“I have a question about official visits for my child. They’ve selected five official visits and now does not want to attend one of the schools. He would prefer to attend a different school. What is the etiquette on telling the schools?”
It struck a nerve. “From a maturity and responsibility side you made the commitment you should go,” one coach told us, but added, “From a practical side if you are not interested you are wasting the time of all involved.”
Our flash request for comment generated seventy-six responses (some 9,000 words) words of advice. That’s a dozen pages of single-spaced type at 10 pt font. Figuring you’d prefer Gregg Troy over Tolstoy, we’ve boiled it down here.
As a recruit, you are permitted to take up to five official visits and unlimited official visits. Official visits mean the team will pay for all or a portion of your transportation costs, meals and lodging while an unofficial visit is on your dime. They’re a vital part of the recruiting process, but they’re an enormous commitment on the part of (and cost to) the school so you should take every invitation seriously.
Just because you have five visits, doesn’t mean a student has to take them. Many coaches felt that a student should be able to narrow their academic and athletic interests to a small handful of schools over the summer. Many also questioned whether it was possible for a student to find five free weekends during their school year without a severe deterioration in their academics or training. Colorado State’s John Mattos recommends keeping one visit open just in case the other four don’t work out. Conversely, that fifth visit could be saved in case a student’s dream school (or previously unknown school) shows interest later in the process.
Fewer visits also means coaches know that a swimmer is truly interested in their school, not in a trip to a far-flung locale or the free chance to hang with friends. There’s also the matter of cost. For each official visit, coaches spend dozens of hours on paperwork and hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Just ask Hawaii head coach Victor Wales. For him, official visits are, at minimum a $1,000 investment in airfare alone, but even the biggest programs aren’t immune from costs. “Swimming and diving teams are on limited budgets and in this climate of program cuts,” explains Southern Cal head coach David Salo, “it is important for prospects to understand their personal responsibility in the relationship.”
Then there’s the issue of plane tickets. Tickets cost schools real money but the airline will release a flight to the athlete to put toward the cost of another ticket. That being the case, coaches agreed that parents and swimmers should reimburse the school at least a portion of the ticket’s price.
Why Do You Want Out?
Before de-committing to a visit (or committing to a visit in the first place), ask yourself WHY you want or don’t want to visit a particular school. You can rest assured that coaches are doing the same as they evaluate who they want to invite. More than one coach described recruiting as a business. Schools, according to one Ivy League Coach, “are trying to field the most successful team possible,” while recruits should be looking to find the best fit to accomplish their academic and athletic goals. Said another, “Recruiting is work. There is no (and shouldn’t be) emotion involved.
Emotion is involved of course, especially when a student-athlete’s respect for a coach can make it difficult to say no. “Be prepared with a reason and a good one,” explained one ACC Coach. “If you committed to an official visit, in my mind that means you were interested at that point. What changed? I'm going to find out whether the objection is real or not. Ultimately, I will always let a kid out of a visit regardless of whether they can account for it but it’s going to be much harder if they aren't prepared for a discussion.”
Most coaches agreed with one head coach who explained, “If someone would like to cancel a trip I have no problem with it providing the reasons are clear, thought has been put into it and appreciation has been expressed.” They likewise agreed that if an athlete has decided where they are going to go, they should not visit.
In many cases the spurned coach is likely to wish you well. “I have never found myself upset with a potential recruit who was honest with me,” Southern Illinois’ Rick Walker told us. “I follow the philosophy of, ‘if I was interested in them to recruit them, then I have to be interested in their finding the best fit even if it is not me.’”
Of course with emotions and money and competitive A-type personalities involved, things can get messy, especially in the Southeastern Conference where cutthroat recruiting is the norm. That can translate into pressure on the recruit. “Many times I think PSA's "jump the gun" on committing to official visits,” explains Duquesne’s David Sheets. “Either the coach is so pressing on the issue or the flattery of the situation gets the best of the student-athlete.”
Still, honesty will win coaches over. One coach wrote that he just got off the phone with a recruit who had them fourth or fifth on her dance card until getting a call from Auburn. “Now she isn’t what she wanted to do because…well, ‘it was Auburn’” he explained, “But she at least called ME about it…and was truthful in the matter.”
Other coaches aren’t so understanding. “I would say 10% of the time it is for legitimate reasons - we were too far from home, or they needed more money or fill in the reason,” but more often than not he felt cancellations were a result of pressured (if not negative) recruiting and large promises. “For two straight years, I’ve had the same SEC coach talk recruits out of a November trip, which would have been their 5th trip, with the promise of a full ride if they cancelled to our school and went on his trip instead.”
Be upfront and do it quickly.
Timing is key and the time to tell the coach is immediately. Ohio State head coach Bill Dorenkott puts it succinctly, “It is better to say no or change your mind during the recruiting process as opposed to further down the line.”
That’s because coaching staffs value time (as in theirs) over times (of the swimmers). In fact, time can become more valuable than money according to Brigham Young coach Stan Crump, “While you never want to waste resources, it is even worse to waste everyone’s time.” Steve Eckelcamp of Florida Atlantic added that with so many recruits out there, “having someone that knows that they are either interested or not is refreshing.”
“The worst thing for a coach,” explained one Pac 10 assistant, “is making small talk for ten minutes only to have the recruit tell you that they have decided not to take a trip. You are sitting there thinking,’ well I just wasted 10 minutes.’”
Acting sooner rather than later also has a hidden benefit. “An often overlooked aspect of the recruiting process is that most schools have limited funds and opportunities,” explained one coach from a top Mid-Major school. That means when a recruit goes on a visit to a school they’re not serious about, they take that spot, “away from someone who truly may be interested, yet never had the opportunity.”
In the end, telling a coach is like taking off a band-aid – the quicker and more directly you approach it, the less painful the process.
It’s Not Personal (At Least it Shouldn’t Be)
It’s even less painful of a process when you understand that programs – even the biggest – hear the word “no” all the time. In our conversations not a single coach reported landing every swimmer they recruited, but many offered stories of their rivals who chose to make the process very uncomfortable for the recruit.
When that happens, most agreed, it reveals a coach’s true colors and generally confirms the swimmer and parents’ worst supplications. In such cases, recruits and parents have to remember that only they can make the final decision. “As coaches, sometimes we put so much time into the process that we lose sight of whose decision it is,” says South Carolina’s McGee Moody. “The PSA has to make a decision that is best for them and we have to keep sight of the big picture.”
Rick Walker of Southern Illinois has a good grasp of the big picture. “Nobody likes to be told they are not wanted as much as you want them. That being said, I have always felt that this is the game we play and I knew there was a chance they would not be interested in the first place.”
“We all hate rejection,” explained one coach with multiple Olympians to his credit. At Evansville, Rickey Perkens has built a successful program at Evansville despite little or no scholarship dollars, but even he holds no hard feelings. “Notice I didn’t say disappointment. Whenever you put a lot of time into anything and it doesn’t pan out the way you want there is going to be disappointment but you can’t get upset with the kid for not picking your school or program.”
Making the Call
With a couple of exceptions coaches felt that a phone call from the recruit was the best approach. Coaches generally felt e-mail was too impersonal. More than a few added that a recruit calling them directly was a sign of the recruit’s maturity. Coaches judged recruits who avoided making the decision, left voicemails at late hours or having the parents handle the process most harshly. “We’re asking them to make adult decisions, and want them to act accordingly.”
Coaches recommended keeping the conversation short but polite and to be sure to thank the coach (and in some cases team through vehicles like Facebook) for their time and interest. You consider saying:
“Coach, thank you so much for the interest you have shown in me. You have a great program, and that is the reason I have expressed an interest. However, I have narrowed my list to the schools that I feel most closely fit with what I am looking for. If anything should change, I will contact you immediately. I really appreciate your understanding!”
Give it a try. Rehearse it with your parents, then pick up the phone.
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