Athletic Recruiting Lessons From Glacier Bay
The athletic recruiting process can mimic the evolutionary characteristics of a glacier in many ways.
While cruising through Alaska, I had the opportunity to visit Glacier Bay National Park. The sheer beauty of the glaciers is a wonder to behold – shades of blue and white with unpredictable and changing shapes as the behemoth ice sheet shifts and falls away right before your eyes. However, what we cannot see is the slow growth and accumulation of ice, as our visit is but a snapshot of an emerging and powerful feat of nature. I suggest a visit a year later would yield a view that is different from our first snapshot of the glacier. We may not necessarily know of all the changes that have occurred, but we can see it. Things continue to change regardless of our presence.
Characteristically, glaciers are a build up of fallen snow that compresses into thickened ice masses on land. The smaller glaciers can be the size of a football field while others can grow to be miles upon miles long. There is nothing static in the process of glacial growth. At times, a glacier experiences ablation or a falling off of a large chunk of ice. Inherently, that void is filled by new or existing forms of ice, creating another layer of ice and perhaps a mix of rocks added by the ice creep on land. This process of regeneration and growth is balanced by the shedding of ice chunks.
You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with athletic recruiting? Is it about the unpredictable nature of the recruiting process? Or, is it about the unfolding and changing nature of adolescent student-athletes? The answer is both.
While serving as a collegiate Division I and international coach, I was able to take the time throughout the recruiting and selection process to watch prospective student-athletes grow and emerge as people and teammates. I recognized that one snapshot was not enough to make a decision about whether a prospect was a viable addition to my team. In coaching my teams, it was also important to allow members of my team to mature and experience the rigors of the college life academically and athletically, full-knowing that growth would occur with guidance and patience. I allowed the ice to shift, revealing new layers, while continuing to guide them as the flow continued in the correct direction. This process continues in my current role as I guide and counsel students and families through the school and college planning process.
I also reflect on my years as a two-sport Division I student-athlete to share multiple perspectives about what is required before, during and after the recruiting process academically and athletically. For me, becoming a two-sport All-American was a direct result of preparation and, most importantly, surrounding myself with teammates, coaches and others who were patient, committed and understood the importance of direction. Collectively, we also understood the importance of setbacks and failure as teaching tools in our growth as a team.
This is the mindset I have in my role as a counselor to families as they experience this process, often for the first time. I am an optimist who gets energized by the opportunity to help students work toward their goals. I am also keenly aware that being flexible and nimble is essential to staying on the path toward college and a potential opportunity to compete at the collegiate Division I, II or III level.
Metaphorically, the lifespan of a glacier is much like the life of a student-athlete AND the process of athletic recruiting. The athletic recruiting process can mimic the evolutionary characteristics of a glacier in many ways.
1. The slow steady process of recruiting has a direction
2. Opportunities are added and subtracted throughout the process often as a result of student-athlete outcomes in the classroom and on the field, court or rink.
3. The process is grounded until the very end when the decision to attend a college or university as a student-athlete is made and the ice breaks away from the foundation
4. Shifts and changes in outcomes can be unpredictable and often unforeseeable, requiring patience and resolve
5. The direction of the ice flow is pointed directly to attending a right fit college or university – with or without sports
One might argue that the recruiting process is fast and furious and getting recruited is the goal. In fact, unless you are a five-star athlete exploited by the media and coaches at every level, “getting recruited” is a misnomer. Similarly, “being recruited” is a result of intentional and ongoing actions that have a direction, not by simply talking with a coach, completing an online form, or signing up with a service that dumps statistics into the inboxes of college coaches. While decisions and actions by coaches can occur often in a moments notice, this occurs generally after the academic and athletic evaluation is complete AND coaches comparatively consider all their prospects for value added as a student, athlete, teammate and citizen. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the strong academic metric of one student might leapfrog a recruit to the front of the line, creating a ripple effect on the remainder of coaches’ potential recruits. This is something that goes unseen, but can shift the ice without warning, especially around the release of ACT/SAT test scores.
Building a relationship with coaches during the recruiting process does not guarantee this will not happen. In the end, the coach gets paid to win and graduate student-athletes and good citizens. Coaches decide what formula works for them. Coaches vary in recruiting styles, team management and engagement with prospects. The goal for the student-athlete is to keep creeping along through the process but remain focused and directed.
It is the role of the student-athlete (and family) in this process to recognize not only the shifts and changes in the process but also their own emerging ability and capacity to compete at a higher level. Purposely taking charge of and deliberately engaging in the recruiting process is much like the mountain ranges that surround and direct the flow of ice that becomes the glacier. Guiding the process, however, does not assure that ice will continue to flow.
The reality of sports requires an understanding that in the end, recruitment is about the selection of the best available candidates to fulfill a particular role. Student-athletes cannot morph into someone who is 6’4” and squats 400lbs if it is not in the genes or does not match the work ethic required for selection. In one glacier, just like a recruiting class, there are conceivably millions of pieces of ice headed in the same direction.
The college experience is full of new and diverse opportunities and challenges as students begin to enter adulthood whether collegiate sports are part of the mix or not. In either case, the journey is akin to glacial ice in the beauty of finding the right fit while also recognizing that it requires guidance, purpose and the patience to withstand the harsh shifts in the landscape. Also, like the sea of ice chunks in a glacier, student-athletes should surround themselves with others who similarly understand the potential reality ahead. Their roles are to continue to support, nudge, shift and step back during the recruiting process when necessary. The process can be rough.
For student-athletes it is both brave and honorable to have the option to determine if and when you might disengage in the recruiting process. It is not uncommon to decide that, even if opportunities are present, you no longer wish to continue to grind your way across the land, constantly banging up against other chards of ice in pursuit of continuing to play sports at the competitive collegiate level. (Psst, it’s OK to play competitive club sports, or just enjoy the fun of intramural competition in college).
Like a glacier, the student-athlete (and family) should:
1. Have a direction
2. Get moving on the path
3. Stay grounded – academically and athletically
4. Recognize the mass and size of your ability – football field (D III) or miles and miles of ice (DI, II)
5. Shift and adjust
6. Roll with the rocks along the way
7. Fill the crevasse - right fit matters (academic, athletic, culture, outcome)
8. Be prepared to break away – recruiting commitment or not, you will break away from firm ground and head off to college
So, let me ask you: Where are you in your journey? Are you in the mix? Are you headed in the right direction? How do you know?
Please feel free to reach out to me. Together, we can take a long-term look at the glacier and experience the major shifts and minor nuances of a process that, in the end, leads to the best fit.