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The Chess Match of Recruiting

The chess match of recruiting college athletes.

Richard Pound

April 21, 2009

The Chess Match of Recruiting

Chess has always impressed me as a game that challenges two players to use all of their cognitive capabilities to outwit, outsmart, and outstrategize their opponent. Chess is a thinking person’s game where skill, planning, strategy, and some degree of gamesmanship are paramount. When I advise student-athletes and their parents, I remind them regularly how their preparedness must be strong and their tactics focused on strategic goals.

The college recruiting process, like a game of chess, will challenge the individuals involved to observe many variables and contemplate how their next move is beneficial to them without jeopardizing their position in the game. A student-athlete should not assume that any one move by their opponent should be taken at face value, and a counter move without considering the consequences can leave the player in a “checkmate” situation.

The key to success in the Chess Match of Recruiting is to remain composed while thinking quickly about what is in the best interest for your overall result.

The game of chess is usually divided into three distinct phases: Opening, usually the first few moves when players develop their armies and set up the stage for the coming battle; Middlegame, the developed phase of the game; and Endgame, the finale when most of the pieces are gone and kings start to take an active part in the struggle.

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Opening (Marketing & Research)

The opening moves of recruiting can be exciting and educational. Begin by using the resources on the web; this is like moving your first pawn - no great upside to you, but no risk either - view it as simply the place to start. The NCAA website is a great way to collect the names of colleges that offer your chosen sport. Although I am a firm believer that an athlete should be honest with his own abilities, I feel equally strongly that athletes should market themselves to colleges at all levels of Division I, II, and III.

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Less then 4% of all high school athletes play at any level of collegiate competition, so let’s not get caught up in the “I am going D-I” thing. Ultimately, it is the college coach who determines what level of competition the student-athlete can play. Remember what I’ve said in previous Home Team Sports columns: “Use your athletic skill as a marketing tool to get you a better education.”

Sending a letter of introduction to each coach is like moving your knights and bishops onto the board -- a logical next step in the process. The development of the Internet has made this as simple as finding the staff directory page on the college’s website; remember to proofread your letter carefully and include your “sports resume” in this first correspondence. You can literally market yourself to a hundred colleges in a weekend.

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Why so many? At this stage of the match, your goal is simply to gather information to see who may be interested in what you have to offer.  Don’t kid yourself; coaches are doing the same thing with their own “recruiting letters” to you and thousands of kids all across the country. College coaches often get a student-athlete’s name and address from a tournament roster or summer sports camp and send out a letter that reads something like this: Dear John, you have been recommended to us as an outstanding student-athlete. Let me tell you about Pretend University.” Just like your first pawn, college coaches use this recruiting letter as their opening move.

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