How to Get Recruited
How to Get Recruited
How to Get Recruited to Play College Sports

How to Get Recruited to Play College Sports

Learn how to secure a spot on a college sports team. This article walks you through how to create a game plan from Freshman to Senior Year and how to build an online presence coaches want to see.

Learn About the Recruiting Process 

No matter which level of competition you envision playing in college, starting the recruitment process early is essential. A well-planned strategy, specifically designed to meet the recruiting practices in your sport, can significantly increase your chances of getting recruited. We have consolidated the research for you and compiled a set of frameworks, timelines, and tips to help you navigate the recruiting process confidently and efficiently.

When Should You Start the Recruiting Process? 

Getting the ball rolling in your recruiting process can feel overwhelming. Whether you dream of competing for an NCAA National title or seek a more balanced college athletics experience, knowing when and where to start your recruiting journey is critical.

Many families delay their athletes' recruiting until Junior or Senior Year, then begin to reach out to college coaches. Many programs have finalized or significantly narrowed down their recruiting class for that athlete’s class year by then. While some of these athletes can still secure a position on a collegiate team, the consensus is that starting earlier significantly reduces the risk to the athlete and makes for a far less stressful Senior Year.

Start Exploring Schools Today

While we recommend starting the recruiting process in many sports as soon as 8th grade, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start reaching out to colleges and universities then. Early on, you must explore which programs might fit you, taking time to identify your own athletic and academic goals. 

Are you comfortable being a supporting player during your Freshman Year, or do you want to be able to start games early on? Is there a specialized academic major that demands a significant course load that you’ll be balancing with your athletics? We recommend working alongside your athletic advocates to determine which program might be a strong athletic fit based on your skill level and what you envision for yourself in college. 

Build a Strong Online Presence Early

During your Freshman Year in high school, it’s essential to start building a robust online presence, as it will be foundational for all interactions with college coaches throughout your recruiting process. Your recruiting profile is where many coaches will first interact with you and evaluate you as a prospective student-athlete. As you start building an online profile, you must know which academic and athletic information coaches expect to see on your profile at various points throughout high school, how often you should update these, and how to build your video portfolio to maximize your exposure to coaches online.

Know Which Divisions Recruit Earliest

Suppose you are looking to play at NCAA Division I or NCAA Division II level in addition to building out your recruiting presence online. In that case, we advise contacting the schools you’re most interested in to get your name out to college coaches. While college coaches can not have recruiting-like conversations with you until later in your process, they often keep closer tabs on those expressing interest early and follow up with relevant updates.

Sitting and waiting for college coaches to come to you is not advantageous. You will need to work both on and off the field to get your name out there early and continue to follow up further along in the process. If you want to play at Division III, NAIA, or NJCAA, you can start the process a little later, specifically in your Sophomore Year. 

Understanding the Recruiting Funnel 

It’s essential to keep an open mind when considering where you may end up competing at the college level. If your end goal is to play Division I, understand how much hard work this takes, both on and off the field.

Keeping an open mind in the earlier stages of your recruiting process is crucial. You should be working with your athletic advocates (your current coaches, recruiting coordinators, guidance counselors, etc.) to see what level they think would be a good fit for you. Athletic advocates will help determine what division or conference matches your skill level, and academic advocates will let you know how your grades will translate to the admissions process. 

This will help identify where you can improve on and off the field if you have high aspirations for yourself. Understand how hard it takes to get to a high level of college athletics when considering that as a goal.

The Differences in Divisions 

Each division and athletic conference requires a certain level of commitment. Here, we break down the differences between the NCAA Divisions and the NAIA, NJCAA, and CCCAA programs.

NCAA Division I

This is the highest level of collegiate athletics in the US, consisting of 351 schools nationwide. As an NCAA D1 athlete, you should expect to commit a lot of time to playing and training, often spending 4+ hours per day on your sport. D1 schools offer the most scholarships and compete in various sports, including football, basketball, baseball, and more. 

NCAA Division II

This level of competition consists of smaller schools that typically offer fewer scholarships than Division I schools. While this may not be as competitive as Division I, there will still be much commitment at the Division 2 level. You have a higher probability of attaining a well-rounded experience that balances your involvement in sports with other activities like clubs, social life, academics, and more. Division II schools have fewer athletic programs and smaller budgets but still provide high-quality athletic competition.

NCAA Division III

This division comprises schools prioritizing academics over athletics. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships but still offer a high level of athletic competition for student-athletes passionate about their sport. Playing at Division 3 schools provides more of an academic focus for student-athletes and more time to enjoy your college experience. This means student-athletes generally have greater flexibility to participate in clubs, social activities, and study abroad programs. 


The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is another governing body for college athletics in the US, with over 250 member schools. NAIA schools offer scholarships and compete in various sports, including basketball, soccer, and volleyball. It is very similar to Division III in regards to academic/athletic balance. 


The National Junior College Athletic Association is the governing body for 2-year colleges in the US. NJCAA schools offer athletic scholarships and compete in a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, and basketball. These colleges are 2-year programs. Many student-athletes who attend an NJCAA are looking to improve their skills or ensure they are NCAA eligible before transferring to a 4-year college. 


The California Community College Athletic Association is the governing body for community colleges in California. CCCAA schools offer athletic scholarships and compete in various sports, including football, soccer, and swimming. Similar to NJCAA, this association is comprised of a 2-year colleges for student-athletes who are still preparing for a four-year college. 

To learn more about how recruiting works for programs part of the NCAA, visit our article here. We cover recruiting practices in the NAIA in more detail here too.

Build a Target List

When starting your recruiting process, it will be important that you build out a robust target list of schools. Your list should include anywhere from 20-30 college programs. When building your list, you must have a good mix of schools that are “reach,” “fit,” and “safety,” both academically and athletically. Building your Target List of Schools will happen earlier in your recruiting process but will also be something you continue to work on throughout. Don’t be afraid to add or remove programs at any time. With the SportsRecruits School Search Tool, you can search for programs based on location, size, major, division, etc. Begin building your target list now for free.

Educate Yourself About Recruiting Rules

It is essential to know all of the Recruiting Rules and Regulations before you move forward in contacting college coaches. Remember, these rules are for the college coaches. There are no rules surrounding the prospective student-athlete. You can contact college coaches at any time in your recruiting process. However, it is still good to know the limitations of college coaches so you know what to expect in terms of what type of responses and when to expect recruiting-like conversations. 

Familiarize Yourself With Important Email Structures

Communication is the most important aspect of the recruiting process. As a high school athlete, you must promote yourself and proactively contact college coaches you have a sincere interest in. Start a conversation by sending an introductory email using our reliable email templates. We recommend contacting both the head coach and any assistant coaches with an available email address to maximize the opportunity of it being seen and getting a response. The SportsRecruits Messaging System streamlines adding all current staff emails to your message with a single click.

Keep in mind you may not always get an immediate response from coaches. Be patient and avoid getting discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately. Remember that these college coaches can receive hundreds of emails a week, depending on how popular their program is. It can take several emails to get a college coach’s attention. Start contacting coaches when you feel ready to commit to doing what it takes to be a college student-athlete!

Picking the Right Fit

When choosing a college, it's important to consider all aspects of the school, not just the athletic program. We suggest evaluating colleges based on the following five categories:

  • Athletic Fit
  • Academic Fit
  • Social Fit
  • Geographic Fit
  • Financial Fit

Build your Target List of schools with these 5 factors in mind. This is important because your choice of school will impact not just the next four years of your life, but the next forty years as well. In the article here, we guide you through the process of evaluating whether a school is a strong fit for you based on these 5 categories.

Importance of Video 

College coaches need video to evaluate you. We suggest having a highlight reel, a skills video, and raw footage available for college coaches to view. You should be updating your video after every season so coaches can follow your skill development. Learn how to put together a highlight reel that coaches want to see here

How Can I Stay On a Coach’s Radar?

During your recruiting process, it's important to maintain communication with college coaches. You can do this by updating them on your academic, athletic, or event-related updates, or by sending them new videos. You must take the initiative by reaching out to college coaches and attending events where you can be seen.

Throughout your recruiting process, a great way to stay on college coaches' radar is through communication. Whether it is surrounding events, academic, or athletic updates, or sending along new highlights and video, it is important to keep coaches in the loop.

Besides introducing yourself to college coaches, here are other reasons you should be reaching out:

Personal Updates

  • Updating a highlight video
  • Updating a transcript
  • Updating test scores
  • Updating a coach with your in-season updates

Events Updates

  • Signing up for an event (camp, clinic, prospect day, showcase) you know the coach is attending
  • Inviting a coach to an event, even if they aren’t on the attendance list
  • Sharing your game schedule for an event they are attending

Expressing Program Interest

  • Congratulating a coach on a recent win
  • Asking a coach for more info about their program
  • Wishing a coach luck in an upcoming game

NCAA Eligibility Requirements

To compete in NCAA-sanctioned sports, it is essential to maintain strong grades and follow the protocols they have put in place. For those interested in Division I or II athletics, there is an eligibility center that verifies you are academically eligible and have maintained your amateur status. It’s crucial to follow all recruiting rules and regulations to ensure you can compete as a college athlete.


Ready to get recruited?

Build your student-athlete profile, upload unlimited video and build highlights, research schools, and gain recruiting exposure to college coaches free.

Get started free 🡒