Is COVID-19 Killing Off Your College Dreams?

If you're a track and field athlete with aspirations of running in college, actually, now is a great time to be exploring the possibilities.

It's easy to imagine how one might get the idea that the shutdown of spring sports is a perfect storm dealing death blows to the hopes of many high school athletes with dreams of competing in college. After all, how can you prove your ability when there isn't a meet anywhere to be found?

For those who signed a NLI early, there's not an issue of where they'll be in the fall. Losing the spring is disappointing, but it doesn't disrupt those athletes' chances of signing on to compete in the collegiate ranks.

What about those who haven't signed yet? And, what about the juniors for whom this spring's track season is critical to demonstrating what they can do?

Are they left out in the cold?

Perhaps, but if they are, it's at least largely their own fault. Hear me out on this.

There isn't a college coach to be found who is meeting athletes in practices this spring. And, a portion of the administrative duties those same coaches manage are on hold as well. For that matter, you, too, probably have way more time on your hands right now than you know what to do with. The opportunity to make good use of some of that time is staring you in the face.

In short, making a personal contact with a few coaches is always a good idea. It's an even better idea right now. The coach you contact right now is actually likely to have some discretionary time on his or her hands.

If you're a junior or senior who dreams of going on and competing in college, you should be getting all your ducks in a row right now. By all means, you should be doing what you can to ensure your initial eligibility certifications are in order with the NCAA. But, that's not the point of this article.

The point of this article concerns you. It concerns your responsibility to make contact with the coaches at the schools you'd like to attend. Don't wait for coaches to call you (they probably won't). You make that call, or send that introductory email yourself.

Be realistic. Narrow the field down to four to six schools. Assess where you stand as you go. If you're not really DI potential, don't fill your list with DI schools. If you need help knowing where you stand, talk with your high school coach. Or talk with college athletes you know who will be honest with you. You may even be able to find recruiting standards for many schools online.

If you live at altitude and are close to the recruiting standard for a distance event run at altitude, but not quite there, go ahead and make the contact. If the coach doesn't understand the difference between running at sea level and running at 5000 feet or more, you probably don't want to be running for that coach, anyway. Better to learn that now than when you're a student at that school.

When you make the contact, be prepared to listen and be prepared to talk about yourself without being arrogant. Be prepared to explain why you're interested in the school. This is especially true if the school is half-way across the country.

If you live in New Mexico and you're making contact with a coach in New York, he/she has every reason to disregard your inquiry unless you can clearly make the case that you are genuinely interested in the school (not many athletes from New Mexico end up choosing a New York school, and even fewer stick around). Your interest in the school should include more than just the cross country and track and field programs. The running sports might get you there, but they're only a part of your life once you arrive.

Make contact with one coach at a time. I wouldn't start with the #1 school on your list. You want to learn a little about the process before you talk to the coach at your #1 school. That said, sometimes your first choice changes as you talk to the coaches. And, if you keep it to one coach at a time, there's a much smaller possibility of getting confused about what one coach said to you versus what another coach said.

Nobody is going to invite you for an official visit right now. There's nothing on campus to visit these days, and you probably aren't going anywhere at the moment, anyway. But, your conversation with the coach should leave you knowing more than you knew before. And, it's left you on the radar screen. For schools you remain interested in, maintain occasional contact as news worth sharing arrives.

Finish a query with one coach before you move to a second coach. Evaluate what you've been told and what you've learned. Think of things you wish you'd asked but didn't. Think of things you could have said better, and then make adjustments. Breath deep and take a couple of days to absorb. Then make a contact with a second coach. Continue the cycle until you're done with your list of top choices in schools.

Nothing demonstrates to a coach that you're the kind of athlete they'd like to have in their program like you taking the responsibility of making a contact or your own shoulders and delivering a good first impression. 

Filling out a school's online prospect athlete form is a very good first step, but it is no substitute for a direct contact with a coach. Do both--prospect athlete form first, then a contact with the coach a day or two later. In your conversation with the coach, you want to be able to refer to the prospect athlete form you just completed.

Are you unsure of how to find the contact information for a coach? The school's athletic website is your friend. You may have to dig around a little, but find a link labeled Staff, Staff Directory, Athletic Department Directory, or something of that sort. Click on the link to reveal a list of the names, phones, and official email addresses of the people within the athletic department. Note the phone number and email address for the head track coach and possibly the recruiting coordinator, if listed, as well.

The phone numbers are almost certainly office numbers and may not have anyone answering them at this time, but try them even so. Calls may be forwarded and voice mail should still be being checked. Leave a short, polite voice mail if nobody picks up. Official email should be being checked regularly even with campuses closed for the spring.

The opportunities presented this spring are rare. Both you and the college coaches have time on your hands. Make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes.