Californians are always wary of highway sigalerts when planning their route from the Inland Empire to the beaches of San Diego or from the Santa Monica hiking hills to the Santa Monica Place shopping center. And for young lacrosse players seeking to continue their educational and sports journey in college, the sigalerts are many – but careful planning, research and the identification of a knowledgeable advisor and advocate can ease the process.
Research: Early and Often
With the weather that we all love, lacrosse is a year round sport. And in this sport that we all love, college and recruiting research should be a year round process. For California players, there’s simply no hopping in the car to drive to multiple college prospect camps, some of which might include campus tours, coach meetings and hanging out with prospective team members. With that in mind, California families must start early, plan strategically and take advantage of travel opportunities as they arise.
When Do I Start?
I advise players as young as seventh and eighth grade to take the time to walk the college campuses that are close to home. In southern California, that means taking a few weekends to check out USC, UCLA, or San Diego State or travel north to UC-Davis, Stanford and Berkeley. If you’re headed east for an event, please factor in an extra day to drive to any campus within a few hours distance. From Philadelphia you can see UPenn, Haverford, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s in a day. Two to four hours further, you can fit in Rutgers, Bucknell, Lehigh, Lafayette, Penn State, and more. I don’t expect an eighth grader to know that he wants to be an engineer and therefore Lehigh or Penn State are solid academic matches, but just getting the feel of a campus can be helpful towards a final decision. Thinking about Lehigh? Pretend you’re a hill-climbing Billy Goat. Interested in Penn State? You’d better love to walk some distance between classes and your practice location. You’ll understand exactly what I mean when you land on these campuses.
If you’re interested in the great academics and lacrosse that happen in NESCAC, you have to start your research from home, travel strategically and communicate well in advance. Also, it’s very likely there are Division III schools with amazing academics and solid lacrosse programs that you may not even be acquainted with. Now is the time to get smart about them. [Note: Seth Jacoby, 3d Lacrosse’s Director of Division III Programs, will be speaking about DIII opportunities at the upcoming Oceanside Hustle tournament, December 5 – 6 at the SoCal Sports Complex. Everyone in the community is welcome to attend whether you are participating in the tournament or not. Check out 3dLacrosse.com for additional details].
First, Go Big
More than ever, California players are getting bigger and better college opportunities. Like the surf out here, it’s a timely wave of momentum: high school and club coaching have improved, players are getting involved in the sport at younger ages and kids from other sports have added lacrosse to their schedules raising the level of competition for everyone. Having noted these new advantages, California kids still need to “go big” with their list of target schools. I generally advise players to begin with a list of 20 to 25 schools, with the idea as the process evolves you’ll end up liking about 20% of them, 20% of them will end up liking you and your coach or trusted advisor will find that only 20% of the list you’ve developed is appropriate. In the end, only 15 –20% of schools will engage with you at all so if start with just eight schools you may be left with one. And while 25 may sound like a lot, the list will winnow away quickly as your research becomes more focused.
The “Look” Conundrum
Part of any strategic collegiate plan is making sure that you’re attending the right events as well as the right mix of events. Tournaments that include sideline scouts and recruiters are best for highlighting how you play in a team environment while showcases give you the opportunity to display your skills more effectively as an individual. Both are important. But even the most dedicated player shouldn’t attend every event that pops up because this can lead to burnout and potentially less-than-optimal play. Four to five events in the fall and summer should more than cover your needs if you’re planning carefully. If you’re team isn’t slated to attend an event with a coach you’ve communicated with and want to play in front of, find a team that is going to that event and ask to join up. I’ve made room on 3d Lacrosse rosters for kids based on this situation.
Perhaps most importantly, is the advance research and communication that should take place as you embark on this journey. Too many players attend events *hoping* that a particular coach will check them out and fire off an e-mail introduction. Instead, you must do the research and advance communications work that will *guarantee* there’s a coach or two in attendance watching out for you specifically (among other players, of course). If a school doesn’t show interest in you, move to the next opportunity. Certainly this doesn’t mean giving up your dream program entirely. It does, however, mean that you should expand your target list.
Who Can Help Me?
Beyond your own wishes, research, intuition and experience, the two most important people who can help you make your final college decision are your parents. They can help with research to balance your academic desires with your interest in playing lacrosse. It’s not the lucky families that get recruited; it’s the smart, tactical ones.
Equally important is reaching out to trusted advisors. This may be a mix of high school-based college counselors, high school coaches and club coaches. As the Director of Los Angeles and Orange County for 3d Lacrosse, we want everyone to take advantage of our in-depth knowledge of the college recruiting process. It’s part of my job to help you continue your lacrosse journey and, more than anything, I am well-positioned to help you make realistic choices based on your skill level and academic interests. I am fortunate enough to have made lacrosse my profession and I am committed to finding you a college home with challenging academics combined with great lacrosse tailored to your strengths and interests.
Please don’t underestimate the value of research for all sorts of personal preferences. When I was the Head Coach at Arizona State, it felt like a failure to me if a player I’d recruited ended up transferring. But I understood it wasn’t my full responsibility. I always tried to paint a realistic picture of what Arizona State looked and felt like and how we ran our top-ranked, extremely competitive MCLA program. But if you’re not a fan of dry heat and cacti combined with a classic Big School environment, nothing will keep you at ASU.
Other player’s parents may also not be the best source of information for your final college selection. Parents spend a lot of time in the stands chatting with one another and oftentimes what works for one family isn’t appropriate for another. But if your teammate’s father played lacrosse at the school you most want to attend, he might be a fine source of information and a potential reference.
There are also tools that can help. LacrossePrep is an online academic and college matching platform that provides test and academic preparation, a college “fit and match” component and an extremely detailed library of every school’s financial aid policies (very valuable!) LacrossePrep can help you research schools by state, top majors, athletic divisions and dozens of other characteristics. It is the only tool in the marketplace that compares the profile you develop within the tool that includes your grades and achievements to those of any college’s current freshman class. It lets you know if a school is a good match or out of reach. You can adjust various elements of your profile to see how to make yourself a stronger match for the schools you’re most interested in. It’s a tool we support at 3d Lacrosse and we think it’s truly helpful.
Academics are King
If you have the desire, grades and test scores to attend an Ivy, don’t decide to shoot lower because a coach is calling on you (unless it’s a really great alternative match). Make academics a priority. You already love lacrosse so choosing a solid sports program is the easy part. But if your real calling is meteorology, Penn State is home to Accu-Weather, one of the world’s premier institutions whose scientists teach at the university. I grew up near a dozen or more great lacrosse schools while living in Maryland. They have programs that are steeped in tradition and boast fine academics, but again, if meteorology is your passion, find out if any of them even offer the major.
Patience Can Pay Off
Finally, don’t panic if you’re not recruited as early as you think you should be. I’m not a fan of players being recruited before they’ve stepped into their first high school game. It can be a contentious discussion among industry coaches. If you hope to make it onto the roster of a DI school but haven’t been recruited by the end of sophomore year, don’t panic. There may still be room for you. I had a player reject several offers in favor of waiting until he was a rising senior when he found a place at the DI school of his choice. This may not be typical but there is a lot that happens during the recruiting process and you never know exactly when or how a school might reach out to you. Division III schools are known for being slow decision-makers often waiting until junior year and beyond to start their recruiting process for potential prospects.
Start Down the Road
So with all this in mind, I’m hoping that you’re setting up your own personal sigalert to help you get further down the road in your college research process. Some clichés apply strongly: this is truly a marathon not a sprint and I’m happy to get you into the proper frame and mind (and running shoes). The key is to find a home that gives you everything that’s a priority just for you: the academics, athletics, social scene, weather… and the list goes on.