The PCA Blog

PCA Voices

Soul Searching: The Step Before Step-One of The College Recruiting Process

by Jack Bowen


As the Menlo School College Recruiting Counselor and a Private College Recruiting Counselor for 18 years, my presentations on College Athletics Recruiting begin with what, to some, sounds like an attempt to dissuade prospective recruits from pursuing sports in college. This is not at all the case.

Instead, I am beginning the process before it even begins: encouraging the student to take some real time exploring what it means to play their sport in college and, then, to decide if that’s what they really want. “Soul searching,” if you will. Because the entire recruiting process is rather grueling, all leading to, hopefully, the student at college playing their sport for a huge majority of their time there. So this all needs to be something the student can really own.


Part of the soul searching involves making a truly informed decision.  First, this means recognizing exactly what will be asked of you at the college level and how that differs across schools and divisions.  A few years back I met with one of the top water polo players in the country and asked him what he wanted from his college experience.  “I want to have the off-season to relax a little bit and not play water polo year ‘round.  I don’t want to be at school over the summer to train but, instead, want to be free to choose where my summer internships are and travel…” and I stopped him right there.  At the time, his top two school choices were Stanford and Princeton.  Given what he said he wanted, Stanford would have been a less than ideal option for him.  That particular team trains 11 months out of the year, up to 4 hours per day, with summers spent training at school nightly with games on the weekends, while Princeton has summers free and maintains a considerably less intense off-season training regimen.  So he went to Princeton.  Many people in the water polo community challenged his decision.  “But you could go to Stanford and have a real chance to win a National Championship,” they urged him.  While likely true, this is not what this athlete wanted.  Once he did the soul-searching, his decision was easy.  Stanford too provides an amazing opportunity for the right person: the key here being, do the soul-searching first before seeking out teams and coaches of the various college programs.

So that’s a great place to start: sit down with your coach, share your hopes for your college career, and start the conversation. In addition, a great way to find out about various programs is to contact people currently there and ask them what it’s like: how many hours they are training, restrictions placed on them as an athlete, what they like and dislike about the program. This will give you insight to things you may never have considered. It’s not necessarily important that they like or dislike the program but why—some athletes love a coach who’s a “screamer” as it motivates them, and others disdain it. Also, go see the team play if they’re ever local. Many athletes (and their parents) have found great success sitting in the team’s fan/parent area and striking up a conversation with the parents of the players to find out about the program. Finally, be aware of any forces working on you—either from your own connection to an identity couched in your sport, to society’s heightened focus on sports, to any sorts of expectations you may feel from coaches, players, and friends. This is hard to do sometimes but is so important given the gravity of the decision and the impact your college career will have on you, as an athlete or not.

And, then, once you’ve done this work, you’re ready to begin the process. Start reaching out to coaches at your schools of interest, send them your resume, and stay in touch with them until ready to commit. And all the while check in with yourself and those close to you and search that soul until you commit.

Jack is the author of 4 books, including his latest (co-authored), Sport, Ethics, and Leadership (July, 2017).  His other books include San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Amazon Top-500 selection, The Dream Weaver and, If You Can Read This, featured in the New York Times, USA Today, and NPR. Jack has coached water polo at Menlo School for the past 21 years where they have won the league championships 18 times. Finally, he spoke at TEDxStanford in 2017 on the topic of awe and in 2020, at TEDxGunnHighSchool, "The Unexamined Sport Is Not Worth Playing".  Jack graduated from Stanford University with Honors in Human Biology and earned his Masters Degree in philosophy, graduating summa cum laude.

Stay connected