By Brendan Ryan

Recently, Daniel Kahneman, the noble prize winner released his first book in a decade, called “Noise”. The premise of the book is to distinguish between bias, which is the average of the arrow shots and noise which is the variability of the error. This article is about how these both impact the recruitment process. It explains why so many people find the process so frustrating and what you can do about it.

In the recruitment process, examples of biases may be:

  • A common premise: when a comparison in which an athlete determines their fit in college based on relative results. For example, if you finish 5th, and the 3rd place player is going to UCLA and the 4th place player is going to Utah, then you should look at PAC-12 schools.
  • The Rick Singer (admissions scandal) Effect: Any money spent by families to aid in the college recruitment process is not to help provide information but rather to buy leverage and options which exceed the players ability.
  • Confirmation bias: When a college coach shows up at a tournament to follow your group, it must be to watch you and because he/she wants to.
  • Additive bias: When you lower your scoring differential and then raise your SAT a little, they you will have all these additional options.

As humans we are all victims of bias. One of the core issues of the recruitment process is that, as a parent, it is about our wonderful, capable special little son or daughter. This creates interference and makes being subjective very difficult. It is because recruiting is so difficult to navigate that the process has so much noise. Some of my favorite lines I hear are:

  • “we are really only looking at Ivy League schools”
  • “we are really only looking at major conference golf”
  • “we just switched to X coach, they work with Y player, and say that our daughter is very talented and will be a really good fit”
  • “we took the SAT but expect at least another 300 points next time”

All of the frustration from the college search process is a result of families being influenced by either biases or noise. In particular, I find it very amusing how families are susceptible to noise. The reality is that there is very little variance in the recruitment process, no matter what you want to believe.

Of course, the industry around college recruitment is in the business of creating noise, they want you to be scared and confused, so that they can sell you packages you don’t need, based on information and expertise they simply don’t always have. Don’t fall into this trap. Instead of becoming frustrated by noise and biases, families are well advised to consider that your scoring differential, SAT and budget are the foundation which leads to options. Generally, women for Division 1 need a scoring differential of 0.5 or better, an SAT of 1100 or better and a budget of $5,000, to be an average candidate. Generally, men need a scoring differential of 0.0 or better, an SAT of 1100 and a budget of $15,000 to be an average candidate.

Certain rules are more important for certain schools. SAT’s play a larger part in Ivy League, while scoring differentials are key in the SEC, ACC and other major conferences.

As you engage in the process, be aware that you also may have biases, but also be aware that the noise of the process can be deafening. I hope when armed with this information you can cut through there effects and do what matters most: finding a place where you, the prospective student athlete can be really happy, thrive in the college environment and become the best version of yourself.

Good luck on your journey.


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