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.
There’s a superpower that instantly impresses college coaches—and it has nothing to do with your student-athlete’s size, speed or agility.
It’s all about their body language. From shoulder shrugs to high fives of encouragement, a coach can learn everything they need to know about a recruit without even talking to them. And when your child displays confident, positive body language on the field, it’s a tell-tale sign they can make a successful impact on the team.
In fact, many college coaches adapt coaching techniques around body language. Mike Brey, men’s basketball coach at the University of Notre Dame, explains in an interview with Positive Coach Alliance that bad body language can be “cancerous.” His solution? Have players watch film to see how they communicate on the court, and then correct it.
But, like most of us, your child may not even realize the subtle physical messages they’re sending. Here are some common scenarios during a game when college coaches are taking note of your athlete’s body language—and what it’s telling them.
Body language in a huddle
For those few seconds, when players are in a huddle around the coach, what’s your student-athlete doing? Are they engaged and actively participating, or wandering off? This interaction, albeit brief, actually tells a coach a lot about your child’s personality.
For example, recruits who don’t hustle over, or are standoffish, are typically viewed as players who don’t work well in a team setting and would rather function independently. But those who take charge in the huddle and motivate others are viewed as leaders.
Body language on the sideline
When your student-athlete is taken out of the game, coaches get a critical question answered: Will this recruit need a babysitter? Being benched, especially when a college coach is watching, brings out a lot of different characters (we’re talking about teenagers, after all). There’s the athlete who pouts, the one who argues with coaches, the ‘all about me’ recruit who doesn’t handle criticism well—you get the picture.
The truth is coaches have several players and personalities to manage, and depending on the school, there’s a chance your student-athlete won’t see as much playing time their freshman year—inevitably they will be benched. It’s important for coaches to know that they’re working with student-athletes who can handle sitting on the sideline with grace.
Body language after a tough play
Mistakes happen. Actually, scratch that—mistakes are bound to happen. And this is when coaches get a glimpse of your child’s mental toughness. Specifically, they keep an eye out for what recruits do immediately after a bad play.
For example, if they throw their hands in the air, or always accuse other teammates, it shows they have a hard time with blame. Coaches also take note of how quickly your child bounces back from a tough play. Letting it go and moving on proves they’re disciplined mentally.
This simple reaction gives coaches an idea of how well your athlete will handle the pressure that comes with college sports. Remember that—unlike high school—this is a business and their jobs depend on the team’s performance. If your athlete is in a temporary slump, they will be replaced on the field. But their willingness to persevere and push through a setback is extremely valuable for the coach.
Body language after a play they are not part of
Coaches pay attention the entire game. When the ball is across the field, their eyes are still on your athlete. Why? Seeing how recruits act during plays they’re not involved in helps coaches determine how self-motivated they are. And motivation is not an easy characteristic to teach, especially among college-athletes who are on their own for the first time. In fact, it’s one of the reasons coaches request full game highlight videos.
Whether it’s a head hanging low or lack of hustle, certain movements tell a coach your athlete needs a little inspirational boost. On the flipside, coaches tune into recruits who display an all-in attitude and encourage teammates, even when they’re not a part of the action.
Skill evaluation is really the easy part. When coaches evaluate recruits in person, they already know their athletic ability. What they don’t know yet is character. And because of the huge impact of body language, your student-athlete can tell them everything without saying anything at all.
And while the college coach is keeping one eye on your athlete, they’re most likely also watching you, too. Parents can positively impact their child’s recruiting in ways they don’t even realize.
READ MORE: How College Coaches Evaluate Parents on the Sidelines to learn more.