Added Time: Our Monthly College Search Newsletter

May Update: Evaluating Talent, A Look Behind the Curtain

“Am I (or is my child) a ‘D1’ athlete?” Every aspiring collegiate athlete and almost every sports parent has at least thought this question at some point during their journey. And why not? When you are playing and in “the zone,” there is nothing quite like it. It would be unusual if you have that experience and, “how far can I get with this?” NEVER occurs to you.

The challenge in answering this question really comes in two parts. The first is that this hides very different questions and priorities – and it is a good idea to really focus in on YOUR goals and aspirations. The second is that you and your performance are only part of the equation in terms of how far you can go, the limits of how colleges identify and assess talent matter too!

In terms of understanding what YOU mean when you think about where your athletic journey might go, here are some different ways of framing the question that reflect the wildly different priorities that folks might bring to the table. Individually working through the process of assessing the goals that guide your youth sports experience and college search is one of the areas where a truly knowledgeable advisor is invaluable!

  • Am I (or is my child good) enough to get a “full-ride” scholarship? (answer: are you participating in an NCAA “headcount” sport? If not, the answer is “no,” but also predicated on your definition of a “full ride.” Outside of headcount sports, getting what the NCAA defines as a “full ride” is vanishingly rare.)
  • Am I (or is my child) talented enough to focus my college search on the kind of schools we see on TV regularly?
  • Am I (or is my child) talented enough as an athlete that it can elevate my college search and help with admissions to a highly selective college?
  • Given that I want to continue to compete at a high level in college, will making athletics a key part of my college search help me identify tremendous opportunities to find my 360° fit in college and inspire me while I am there to be successful in school and in life beyond college?
  • Can I be a professional athlete in my sport, using college as a steppingstone?

Clearly, I have a favorite question. BUT it is YOUR college search.

“What does success look like to you?” is a tremendously important question that most prospective student-athletes and families can benefit from clarifying. If you would like expert guidance on that process, I am here to help.

It also pays to take a moment and look under the hood at how college coaches are assessing you as a prospective student-athlete. Talent identification and assessment is incredibly challenging. To begin with the youth sports landscape in the United States is fractured, based on local organizations, and primarily “pay to play” which makes finding talent even harder. On top of that, no college coach has the capacity to maintain a database of every possible prospect in a given graduation year. Most schools focus on less than 500 prospective recruits in any given cycle, simply because it is almost impossible to manage a larger number. That excludes a lot of candidates without any meaningful consideration. On top of that college coaches have very limited time and attention for recruiting, and their priorities tend to be very specific. For instance, if a team already has 2 underclassmen point guards, it likely does not matter how good you are in terms of getting recruited to that team if you are an aspiring point guard… the coach is looking for forwards/size.

Add the limited capacity for adding prospects to the challenges of talent assessment. Just about anyone is pretty good at assessing talent, depending on how you define it. If you watch a hockey game with Alex Ovechkin playing in it, you can not help but notice he is a better player than the other guys on the ice. Same for a basketball game with Paige Bueckers, everyone can spot transcendent talent. The hard part comes when you are distinguishing between athletes within a performance “band.” In other words, the top 10 or so athletes in a recruiting class are easy… EVERYONE is recruiting them, if you are one of those athletes, you are making a choice, folks are coming to you because anyone who sees you play immediately knows you are one of the very best.

But even within this “top 10” or so, there is probably very little agreement about who is number 1 vs. who is number 5 and it gets harder as you go down and you get to the group of “potential college student-athletes” rather than “can’t miss” prospects. Think about it this way:

In the NFL the success or failure of a franchise, coach or GM basically comes down to identifying and signing a Quarterback who can lead the team to a title. Every year, NFL teams spend unlimited time and money trying to decide which QB graduating from college is “the one” and often these teams invest stupefying amounts of capital on a particular prospect. They test these guys’ intellects, hire private investigators, watch film of literally every play the prospect was a part of, maybe as far back as high school or earlier…. They use cutting edge analytics, test them multiple times, shake a magic 8 ball, leave no stone unturned… and the most successful Quarterback of the 21st century was drafted in the 6th round – NOBODY thought he would be an impact starter. Everyone agreed on which prospects were “in the ballpark” as potential roster players, but nobody knew who would ultimately be the GOAT.

Now compare that to a college coach in basketball, soccer, volleyball, or other “non-objective” sports. Often coaches are watching multiple games on multiple fields/courts at the same time, moving between fields/venues to see as many prospects as possible. This means a lot of the time; you might have 5 minutes to impress a coach. Research shows that a lot of this is more random than we would like to admit. Prospects tend to be identified based on where they are playing on the court or field rather than on their individual talent (in soccer, if you are playing in the wide channel right in front of the college coaches for significant minutes, you are VERY likely to be recruited, while central midfielders have a much tougher time being noticed). Objective sports have it easier, if you are running a particular time, you can see where it fits in college. But there are some important things to remember. College coaches generally are not recruiting players at the same level as their current squad players, they want to recruit players who will be BETTER and make an immediate impact. Also, each coach brings their own experience to the evaluation process, you will not know whether you are a fit unless you get feedback from THAT coach. There are all kinds of reasons to recruit (or not) a prospect. Do not guess. You do not know. Your parents do not know. Your friends do not know. Your high school and club coaches also do not know. I understand why you might ask these people, but ultimately, you know the right person to talk to.

What a truly knowledgeable advisor can help you with is facilitating getting your profile in front of coaches with the best possible chance of serious consideration. At College Athletic Advisor, we create custom highlight videos, athletic/academic resumes, and a communication plan to express your interest to the coaches YOU want to connect with. We also help you navigate the recruiting “conversation” with coaches, to determine your fit academically, athletically, socially, and financially. Our experience with the depth of programs in your sport on a national level can uncover great opportunities at incredible institutions that you may not be aware of without our expertise.

As always, if you are looking for the individualized or institutional consulting help that puts you ahead of your peers, check out our services here! You can make an initial appointment through the link on our homepage! School administrators and counselors access our free resources, appointments and programs for school collaboration here.

For more information, contact Dave Morris, College Counselor & CEO, College Athletic Advisor, dave@collegeathleticadvisor.com or phone: (719) 248-7994

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April Newsletter

This month I wanted to share some insight into counselor/college “expert”/peer parent recommendations about being a “well rounded” student, especially as this applies to student-athletes.

First, in case you have missed the admissions trends this cycle for highly credentialed, curated applicants to highly selective colleges, admissions folks can tell that your “volunteered to read to orphans in Botswana” resume line is worthless unless it authentically connects to your deep engagement in literacy training or the people of the Okavango Delta. While colleges are looking for a “well rounded” class of “holistically evaluated” students, what that translates to is “talented students who have shown excellence in some area we value as well as making a positive impact in their own communities at the youth level.” One of the best places to showcase growth and your positive impact on a community is through sports participation (not a surprise!).Newsletter Cover

Many college counselors and “experts” seem to miss the real value of sports participation in admissions. Of COURSE, if you are a recruited athlete, that status can basically bypass a lot of this – the coach is putting you forward as a student who will work 20 hours a week to contribute to the college community and be active on campus! Even if you DON’T continue playing a sport in college, you have been a productive part of a local community – your team or program. Colleges do not really care if you were a “team captain,” but they DO care that you can point to specific, real contributions to the overall growth, development, and success of the enterprise in your own unique way. That could have been by being a dependable participant who supported positive leaders/coaches, by growing and improving within the team, or by accepting your role in the organization and being there for your friends. There is no reason to go outside of this authentic and significant experience on behalf of less authentic or less meaningful experiences to look “well rounded,” you are enough.

Part two of this month’s newsletter is the other end of this, college rankings and “rounding” in data submission by colleges.

Let’s talk for a moment about “prestige” and college admissions. If you are not laser focused on attending (or having your child attend) an “Ivy League or similar” institution, you may just want to read this for validation. In the world of high-end college consulting, a lot of students and families are hyper focused on the HYP (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) schools. Often to the exclusion of the many truly outstanding educational institutions that could set them up for a life of success!

In terms of the rankings themselves, I think Malcolm Gladwell got this one exactly right:

The U.S. News rankings are a really dumb system, based on a silly set of criteria. They’ve done nothing but cause mischief and distort incentives in American higher education.

Clicking on Mr. Gladwell’s name will bring you to an article explaining how Columbia “rounded up” their data to US News (yes, they flat out lied) after US News explained that they do not do any data verification or have any checks to prevent schools from providing false information for the purposes of ranking calculations. In other words, not only are the rankings “really dumb” and based on “silly” criteria, but also, there is no effort to control the quality of the data that goes into the rankings. YET PARENTS, STUDENTS and COUNSELORS put ENORMOUS amounts of energy into gaming out how to get students admitted to schools based on these very rankings. What??!!Assessing College Quality Chart

I get it. In an increasingly stratified and unequal society, no parent wants their child falling behind. But let us, for a moment “get real.” If we could harness all the stress, mental energy and striving that parents, students, and counselors put in to trying to be in the 3% of applicants accepted to some of these “highly rejective” schools and use if for good, we could probably be at net zero admissions by 2025, instead of pretending to make it happen in 2050. Let me remind you that every minute you spend test prepping, resume padding, stressing about the difference between a 92 and a 94, etc. comes with an opportunity cost. You could have spent that time doing something rewarding, beneficial, or meaningful – think about it.

Also, let’s think about these rankings. Does a school having a larger endowment mean you will get better instruction? Better internships? Nicer dorms? (answer: no). It certainly does not mean your classes will be more meaningful or personalized, or that opportunities to do meaningful undergraduate research are more plentiful. So how DO you think about “school quality” or rank colleges in terms of desirability?

Begin by recognizing there are over 2,000 post-secondary institutions that sponsor intercollegiate athletics in the United States (without athletics you are over 3,000!). You can not and will not ever know them all, you certainly can not name all the outstanding ones in a given moment (it changes, after all). But rather than “ranking,” I think it pays to think of schools in “bands” or groups.

There are “elite” academic institutions. They tend to be (but are not always) more selective, but they ALWAYS have opportunities for undergraduates to collaborate with full-time faculty, intellectually interested and engaged student bodies, real energy on campus and access to intellectual and professional opportunities beyond the physical camps. Schools in the second band offer these things, but students may have to actively seek them out. In the third band, students who are savvy may be able to navigate to these opportunities, and below that it takes an exceptional student to blaze the trail at that school. Each of these “bands” describes hundreds of colleges. Your personal search will be put in context by geography… do you want to go to school in Nebraska? New York? Northern California? as well as other factors: setting, academic profile, athletic interests, cost. The right school will give you a great education, inspire you to reach beyond your potential and set you up for success after graduation (this includes NOT leaving you with crushing student debt). Focus on that.

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