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.
Throughout the recruiting process, your student-athlete may feel like they’re always in the spotlight, whether being evaluated at a showcase or trying to make a great impression on social media. But, in reality, recruiting is very much a two-way street.
At the end of it all, your family should feel confident about your child’s college choice, knowing you’ve picked a school where they can thrive athletically and academically. How can you be sure? Ask a lot of questions. Just as a college coach evaluates an athlete, an athlete needs to evaluate a school.
We continuously remind student-athletes to always have a list of questions ready to ask college coaches. It’s the best way to really understand if the school and athletic program is the right fit.
Research comes first
Generic questions will only get your student-athlete so far. It’s crucial that they research each school and program. Not only will they learn more, but it also shows coaches they’re seriously interested.
“I think what we’re really looking for is who has invested time in their research about us,” said Jerry Smith, the women’s soccer head coach at Santa Clara University, in an interview with Positive Coach Alliance. “You’re asking us to spend time evaluating you, and if you really just send an email that’s kind of pretty scripted and standard, we don’t have a whole lot of reason to spend a lot of time other than to give you a pretty scripted reply.”
Here are some things, Smith says, your student-athlete should read up on:
- Knowledge of the university (majors offered, life on campus, academic advisors, etc.)
- Knowledge and history of the program
- How they did last season and even how they did last week
- Upcoming games
- Notable athletes and success they’ve had on or off the field
Questions to ask when calling a coach for the first time
Initial contact with a college coach is all about level-setting and finding out if everyone is on the same page. The answers to these questions will give your family insight on where the coach is at in their recruiting and if your student-athlete is on or near their list of top prospects:
- Are there any specific camps, tournaments, or showcases you think I should attend? Knowing where the coach will be boosts your student’s chances of being evaluated.
- How is your recruiting going for the 2018 (or your child’s graduation year) class? The college coach may not disclose specific details about who they’re recruiting, but their answer will help your student-athlete figure out where they stand and if their position is being filled.
- What does it take to earn a scholarship for your program? This is a good time for your child to be upfront about scholarship opportunities and learn if they have a chance at landing one. This is not the time to ask for a scholarship, however.
- What are good academic goals for your school? It’s important that your athlete stays on track to qualify academically.
- Can I meet with you on an unofficial visit? If the coach responds positively, you know their interest is real.
- How can I update you on my progress? Every coach has a preferred method of contact, whether it’s calling or emailing. If a coach gives you their personal cell phone number, that’s another indication you are higher on the list of prospects.
As Coach Smith pointed out, this is a great time to show you’ve done your homework. Ask some questions based on what know about the school, the coach, and the team.
Insider tip: Parents should never do the talking for their student-athlete. College coaches look for recruits who are more mature, independent, and motivated. Let your child take the lead when it comes to asking questions.
Questions to ask to see if the school is right
At this point, you know the college coach is interested in your athlete—maybe they’ve even invited them to visit. Here are some questions your athlete can ask to learn if the school and program is a good fit:
- What kind of academic support will I receive? Some schools have academic counselors specifically assigned to athletes, while others have mandatory study hours carved out each week.
- What are the most common majors on the team and what is the team’s average GPA? Your student-athlete should make sure they can balance their major with their athletic career.
- What are offseason and holiday commitments? Training happens all year long. Some coaches require the team to stay on campus during break.
- Can you run me through a typical week of practice? Your athlete should learn about the coaching style and try to get a sample schedule. Figure out the coach’s strengths and who will be working with your athlete most.
- Are there any current athletes on the team I can talk to? Your student will spend most of their week with teammates—they’ll probably even live with them. The best chance to meet with their potential teammates in person is on an unofficial or official visit.
- What goals do you have for this upcoming season? This will help your student gauge the team’s level of success.
Doing your research and asking thoughtful, fact-finding questions for college coaches will go a long way to helping your athlete decide what school and program is the right fit. Of course, that’s only part of the equation. Many athletes and their families will tell you campus visits really made the decision process much easier. Some schools shined while others that looked great on paper, just didn’t live up to expectations.
As your athlete to begins their conversations with college coaches it’s always a good idea to keep your conversation going on what they really want from their college experience.