Recruiting Column: How college coaches evaluate parents

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 Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting experts provide a recruiting experience that is backed by a money-back guarantee.

In a recent unscientific survey, nine out of 10 college coaches indicated that 95 percent of parents are great, but 5 percent actually have a negative effect on their athletes’ scholarship chances. Actually, I made those numbers up, but I’m pretty sure they are close to accurate. Here’s the concerning part: It’s easy for a college coach to spot the 5 percenters. Their actions make them stand out like a mustard stain on your suitcoat. As we’ve talked about many times before, college coaches are paying attention to and evaluating the parents of every recruit they are truly interested in, so you don’t want to be mistaken for a 5 percenter. College coaches want to avoid the 5 percenters if at all possible.

If for some reason you don’t believe me, here are the thoughts of Pat Fitzgerald, the football coach at Northwestern University: “An increasingly larger part of the evaluation of the prospect, for us, is evaluating the parents. It’s a big part of the evaluation.”

I guarantee you that Coach Fitzgerald can spot a 5 percenter from a mile away.

In my opinion, you can break the 5 percent down into five major categories. In an attempt to help you avoid being classified into one of these five categories, here are my thoughts on the kind of parents college coaches would like to avoid.

“The Helicopter Parent”

The term Helicopter Parent brings to mind an immediate visual. Helicopter Parents tend to hover over their kids like a TV news helicopter over a car wreck. They take an excessive interest in the life of their child or children and might even try to influence the college recruiting process for their athlete. All parents (myself included) have displayed the characteristics of a Helicopter Parent at one time or another, but the problematic Helicopter Parent is easy for a college coach to spot.

A full-fledged Helicopter Parent might talk to college coaches at inappropriate times and try to “manage” their athlete’s recruiting experience. This behavior interferes with the ability of college coaches to really get to know the recruit. Parents need to walk that fine line between being a supportive role model and a hovering college recruiting helicopter.

“The Sideline Coach Parent”

The Sideline Coach Parent is probably the easiest parent to spot in a crowd.  They typically sit on the first row and “coach” their athlete the entire game.  In fact, they might even show up for practice and offer their “expert” advice.  Listen, I’m not talking about the occasional words of encouragement, or reminding your athlete about what they might have worked on in practice recently. We’ve all been guilty of that, but a parent who coaches from the sideline and ignores the status of the head coach is out of line. And, when the athlete acknowledges his or her parents’ advice and reacts to their suggestions or comments, it really becomes a problem.

This kind of behavior sets off warning signals to any college coach. They wonder if this parent is going to be a problem and if the athlete is really coachable. Coaching a college team is hard enough without adding another layer of issues into the mix.

“The Scouting Director Parent”

I don’t know one parent who can really be objective about their own children, but I know quite a few who believe they can be. The Scouting Director Parent actually believes that their opinion about their athlete’s abilities is completely objective. I’m certainly not objective about my kids and (I think) that’s okay.

Parents need to be their athlete’s  No. 1 fan! The trick is to realize that you aren’t objective and find someone who will be. Without an objective evaluation of your student-athlete, your expectations from college coaches is going to be distorted and almost always disappointing. Consider this; almost every parent a college coach talks with has an unrealistic opinion about their athlete. It might be refreshing if you were one of the few who doesn’t.

“The Sports Agent Parent”

Some parents actually contact college coaches themselves on behalf of their kids. That’s right, they call or email college coaches and introduce themselves as “Billy’s dad”. I guess they go on to explain how good Billy really is and why he might be a good fit for that coach’s team.  I’m pretty sure that’s a hard sell. While a parent making phone calls is better than no one calling, the best approach is for the athlete to initiate the contact with coaches.

Parents need to understand that at least initially, college coaches only want to talk with two people (other than their own coaching staff) about any recruit: (1) the athlete and (2) his or her high school or select coach. That’s it. No one else’s opinion matters, especially a parent, whose opinion is biased. When the time is appropriate for a coach to have a conversation with the parents, they will initiate it.

“The Lawnmower Parent”

A Lawnmower Parent is a parent who clears all obstacles from their child’s path, so they don’t have to ever face adversity. The Lawnmower Parent tends to complain about the coach, the players and the officials.  They act as if coaches, players and officials are just obstacles that need to be cleared out of the way so their athlete can more easily obtain greatness.

If a college coach decides an athlete’s parents are truly “Lawnmower Parents” they may steer away from that recruit. There is no scientific study on children of lawnmower parents that I’m aware of, but I would bet money that those kids don’t deal with adversity very well and aren’t the most coachable athletes on the planet. Neither of these two attributes are a positive in a college coach’s eyes.

Here’s the deal

If your heart skipped a beat while reading any of the five descriptions above, you may have to alter your behavior slightly.  If not, then you’re part of the 95%.  You can sit back, relax and enjoy watching your athlete compete!

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