By Carlos Toro
Athletes know that the transition from high school to college-level athletics involves big changes and challenges. For a lot of college coaches, those differences also come with a large set of added responsibilities.
Division I Athletics is a nationwide chess game in which one word enters college coaches’ vocabulary on a daily, sometimes, hourly basis: recruiting.
According to the NCAA, there are more than 170,000 student-athletes in the more than 300 schools that make up NCAA’s Division I.
For many of the coaches at Rider, it is arguably the biggest part of their job. But recruiting is not just simply making a couple of phone calls and calling it a day, according to men’s soccer Head Coach Charlie Inverso.
“Recruiting is about 75 percent of the job,” Inverso said. “It’s around the clock and it’s mostly a 24/7, 365-day-a-year type of job.”
Inverso, like many other coaches, also have to face obstacles in recruiting, outside of looking for talented high school athletes.
Coaches have to find athletes that not only fit the roles as athletes, but as students that exemplify the university’s philosophy.
“We try to find the right fit when we’re out recruiting,” Inverso said. “Rider has several things that set it apart from a lot of different schools. We are a small school with great athletics and we tell potential recruits that when you come into Rider, you’ll be treated as if you were a part of a family.”
While recruiting may seem like a one-dimensional aspect of college athletics, each sport carries its own set of obstacles that coaches have to manage.
Outside of receiving phone calls and emails from college coaches, some recruits go and take tours of the schools that are reaching out to them. To many coaches, this is the big, and sometimes last, opportunity to convince a potential student athlete to be a part of the school and athletics program.
In addition to tours of the school, official visits include sitting in a class with someone from the team, preferably a class that is in line with what the potential recruit is interested in majoring in. From then on, the team sometimes invites student athletes to partake in practice and even watch a game so that they can understand the coach and the team’s skills firsthand.
“There are always obstacles in recruiting,” women’s basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan said. “They can change based on the player. Distance from home, level of basketball, academic major, size of the university all play into the final decision.”
Soccer is a popular sport all over the world, and Inverso faces the tough task of having to find recruits globally. He has been able to get players such as Jose Aguinaga, who is from Spain, Florian Valot from France and Christian Flath from Germany, to name a few.
But the challenge of recruiting outside of the country is augmented by the fact that, unlike other schools in the MAAC, Inverso does not have a full-time assistant staff that can make constant trips to Europe.
“The first two years of me being the head coach at Rider was a nightmare,” Inverso said. “Even though recruiting got easier in the third year, recruiting takes way too much time. Most sports do not have a full-time assistant staff and it is tough.”
But the important part of recruiting is that coaches are not just trying to sell to recruits on their school’s athletics, but also on the experience that only the school can provide for that prospective student-athlete.
“The obstacles can change based on the player,” Milligan said.
Other schools in the United States were recruiting Rider women’s soccer junior Hollie Kelsh, who is from England.
When she first heard of Rider, she knew that this would be the school to go to. She said she spoke with current Head Coach Drayson Hounsome early on.
“When I was getting recruited, I had not applied to any schools in England because I was sure I wanted to come to school over here in the U.S.,” Kelsh said. “I had a few other schools contact me but, as soon as Rider got in contact, I knew it was the school I wanted to come to and play soccer for.”
For new coaches who went through the process of getting recruited, such as softball Head Coach Jaclyn Timko, it’s all about making the adjustments to recruiting in 2016.
“I think the biggest thing now is that social media is huge,” Timko said. “When I was being recruited, videos were a big thing. You would make a video and then send a copy of it to schools.”
Nowadays, coaches are actively on the web looking at videos of players and finding tournaments and events that will feature players that coaches are interested in recruiting. Coaches spend more time recruiting than preparing for games.
Coaches have to answer dozens of emails daily. Some days, especially during National Signing Day period, the number of emails more than doubles.
Tennis Head Coach Douglas Potkay said that he receives about 15 emails a day.
Potkay said that it is not just answering emails and making phone calls. Part of recruiting is to travel to various states in order to try and recruit players as well as to get Rider’s name out in the public for people to take notice.
“What I did to recruit last year was go to high school finals for men’s and women’s tennis to show that Rider University does exist and I tried to get some local players,” Potkay said. “I think it is important to get the name out there when you’re out recruiting.”
But for some sports, another thing to juggle when recruiting players is trying to maximize the scholarships they have, and using them to attract athletes.
Contrary to popular belief, not all student-athletes have full scholarships. Some only have partial schoalrships and that is another factor to watch out for when recruiting.
“I do have a limited amount of scholarships and that is something to manage when I’m out recruiting,” Potkay said.
It is a long process, according to Timko, but a necessary one to thrive in athletics. College athletics is a never-ending cycle of change and in an environment where most teams get players to be a part of the team for up to four years, in most cases, recruiting has become a big deal in college sports.
Coaches have to make adjustments year in and year out and figure out what their team needs and recruiting tactics change slightly depending on what coaches think best will improve the program.
“As a coach, going from one year to another, I’m always rethinking the process of what I need to do for recruiting,” Potkay said. “It’s about what will help the team. It’s an ongoing challenge.”