For more than a decade, Laurie Richter made a career out of doing her homework.
She used to own her own market research firm.
When she went to do her homework on college recruiting last fall so that she could help her son Dylan make an informed choice, Richter kept hitting the wall. She went to bookstore after bookstore and couldn't find enough information on the subject.
Frustrated, and encouraged by a friend who was experiencing similar frustration, Richter decided to do enough homework to help herself - and others. She quit her job of 14 years and spent the last six months writing and self-publishing her own recruiting handbook.
"Put Me In, Coach - A Parent's Guide to Winning the Game of College Recruiting," just hit select local bookstores this week and is also available for purchase on the Internet. Next to Dylan, who starred at Stevenson and was named the honorary captain of last year's Daily Herald Lake County All-Area basketball team, and younger son Brady, the book is her pride and joy.
"I just have a real passion for this subject," said the 52-year-old Lincolnshire resident, who also created her own publishing company, Right Fit Press. "I can't tell you why exactly. I just know that I didn't know anything about writing a book and I didn't really struggle at all to write this because these are things that I felt really needed to be said."
Richter says that athletes of every skill level can benefit from the tips and advice that she's assembled in her book. But athletes like Dylan, who are talented enough to play in college but aren't necessarily being wooed by countless major Division I recruiters from birth, might find it particularly useful.
"If you're not in the most ideal situation where people are just really coming after you, and most kids aren't, a lot of people don't know what they're supposed to do about recruiting. They don't have a clue," said Richter, whose helpful hints are rooted not only in personal experience but also in expert opinion. She interviewed dozens of college coaches for the book, while also putting her own area of expertise to work by doing research on top of research.
"As Pollyannish as it sounds, I really want to help people figure out how to do this because, if your kid is passionate about playing like Dylan is, you want them to be able to play for as long as he can," Richter said. "If it doesn't work out because your kid doesn't have the skills or the motivation necessary to play in college, then you move on. But for your kid to get to this stage and not be able to continue to play simply because you can't figure out the process is just not right. Every kid should have a clear path."
Dylan's path has led him to Washington University in St. Louis. So far, he's getting major minutes for the defending Division III national champions, who are currently ranked No. 1 in the country.
He's their top player off the bench, averaging more points and rebounds than any other reserve.
"If I were a parent reading this, I would think that the only way someone like me would have credibility as a writer of something like this is if I was able to help my son make the right choice," Richter said. "And I think Washington University is the perfect place for Dylan.
"It's such a good school academically and the team is really great. The other guys on the team are great and the coach is this guy who has been around for a long time and is very liked and well respected. If Dylan stays healthy, he's going to have a great career there."
Richter says that athletes can increase their chances of such a fate if they pick a school based on the whole package, not just a particular coach or a facility or a team's record in the NCAA Tournament.
Also, it's not taboo to target schools besides the ones that have actually shown interest.
"I liked writing the front section about making the right choice for you," Richter said. "A lot of times what happens is that kids end up picking from only the schools that have contacted them. They wait, wait, wait to see who is interested in them. They get five, six, seven schools and that is their universe. It becomes a very reactive process."
"The way to go through it is by being proactive, by saying 'What schools will be right for me?' After doing an honest self-assessment, you find those schools and you contact them. That should be your universe. There's nothing to stop you from starting a dialogue with these college coaches, but so many people don't do that because they don't want to do something wrong, they don't know what you can and can't do, so they just sit and wait. Believe me, most coaches are very amenable to being contacted because there's also a lot of uncertainty for them. They don't know which kids will be interested in their school and which kids won't. It cuts down on the cold calling for them. For smaller, more regional schools that can't just hand pick whoever they want, they would almost always rather start there."
One of Richter's other best tips involves money, which should perk up everyone's ears in this economy.
She says it is a misnomer that significant financial assistance is available almost exclusively at the Division I level.
"When people look at, say, Division III, they get turned off right away because they think they can't get money," Richter said. "But you can get a lot of money, depending on where you go.
"I have a comparison in the book about how the amount of merit money available is like 4-to-1 over the athletic money. The tip is, you send your kid to a school where he or she is in the top 10 percent academically because they'll pay you. Schools want those kids because that brings up their standards. But most people do just the opposite. They say, 'I want to get my kid into the very best school possible.' If you really need the money, though, aim your kid where he's in the top echelon and they'll give you plenty of merit money."
Speaking of money, Richter says she'd be foolish not to want to sell all 60 boxes of books that line her garage so that she make enough to at least cover her costs. But her bigger goal is much more altruistic than that.
"If I break even, I truly would be happy," Richter said. "It's really not about that, though. You get to a point in your life where it's not what you can do for yourself anymore, it's what you can do for other people.
"Every time I talk to a parent who has read the book or who has just called me for help, you can kind of feel the sense of relief when they find out something they didn't know or weren't sure about. That I really enjoy."
Getting the book: "Put Me In, Coach" could make the perfect holiday gift for a parent or an athlete who is or soon will be playing the college recruiting game.
Having just recently received her first shipment of books, Richter moved swiftly to get a handful of copies shelved in three local bookstores: Borders in Deerfield, the Lake Forest Bookstore (680 N. Western Ave.) and the Book Stall in Winnetka (811 Elm). The book, which retails for $16.95, can also be purchased at www.RightFitPress.com, although delivery in time for Christmas cannot be guaranteed at this point.