Both a recruiting relationship and a romantic one most often begin with first impressions. But can you imagine letting someone's looks be enough of a reason to propose marriage?
Unfortunately, that happens all too often in recruiting as coaches throw out scholarship offers to an athlete they've only observe play. They don't know the player's character, academic background or family. They've had no conversations with anyone other than a club or high-school coach, yet recruiters are willing to lay it all out on the line because of what they saw on the floor. Love at first sight is a fantasy in real life and in recruiting it's an emotional disregard for the university, current players and, most of all, the recruit. The coach who overreacts to one incredible performance is someone with whom you need to slow down and play hard to get.
Let's talk about exclusivity in relationships and with recruiters. It's not wise to limit yourself to seeing just one person or simply checking out a single school right out of the gate. It can be difficult to know exactly what you have if there's nothing else to compare it to. What seems special about one option might just be a given among all your possible choices once you take a look around to see what they have to offer. Additionally, confidence is a very attractive quality. Anyone who makes too much of an effort to tie you down isn't ultimately concerned with your long-term happiness and obviously has doubts about what they have to offer. A coach who honestly believes in his or her program, resources and ability to help you reach your goals won't sweat you taking a look around. With someone you're dating, maybe not so much.
The growing interest and demand for online dating services is evidenced today by a constant barrage of marketing and advertising in virtually every form of media. In the recruiting world, very few coaches would ever utilize the Internet to identify prospects, but it certainly can play a role in the recruit's ability to get to know both programs and coaches. When you're initially looking at a school and what it has to offer, the website is a great place to start. Both the athletic department and university sites will offer informational and visual opportunities that will give you a feel for what might be available to you.
However, just like the old, creative, or even doctored photos that some folks post on those dating sites, the schools are going to paint themselves in the best light possible. Odds are, they're won't be claiming to be anything they're not; they're just going to be showing you their best side. The Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of the programs and coaches are also a good way to get to know the people interested in being a part of your career. Again, you have to keep in mind that everything that's posted is done with recruiting in mind and the hope of getting a date … at least for an unofficial campus visit.
But as in romance, it's important in recruiting not to lead anyone on. If you're truly not interested, it's best to let a recruiter know right away. This makes your process simpler and also helps them spend their money and time on recruits who are honestly considering their program. Of course, as with affairs of the heart, nobody likes rejection and hearing the word "No." Some coaches will be persistent and refuse to back off. Again, just like in dating, these are the folks to absolutely avoid. After you've told them, "No," you're under no obligation to take or return any calls from them and you should simply delete any emails. Their stalker-like approach should tell you that you made the right choice as they're obviously showing you no respect for the decision you've made. In the ideal world, there would be a recruiting restraining order for such self-serving coaches.
Along those same lines, breaking up is hard. Once you move deeper into the recruiting process, there will be schools that you'll get to know and like but at some point it will become obvious that they are not The One. It's difficult but essential to let them know as soon as possible that things are over between the two of you. Hanging on to someone or to a program until something or someone better comes along is essentially using them. You want those programs and the other recruits they happen to be considering to approach any decisions they might make based on the knowledge that you're no longer in the picture.
One of the biggest and most common mistakes in recruiting is overreacting to a campus visit or the initial contact with a particular program and making a quick commitment. This is the equivalent of marrying someone you developed a crush on after one date. Of course, everything looks good. Add to that the fact you haven't checked out other programs and you really don't have anything to compare things to and you've got a risky basis for making a decision. On both counts, take your time and look for your true love. If that happens to be that first program and it's meant to be, they'll be waiting for you.
One last thing to point out is age. Lately this may well be where the analogy between the heart and hoops is the most fitting. Anyone following collegiate recruiting knows there has been an alarming number of ultra-early commitments during the last several years. Few parents seem willing to let their eighth or ninth-grade daughters begin dating or get involved with someone older because the general premise is that they're not yet mature or ready for the decisions that come with a relationship. At the same time, that very logic and rational doesn't seem to always translate or apply to the commitment decision. So, slow down.
Players who are getting recruiting interest at an early age are most likely going to be getting the same and more as time goes by. With suitors or recruiters, a good "chaperone" will make sure nobody gets into a relationship they're not ready for and will keep a cautious eye out for those whose intentions aren't honorable. Yes, as hard as it is to imagine, some coaches have been known to put their own needs before those of their recruits.
Approach your recruiting as you would your love life and you might be able to avoid some of the heartache that can come with the wrong decision. They're not the same, but they do have some things in common. On the other hand, ending a relationship by telling someone that you want "to transfer" is probably not the best way to word it. And it may well land you on the next episode of "Dr. Phil."
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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.