Recruiting Column: Q & A with legendary softball coach Mike Candrea
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 Playced.com. This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. Playced.com identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online DIY college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.
As a former athlete, it is easy for me to recognize greatness. It doesn’t matter what sport, male or female, professional or collegiate… Greatness is easy to spot! Anyone that has anything to do with softball, anywhere in the world knows Mike Candrea, Head Softball Coach at The University of Arizona. That alone seems like greatness to me! But the reasons that make this legendary coach great, stretch far beyond his 8 national titles and gold medal. This past Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Candrea. I now know his greatness is about how much he cares for his sport, his players and making sure he lives a balanced life.
Q: Student-athletes are making college commitments earlier than ever before. What age do you typically start the recruiting process with a prospective student-athlete?
A: In a perfect world, we would be signing high school juniors and seniors. The reality of it is that college recruiting has drastically changed in the last five years. You have student-athletes committing to schools their sophomore and freshman year. There are even instances where the recruiting process starts as early as 8th grade. I think the perfect age is junior year, simply because so much can change as a student-athlete progresses through high school. Recruiting can turn into a huge gamble, the earlier it starts.
Q: What would you tell a student-athlete and their family as they start the recruiting process?
A: Recruiting is the process of gaining knowledge and knowledge is power. Do your homework on these schools, the same way they do their homework on you. Ask yourself, where would I be happiest, athletics aside? I would tell them to identify colleges that they have interest in academically and socially. Student-athletes and their parents can get caught up in the athletic side of things and forget about what is really important. The most important take-away from being a college athlete is a degree.
Q: Not including physical talent, what is the most important factor you consider before offering a scholarship at The University of Arizona?
A: Show me a student-athlete that treats their parents well. Show me a student-athlete that respects authority and knows how to handle social situations. We want young adults that would rather engage in a conversation than bury their face in a cell phone. At The University of Arizona, we are so blessed to have amazingly talented players. But make no mistake about it; we will never compromise character for talent. Team should always come before self. In all my years of coaching, I have never met an athlete that is bigger than the game they play and certainly, no student more important than the institution they represent.
Q: Can you speak on the significance of being a part of a college team and what it can mean for a student-athlete?
A: Team sports teach young women and men the importance of being selfless and putting others first. They are crucial in developing how to handle winning and losing. You cannot always achieve the desired outcome of your efforts. That is life! Tradition and legacy mean so much to our program. “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat” is an expression our coaching staff and family is extremely passionate about. The goal of our program, like many quality programs in the country, is to help kids get where they want to go. No matter the result of competition, a good team bond is unbreakable.
Q: What advice would you have for the student-athlete that wants to play in college and has the ability, but is not receiving much recruiting interest?
A: I truly believe there is a place for every athlete to play in college. Here’s the secret… It is up to the athlete to figure out where that place is. More often than not, high school athletes can honestly provide an accurate assessment of their own abilities. If these student-athletes could follow their gut on which schools they should pursue and attend, the recruiting process would be a total success for so many more of them. Unfortunately, outside distractions or parents make the college recruiting process about ego or pride. I would tell these student-athletes to be honest with themselves and take ego out of the equation.
Q: What Arizona Softball has accomplished since you started in 1986 is remarkable. What does it take to be the best and maintain such a high level of success?
A: Emotional stability… You have to be able to accept failure and understand that it is not all about winning and losing. The best softball players and athletes are those that are passionate about the process it takes to be the best. Having ultimate success and the ability to sustain that success is about living a balanced life.