Athletic recruitment challenged by ongoing pandemic

Athletic recruitment has transitioned fully online, presenting challenges such as player evaluation, skill development, overfull rosters and more for coaches and student athletes at El Camino College.

Fall sports have been postponed until the first half of spring semester, and spring semester sports will compete in the second half. However, fall and spring sport coaches must decide how they will recruit players and prepare for their upcoming unprecedented seasons.

Colin Preston, director of athletics and kinesiology at El Camino College (ECC), said there have been attempts to open state-wide recruiting for two-year colleges and out of state recruiting, which has not happened yet. Coaches can view out-of-state athletes, but cannot have conversations with them unless they are in the district.

This creates a challenge for coaches to evaluate potential players’ performances, especially when high school seasons have been postponed or canceled, Preston said.

Preston said another issue is that there are no tryouts at two-year colleges, and most teams have a summer class option where coaches can determine which players to invite back in the fall. Because coaches cannot evaluate potential players, rosters have become overfull on many teams, such as beach volleyball and baseball.

Fall sport coaches, such as Gifford Lindheim, the head football coach at ECC, will refine rosters in the spring when their seasons begin and they can better evaluate players.

To recruit under virtual circumstances, Lindheim evaluates a database of the best players in the district, watches junior film, identifies and reaches out to athletes in the district through social media or to their high school coaches and then hosts a Zoom recruitment meeting.

Lindheim said that about 20 to 25 players are offered scholarships to play football at ECC every year, which is free through the South Bay Promise. After players complete their time at ECC, they can transfer to a four-year university.

“Not everybody is ready academically and athletically at 17 or 18-years-old at the end of high school. A lot of people need more time,” Lindheim said. “Our goal is to have every one of our players transfer to a four-year level, to continue to play and to continue to go to school.”

Le Valley Pattinson, head coach of the women’s beach volleyball team at ECC, said her current players are facing challenges transferring to four-year colleges.

“Last season’s eligibility didn’t count for them so there’s not currently many openings on university rosters, so for universities it’s a little bit of a balancing act to recruit and get students in,” Pattinson said.

Chris Jeffries, athletics and health counselor at ECC, guides student-athletes through the registration and transfer processes. He says that ECC is taking precautions for a safe return to fall sports in the spring.

“The goal is to have sports back. The coaches and sports teams are working with athletic trainers to make sure that student-athletes have access to testing and the PPE [personal protective equipment] that they need,” Jeffries said.

While student-athletes await their seasons in the spring, many are practicing by themselves to develop their skills.

Preston said although players need to practice their skills to keep their skills in line, many face financial issues and cannot pay for gym memberships or additional training.

“What I see as a big issue going on now is an equity gap. [We] have student athletes who are able to have those resources and still develop their skills, and others aren’t,” Preston said.

John Britton, women’s soccer and badminton coach at ECC, said that the women’s soccer team has online programs they can do at home to train by themselves to continue developing their ball-handling skills without a gym.

“This situation is always changing,” Britton said. “It’s been really hard. The girls are working their way through it, to the best of their ability, as are we as coaches, and hopefully after Christmas we’ll get back on.”

Lindheim has not seen the football team since March and said that Zoom meetings are not ideal.

“I think that’s the hardest part, is not being able to support our players as much as we do when we can make those personal contacts and work with guys in person,” Lindheim said.

Pattinson hopes to see her beach volleyball team in-person and looks forward to the return of fall sports in the spring.

“I would like to see all of our student-athletes returning to campus next semester. If they feel like they’re putting themselves or their families in jeopardy, then they don’t have to come and that’s their decision to make, but if they’re ready to go then we should give them a safe opportunity to do what they love,” Pattinson said.