The Recruitment Story—A High School Coach's Perspective

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

I’m the coach who keeps everything: every pace, every workout, every mile split, every school and meet record from the history of our teams. A senior will ask me, “Hey Coach, do you know what I ran this course in my freshman year?” Why yes, yes I do! And I can tell you what the temperature was that day, the intensity of the wind, what you ran that week for practice… Why do I keep all of this? Because I might have a slight paper-hoarding tendency? Errr… yes. However, even more so, I want my kids to be able to look back: to see their progress, believe in the process, invest in their training, and to piece together their story. When I first started coaching high school track and field and cross country ten years ago, I didn’t think there was anything more exciting than seeing kids achieve new levels of fitness and reach new PRs; however, I soon learned that even more so, the excitement truly came when those athletes signed on the dotted line to compete at the collegiate level. To me, it is the greatest compliment a high school coach can receive. An athlete had such a great experience with my team that he or she wants to go out and continue to compete in college!? What could prove to be a greater success as a high school coach?

It is interesting to me though. There are all different types of coaches, and I understand that everyone has his or her own style when it comes to coaching adolescents. Some are really hands-on, eat, sleep, and breathe the sport. It’s not just couple thousand-dollar contract. It’s a passion. For me, it’s one of the best parts of my day. These kids aren’t just numbers and paces. They are family. We laugh together, sweat together, fight together, cry together, and motivate each other to be our best selves. That is a bond that is priceless. It’s the relationships built that propel me to want to do all I can to help my athletes figuratively and literally clear their next hurdle, to crush their next goal, whatever that may be. And that has been a huge driving force for me in creating Connext. Because although, I am happy to take a college coach’s phone call during dinnertime, or write countless letters of rec and emails to coaches on my athletes’ behalf, I know not all student-athletes have that support system and someone to accurately share their story.

Creating this opportunity for high school athletes has been an experience: an overwhelmingly positive and exciting one; however, like anything, it has it challenges. Whereas I have had a ton of positive feedback from college and high school coaches alike, I have had a few “skeptics” trying to understand why something like this is needed. One of the comments I got was “Athletes have respective state meets to display their skills for college coaches.” I love the state meet. I will never forget my first experience there, and I never grow tired of witnessing my athletes see and experience that moment for the first time. It is surreal. I have witnessed state meets of all kinds—football, basketball, wrestling, volleyball—however, there is NOTHING like seeing and hearing (at least in Wisconsin) the power and magnitude of the WIAA State Track and Field Meet. The awe in the kids’ eyes when they see 10,000 fans in the stands, taking that first step for many on an actual college track—it’s a sight I never grow tired of, and while I certainly understand that coaches from all over the country can attend and watch kids compete, I know fully well, that one meet doesn’t always accurately allow an athlete to demonstrate his or her true skill. For instance, I will never forget standing outside the fence, near the 200m marker at the state meet in 2016. I was ready to watch the D1 men’s 800m run. There was an incredible junior boy from our conference racing, and I was beyond excited to see him throw down. We heard the gun go off… and then go off again. Sharing in the audible “aww” from the crowd, my heart sank when I saw it was indeed this terrific young man who false started and missed out on his chance to compete.

Another comment I received was “Times are times, and something like this is not really necessary.” As with the story above, I understand that some may say, “Regardless, that boy made it to state. Obviously, those times were there.” And yes, I can understand that. However, even his story was not quite that cut and dry. This athlete didn’t have a season chalked full of PRs. His times got slower. His frustration grew. He eventually was diagnosed with anemia. He worked through and came back from a stress fracture. He had a rough road, and he is not alone. I shudder to think if my worth and potential as an athlete was determined by just merely times on a spreadsheet. Just like my kids worry that their academic future will be determined solely through their one ACT score.

I received the comment about times just the other day, and as I was running an easy 3 miles with my distance team, I thought more about that comment. I thought about all the athletes that I have had the pleasure of coaching and all the stories I knew and all the tears and hugs we shared over “times.” To me, that time isn’t just a time. It doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t say that you competed most of the season with what they thought was tendonitis and turned out to be a stress fracture, so your times were slower than normal because you were fighting through the pain. They don’t say that you’ve been working through your parents’ divorce and your focus has been off. It doesn’t say, my mom got diagnosed with stage IV cancer this season. Shoot, it doesn’t even say, “I’m an idiot, and I’ve been up all night playing Call of Duty for the last three weeks!” Connext was created to give athletes a platform to share their story—their full story, and that is why the combine itself is only part of the experience. To see times and physical potential is obviously very important in the recruitment process, but the mental, social, emotional, and academic side is equally important in athlete recruitment and is just as important, if not more important, when looking at coachability and potential, and that is exactly why we wanted to create a way for coaches and athletes to connect on numerous levels: to see the physical potential, to speak directly to athletes and parents for a feel of the social, and to continue to follow and speak further with potential recruits through their online profile. Here athletes can tell their story—not just their times and PRs—but their academic success (and maybe failures, that they learned and grew from), their involvement in community, their work ethic, their personal setbacks, and amazing accomplishments.

I feel adamantly that every athlete deserves a fair shot at competing at the next level if he or she so desires. Not all athletes are writers; however, they all have a story, and I hope Connext can be that experience that allows that story to be shared, and can help them turn the page onto the next new and exciting chapter of their lives as collegiate athletes.

116 views0 comments