The Side Effects of Recruiting No One Talks About.
Name: Rob Starbuck
Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.
Collegiate Sports: Georgetown University Football (2006-2010)
My rocky recruiting process finally came to an end at 7:30am on Wednesday, February 1, 2006- "National Signing Day". My mom woke me up and had me sign my Letter of Intent to play football at Georgetown University so she could fax it into my new coaches and make my dream of playing college football official.
We knew how important it was to get this done first thing in the morning with the Signing Day horror stories we've heard about in the past. My memory of this day will forever be tattooed in my brain because I was so happy I was going to play football for another 4 years, but I was especially happy that my recruiting process was finally over with... sorta.
Though I was officially on my way to playing football in college, the side effects that came with my 4 year recruiting process would end up negatively affecting my life for 6 years after my football career came to an end.
"Get a Little Faster and a Little Bigger"
I started on our Varsity team for 4 years in high school. I went to a 4A high school meaning we were in the band of high schools that were the second largest in the state of North Carolina. I thought I did everything I needed to do to get recruited. I racked up 1st team All-State honors and a boat load of local awards each year, I led our team to the State Finals my Senior year, I carried a 4.2 GPA and scored a 1233/1600 on the SAT. My statistics each season were on par or better than the other kids I was "competing" against for these scholarships in North Carolina and our team was squashing all the teams these kids were playing on throughout the regular season and playoffs. But for some reason, I wasn't getting any scholarship offers.
I'd get great feedback on my game tapes from college coaches, they would pull me out of my English class at school to tell me how much they liked me, they'd invite me to go visit their schools, they'd come sit in my living room and tell my parents how great of a student athlete I was, we'd talk on the phone at night about how I might be a good fit for their program. But still no scholarship offers.
These coaches knew who I was, but for some reason those cherished schollys were not coming in. Throughout my junior and senior years, they'd tell me I needed to be a little faster and a little bigger before they could offer me a scholarship. So off I went to speed camp to get faster... pushing myself relentlessly as I visualized myself playing in front of thousands of people on Saturday afternoons the following year. I'd smash protein shakes in the weight room in between sets of squats to get bigger and stronger... the grocery bill grew larger, and yet "I still wasn't good enough". No scholarship offers.
Benchmarking Myself Against Others
Some of the coaches would say that my offer would be contingent on whether or not other kids committed to their school. After I'd hang up the phone with a college coach, I'd run to my computer to see who these other kids were. Then I would start comparing myself to them. I'd look at their Rivals profile and see their statistics, how fast they were, how many times they bench pressed 225, then I'd start comparing my own statistics and numbers to them. I'd scrape through all the NC Prep forums to see which kids were getting offers from the schools I had been in contact with.
I was a crazed detective trying to figure out who was talking to who and what I needed to do to be like them and get chosen.
Once I identified who these kids were I would think to myself: "If I shave .05 off my 40 time then I'll be just as good as him and I'll get a scholarship offer". Back to the speed camps I went. I didn't realize the impact this "if, then" way of thinking would have on me until I stopped playing football and started noticing the same debilitating lines of thinking in the real world.
National Signing Day was only 2 months away and yet, I still had no idea what I was going to do for college and if I would even play football at the next level. This was the first time in my life I started feeling depressed. I'd get down on myself thinking things like "I'll never be good enough".. "Why don't these coaches want me?".. "Why don't they like me?".."What's wrong with me?".
All the awards, statistics and good grades, and yet "I'm still not good enough." My family and I really had no idea how this whole recruiting process actually worked at the time. Had we known, things may have been a little different. I would have been a lot more proactive than I was and a lot more confident in asking these coaches the tough questions that would of helped me understand where I stood.
A Phone Call Out of the Blue and Gray
Then in January, I got a phone call from Georgetown University asking me to come on an official visit 2 weeks before National Signing Day. They had seen my tape and were very interested in me being a part of the program they were building up in D.C. They were completely open and honest with me about where I ranked compared to the other kids they were recruiting and it was clear that they wanted me to play for them. Mannnn I was so excited!
"Finally", I thought..."someone wants me...someone thinks I'm good enough". I was relieved. I ended up "committing" to Georgetown after an amazing visit with the coaches, administration and future teammates. The heavy burden of not knowing what my future would entail was lifted off my shoulders and I was ready to close my high school chapter and begin a new one at Georgetown. I'd end up fulfilling my dream of playing college football for the next 4 years!
After my Georgetown career ended in 2010, I entered the real world without the sport I loved. From 2010-2016, I experienced the same thought patterns of "not being good enough" just as I did when I was going through my turbulent recruiting process from 2002-2006...except this time there was no saving grace of a scholarship to suppress this limiting belief of mine. This FALSE story I told myself caused me to overthink, overanalyze everything, worry what other people thought of me, second guess myself, be fearful of the future.. the list goes on. I was never content and happy with where I was in my life. Nothing was ever good enough and it was exhausting.
In order to overcome this false belief that I had carried with me from my recruiting process, I had to change the way I thought from the inside out.
I went to therapy, I exercised more, I meditated, I quit drinking, I journaled, I got coached, I went to breathwork classes and I became extremely introspective. Putting this hard work in paid off just like it did in high school. I started to become aware of how my thinking was affecting my life and I realized that all the stories and beliefs of "not being good enough" were simply not true.
The Lessons I Learned Through Doing the Hard Work
Lesson #1: Comparing myself to others is stupid.
In order to get the starting spot or get recruited to play in college, I compared myself to the players I thought were better than me so I could identify the areas of my game that needed to be improved. After football, I began comparing myself to other kids my age to see where I stacked up professionally.
I'd compare my quality of life against other people's Social Media, always being reminded of what I lacked instead of being grateful for what I had.
Everyone on this planet is uniquely different and has walked a completely different journey than everyone else. Comparing ourselves to other people is like a dolphin being depressed that he can't fly like an eagle... yet the dolphin is the one who has an expansive ocean to swim in! By being grateful and expressing appreciation for what I already had, I ended up feeling better about myself.
Side note: Read about how expressing gratitude has positive effects on the brain here.
Lesson #2: My self-worth is determined by me and me only.
After retiring, I measured myself and self-worth by the money I made and the job titles I had because my worth as a football player was determined by my statistics, my awards, my speed, and my strength in the weight room. As athletes, we are our statistics. They determine the money we make in our contracts, the caliber of scholarship we get coming out of high school (usually), and the awards and recognition we get by conferences, leagues and other governing bodies. Money and job titles were simply the "new statistics" for me to measure myself by in the real world. I would constantly chase the top sales people at the companies I worked for by comparing my "statistics" to their's. I was never satisfied. It goes back to the "if..then" line of thinking from earlier- "If I accomplish as much as that person, then I will be satisfied." It doesn't work.
I realized, after 6 years, that the money I make, the job titles I have, the material things I own will never determine my self-worth. I determine my self-worth by understanding what is most important to me, by living in alignment with my values and by constantly looking within.
Lesson #3: I don't need anyone's approval when I am happy with myself, first.
I would constantly seek approval from others in the working world and in my social life, because of what I went through in my recruiting process. I always tried to get everyone to like me and thought I did something wrong when they didn't. The college coaches that were recruiting me out of high school told me I "wasn't fast enough" so I would train specifically to increase my speed. They would tell me I "wasn't big enough", so I would spend endless hours in the weight room slamming protein shakes and dominating squat racks. I was always seeking their approval and their validation that I was good enough. If I didn't get it, I'd tell myself "I wasn't good enough".
This experience in recruiting helped create a limiting belief of mine that I would later carry with me after sports came to an end: "No matter how much I did, it was never good enough." The only way I would feel like I did a good job at work was if I received an award or if my manager praised me for doing a good job. I never believed I was doing a great job unless someone told me I was.
When I shifted my mindset and focused relentlessly on myself instead of the outside world, I started caring more and more about what I thought of myself. I started being more kind to myself. I started loving myself. I started believing deep down that I was good enough.
I stopped needing outside validation and approval from others because I knew the truth- I'm already good enough.
We are already whole and complete. For the sheer fact that we are human beings, we have everything we need to do anything we want in this life. Everything we need is in our mind. By believing we already have everything we need, we put an end to the never ending chase for the things we think we lack and for the things we think will make us feel whole. Then we start to live.