Social networking gives Gophers global presence

Some of the University coaches are using the internet to track down international recruits.

by Mike Mullen

On Monday night, Minnesota womenâÄôs tennis head coach Tyler Thomson opened his school e-mail account to find messages from around the world. Though it had only been a few days since he checked it; he had received e-mails from Polish, German, Mexican, Serbian, English and Indonesian high school tennis players. Then he found e-mails from Illinois, New Mexico and California. The players were, in essence, doing part of ThomsonâÄôs job for him: recruiting themselves. ThomsonâÄôs filled account is nothing out of the ordinary. College coaches have increasingly used online resources to make contact with players, and vice versa. âÄúTechnology just continues to change the scope of recruiting,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúBasically, the cliché that the world has gotten smaller is very accurate, and that has made recruiting easier.âÄù Gophers Director of Golf Brad James said that in modern recruiting, college coaches are more connected to their targets than theyâÄôve ever been. Ten years ago, a series of phone calls to coaches and tournament directors might produce a solid connection with a prospective player. Now, with Google, Facebook and e-mail, a coach can connect with a recruit almost overnight. âÄúIâÄôd definitely say weâÄôre more linked in to the players, more so in the last five, 10 years, for sure,âÄù James said. âÄúItâÄôs really changed the way recruiting is done nowadays.âÄù James said that among the Minnesota menâÄôs and womenâÄôs golf rosters, he first made contact with at least 80 percent of his players through the Internet. James and Thomson spend hours of their work time scouring the Internet for international results and rankings. When one player begins to stand out, the next step for both coaches is often to simply type in the name on Facebook. Thomson said that if his search returns multiple results with the same name, he looks for the girl who has a tennis racquet in her picture. For James, a playerâÄôs results and level of interest are the most important features. For Thomson, it can be more complicated. Consider, for example, the case of a Mexican girl who recently sent him an e-mail. She explained that family problems had kept her from competing in as many tournaments as she would like and that she would prefer to be judged by her YouTube video rather than her ranking. Thomson said that about half of the e-mails that he receives include a link to YouTube, often with spoken introductions, practice clips and background soundtracks. While they read every e-mail, the odds are slim that there is a blue-chip recruit who is unknown to them, both coaches say. On ThomsonâÄôs current squad, only one player, Australian junior Peta Forsyth , contacted Thomson before he knew who she was. After she introduced herself in an e-mail, he asked her to send him a video of her tennis skills. More often, the coaches have been following a playerâÄôs results and are making first contact, often through Facebook. The social networking site announced this spring that it was rapidly approaching 200 million members, more than 70 percent of them outside the United States. James said that if he makes first contact with a recruit by Facebook, roughly half of those players will respond to him. Thomson said that his Facebook recruits send a return message at an estimated 10 percent rate. Though he would prefer to make contact by phone, he smiled as he admitted that he was from a different generation than his recruiting targets. âÄúThat age group, I think, almost prefers to not talk on the phone,âÄù Thomson said. With each new invention in communication, the NCAA and schools must decide how it should be regulated. In August of 2008, the NCAA implemented a complete ban of all text messages sent from coaches to recruits. On Facebook, coaches may send and receive messages âÄî which are technically treated as an e-mail exchange âÄî but may not use the instant chat option. James said that he knows that he is not only watching potential players but is being watched himself. âÄúNowadays kids know so much about your program because everythingâÄôs up on the Internet,âÄù James said. âÄúTheyâÄôll get online straightaway and do some digging, and theyâÄôll find every aspect about your program, as much as they can.âÄù