agreed on.
  • You can lose your spot in the lineup very easily if you get caught partying or getting involved with the wrong crowd. Just another reason for the parents to talk with parents of the current team members. If you think your kid might want to focus more on the college experience than on wrestling, D1 might not be right for you.  Explore non-D1 options for a more balanced college life.

At its best the recruiting process should be a problem solving partnership for you and your child working together. Ideally the wrestler, with some parental guidance, is taking the lead in the process. If this all seems like to much, recruiting services are also becoming more popular. It really is a rite of passage for a wrestler. Going on to compete in college no matter the level is a big deal that 96% of high school wrestlers aren’t making. Also navigating this process well gives you an extra 4 or 5 years to enjoy the ride of your child’s wrestling career.  Almost every parent that I’ve talked with over the last 30 years remarks on how the whole wrestling process goes by so quickly. If you and your child do a good job with the process you should have an enjoyable 5ish years. If not it could be a bumpy ride. Do your best with recruiting and try to enjoy the rest of the ride. Good luck

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