Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Nellie's NCAA Way: Getting Your Kid Recruited For College Sports


Washington, D.C. -- A lot of Dads have sons who are good – maybe very good – at a particular sport. Some are great. Moreover, many of these athletes don’t want their athletic careers to end after the last whistle in high school.  

I had two sons like that.  One now plays NCAA Division III lacrosse. The other was recruited in two sports (football and lacrosse) by a dozen D-III schools. He instead attended a Division I school where he tried out as a long-snapper for the football team and got cut. Yeah, that’s how it goes sometimes and it was tough as hell on both of us. But he's still damn happy at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Hence, during the past four years – and now picking up again with my 11th grade son – I have been closely involved with the college athletics recruiting process. It may appear to be daunting and complex, but here’s the surprise:  it’s not.  Rather, assuming your kid is determined and resilient, and you are as well, the process involves old-fashioned research, a lot of proactive legwork and follow-through, and decision-making.

How did I learn this?  Typical plodding Nellie:  Four years ago, I sought the advice of Dads whose kids had been through the recruiting process. I called and met with a range of current and former college athletes and guys who knew college sports; I read a ton of material on recruiting and I put together a basic plan.  It wasn’t perfect, but it got my sons the attention they sought.   And here it is:

1.    Skill Expectation: This is the honesty part: Simply put, how good is your kid at his sport?  The NCAA is comprised of three Divisions - I, II, and III – corresponding to the level of competition. As a Dad, you need to frankly discuss with your son where his skills fit within this hierarchy. And it shouldn’t be hard: A good athlete gets that way by being aware of his capabilities and those of his peers. Be alert, however: Yes, your son may be truly gifted, Division 1 material, but rarely leave the bench in four years.  At a D-II or D-III school, he may start every game. Once you and your son have established where he fits in these unforgiving Division categories, time to move on.

2.    Geographic Location: Where does your son want to be? This is easy. Ask him. Does he want a big university or small college?  Urban or suburban? A school in the South, the West, New England, the Middle West? Warm climate or one with seasons?  Close to home, kinda close, or wwayyy away from home?  “I don’t know” is not an answer.  Discuss at length with him what he wants – drive him to schools close to you. Walk around and introduce yourself to students and adults you see.  You can’t afford to be shy – hey, this is your son’s future you’re dealing with here.  There are approximately 2,170 colleges and universities in the United States, of which there are athletic programs at 442 Division III, 302 D-II, and 335 D-1 schools. There are more than enough choices. Choose and decide, don’t equivocate.

3.    Academic Interest:  What does your son want to study?  Trust me when I say this is secondary. Because unless you have a single-minded kid who wanted to be a doctor or a businessman or a pilot since age 7, this is probably unanswerable.  The fact is, most kids don’t know what they want to do until they actually get on a campus with other kids, take classes, and find out what they like and at what they excel.  If he has a general idea, then factor that into the equation.

These are the first, basic steps. Now comes the mechanics:

4.    Using the criteria above, sit down with your son in total seclusion – I mean no phones allowed or distractions whatsoever – in front of a computer screen and search for 15 to 20 schools that match the criteria above (Here’s a tip: Start with your son’s sport, and punch in NCAA Division III).  Full disclosure: This may not sound original, but it is the only way to get a sense of an academic institution outside of driving yourself nuts driving around the nation. Start with colleges you know, those that are close, and those that you’ve heard of.  Look over every webpage of these college sites. Get a sense of the place, take written notes.  Repeat: Total isolation – no devices and interruptions.  As well, seek out individuals whom you respect and admire and ask them about their college experiences – they’ll have invaluable advice. 

5.    Review the team pages for the relevant sport at each of the schools in which your son is interested.  Examine the rosters: Where do the kids come from? Competitive high schools?  Geographic distribution of the players?  What are the sizes of the kids?  What are the coaches’ backgrounds? How long have they been there? What’s the team record during the past five years? What kind of athletic facilities? What’s the conference like? What kinds of schools does it contain?

6.    Now apply Nellie’s "Broken Leg Theory.” If your son breaks his leg in spring practice or slipping in the dining hall and is finished with sports, does he still want to be at that school?  

7.    Next: Email the coaches. Send along a highlights film and or statisticcs for sports that don’t lend themselves to film.  Send a one-page “Fact Sheet” on which are the following: GPA, test scores, classes taken last semester, classes for the current semester, your son’s size, 40-dash time where relevant, brief description of positions played, other sports played, records if team is a winner, any athletic honors and any extracurricular activities. 

8.    Bonus round:  If your club team or high school team goes to tourneys, list those on the Fact Sheet. The same with sports camps you attended.  If you are at tourneys or camps and you happen to see a college coach, have your kid - not you! - introduce himself.

9.    If your aim is true based on your son’s skills, you’ll get responses back from coaches.  If not, don’t worry – do a Round II of searching.

The key, as I said in the beginning, is to be proactive, constantly reaching out and then following through.  If your kid is a superstar, coaches will call him. But there aren’t that many superstars.  I know - my sons weren’t.  The Dads and kids who succeed in this process are the ones who grind it out, day after day, never missing an opportunity at promotion.  Moreover, it’s wise to print and catalog the emails and responses and all other notes and documents, placing all as a measure of progress in a three-ring binder. If you're diligent, it will be two binders.

When to start?  If you and your kid are serious, start the summer after his sophomore year. Don’t worry about scholarships – they are few and far between for those at the D-1 level, funds are only partial at the D-II level, and they are nonexistent for sports at the D-III level.

If you have any questions, just email me ( ).  I’ve been through this twice. Yep, I made some errors - some were embarrassing to me personally and were a result of being a rookie and being too aggressive.  But hey, when you are in contact with a cumulative 53 schools, you're going to make mistakes. I'd rather be shot down than miss an opportunity.  

The success the boys had was based on their athletic abilities and academic consistency, and most importantly, because of their follow through and desire to play beyond high school.

Sports as a profession is not going to lead anywhere for 99.9 percent of high school athletes.  But athletics of any kind places your son in a situation of camaraderie and competition, from which he learns resilience, drive, and ambition.  Those are the qualities can’t be taught in a college classroom, but will be the most important qualities your son can ever possess.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Makes a Good Kid?!

Annapolis, Maryland -- In the workaday world, whenever a gracious parent says to me, “You must be so proud of your boys,” I reply sincerely, “Yes, I am. They get their intellect and athleticism from their Mom. They get their low cunning from me.”

With that humble arrogance, let’s turn to the second installment of the foundation of the agent-in-waiting book, My Three Sons: How A Bad Dad Raised Good Kids. What’s a good kid? I’ve considered that phrase for a decade and a half – yep, ever since I became a Dad. All-encompassing, but an amorphous term, behind which is a catalogue of behaviors and attitudes: loyalty, thoughtfulness, dependability, discipline, determination, drive, enthusiasm, and toughness. Yeah, nice list - but Dads want precision, not a thesaurus.

My Three Sons is my straightforward take on the four realms of the good kid: his Personal Conduct; his Worldview; his Resilience and Adaptation; and, his Aspiration. Grounded in these four areas, the good kid is reflexive in making the correct decision in every situation he encounters at home and school, with his peer group and in his community.

Here are some definitions – see if they make sense to you.

Personal conduct: A kid responds with confidence and poise in every aspect of social interactions. He carries himself with ease because he has developed self-control and patience.

Worldview: A kid knows and grasps his environment. He appreciates the intrinsic good that everyday life offers and understands the bad. Equally important, he develops the maturity to limit the prevalence of electronic media - the narrow, glowing rectangle - in his daily life.

Resilience: A kid moves out with drive and clarity when circumstances large and small go south. He absorbs challenges and failures head on, handles pressure, adapts, and discovers a route to recovery.

Aspiration: A kid habitually sets goals and holds himself accountable. He is realistic in evaluating personal benchmarks and resists obstacles with determination and endurance.

Working from this baseline, I then contemplated how to inculcate these ideals in my three sons. And my reflections yielded this:
I would seize upon examples of sheer right and wrong found in everyday life, create a simple parable, and then identify each with an unforgettable exhortation.

These maxims - Dad’s “sayings” as my three sons labeled them - became a pounding soundtrack in the boys’ lives. Virtually every important aspect of their adolescence was viewed through the lens of one of my appeals. Over time, constant reprise and explanation of these adages helped develop instinctive, habitual responses to the situations in which my sons found themselves. Indeed, nearly a decade later, all four of us still repeat these aphorisms. Some are nutty and comical; others are harsh.

I found that given simple, constant, and memorable guidance on temperament and behavior, a young boy will thrive, becoming comfortable with himself and his surroundings; he settles into a pattern of conduct, which leads to a pattern of accomplishment. Repetition builds character.

Next up: “Dad’s sayings…”

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Book For Dads

Like every chimpanzee and "sensitive" adult in the United States, I just finished writing a book. That’s right – because I have so much to give the world, donchaknow.

The title is as brazenly simple and cunning as the author: “My Three Sons: How A Bad Dad Raised Good Kids.” Why and how it came about is actually something of true interest to all of us who are Dads.

First off, and believe it or not, I certainly wasn’t destined to inform American fathers of my keenness of mind. Oh no. Rather, in my stolid and regimented fashion of existence, the idea came to me during a conversation with a fellow Dad at work, who was tiredly giving me the litany on his own son: “Not working hard enough at school…doesn’t listen to us…gives a lazy effort on the field…plays too many video games…always staring at his damn phone.”

In fact, I have heard a decade’s worth of these lamentations – in thousands of informal yet often compelling conversations with Dads; and, from innumerable interactions with adolescent boys - my sons and their peers. These exchanges have taken place in every situation known to the suburban Dad and his son: At workplaces, on middle school, high school and college campuses, at social and community events, watching television in basements and on athletic fields throughout the country.

The single and persistent refrain I’ve taken away from these thousands of encounters is frustration: Dads are confused and disheartened by the progress of their sons through adolescence. These are fathers – good, decent men – who struggle with a corrosive, electronics-saturated, trophy-for-participation culture that encourages conformity, erodes self-control and devalues masculinity.

Unfortunately, these Dads simply don’t know how to develop and sustain a sense of resolve and purpose in their boys.

Well, I do.

Moreover, I also know these aren’t simply random anecdotes. The facts are there. This cohort of kids and its corresponding older cohort are floundering; a less gentle description is failing. Today, approximately one-third of men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents; 35 percent of men between the ages of 16 and 25 are unemployed; and, one-fifth of all men ages 18 to 34 are living in poverty. My personal fave is that the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ashtoln Carter, notes that that only 31 percent of the 10.5 million American males age 17 to 21 are eligible to join the military, with half unable to pass the entry examination and the rest ineligible because they are unable to meet the physical fitness or character standards.

Collectively, these numbers illustrate a staggering pathological drift. And it goes beyond numbers.

Today’s popular culture has damn near made an icon of the “slacker” male – the sullen, unshaven, flannel shirt-wearing cool “dude” clutching his IPhone and video game console. This chump is nearly ubiquitous in today’s broadcast and print media advertising. Indeed, regardless of your political views, it’s telling that the signature figure for the Obama Administration’s health care pitch to youth was a bespectacled, 20-something male wearing red plaid pajamas. If that was my son, I’d disown him.

Of course, child psychologists are very helpful in this arena, bless their credentialed hearts. They’ve penned a lot of serious, thoughtful books about adolescents featuring disturbingly colorful anecdotes. Indeed, the sincerity of these therapists and tenured faculty professors - some of whom are even parents - cannot be doubted. Neither can the case studies of “synergistically unpacking” the “personal space” of well, “let’s call him Sebastian,” and his desperate need for “holistic empowerment.”

My modest work starkly diverges from this gibberish. First, I’m a Dad, not a psychologist. I am around fathers and their sons all day in every venue under the sun – and none of these encounters is an office visit.

Second, I tend to see kids in a straightforward, unflinching common sensical way. I know firsthand the language - and landscapes - of Dads and their sons. It’s about all I really know. I believe in old-school candor and judgment, and I know what it takes to guide sons toward basic values and behaviors, the acquisition of which leads to solid, accomplished young men.

But Nellie, you ask, what’s in your book?! If you want to know, tune into the next Nellie Blawg…