Athletic recruiting in the context of COVID-19

BoyBasketballOn May 5, 2020, I had the privilege of talking with lifelong college and professional soccer coach Catherine Gordon about what student-athletes can do in the midst of their disrupted athletic seasons and showcases to stay on track for athletic recruiting. Highlights of our discussion appear below, in edited and condensed form. Scroll down to the bottom for Catherine Gordon’s bio and for a link to the recording of our webinar, if you want to watch it in its entirety.

What are college coaches experiencing now themselves? How would you describe the current recruiting landscape from a college coach’s perspective?

This is unprecedented in that coaches cannot watch players play live. We don’t have showcases or person-to-person recruiting going on right now. Coaches are relying on other tools. They’re putting a high premium on existing relationships that they have with student-athletes. Video has increased in importance.

What are college coaches interested in seeing student-athletes do with their time, given that they cannot participate in their normal practices and competitions?

In some ways, hitting the pause button can act as an equalizer for athletes on the recruiting platform because we all have the same environment right now. We as coaches are interested in how athletes are finding ways to work on their skills, fitness, and health during this period. They have the time to do that now. Athletes who don’t take advantage of this time may drop a little bit on the scales. In sports, as coaches, we like to see how students deal with adversity. I don’t think we can get more adverse than this situation! How does a prospective student-athlete deal with the lack of regimented schedules? What are their coping mechanisms? How are they using their unstructured time? Those elements all matter to us as coaches, because in the game at some point they will have to deal with adverse situations.

Some teams are meeting right now on Zoom and others are not. What can student-athletes do if their teams are not currently practicing together?  

You have team captains, you have team leaders. Anyone at any moment can step in and be a leader. It’s important right now to stay connected. It’s really important to reach out and touch all of your teammates. You can do this through Zoom. Our soccer team the other day did a juggling challenge. They all got on Zoom, went into the breakout rooms with their groups, and kept track and measured it. It was fun—it was a way for us to connect, it was a way for us to make sure that nobody gets left behind. It was a way for us to stay sharp. It doesn’t have to be the coach who drives that.

We had a young woman on our team produce a video where the ball comes in at one end of the screen and everyone has a clip of herself dribbling or kicking it. That young woman is not the team captain. She likes video, she likes music, and she put it all together. Those are the things that keep us connected and bound together so that when you get back in a team environment you haven’t missed a beat. That’s what we look for. Not everybody has to be a leader all the time. You’re not just a leader because you’re a captain. Anyone can step into that role at any point to be a leader, to be a good teammate, to be a friend.

Talk a little bit about the importance of watching games from start to finish, rather than just personal clips and highlights.

Whatever your sport, watching and understanding the entire game and your role and impact in that game—really understanding the context of the game and the sport in its entirety and how you fit into that—increase your game acumen. It’s not just about what you did in the moment. What did the game tell you to do? Did you respond appropriately to what the game was telling you to do? Were you an asset in that context?

What can student-athletes do to maintain lines of communication with coaches given the absence of showcases and other person-to-person recruiting opportunities?

Student-athletes should be reaching out all the time to college coaches. You cannot over-communicate with coaches. That communication should come from students, not from parents. Now is a good time to work on those clips that you have to create a 3-5 minute video for coaches, to keep yourself on their radar. Coaches are really relying on videos right now. Normally those videos incentivize them to come out and watch you play live. Now that video has to show you and tell your story. Will you fit into that program? Will a coach see something about you as a student-athlete through that video in lieu of personal contact?

What would you advise student-athletes to look for as they weigh their college options, both related to athletics and outside of athletics?

Look at the academics and the culture first and only then at the athletics. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had athletes come into the program and blow out their ACL in the pre-season. If they’re in a school that they didn’t pick for the academics or the culture they now have what I call the “trifecta of mishaps.” They don’t like the culture, they don’t have an academic program that they like, and now they can’t play. If you chose well, even in those worst case scenarios when you cannot play, you are at a place that you like where you can study something that you enjoy.

Accessing a recording of the complete Zoom webinar

The webinar in its entirety contains lots more, including tips for editing your own recruiting videos. You can access it on Zoom (Access Password: 4c?Rj221).

Catherine Gordon’s bio

Catherine Gordon, the first female in the US to coach Men’s Professional soccer, is currently an ODP Ohio South Head Goalkeeper coach, a staff Instructor for both US Soccer United Soccer Coaches, and the Men’s Assistant Coach for the USL2 Dayton Dutch Lions. Over the years, Catherine has coached in a variety of roles, from Division I Women’s programs to Division III Men’s programs, club soccer, NY Red Bulls Regional Development School, and men’s professional and semi-professional soccer. A former USL W-League goalkeeper for the New Jersey Wildcats, Catherine later served as their goalkeeper coach and vice president. Catherine is the Founder and President of Net Edge Training, LLC. and Net Edge Sport Video.

Please reach out to Catherine directly if you want to discuss her sport video services.

Additional resources (courtesy of Catherine Gordon)

NCAA Covid-19 updates

NCAA information for student-athletes, including contact calendar by sport (p. 36)

Student-athlete resume templates by sport (via Dropbox)