College Recruiting Advice for Young Athletes: Own Who You Are

College Recruiting Advice for Young Athletes: Own Who You Are

Attention young athlete: you are a personal brand. 

No, no, no.

Not like the influencer on Instagram who splashes HIIT circuits across your feed as they rock their 100th pair of Lulu Lemons.

No, not like the social media fitness guru who sips a glass of champagne in Greece post bicep blast workout.

No, not like the chick who disguises her 30 day detox as “creating impact and promoting healthy living.”


You are a far more empowering influencer.

As a young athlete who aspires to play in college and be seen for your individuality, you are a personal brand.

You are selling your skillsets.

You are selling your strengths.

You are selling your attitude.

And most critically, you are selling your unique talents.

Examine the last one deeply.

Let me repeat once more: you are selling your unique talents.

Nowadays, the college recruiting landscape is so saturated with players who are so similar, colleges coaches are overwhelmed trying to dig out the diamonds.

And rightfully so, as young players are working hard and doing all of the basic requirements to reach the next level of playing for a preeminent university.

Everyone plays for the best club team in their state. Everyone attends the same ID camps. Everyone plays at the same elite showcases. Everyone plays ODP or ECNL.

Taking it a step further, everyone does their Techne skill work at home. Everyone has a good first touch. Everyone can play to feet. Everyone takes care of their sleep and nutrition. Everyone is reading sports psychology books. Everyone is seeing their strength coach.

As long as you are doing the technical, physical and mental pieces, you meet the bare minimum to play in college at a top school, so what makes you stand out? Click To Tweet

Let’s assume you’re doing what you need to do – training, practicing, playing for a top club team, and leveling up all components of your play.

Now let me ask you this: what is your personal brand?

What do you bring to the table that no one else does?

How are you memorable?

What gift do you possess that is a game changer?

What sparkle will you bring to a team?

Namely, what is your special role?

In a world of carbon copies, be that sheet of manila paper.

In a parlor of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice creams, be the Oreo almond double chunk fudge and mocha java swirl.

In an unending ocean, be the lighthouse.

In a sea of social media robots, be a relatable human.

In a fully stocked refrigerator of Deer Park water, be the $1.99 PH water.

“Okay, okay, I get it Erica. Don’t be a boring,” you say.

Yes, you’re right, reader! Let me add, don’t be a boring drone of a clone and be who you are on your own.

Thanks for listening to my haiku.

Moving on…

I’m a college recruiter for a top 5 nationally ranked Division III program, and the one thing I see time and time again at my ID camps is players looking the same.

Of course, it’s a blessing to get quality athletes each year who are eager to showcase themselves after being lumped together on a team with strangers across the country.

Certainly, it’s not an easy environment for anyone, and I commend all of the young athletes who approach these camps with an insatiable desire to compete.

I will say this, though, the players I have recruited for Johns Hopkins University had a flare in their play, an authenticity in their personality, and an elegance in their leadership on and off the pitch.

I’ve recruited players who won every recovery run.

I’ve recruited players who supported and cheered for their teammates.

I’v recruited players who took initiative to come up with team chants at camp.

Yes, all talented in their play, but also, turned it up a notch in their role, personality, leadership style, and individual character.

This is the quintessence of being unique, and this couldn’t be more paramount these days to rise above the noise.

It’s the mystical, magical thing that will set you apart. Personal branding, to that end, is something you need to start reflecting on and building.

First, reflect on who you are as a player. Returning to the self awareness 101 questions above, what is unique about you?

Maybe you’re a player who wins every air ball.

Maybe you specialize in one versus ones.

Maybe your creativity is dazzling.

Maybe you are a technical #10 who completes every pass and never loses the ball.

Maybe you’re a game changer who comes off the bench and scores every time.

It’s amazing to acknowledge the beauty of the game.

After all, a team sport is a web of players who weave in their individual intricacies into the collective whole. Click To Tweet

The role you bring is yours and yours only. It’s uniquely you. Own it.

And if you’re a player who has been berated for not being aggressive enough, yet you finish every cross into the box, own it.

If you’re a player who has been judged for not being good at one versus ones, yet you leads the team in assists, own it.

If you’re a player who has been told they are not fast enough, yet you can read the game ten steps ahead of everyone else and be in the right position every time, own it.

If you’re a player who is short, yet can cut, dodge and change direction faster than the zap of lightning, own it.

I implore you to not get caught up in trying to be it all, let alone, comparing yourself to others.

Own you unique gifts, brand them, sell them.

I know it can be frustrating when you are a well-rounded player and you’re not getting phone calls from college coaches. You’re doing everything right. You’re practicing. You’re talking to college coaches. You’re attending all the camps. You’re solid.

But how much are you selling yourself?

As much as I can lie and be sensitive to you all and say “none of this is personal!”….it totally is.

But yo. Hear me out on this one: college coaches aren’t just recruiting good players, they’re looking to fill in the gaps with a wide variety of talents.

Some programs might not need you, and that is okay. But others? They see so much value in your talents and would love to have you add to their specific culture.

As an example, one of my athletes attended UNC’s camp and made the top team in the to compete against current players on the team at the end of the week. She rose to the occasion, played her heart out, showcased her unique gift of tenacity, and even slide tackled one of the current players, leaving her in the dust.

For a high school girl to battle like this as well as express her gritty, center defensive midfield individuality, Coach Anson noticed. And though he already had his recruiting class finished for her year, he offered her a spot to walk on.

The moment young athletes lean into their zone of genius, is the moment they stand out in the crowd. Click To Tweet

If there’s anything you take action on after reading this blog, it’s to start building your personal brand now. Don’t be boring. Don’t be like everyone else. Be you. And only you.

Even beyond sports, the people who are known for that one thing that manifests their inner essence makes them unforgettable.

Take Logic, for example, a Grammy nominated rapper who can freestyle while solving a rubix cube:

Owning your remarkable gifts and your offbeat quirks makes you magical and memorable.

Remember, a lot of players are the same. Be the needle in the haystack. Click To Tweet

Some other examples from pop culture and sports…

Michael Jackson: glitter glove.
Mariah Carey: five octave vocal range.
Alex Morgan: an eye for the back of the net.
Kobe Bryant: intense work ethic.
Johnny Depp: versatility to play any character.
Ronaldinho: creativity with soccer skills.
Shaun White: composure under pressure and red hair.

Uniqueness permeates everywhere, even in the blogging space.

Take it from a girl who grew a following by showing up daily since 2015, writing niche blogs on youth training every day, and sharing her authentic voice of soccer saving her life.

Also, a girl who built a platform by having an affinity for Lord of the Rings, Stoic philosophy, the queen emoji, and who wears oversized rapper hoodies to work.

There are a lot of mundane people out there doing the same things, tweeting the same nauseam, playing it safe, and afraid of expressing the fullness of who they are.

It’s like you go to your nearest Office Depot and make a copy of a blank sheet of paper over, and over, and over again.

Don’t be a copy.

Be you.

Share your gifts.

Own who you are.


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  • Drew Jefferson
    Posted at 00:21h, 30 May Reply

    This is a great article for youth athletes as well as parents. This helps youth athletes understand how to define their role in an era where everyone wants to be the star player and parents are constantly at their child’s neck about “doing more” in games, taking more shots etc.

    • erica
      Posted at 11:31h, 30 May Reply

      Thank you, Drew! I appreciate you reading! I wanted to send a message to all to yes, keep it simple and do the requirements when aiming to play in college (practice on own, do strength and conditioning, be on solid team), but also, discover your unique strengths and what sets you apart!

  • Jen Bladon
    Posted at 22:01h, 30 May Reply

    We resonate so strongly with this! 🙌🏻 My daughter is a lacrosse athlete and we’re all about celebrating and showcasing what makes her her (above and beyond her skill set). We’re helping Olivia to think outside the box with the loss of recruiting and camp sessions this season, and also as a Canadian. Still working on the confidence to own all her hard work and creativity in the content she’s sending coaches but it’s coming! And this is truly a life skill and life lesson worth working on – sport or not. Thanks for your awesome content!

    • erica
      Posted at 17:37h, 31 May Reply

      YAY!!! That is so awesome, Jen! Glad you resonate! 🙂 Always have to celebrate unique talents and lean into them!

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