On July 1, 2011, my youngest son came back from his off season wrestling practice with a letter. Inside that letter was an offer from a Division I school. Assistant coaches from the school met him at practice, the very first thing in the morning, on the very first day the NCAA rules allowed them to have direct contact with athletes. He was excited and flattered as he should have been, but he was nowhere near ready to commit. This was just the beginning. Ahead of us, a journey that would take months. Now, six years later, he is a graduate of a Big Ten university, getting his diploma this past May. As I took a look back at the time before we knew where he would go to school I came up with ten tips for parents who are entering the recruiting process.
1. Patience is a virtue
Wait. At a time when 15-year-old wrestlers give verbal commitments, the best advice I can give is to have patience and let the process play out. Take all of the official visits even if your family is already sold on one school. My son wanted to commit to three different schools throughout the process. The final one was the right one.
2. Know the rules
As I mentioned above the NCAA allows coaches to directly contact your son or daughter on July 1 after his or her junior year in high school. The NCAA allows five official visits to schools and typically the school will pay for an athlete's travel as well as hotel and meals for the athlete and any family that comes along. Some schools have the recruit stay with members of the team. The visits are mandated to be no longer than 48 hours. Be prepared to sign a compliance letter before the visit. They vary from school to school. One specified "no strippers" … but typically they stress no drinking or illegal activities.
3. Money isn't everything
We all know that college today costs a small fortune (depending on the school, maybe even a big fortune). But don't be blinded by the big offer. Four or five years of misery at the wrong school is also a heavy price to pay.
4. One size does not fit all
There's more to life than wrestling. Your son or daughter needs to be in a place where they are comfortable outside of the wrestling room. Look at the town or city in which the school is located. Is it a place you can see your child? How far is it from home and will your son or daughter prefer to be close or to stretch their independence muscle? Check out the vibe on campus. Do students look happy and laid back or serious and all business, and which atmosphere would fit your son or daughter best?
5. Manners matter
This team and these coaches will be your son or daughter's surrogate family. Take note of what they say and what they do, how they conduct themselves. Is this the same way you would hope your son or daughter would act? One wrestling mom told me she ruled out a school when the coaches were two hours late for a home visit. It wasn't that they were late … It was that they didn't bother to call and let her know.
6. Do your homework
With Google at our fingertips there's no reason not to know as much as you can about the coaches who are helping mold your son and daughter into a fully independent adult. An official visit and a home visit will help you get some measure of the man or woman, but a good online search can tell you more.
7. The agenda
This is a tough one because so much can change, but try to look at what a coach's agenda might be. Look at the lineup that he or she has. Do you see a place where your son or daughter might fit in? Would it be right away? Or would it be a year or two down the road and which would you and your son or daughter prefer? What would have to happen for your son or daughter to make the starting lineup and are you OK with that? Talk about redshirting. Make sure the coach's philosophy is in line with your own, whether it's to redshirt or not.
8. Sweat the small stuff
The details are important. As far as the money goes, after finding out what the offer is find out what other scholarships (academic or otherwise) might be available to fill in any gaps. If you have to take loans to make up the difference be informed about what loans are available and how much you'll really pay. On the academic side make sure the school has the classes and the major that your son or daughter wants. How accommodating is the school when it comes to their athletes' schedules and making up work when it has to be missed because of competition? On the wrestling side, what are the facilities like? What happens if your son or daughter is injured? Are the athletic trainers either at every practice or nearby?
9. Make a list, check it twice
We found this really helpful. I'm a teacher so my instinct was to go to a grading rubric for each school my son was considering. This way we could compare side by side -- the team, the coaches, the school, the place and the money (both offered and cost beyond that). After all the official visits we sat down over dinner to fill out the rubric. We invited his high school coach and each of us filled in the grid. There were points for overall academics, academic support, student/teacher ratio, stability of coaching staff, competition in the room, teammate likability, history of success and much more. Put anything that's important to you and your son or daughter on the list and see how each school stacks up.
10. Enjoy the ride
This is a stressful and exhausting time, but don't forget to enjoy it. My son was so anxious he broke out in a rash. But it's a problem that many, many people would love to have. One of the best parts for me was meeting other parents and making friendships on that two-day official visit that have lasted for the six years since. Don't be so caught up in the decision that you miss the fun. This is when you and your son or daughter get to bask in the rewards that, in almost all cases, come from years of hard work by both of you. Congratulations!