USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
For many athletes, the thought of talking to a big, mean, scary college coach is intimidating. I get it, you don’t want to say or do anything that might hurt your chances for a scholarship. That said, college coaches are people just like you and me. They aren’t psychoanalyzing every word you say, or making mental notes about your body language. They just want to get to know you as an athlete, a student, and a person. An athletic scholarship is a big investment for a college and the coaches take the process of handing out scholarships seriously.
The best way to make a good impression when talking with a college coach is to be prepared. Since you don’t know when that first phone call might come, you need to be ready now. Write down questions to ask a coach and be ready to answer any questions he or she might have. When you are on the phone be respectful, talk slowly and calmly. When you go on a recruiting visit, stand up straight, look the coach in the eye, be confident and polite.
In preparation for your next conversation with a coach, here my top 10 questions a college coach might ask and some help with your answers:
1. “How are your grades?”
For many coaches this will be the first question asked. Academics are a priority at most colleges and coaches don’t want players who are going to struggle to stay eligible. If your grades aren’t great make sure the coaches know you understand the importance and that you are taking steps to improve in that area. Find a tutor and/or consider taking an ACT or SAT review course to improve your academic standing. Finally, understand that if you don’t meet the admission requirements at a coach’s university you have zero chance for an athletic scholarship from that school.
2. “What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?”
Here’s your chance! This is not the time to be modest. Be confident but not boastful in your abilities. Give specific examples of your strengths, but don’t overdo it. For example, if you’re the team captain say something like “I was lucky enough to be selected as team captain this year and I think I’ve tried to be a leader on the field and in the locker room.” College coaches want self-confident, respectful players that will represent their school in the right way. It’s okay to talk about your weaknesses, but don’t dwell on them. No one is perfect and college coaches most likely will prefer an athlete that recognizes areas to improve.
3. “What sets you apart from other recruits/players?”
The answer to this question is different for every athlete, but a strong answer can go a long way toward separating you from the competition. Give this question some thought and consider qualities like academic achievement, work ethic and leadership. Explain how you will contribute to their program both on and off the field. Also, before you talk with a coach, know a little bit about their program. If you do, it will show the coach that you have genuine interest in playing there.
4. “What other colleges are recruiting you?”
You always want to make the coach you are talking with feel like they are your top choice, but if you are being recruited by other colleges, it’s okay to let them know. If you aren’t currently being recruited, there are many ways to answer this question. For example, you could say “I am just starting to communicate with some schools” or “I am waiting to hear back from several colleges.” Everyone wants to date the popular girl/boy and every coach wants to sign the popular recruit.
5. “What type scholarship are you looking for?”
Be honest about your financial considerations, especially if that is a determining factor in your decision. Learn the scholarship rules for your sport. If partial scholarships are the norm, be open to other forms of financial aid. You should also know the “all-in” cost at any college you are talking with so you can compare “apples to apples”. A 40 percent scholarship to a private school is not the same as a 40 percent scholarship to a state school. Your out-of-pocket cost will be significantly different.
6. “What is your relationship with your current coach?”
Your relationship with your current coach can be an indication of whether or not you are a viable candidate for any college program. In our interview last year with former University of Texas Coach Mack Brown, he told us “…if a high school coach had any hesitation about a player, we were out!” That is a pretty telling comment. A solid endorsement/recommendation from your current coach can go a long way toward landing a scholarship. So, when you answer this question I hope you are comfortable offering to provide the contact information for your current coach.
7. “What things are you looking for most in a college?”
There are many aspects of this question to consider. They can range from your expectations regarding playing time, to whether or not the school offers the major you want to study. Decide early what is important to you. Is it the quality of the education? Location? Tradition? Boy-girl ratio? Once again, be honest with this answer. This is no time to tell them what you think they want to hear. This is not a 4-year decision; it’s a 40-year decision.
8. “Who is helping you with this decision?”
If a coach is really interested in you he or she will want to know who will be influential in your college decision and who to build a relationship with. I believe a recruit should limit the number of people involved in the process. Listen to your parents, your current coach and perhaps a trusted adviser. Don’t poll your teammates, ask your cousin Mel or talk about your college choices with the cashier at the gas station. This is your decision with input from a trusted few.
9. “What are your interests outside of sports?”
Most college coaches want well-rounded student-athletes. They understand that any potential college athlete has spent an inordinate amount of time working on their sport, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. Whether you play a musical instrument or enjoy fly fishing your outside interests allow a coach to get to know you on a personal level.
10. “Do you have any questions for me?”
Your college decision needs to be an informed decision. To maximize your time with a college coach, write down a list of questions to ask early in the process. Here are a few ideas:
- What information do you need from me?
- How many players are you recruiting at my position?
- What would I need to do to be evaluated by your staff?
- How many roster spots are available my graduation year?
- When would be a good time to visit your campus?
Prioritize your top five to seven questions and ask as many as the conversation will allow.
Here’s the deal
Any time you talk to a coach just be yourself, be relaxed, and be confident. Coaches want to get to know you and get a feel for your personality. Take advantage of every opportunity to start building a relationship, and find out if he or she is someone you want to play for.