The college process can be difficult for seniors as they narrow down their degree objectives, location, and that elusive notion of “best fit.” For student-athletes, this can be further complicated by the recruiting process, which starts with the decision of whether they want to pursue collegiate athletics at all. Over the years, Christ Church Episcopal School has seen a number of Cavaliers commit to a sport in college, including a record number 15 this year, but there is much room for growth. With approximately 75% of CCES Upper School students participating in at least one sport, there is a great need for both increasing awareness and promoting education of the process – important dates, how to reach out to coaches, what schools to target, etc. – for parents, students, and coaches. The CCES Athletic Department understands how essential this initiative is and has given their full support in making it an area of focus moving forward as they continue to develop and serve student-athletes.
As both the Varsity Football Head Coach
and Head of Student-Athlete Leadership Development, Quin Hatfield
envisions a future for CCES where every athlete knows their options. This year, Coach Hatfield collaborated with College Counseling to offer an inaugural college recruiting seminar at CCES, called Next Level
. At this event, students heard from several speakers, including Bartley Sides, Associate Director of College Counseling
at CCES; Amanda Richardson, Associate Athletic Director of Compliance at Clemson University
; and a panel of collegiate coaches. The coaches shared a variety of information, but two topics all touched on were: (1) don’t compare – every individual’s process is different and (2) if a college coach is to believe in you, you must first believe in yourself. Athletes should recognize that the recruiting process will present challenges, but instead of getting discouraged, it is important to stay positive.
Director of Athletics, Molly Miller, opened the afternoon and in her remarks, noted that while playing a sport in college is not everyone’s path, she has often wondered if as an institution, CCES Athletics is doing their part in educating families and students on opportunities to do so provided there is a desire. She shared that Next Level is just the beginning of this initiative to better guide student-athletes in their processes of making college decisions. She said, “My hope is that we all walk away with a better understanding of collegiate recruiting and that families know we are here as partners in this process.”
This event was a great success, with over 80 CCES students and parents in attendance. Coach Hatfield as well as Linda Schulz, Director of College Counseling at CCES, see this event as just the first step in starting to educate athletes on this process more. He says, “We want our student-athletes to develop the mindset of: if there is a desire [to play at next level], then there is a destination.” Hatfield notes that not all student-athletes are necessarily aware of their options – even if they cannot or do not wish to play at a Division I level, there are many excellent academic schools with competitive athletic programs at the Division II and III levels.
Schulz has many years of experience working with student-athletes in the college counseling sphere and encourages them to consider more than just the athletic program and coach. She shares, “In discovering your college fit, you must consider all aspects of the college experience.” This includes academics – both the program in college and how it might build a foundation for future careers – as well as student life, which includes population size, experiential learning opportunities, social opportunities, and even just asking the question “Does the personality of this school fit my personality?”
While student-athletes must take initiative and possess motivation to see the process through, the role of high school coaches is also very important – in being proactive with starting conversations, being involved throughout the whole process, and supporting their athletes to advocate for themselves. Varsity Boys Lacrosse Head Coach, Joe Cummings notes there is not a “one-size fits all” approach to recruiting. It’s vital for athletes and coaches to remember that each person is different and every recruiting process is different. He says, “Comparison is the thief of joy. One athlete’s recruitment journey is not going to be the same as another’s.” Cummings strives to work with his players individually – help them map out their vision for college, and be there to support and guide them along them way. Having played collegiate lacrosse at the University of Maryland, he can attest to how difficult the recruiting process can be, but he tries to help his guys remember to “stay positive, be patient and focus on getting better.”
Varsity Volleyball Head Coach, Traci Weldie notes that communication is key. She emphasizes building relationships with players and their parents in her program before being able to start conversations about their strengths, areas of improvement, and then talking through goals for the next level. Weldie notes that in volleyball, most players are recruited through club teams so it is important for her to build relationships with club programs and coaches to better support her girls. She tells players to consider every opportunity that presents itself and to think through what a college might look like if they got injured or couldn’t play anymore. “Choosing a school where you can eventually graduate with a degree in a field you desire is just as important as playing the game,” she says.
Both Traci and Joe agree that college coaches want players who are both athletically and academically qualified. Cummings tells his players to never be satisfied, both on the field or in the classroom – to always be working on getting better. Weldie echoes this sentiment, noting: “The high school coach will be asked about a player’s character, so it’s important to take every opportunity to demonstrate a strong work ethic and to be a leader, not only in athletics, but off the courts too.”
When asked to reflect on her own college recruiting process, Claire DePiero ‘22 (swimming at Emory University) shares it initially hard navigating how to effectively communicate with coaches, especially during periods when it felt like no programs seemed interested. She encouraged younger athletes to put themselves out there, pre-plan questions for coaches, and to be clear with their intentions. Grant Dunham ’22 (cross country at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) emphasizes the importance of “keeping your options open.” He says, “You don’t know what will happen” and it is important to make sure the college you want to attend fits your goals outside of athletics too. London Sales ’22 (football at Carson-Newman University) made the decision to commit to football as the sport he wanted to pursue over basketball just last year and says “My life hasn’t been the same since.” He shares it can be hard for players in the recruiting process when they are trying to get recognized by colleges, but says it’s important to “be patient” and to “trust your coaches” because they are doing their best to put athletes in positions to succeed.
Quin shares it has been encouraging to see some small steps forward this year as they build up the college recruiting initiatives at CCES. The Athletic and College Counseling departments both hope to increase awareness for all the options regarding collegiate athletics. There is still room for improvement in helping every athlete truly consider this decision, but if they decide to pursue a sport at the next level, there is a lot of support and guidance available at CCES. Like Coach Hatfield says, “If there is a desire, there is a destination.”
To watch the full seminar, please click here