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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
It’s a common complaint among parents and athletes: “The coach is playing favorites.” Whether an athlete isn’t playing much or isn’t playing enough, it seems to be one of the go-to complaints. And it’s easy to lay blame on the coach considering that they call the shots. However, most people will probably find it surprising that many coaches will actually agree that they play favorites, though they might do it for different reasons than you’d think.
Oftentimes, playing favorites simply means playing the athletes that are simply the most talented. For many athletes, it’s difficult to be objective about their own talent level, but easy to complain about not receiving recognition. Playing favorites could also mean giving more opportunities to athletes that exhibit certain traits or a specific playing style that the coach prefers. The important thing to note is that while sometimes it may seem unfair, it’s usually quite the opposite in the eyes of the coach. So, what should you do when a coach is playing favorites, or, better yet–how does my athlete become a favorite?
Communicate with the Coach
If your athlete is looking for more opportunity, the first step is to identify what they can do to change the situation. Not every coach will go out of their way to communicate with every player individually, but most coaches are approachable if athletes make an effort to talk to them. In a level-headed manner, have your athlete ask the coach what they can improve on, and let them know that they will work hard to get a shot at more playing time. It’ll also help keep them on the coach’s radar for the near future.
Put in the Extra Time
Now that your athlete has made their intentions known, it’s time they get to work. Taking the coach’s feedback into consideration, they should get to work on any weaknesses and keep honing their strengths in order to become a more well-rounded athlete. This may mean arriving early to practice or staying late in the gym, but the extra time they put in will help them close the gap on their teammates.
Stay Positive, take the team-first approach
Perhaps you’ve heard that positivity breeds success. However, it’s not just about having confidence. Remind your athlete to exhibit good body language and not hang their head or pout and gripe on the sidelines. You’ll also want them to be a good teammate and support everyone on the roster. Coaches love athletes that make the whole team better and don’t just think about themselves, and taking a positive, team-first approach is a great way to stand out.
Be seen, make an impact
When your athlete begins to make that extra effort, they will definitely want to get recognized for it. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to be a bit strategic about their efforts and make sure the coach will be able to notice the work they are putting in. Looking to get an extra workout in? Trying to get the team fired up? Make sure to do it when the coach is around and get recognized for the extra time and effort that you’re putting in.
Work at having fun
Sometimes, it’s easy to get too wrapped up in competing and trying to win that we forget that sports are supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, there’s only one Michael Jordan, meaning that there’s always someone more talented out there. To have a truly rewarding sports experience, focus on giving it 100% and doing your best, even if you’re not the best player in the game. That’s a recipe for success in sports and beyond.