Becoming a college athlete is extremely difficult.
According to data the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) compiled in 2020, only 7% of high school athletes go on to play sports at the collegiate level.
Given the limited opportunities available and the wealth of athletic talent in the United States, international student-athletes often have a tough time with college coaches noticing them. It is not that the athletes fall short of NCAA standards. The challenge is most college coaches lack the budget to travel and recruit internationally, which leaves numerous elite-level foreign athletes flying under the radar.
Challenging does not mean impossible, though. Of course, there are no guarantees, and a prospective international student-athlete has to meet the standard required to compete at the collegiate level, but a little extra work outside the competition sphere can help to maximize potential opportunities.
Here are six tips an international student-athlete can use to help them receive attention from college coaches:
Recruiting Tips For International Student-Athletes | Utilize social media
Social media, if used correctly, is a powerful tool. Almost all college programs and college staffs have social media accounts, making it an easy method to garner their attention.
One option is to send direct messages (DMs) to the team and coaching staff pages expressing your interest in the programs. Be sure to include your athletic and academic statistics (ie. height, weight, personal records, grade point average) and a link to your highlight reel.
The other is to direct social media posts at the program. For example, post your highlight reel or a recap from a recent race, game, or competition, and tag all the coaches and teams you want to see the post. Twitter is a popular platform for such directed posts, but the method will work on other platforms, too.
Recruiting Tips For International Student-Athletes | Create Highlight Reels
Coaches do not have the time or budget to attend all your games, (and probably none if you are non-United States based), so creating a compilation of highlights from each game you play can be a helpful tool for coaches to evaluate whether or not you will be a good fit for their program. According to the online recruiting platform Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), highlight videos should be about three to five minutes long, with information such as athletic and academic statistics included at the beginning of the clip. Popular websites used for uploading recruiting videos are Hudl and YouTube. Regardless of what website you decide to use, it is essential for you to put the link to your highlight reel in all of your social media biographies. That way, it is easy for a coach to get to if you reach out to them through that medium.
Recruiting Tips For International Student-Athletes | Draw on Your Connections
According to the NCAA, over 200 countries have had at least one athlete compete at the collegiate level in the United States. That means almost every international high school athlete has at least one person from their home country competing or who formerly competed in the NCAA. Reach out to that person and ask them about the recruiting process. Since they have been through it themselves, they can adequately guide you and possibly prevent you from making the same mistakes they did. In some cases, they may be able to connect you with coaches they know, especially if you compete in the same sport. Given that they have faced a similar situation as the one you are in, they are usually happy to help and provide meaningful insight into the NCAA scene.
The following three tips are more challenging than the first three and may not be options for all international student-athletes.
Go to Competitions in the United States
In individual sports such as swimming, track and field, tennis, and golf, there are numerous competitions throughout the year that non-US citizens are eligible to compete. Participating in these events provides many benefits. It helps you gauge how you stack up against others who share similar dreams of competing in the NCAA and gives you an idea of what schools to target. For example, if you go to a swim meet and post similar times to someone committed to a small Division III school, you might want to set your sights away from Power Five schools. On the flip side, if you defeat a Power Five commit in a tennis tournament, you know you have the ability to compete at that level.
Another positive is that college coaches will be in attendance. Competitions are a brilliant way to network and get on coaches’ radars. Sometimes coaches do not have the bandwidth for extensive recruiting and may not see every email or DM you send them. Having an opportunity to speak with coaches in-person will save you loads of time in the college recruiting game, where time is not necessarily on your side.
Attend Camps in the United States
Almost every collegiate team hosts camps over the summer that high school athletes are eligible to attend. While these may be a little costly, if you can afford them, it is definitely worthwhile to pursue these opportunities. Coaches will not only get to see you in competition, but they can also look at other things they value in the recruiting process, such as work ethic, attitude, and attention to detail.
It is important to note that attending a camp does not guarantee a scholarship offer from the school nor does it even mean that the school is interested in you. That being said, you can put your name on a coach’s radar if you perform well at one of these camps. Also, camps usually include sessions about the college recruiting process in the programming, where you receive insights on what college coaches are looking for, the best ways to reach out to them, and tips on how to make the most out of the process. While you may not end up at the school where you go to camp, the information and experience you receive from it will be invaluable.
Consider Boarding (College-Prep) Schools
This tip is definitely the toughest one on the list, but going to high school in the United States would be the best-case scenario for an international student-athlete. College- preparatory programs feature world-class facilities, athletes, and elite coaches with numerous connections. They are perfect for someone looking to take their athletic career to the next level. Being United States-based also allows for more chances to showcase your talent to recruiters in addition to competing with and against athletes who also possess collegiate athletic aspirations. Additionally, given you are no longer in a foreign country, there are loads more opportunities to tour colleges.
Again, there is no guarantee that attending a US boarding school will lead to a college athletic scholarship, and these programs are pricey—upwards of 60,000 USD a year. While college tuition is similar, boarding schools typically do not offer athletic scholarships. On a positive note, though, most college prep schools have sizeable endowment funds, so if your family meets the eligibility requirements, they may offer generous financial aid packages. If you are fortunate enough to have the means to afford it on your own or receive substantial financial aid, I recommend taking advantage of the opportunity. It has the potential to pay huge dividends in the long run.
SE Perspective is a blog series bringing a point of view from an individual in sports. This article titled, “6 Recruiting Tips For International Student-Athletes” is by Jesse Marsh. Jesse is a former Villanova swimming and diving student-athlete and team captain. And a current graduate student at Northwestern School of Journalism (Medill). Jesse is also an intern for SportsEpreneur.
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