With this segment, we wrap up the topic of the role of the high school coach. At the bottom of this installment, you will find links to all other pieces of the series and to a valuable resource that Coach Micah Porter (D'Evelyn High School, Lakewood, CO) has made available.
Coach Porter provided us with the template of a single-page introduction to his recruitable athletes that he sends out to college coaches. With some sensitive information concealed, Micah has let us see the "promos" for Kevin Williams and Tim Muller--introductions that have been warmly received by the college coaches to whom they were sent. Coach Porter's work puts a spotlight on a positive way coaches can help their athletes be recruited.
It wasn’t exactly what I set out to learn, but one thing I learned pretty clearly from the last installment—there are lots of high school coaches out and about casting for the same answers that I am. Misery loves company.
It’s pretty much a given that colleges will be clamoring over the Foot Locker finalists, the top 40 or so individuals at NXN, and many state champions. We, as high school coaches, typically don’t need much help getting notice for the kids who happen to fall into one or more of these categories. The question for most of us is, “What to do for that athlete who is clearly good enough to run at some level of college competition but isn’t necessarily at the level where he/she is hard not to notice?”
One thing that I think I’ve learned this year is that the college-bound student athlete should probably keep a few more irons in the fire than the typical college-bound student. High school seniors who have no intention of competing in college athletics probably don’t need to apply to more than two or three schools, unless the schools they apply to are highly selective (think Stanford, Michigan, MIT, Ivy League, and the like). College-bound student-athletes probably should keep a few more options open. I think I’ll start making that suggestion.
Why would the college-bound student-athletes want to keep more options open? I recently learned the hard way that even if a student is a good match for a school--academically, athletically, and socially--the school may not share that perspective and may not offer enough financial aid to sustain the pulse of the student’s hopes and dreams. The coach at that school may decide they’re already top-heavy in your student-athlete’s best event and decide not to offer any scholarship assistance at all—at least not initially.
And, let’s face it, for many athletically-inclined high school seniors, athletic accomplishment can be the ticket to getting into a school they could not otherwise afford. As long as I’m dealing with some athletes from families of modest means, this implies that it just might be worth keeping options alive at more than two or three schools.
During slower periods of the year, I’m going to probe a little more with college coaches about the profile of the student-athlete they want to match with scholarship assistance. Being a math teacher, I’m cool with formulas. I realize a lot of college programs have formulas they like to use. I’ve made up my mind to figure out more of the formulas in circulation. The trouble here is that the “published” formula doesn’t always correspond in every detail with the formula actually in use. That’s a lesson that has gradually been impressed on me over the last several years.
One thing I failed to mention in the opening piece is that every college coach seems to have a specialty. Very few programs are great across a spectrum of events. This is also so, maybe even particularly so, for distance programs. Understanding this, I believe, is a crucial part of matching your kids with the right program. David Smith at Oklahoma State is a 5K/10K guy. Mark Wetmore enjoys almost all of his success at the steeple, 5K, and 10K. Jason Vigilante? The 800 and 1500, of course.
If you have that high-level kind of athlete, these considerations should enter into your discussions with that athlete. Regardless of the coach’s reputation, you want to give some extra consideration before sending a pure XC kind of guy (or girl) to a program that has its best success at 8s and 15s (this is not a dig on Jason Vigilante, by the way—the caution could just as easily be to give some extra consideration before sending your 1:53 800 runner into a program that regularly turns out some of the top 5Ks in the nation).
Simply stated, to the extent possible, try to discern the strengths of the coaches your athletes are considering. Be willing to talk to your athlete, and the parents, about these things.
Okay, I’m going to be a little more blunt than I’ve been in the past as a great friend of mine read the posts thus far and said that while they were informative, I was definitely holding back.
So here we go.
Vig was at our wedding and Vig will likely be the consensus "best collegiate coach" by 2020. Jason Vigilante had guys go 1,2,3* at in the steeple at the Big 12 meet one year in Austin; Zach Zeller won the race and he wasn't even the best steeplechaser on the team.
...but Alan makes a great point and there is a reason that we want our daughter to have the type 11b fibers that her mother, a 2-time All-American at Georgetown (known for great middle distance, though my wife was an XC All-America as well) likely has vs. the slow twitch fibers that scooted dad around the track as a 14:20 5,000m runner at Colorado. The schools we ran at likely fit both our neuromuscular talents and our metabolic talents (though my wife is more talented in both areas than I).
I left out one BIG thing about the role of a HS coach.
If you're a high school coach and you call, text or email the kid in their first week as a college freshman on the campus of _____ then YOU have a problem and your problem is need, specifically the fact that YOU need something from the coach-athlete relationship that is unhealthy. You wanna' know what the kid’s doing? I can tell you what the kid’s doing. He/She thinks they have a ton in common with their roommate, a position that is will likely change come December and a position that will be laughable come March; the kid loves the fact that the opposite sex is living either on the floor above or the floor below**; they are scared of this afternoon's practice and they can't believe how much better EVERYONE on the team is than they are; if they are a distance runner they are petrified of the fact that the "easy" run they went on yesterday was harder and faster then their HS coach's 5x1,000m workouts; they can't get their mother to stop with the "but the room is so small - are you going to be alright, honey?"
...so in the midst of that first week of college what the heck are you doing calling them? Obviously, I don't know WHY you are calling them, but I do know what your call is doing to the poor kid. You're confusing the kid because your voice is familiar and comforting while all of the other stimuli around them is some combination of: new, exciting, scary, uncomfortable, hard. You're inhibiting the growth they will likely experience from being thrown out of their comfort zone, a comfort zone that likely included being successful in school and successful in track, two things they aspire to at this new level but two things that, in the first week of school, appear unattainable.
They will adapt.
They like you.
They don't need you.
If their college coach stinks then UNFORTUNATELY they'll probably like you even more in 4 years...but is that really what you want?***
Back to my wife. She loves her HS coach. She loves her college coach. Both her college coach and her HS coach are considered two of the best practitioners of their craft at their respective levels which makes my wife really lucky, but not by any stretch of the imagination a "one in a million" story. She loves them both, but for very different reasons.
Give the kid the space to one day love their college coach as much as they love you.
...and remember, they like you.
Finally, some of you might wonder, "Wouldn't the kid be intimidated by the class load as well?" The answer across most colleges - public and private, prestigious and not - is that many HS students find their workload in college, from a strict academic standpoint, less challenging than their typical HS day which consisted of 2 AP classes, the Honor Society meetings, volunteer work in the counseling office during lunch, followed by track practice in the afternoon. If I could have lunch with Barack, that's the story I'd share with him, the story that smart, curious, motivated kids are often bored with their classes when they go to college. Can we blame them for plugging their iPod in and tuning out?
On that note, I'm out, but you can ask me a recruiting question on my blog and I'll answer it in the coming weeks.
* They might have gone even deeper - couldn't find the results on both the Big 12 and the UTexas sites - but I know they went 1, 2, 3.
**While I can't speak for the other 3 event areas****, I can safely say that distance runners will likely not capitalize on this "unique situation."
***Reread this 10 consecutive times in the event the athlete calls, texts or emails you to tell you how dumb/stupid/mean/unrealistic their college coach is. If they call an 11th time then tell them to either go to the coach and ask for a transfer or deal with their reality.
****Track and Field can be subcategorized into four event areas: Sprint/Hurdles, Throws, Distance, Jumps/Multis
Links to All Parts in Series:
Links to Coach Micah Porter's Templates:
Updated Recruiting Series