College Perspective: Connor Martin

Indiana Native, Connor Martin, talks about the recruiting process and his experiences so far at Princeton. One of the top recruits out of the Hoosier State last year, Martin is in his freshman year at Princeton University. 

The recruiting/college selection process was a great experience for me! To have control of your future after seeing all of the possibilities is a fun yet daunting task. The process is different for everyone.  I know other runners who struggled with the process for various reasons. The truth is that the recruiting/college selection process is a big huge puzzle and you need to tackle the puzzle the best that you can.  I truly believe in experiencing opportunities yourself and not following a predetermined mindset planted by someone else. At the same time be sure to talk to older runners about their recruiting/college selection experiences as they may provide you with great information that will be beneficial as you go through the process.

Remember that the recruiting process is really a two way street.  Don’t think it is solely the coach recruiting you;  you are also recruiting the coach.  As much as they need to impress you, you need to impress them.  Trust me, they are evaluating you far beyond your 1600m time.  Your stock is going to drop if you come across as a punk prima-donna.  You need to respect the process, the coach, and your family.

At some point in the process it will become a business decision on your part.  You will have all of the pieces of the puzzle almost put together and weighing the various factors will help you envision the completed puzzle.  While your final choice will end the college selection process, the puzzle will not actually be fully put together until you receive your diploma (and hopefully win an NCCA Championship).  Making the correct choice can be the difference between a happy and successful four years vs. four long years of frustration and discontent. 

The first, and most important thing I believe is understanding what you want in a school and team and then begin to research your options.  Just because a coach is recruiting you does not mean his/her school is the right place for you.  Here are just some of the pieces of the puzzle that I focused on.  

1)     Size of School –Take some time to envision yourself on different sized campuses.  Where will you feel most comfortable?  Living in Big Ten country I quickly realized that attending a “mega” school was not going to be the right fit.  I knew I wanted to attend a school with an enrollment between 5,000 and 15,000. 

2)     Academics – Be realistic.  You need to find a school that academically is the right fit for you.  Even if you are a straight A student with great SAT/ACT scores does not mean Stanford or Northwestern will be the right fit for you.  You need to be honest with yourself and understand if you are prepared to work even harder over the next four years. 

3)     Coach and Team -  DO NOT SELECT A SCHOOL SOLEY ON THE COACH.  Coaches change; especially assistant coaches.  If you are a distance runner and the distance coach is not the head coach it is quite possible that he/she will not be at the school when you are a senior.   Do your research.  Find out how long the coach has been at the school.  How old is he/she?  You have to assume that a young assistant coach is looking at moving up the coaching ladder and is looking for a head position elsewhere.  Think about whether you want to attend a school that you can immediately walk in and make the varsity or if you are prepared to fight for a spot.  If you are a 9:20 guy then you need to realize that making the top 7 at top ranked school is not going to happen immediately (and it may never).   It is a gamble, so knowing where you fit now and what your long-term goals are need to be considered.  When I selected Princeton I realized that making varsity in Cross Country was going to be very tough my Freshmen year but scoring at the Heps (conference) in the Steeplechase or 5000m was a possibility.

4)     Distance from Home – Think about whether you want to be close to home.  “Close” is a relative term so you just need to decide how far you want to be from Mom and Dad.  I know the one thing I struggled with when I knew I was headed East was that I would not be able to see my little brother compete his last two years in High School.  When it became clear that most of the schools I was considering were in the East I then began to factor in their proximity to family that I have out here, just in case I wanted to get away for a weekend or so.

5)     Cost of School and Financial Aid Possibilities – First of all, you need to realize there is not a lot of athletic scholarship money out there. Last year 35 kids broke 9:00 for 3200m and 35 broke 4:10 for 1600m.  There is a lot of talent out there and not a ton of money. Don’t get me wrong you may fall into the right situation and be able to negotiate with a coach to capture a bit more support. Beyond athletic scholarships, there are other financial aid packages available from schools that in the long run will help you and your family.   Some are loans while others are grants/scholarships. As you begin to talk to coaches ask them what you might expect to pay to attend their University.   They will already know your athletic performances.  They will need your GPA, Class Rank, and SAT/ACT scores and probably your family yearly income to give you a ball park number. I know Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships.  Princeton does not offer academic scholarships either.  All of the financial aid is based on financial need of the family.  Finally talk to your parents.   You need to understand what their expectations are in terms of what they are willing to contribute and whether you will be responsible for paying for all or some portion of the final cost for you to attend school.

I truly believe if you find a school that fits all of you’re wants you are very lucky and should be grateful.

Make sure you are not getting caught up in the name, reputation, or stereotypes of schools. If a coach calls, hear them out, listen to his philosophies and be thankful for their interest in you.  Not only does this keep your options open as a whole, but it opens your eyes to the different attitudes of our sport that are out there.  Engage them in the conversation…again part of this process is “selling yourself.”  Listen to what they are saying to you and how they are saying.  You need to get a “read” on  them and who they are.  Are they positive about their school and program?  How do they talk about other programs?  Do they talk about how your talents and personality might fit in with their team?    Most of all, be humble and appreciative that they are interested in you.  If you are communicating by phone be sure to return their calls.  If you are communicating by e-mail, treat the e-mail as a business letter.

Visits are obviously the most exciting aspect of the process. Be alert to the how the athletes interact with each other and with the coach. Every trip will be fun, each with a different aura and feel,  You will come back “high” from the trip. You need to allow yourself to readjust into normal life and come down from the ‘high’.  After a week home, sit down and examine and list the important things about the school. What did you like? What did you not like? Can you see yourself there? Etc.

At some point in the process you will need to tell every coach but one that you have made your decision and it is not their school you will be attending in the Fall.  It’s hard to tell someone ‘no’, especially someone that wants you and your talents. But if I was sure that the specific school was not the place for me, I let the coach know, thanked him for his interest, time, and support but plainly told him it was not the right fit for me. They appreciate the up-front and honest answer. In truth, they don’t want you wasting their time if you’re not interested.

Finally for those who are not being contacted but want to continue your running careers, don’t be meek.  Unfortunately, the process includes self-promotion and talking yourself up. You need to sell yourself. Contact the coaches at the schools on your list. Everyone, including the top prospects, do! Coaches have a hard enough job; you contacting them makes things easier. Or if you are already set on a large school with a competitive team, another option is the school’s running club. Most large schools have them and believe me, they are not joke. There is a National Collegiate Club Championship each year that is very competitive.  Those guys train just as hard as anyone. So don’t let enrollment end your career.

Go Rocks! Go Tigers!

Connor Martin