Technology is revolutionizing the way aspiring student-athletes get noticed
In the old days, aspiring college athletes would send out VHS tapes – and later, DVDs – to college coaches, all in the hopes of getting noticed. These tapes collected footage of the athletes and their performances into a highlight reel of sorts, showing game or meet footage that showcased their talents and abilities. The process of splicing these videos together, putting them on tape or disc, and making dozens of copies of them was work-intensive and sometimes even costly. Still, the price was one that athletes and their parents were willing to pay, if it meant catching the eye of an influential coach.
Today, the concept of the “highlight video” hasn’t died, either for high school athletes or for their college recruiters. It has evolved, though, moving from cumbersome physical VHS or DVD formats to YouTube. According to Jason Carmien, athletic director for Traverse City West Senior High School, this change is just one area where technology has altered the landscape of college sports recruiting.
“If you went back 10 or 15 years, you would have had to get video of yourself out there to people in kind of archaic ways,” Carmien said. “Whereas today, kids can create videos of the things that they do, whether that’s football or tennis or golf or whatever. They’re able to create evidence of their abilities and get it out to an amazing number of people in a very easy, simple way.”
In the grand scheme of things, this transition from VHS or DVD to YouTube is hardly surprising. However, for Carmien, these subtle technological shifts have done a lot to give student-athletes more of a voice in the recruiting process.
That voice, he says, is something that these kids need. While the common conception of recruiting is that college coaches scout for athletes, come to see talented kids play, and then make contact, the reality is a bit different. Certainly, some high school athletes do get actively recruited in this fashion, but Carmien says that they are part of a small minority. In most cases, it’s up to the student to get the ball rolling for themselves.
“When you look at the total number of people that compete in educational athletics, very few athletes actually get recruited,” Carmien said. “Most of those athletes have to recruit themselves, no matter what sport they play.”
For students looking to “recruit themselves,” technology can be an incredible aid. YouTube provides a way to keep a running archive of athletic accomplishments, from touchdowns scored to track races won. Even the most basic video editing software makes it easy to compile a professional-grade highlight video quickly and at minimal cost.
Coaches have tools of their own that can help, too. Carmien says that many high school athletic departments – including those in the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) district now utilize a platform called Hudl. Hudl lets coaches record video, build “playlists” of key moments, and analyze the footage to identify areas for improvement. The platform also makes it easy for coaches to share footage with players, or even to send it directly to recruiters. Whether the coach is looking to help an athlete put together a YouTube highlight video or refer the athlete directly to a college coach on their contact list, Hudl makes the process easy.
Playced is another valuable platform for high school athletes in the midst of the recruiting gauntlet. The software allows athletes to create a “player resume” and run it through the Playced system. The system then matches the athlete’s resume and “personal preferences” to schools, providing a list of colleges where the student has the best odds of getting recruited.
What might be the most important tool of all for aspiring college athletes, though, is social media. Through networks like Facebook and Twitter, Carmien says that high school athletes can start building a following that goes far beyond the stands of their home stadium.
“I think social media has [impacted recruiting] just because of the immediacy of it,” Carmien said. “The idea that, when someone does something special, it gets out right now. I think it creates a buzz, not only within your community, but within your region. Most every athletic platform uses social media to immediately get out scores, statistics, individual players of note. I think it makes people more aware. You don’t have to wait for tomorrow’s newspaper anymore. You don’t even need to have a computer to pull up a news story, where maybe five, six, seven years ago, you did. Now, you get everything right on your phone. I think that trend has made recruiting a little bit different.”
In particular, social media has perhaps helped to break down some of the geographic barriers that high school athletes might face while trying to get recruited for college athletics. As Carmien notes, not every local newspaper reports on high school athletics in the exact same way. Some smaller town publications might only report scores, without in-depth reports. Others might only highlight bigger games, matches, or meets. Some, on the other hand, give high school sports almost as much attention as collegiate or professional athletics. MLive, for instance, does extensive reporting on high school sports downstate, tracking and ranking athletes and teams throughout their respective seasons.
Carmien, for his part, doesn’t believe that there is a geographical bias in sports recruiting in Michigan. Even though northern Michigan doesn’t really have an equivalent to MLive, Carmien believes that technology helps to level the playing field for athletes from the area. “I’ve been here for more than 20 years,” he said. “The high school athletes that deserve to be recruited at a high level, from this area, have been.”