We’ve seen plenty of recruitment programs designed to help students connect with, and showcase their skills to, college coaches. Largely, we’ve seen those in team sports like baseball, football and lacrosse. But plenty of niche sports are seeing the potential for helping coaches find prospects.
When the inaugural Abu Garcia Bassmaster High School Combine took place last year, it drew 85 high school anglers from 28 states (including those as far away as California) who wanted to showcase their talents for coaches from 20 different colleges over the course of three days. The three-day event was held on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Alabama.
And it worked, generating more than 57 scholarship offers worth a combined $2.6 million.
The combine allows anglers to showcase their skills on the water, as well as to display their knowledge of the sport as a whole. Students were able to demonstrate their familiarity with operating electronic fish detection equipment, to tie a knot of their choice to a lure (knots were machine-tested for strength), and to show their proficiency at casting.
After the first day, colleges have the opportunity to select anglers for a “second look” where they can further explore everything that angler has to offer and see if they would be the perfect fit for their fishing program.
While the High School Combine provides an unprecedented chance for young anglers to get in front of championship-caliber college programs, the coaches themselves enjoy the opportunity to recruit more effectively.
“The biggest difference between what I do as a fishing coach versus most sports is that I’m a one-man staff for evaluation and anything that can help me save time is very valuable,” said Coach John Pollard of Faulkner University. “This combine will help me do more evaluations for more prospects in three days than I can normally do in several months. As a coach and recruiter, this is an exciting opportunity to evaluate and make contact with anglers who are eager to continue their competitive angling in college.”
Cheer and STUNT
Competitive cheer is another sport on the rise and USA Cheer has been working behind the scenes to forge connections between coaches and student athletes.
In 2019, the organization held its first USA Cheer Combine which, according to executive director Lauri Harris, drew over 400 athletes. Seeing the response, the organization scheduled more events at locations nationwide. And while COVID might have put a damper on some event, USA Cheer’s partnership with the recruitment platform, Captain U, helped connect students to interested coaches and programs.
With sports back in full force, USA Cheer is ramping up its combine schedule again.
“We have slated about 10 combines this fall,” notes Harris. “We’ll be announcing them in a couple of weeks.”
Last year, combines were offered in California (two locations), Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Missouri, Delaware and Utah. Students can demonstrate their skills for cheer or for the emerging sport of STUNT.
Among the skills potential student athletes are expected to demonstrate are jumps, running and standing tumbling, as well as partner stunts.
Another NCAA Emerging Sport for Women is Acrobatics & Tumbling. According to Janell Cook, executive director of the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association, or NCATA, camps are hosted on the campuses of participating NCATA institutions (a list is available here). NCATA does not currently sponsor combines but partners with groups, including: Infinity Combines, Showtime 2022, Apex, North Stars Gymnastics, S&S Gym Camps and Colorado College Recruit Clinic.
NCATA notes that its coaches use multiple platforms to recruit, including CaptainU, USA Gymnastics Registry, NCSA, Press Sports, Jill Hicks Consulting, Gym Divas and New Heights Recruiting.
As one of the biggest indications yet that colleges and universities are taking esports seriously, representatives of more than 65 colleges and universities that offer gaming scholarships attended the inaugural (and virtual) Esports Combine 2020.
Over three days in mid-October, more than 1,000 players participated in skills challenges and virtual panels and workshops featuring coaches who zeroed in on what they look for in players and recruiting experts who provided insight about the recruiting process for gamers and their parents.
Since that time, esports has continued to grow – and so has the number of colleges offering programs. The most recent combine, held in Indiana in March, was presented both live and virtually, and used GYO scouting profiles and features, combined with events like panel discussions and opportunities to meet with educators, club leaders and varsity players about the student experience in an esports program. Additionally, esports student athletes could meet with college recruiters and head coaches.
And, noted TechPoint Index, “What the Esports Combine made clear is that while other sporting events and leagues (such as the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA) had to stall, overhaul, or fall behind during this health crisis, esports proceeded unabated and, in fact, thrived. In what may be a future windfall for Indiana’s economy, the state’s esports community is small enough to offer genuine connections and high-quality, defined paths to going pro, while also being big enough and sophisticated enough to have a national impact and establish a leading American esports hub.”
As with many sports that lack an enormous crowd following, college bowling has worked to connect prospective student athletes with coaches. Because of this, college bowling coaches have very limited chances to see the nation’s top bowlers, get an accurate breakdown of a young bowler’s ability and to see which athletes might be a good fit in their program.
Oh, and for those who might be curious, bowling is, in fact, an official NCAA sport for women and is an equivalency sport for NCAA scholarship purposes. Both Men’s & Women’s bowling are official NAIA sports
Enter the Bowling Combine – 2022 Athlete Assessment Program at the International Training and Research Center (IRTC) in Arlington, Texas. The ITRC has 14 lanes dedicated to training and state-of-the-art technology, including SPECTO ball motion system, video analysis and much more.
The event brings athletes into the top training facility in the world for an objective evaluation of their skills and provides data in a condensed comprehensive report to college coaches.
In each specific skill measured, the athlete will be evaluated, given a score for their proficiency, and then be ranked against the other athletes in attendance. After the completion of all the skill stations, the athletes will receive a ranking and total score for the entire event, called their Performance Evaluation Test or P.E.T. score. This test score will be an objective view of their overall abilities in key components necessary for success and can be compared against all other present and future participants. Some of the skills assessed will require measurements related to physical fitness, range of mobility, bowling shot repeatability, speed control, spare making, as well as bowling knowledge and problem solving.
The event opened on May 20 and runs through August 11, 2022. Each athlete will participate in a two-day session with up to 20 other participants. At the end of their evaluations, a personal electronic report will be provided with the pertinent data. Shortly after the whole event is completed in August, a separate summary will be sent to athletes that contains their comparisons with the other attendees from 2022.
And this combine has been around for quite some time.
"The Bowling Combine started in 2011," notes Aaron Smith, communications manager for the U.S. Bowling Congress. "There usually are around 100 athletes each year who take advantage of the program."
Who Else Has Combines, Camps and Showcases You Don’t Know About?
A lot of sports, apparently. Here’s a partial list…
…and plenty of others. Where there’s a competitive college team, there’s often a combine – and a need for students to connect with coaches. And while many sports aren’t offering formal combines, their national governing bodies do list the colleges with competitive programs in that sport. Among these are figure skating, polo, equestrian, table tennis, rodeo, drone racing, archery and plenty of others. And don't forget that since women's triathlon has competed the school participation requirements to achieve NCAA championship status, schools will be seeking athletes in this sport as well.
It’s also an opportunity for destinations to make outreach to NGBs and offer up locations as possible combine locations. For example, Hank Weldon, senior manager of the B.A.S.S. High School and Collegiate Program, noted that his event had found the perfect home in Alabama.
“Decatur Morgan County was just a really good choice. There is close access to water, an extremely large dock space so that each college can each bring at least one boat, a place to house the students, plus it was an ideal walking distance to where our indoor activities are. It’s also centrally located – you’re only 650 miles away from cities like Detroit and it hits our core area of Alabama and Tennessee in terms of the concentration of high school anglers.”
And in Indiana, the esports combine could become a leading light, building a bridge between a niche sport and formal recognition.
“This event is creating a positive impact for the global esports industry as well as bringing a huge economic gain to everyone involved,” said Ryan Vaughn, President of Indiana Sports Corp after the 2020 combine. “Esports is a multi-billion-dollar industry and we’re just scratching the surface on the trickle-down effects this will have on players, teams, communities, and organizations. For Indiana, this will move the needle towards making us a keystone of the esports industry.”