Letter to 16 Year Old Self About the NCAA Recruiting Process

As a former DI runner and now a coach at that level, I have watched hundreds of young women go through the recruiting process.  Below is a letter I wrote to my 16 year old self–the naive girl who had no idea what it meant to be a college athlete and what the recruiting process consisted of.

Dear 16 year old Samantha,

Congratulations on some outstanding performances on the track / cross country course so far throughout your high school career.  You have worked so hard to win races, set PRs and keep your grades up but to be frank, to be successful at the next level, it will take 10x the energy, focus and desire to be successful.  It’s inevitable that you WILL struggle your freshman year.  There will be days when you get dropped by teammates, there will be races where you will run slower than you did in high school and there will be days when you miss your family.  However, you are in the most unique position and have amazing opportunities in front of you.  This is the first time in your life that you get to chose your teammates.  You get to chose who and what you want to be a part of for the next 4 or 5 years of your life.  This can be a scary and stressful process if you let it but at the end of the day, you will get that gut feeling at a school—and always, always trust that gut feeling no matter what other people may say to you. 

Here are 4 things I want to share with you before you begin the recruiting process.

Find a place where you will be happy even if running was not a part of the decision.
Athletics is going to be a huge part of your college experience but you never know if a sickness or injury could end your athletic career before you graduate from college.  At the end of the day, you are at school to get an education so that should always be the #1 priority.  Ask yourself on every visit, “If you could never run another step again, would you be happy here?”

College is all about relationships. 
Relationships with your teammates and coaches are the ones that you will carry with you the rest of your life.  Even though you may only see your coach 3 hours a day, you must be comfortable enough to have tough conversations with him/her and trust that they have your best interest (both athletically and academically) in mind.  You must trust that they care about you as a person and not just a runner.  The other 21 hours of your day is spent with teammates so you have to mesh and have the same goals as one another.  You won’t be best friends with each girl on the team—that’s not expected—but you have to be able to trust and respect each other.  These women will be your shoulder to cry on, the ones who push you every day at practice and the ones who will die for you on the course/track.  Can you see yourself being a part of this team?

Don’t be influenced by shiny things.
At the end of the day, a majority of DI schools will have roughly the same facilities. Most schools at this level will have a track, weight room, locker rooms and study centers just for athletes. You will be issued sweet running clothes, shoes and uniforms but at the end of the day, those things don’t make you fast.  At the end of the day, the name on a jersey doesn’t make you a great athlete; you have to buy in to the program and culture—that is what makes you successful. 

Ask yourself what you want out of your career and what you are willing to do to get it. 
Do you want to go to a school where you may be the 10th girl on the team but have the chance to make a lasting impact on the program once you develop and get older?  Do you want to go to a school where you can be the top runner right away?  The word “sacrifice” should never be in your vocabulary when you are a DI athlete because you chose to be an athlete at this level.  Make sure that you know exactly what the expectations are of you from the coach before you make any decisions. 

Mid-American Conference Women's Track and Field Championships

Success doesn’t make you happy; being happy with where you are and who you surround yourself with every day will make you successful.  This is only the biggest decision so far in your life if you chose for it to be—thousands of students make their decision every year—yours is just a little more unique. No one truly knows whether or not they made the right decision until they are on campus and living their daily life.  But don’t ignore that gut feeling—it’s usually right 🙂 

Be relentless and never give up.

25 year old Samantha

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