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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie 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.
Now, more than ever, student-athletes have options on where they will play their sport during their high school years. Just like finding the right college, a good education and preparation for the future should remain the primary goals. Other factors to consider are that one school maybe ranked “best” or another is home to the local basketball powerhouse but those just may not necessarily be the “best” for your child. How good is the “best” school if it requires an extraordinarily long commute, or how much playing time can you realistically hope for on a team that dominates season after season?
One of the best ways to help determine the right high school or club team for your student-athlete is to simply take the time to talk to the coaches of high schools and clubs you are considering. Here’s just a few key questions to ask:
What is your coaching philosophy?
A coach’s philosophy really sets the tone for the program and lets you know upfront exactly what to expect when playing for this team. Is this coach focused more on winning championships and utilizing only their best players to get there, or are they more about instilling the values of teamwork, discipline, and building character on and off the field? Is this coach going to demand not only athletic but also academic excellence? Good coaches know the path to college is going to require both and make it point to stress work in the classroom is just as important as work at practice. Knowing if you are aligned on philosophy is an important first step in finding the right school.
What expectations do you have of me as a player on your team, and what can I expect from you as a coach?
This question digs a little deeper on how a coach executes on their philosophy and can offer you a window into what your athlete’s future at this school will look like. With most coaches, you will likely walk away with a much better understanding of everything from team rules, team goals, style of play, disciplinary procedures, practice schedule, and more.
The second half of the question addresses coaching style head on. Your child may respond better to more of a mentoring style than a loud, no-nonsense authoritarian coach. Remember, whatever their preference, this is an important time in your student-athlete’s career. A coach who is more demanding now may pay big dividends down the road. Don’t be afraid of fair but tough coaches. Those are often the ones that know how to challenge and bring out the best in student-athlete.
How do you manage playing time?
Playing time, or the lack of it, has long been a source of frustration for both parents and student-athletes. Many coaches now get out in front of the issue by outlining their playing time policy before the season starts. Knowing how a coach handles playing time can help you avoid any surprises when the season begins. For example, a coach may limit game time for freshmen until they know the system. Knowing how a coach manages playing time helps you understand what your child needs to do as player to make sure they get the minutes they want.
Are your games and practices videotaped?
For many sports, highlight video is vital to college recruiting. Knowing a program is recording all games and making the footage readily available to its athletes is a huge plus. Little or no video is not a deal breaker. It just means as parents you may have to invest a little more in equipment and time to get the necessary footage.
How active are you in college recruiting?
A high school or club coach can be one of your child’s strongest allies when it comes to college recruiting. After all, there’s probably no one better to vouch for their talent, work ethic, and playing ability. Coaches who are actively involved in helping their players get to college can make all the difference. They can help you assess what division level is a best fit for your size and talent. They can make calls to college coaches to help get the exposure you need. They will stay on your athlete’s back to make sure their grades are where they need to be.
How many of your athletes have gone on to play in college?
This is a good indicator of the strength of the program in preparing its athletes for college.
Schools with a higher percentage playing in college shows there’s a coordinated effort between the athletic and counseling department to make sure athletes are getting what they need. That means help with the college application process, getting transcripts and letters of recommendation in order, and making sure their athletes are taking courses that meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
You can consider these questions more of a starter kit. You will probably have more specific questions about your athlete. You may have other more specific questions for club coaches, too. Like, What’s the size of the team? or, what does your tournament schedule look like and what fees are included?
You can always find plenty of statistics online about graduation rates, test scores, reviews, etc. but the numbers are only part of the story. Finding the best school or club means doing a little more homework often the best place to start is a conversation with the coach.