USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
During the recruiting process, you may find your child striving for perfection—wanting to make the perfect play and to say the perfect thing. But the truth is that college coaches expect student-athletes to struggle a little. They know they’re dealing with teenagers treading unfamiliar territory. It kind of makes sense when you think about it: professionalism isn’t really any 16-year-old’s forte, and that’s okay.
In fact, it actually works to their advantage—coaches highly value prospects who embrace the hardest parts of their recruiting and remain positive. The last thing they want to see is an athlete they’ll need to babysit.
So, here are five characteristics your child will learn during their recruiting process that not only show coaches they can successfully handle all changes that come with college, but will help also pave the way to a smoother and more successful transition to adulthood.
College coaches evaluate more than just your child’s athletic ability—they look for signs that a recruit is “coachable.” And nothing tells them that more than the way they treat authority figures. We’ve heard too many stories about student-athletes who were no longer considered by a college coach because they were disrespectful to their parents during college visits.
Plus, college coaches pay attention to the way your child talks about their peers, high school coach and other college coaches. Do they place blame when they’re benched during a game? Do they respond to emails or messages from college coaches at schools they’re not interested in?
Your student-athlete will quickly realize that respectful actions and comments can positively impact their recruiting and help them standout, a lesson they’ll surely carry with them after high school (especially at an internship.)
High schoolers thrive on routine and consistency. So, when they suddenly find themselves running drills at a showcase, cold calling college coaches, or participating in overnight official visits, they can feel a little thrown off. Even more, they’re doing all of these things on their own (probably for the first time.) As much as you want to help, you can’t call and talk to college coaches on your child’s behalf. They need to reach out and do the work if they want to be taken seriously. The sooner and more often they do it, they better they will become. Try not to be too critical if they forget to ask a question during a call, for example. They will improve over time.
In many ways, your student-athlete is already getting a small taste of the college experience. They’re stepping out of their comfort zones, taking ownership of a process and practicing all the important things, like time management and organization. Honestly, some adults still struggle with this (we all have that one coworker…) You can definitely encourage them along the way, but make sure you let them practice their independence, too. It will benefit them in the long run.
You know the feeling you get when you’re in a job interview and the employer asks about your strengths? You’re supposed to brag just the right amount—sound confident, but not cocky. It all seems kind of awkward. Now imagine going through that as a teenager. Terrifying, right?
During your child’s recruiting experience, they’ll learn how to promote themselves, while remaining humble. That’s no easy task! Not only are they discovering what sets them apart from other recruits, but they’re also becoming their own advocates, too. These are skills they can use (you guessed it) in future job interviews.
High schoolers have enough homework on their plates—the last thing they want to do is research colleges. More often than not, parents usually take over this responsibility. And that can work for families who are only looking at academics. But for student-athletes interested in playing college sports, college coaches want to know that the recruit is actually interested in the program. In fact, a coach’s biggest pet-peeve is when they receive generic messages from student-athletes that have been obviously copied and pasted.
Research is key to finding a program that is a good fit for your child. Looking at the college roster, for example, will show you the kind of player the coach wants. Talking to college-athletes at that university will give your family insight into the kind of experience you can expect. Virtually every big moment in life—from a career change to purchasing a home—requires a lot of tedious research. It’s important your athlete shows coaches they’re motivated enough to take on this responsibility.
People who are unfamiliar with the recruiting process imagine it going something like this: your child plays at a big tournament, a college coach is watching, they’re blown away by your athlete’s skills, and they offer them a scholarship. Unfortunately, there are just too many recruits and too few recruiting dollars in the budget to make that a reality. Instead, student-athletes do a lot of work (see: the research and self-promotion points above) to get on a college coach’s radar. And after they do all that work, they’re usually left waiting. Coaches are extremely busy—while some respond right away, most don’t.
This experience is so valuable for high schoolers who live in a completely digital world where instant gratification is the norm. It may sound very “back in my day,” but really, they’re going to face a lot of moments growing up where they won’t get immediate answers. And with the college decision being such a huge milestone, they’ll understand that some of the greatest things are worth waiting for–and require as much patience as persistence.
We know the recruiting process has a lot of ups and downs, and the downs are the more memorable in the short term. But rest assured your child is learning valuable life lessons in these situations—and college coaches are taking notice.
Read more on this topic: Growing Up is a Big Part of Getting Recruited