For high school distance runners eyeing a collegiate athletic career, securing a spot on a collegiate running team involves more than just impressive race times. Navigating the college recruitment process requires a strategic approach that includes academics and effective communication with collegiate coaches. In this article, we’ll explore key strategies to maximize your chances of catching the attention of college coaches and securing your spot in collegiate running programs. In most cases, if you don’t advocate for yourself, you won’t get noticed. So, just like running, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Many of the distance runners that I have coached in high school have continued to run at the collegiate level. Usually, three or four athletes in each graduating class. Most of them received little to no money in athletic scholarships, but almost all of them received some type of academic scholarships. Many colleges just don’t have a lot of funding to hand out athletic scholarships, but they do have the ability to influence the admissions office and find academic scholarships. So, if you are dreaming of a full ride… keep dreaming.

The College Recruitment Process

Collegiate recruitment often begins early, sometimes as early as sophomore or junior year of high school. It’s crucial to understand the timelines and requirements set forth by various colleges and universities. Research the NCAA eligibility criteria, familiarize yourself with the rules, and comply with academic and athletic standards. There are lots of private services that offer to assist with recruitment efforts. A word to the wise, most of them are a waste of money.

Showcasing Athletic Abilities

First off, your high school ranking in state, in your division, or own your team mean very little. To get a sense of your value to collegiate teams, you need to use a broader lens and compare yourself to runners across the country, or even the world. That can be humbling, but it helps you to set some realistic goals. I would also recommend that you take a look at the team pages on the college website and look at their recent performances. Can you help them win? That’s the real question.

  1. Consistent Performance: Maintain consistent performance in races, showcasing your capabilities across different terrains and distances. College coaches seek athletes who demonstrate endurance, speed, and adaptability. So, participate in a number of events in all 3 sports seasons if possible. Example Portfolio: 400m, 800m, 1500m or 1600m, 3000m or 3200m, and 5K XC

  2. Performance Benchmarks for Attraction:

    • Division 1:

      • 5K Cross Country: Sub-15:30 for males, sub-18:00 for females.

      • 1500m/1600m: Sub-4:10 for males, sub-4:50 for females.

    • Division 2:

      • 5K Cross Country: Sub-16:30 for males, sub-19:00 for females.

      • 1500m/1600m: Sub-4:40 for males, sub-5:20 for females.

    • Division 3:

      • 5K Cross Country: Sub-17:30 for males, sub-20:30 for females.

      • 1500m/1600m: Sub-4:40 for males, sub-5:30 for females.

  3. Race Portfolio: Compile a comprehensive portfolio of your race results, highlighting personal records, notable achievements, and any awards or recognitions received in competitive events.

  4. Athletic Video and Stats: Create a well-edited athletic video showcasing your running form, race highlights, and personal bests. Combine this with a concise athletic resume including stats, coach contact information, and academic achievements. Video is a powerful selling medium.

Scholarships and College Recruitment

  1. Division 1 Scholarships and Expectations:

    • Division 1 schools offer the most competitive athletic scholarships. Full scholarships are more common, covering tuition, room, board, and books for athletes.

    • Expectations are high, with rigorous training schedules, intense competition, and a substantial time commitment.

    • Coaches in Division 1 programs often have larger teams, and competition for spots can be fierce.

  2. Division 2 Scholarships and Expectations:

    • Division 2 schools offer athletic scholarships that may cover a portion of expenses.

    • While the level of competition is high, the demands might be slightly less intense compared to Division 1.

    • Coaches often expect dedicated commitment to training and competitions.

  3. Division 3 Opportunities and Expectations:

    • Division 3 schools do not offer athletic scholarships based on athletic abilities, but they can provide financial aid through other means.

    • Athletes in Division 3 have a greater focus on the student-athlete balance, allowing for more flexibility in balancing academics and athletics.

    • Coaches emphasize participation for the love of the sport, fostering a supportive team environment that often more closely resembles the high school team environment.

High School vs. Collegiate Training Expectations

Transitioning from high school to collegiate running brings significant changes in training expectations. If you used to skip the summer training or take a season off each year, you’ll need to step it up big time.

  • Training Volume and Intensity: Collegiate programs often entail higher training volumes and intensities, with more focus on specialized workouts and periodization.

  • Year-Round Commitment: Collegiate athletes engage in year-round training, including off-season workouts and conditioning to maintain peak performance throughout the year.

  • Training Structure: Collegiate coaches implement more structured and tailored training plans, emphasizing individualized workouts and specific roles within the team.

Building Relationships with Coaches

Good coaches are interested in you as a person first, and an athlete second. Present yourself in an honest and candid way. Be respectful, do your research ahead of time and have a list of questions prepared for your conversation.

  1. Contacting Coaches: Initiate contact with college coaches early. Craft personalized emails expressing your interest in their program, highlighting your achievements, and expressing a desire to contribute to their team’s success. Also be sure to mention your academic interests and your interest in the school apart from running.

  2. Campus Visits and Interviews: Schedule visits to campuses that interest you. Use these opportunities to meet coaches, attend training sessions, and get a feel for the campus atmosphere. Interviews and conversations with coaches can provide insight into their expectations and program culture. Take the coach up on any overnight invitations and spend some down time with the athletes.

Balancing Athletics and Academics

An average runner with high grades will always have a better chance to get in to the college of their choice than a very good runner with poor grades.

  1. Academic Excellence: Maintain a strong academic record. Coaches look for athletes that excel in the classroom. Good academic standing is important and highlights your ambition and willingness to work hard. It also opens doors to admission preference and academic financial awards.

  2. Time Management: Develop strong time management skills to balance training, schoolwork, and other commitments.

It’s YOUR Choice Where You Attend College

Navigating the recruitment process for collegiate running demands dedication, proactive communication, and a holistic approach to your athletic and academic development. By understanding the nuances of the process, showcasing your athletic ability, building relationships with coaches, and excelling academically, you can enhance your chances of securing a spot in a collegiate running program that aligns with your goals and aspirations.

Remember, the journey to collegiate running isn’t just about securing a spot on a team; it’s about finding the right fit that first nurtures your academic ambitions. So, ask questions. Talk to current student athletes at each college of interest. Make a decision based upon careful research and consideration. Ask yourself if you’d be happy there even if you didn’t run for the team. And, remember that you can always transfer if things don’t work out.

College Recruitment Series by Alan Versaw of Milesplit

Article 1 – The Eligibility Center
Article 2 – Getting on the Radar Screen
Article 3 – What Amount of Scholarship Should I Expect
Article 4 – Visits and Contacts
Article 5 – The National Letter of Intent
Article 6 – Sizing Up the Coach
Article 7 – Questions to Ask
Article 8 – Transitioning from High School to College
Article 9 – The JCs and a Parting Thought or Two
Article 10 – Self-Marketing 101






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