Recruiting Column: The intangibles that matter to college coaches

Recruiting Column: The intangibles that matter to college coaches

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: The intangibles that matter to college coaches


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 provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.

The dictionary definition of intangibles (when it comes to sports) is as follows: “a cliché used to describe aspects of a player’s game or personality which cannot be tracked by statistics.”  The key phrase here is “cannot be tracked by statistics”.  Certainly the things that can be tracked by statistics such as height, weight, speed, strength and agility are evaluated by college coaches first, but many times it is the intangibles that get a player noticed. Leadership, effort and attitude are all intangibles that college coaches can easily identify.  Every potential recruit must have a certain level of physical ability before he or she is even considered a candidate to play in college; however, intangibles do enter into the recruiting equation.

Having a high batting average, scoring 20 points per game or leading the team in tackles are not the only things coaches consider. They look at more than just box scores and scouting reports. Why do you think they come to see you play? They want to see how you approach the game, how you react to different situations, and how hard you work. Seeing how you react after a strikeout or dropped pass tells a coach a lot more about you and your character than statistics in a box score.

We all know that every college team has their “top” recruits, but the rest of the roster is filled by projectable, coachable players who possess the intangibles to be successful.  Many times intangibles can be the difference between being mediocre and being exceptional.  Intangibles are sometimes difficult to measure, but they can be the determining factor when a coach is trying to decide between two athletes of similar abilities.

So what are some of the important intangibles? Here’s my list: 

  1. Effort

Believe it or not, college coaches notice effort and guess what, it doesn’t take any talent to give maximum effort on every play. Diving for a loose ball and finishing every play are both examples of effort. The offensive lineman who stays with his block or a midfielder who seems to be everywhere on the field is going to get noticed by a college coach.

  1. Leadership

College coaches are definitely looking for athletes who are leaders.  Leadership isn’t always quantified by how vocal a player may be.  In fact, leadership is better defined by a player’s actions than his or her words.  Coaches look for players who perform on and off the field in a manner that their teammates want to emulate. We’ve all heard the cliché that he/she “leads by example” and in my opinion that is the best way to be a leader.

  1. Sportsmanship

How you handle yourself on the field, with your teammates and with opponents are all important factors to college coaches. If you’re the type of player who enjoys taunting or mouthing off, an alarm goes off in a college coach’s head.  They begin to wonder if you will require babysitting or cause problems.

While helping the other team off the ground might not be as glorious as celebrating a 5 yard first down catch, college coaches will appreciate your sportsmanship much more than they will your unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. College coaches certainly want good players, but they also want good teammates, good students and good citizens.

  1. Be Coachable

Almost every athlete is coachable when they start their career. I have yet to coach a first-grader who doesn’t want to be coached.  However, for some athletes that changes over time and I’m really not sure why.

College coaches want players who are coachable. It doesn’t take long for a coach to spot an uncoachable player and very rarely can any coach transform a player from being uncoachable to being coachable.  So, how do you prove you’re a coachable athlete?  Coachable athletes are open to honest feedback, willing to change bad habits, humble and thankful when a coach takes the time to help them improve.  If a college coach is truly interested in you he or she will most likely ask your current coach about how coachable you are.

  1. Attitude

Good or bad, attitude dictates your entire approach to life. Is the glass half full or half empty? College coaches can smell a bad attitude from a mile away and they would like to stay away from those players who consistently feel like the glass is half empty.

They know that as a college athlete, you will go through some difficult times: early morning workouts, late night travelling, sleepless and homework filled nights. Your attitude is an indication of how you will deal with those difficult situations.

Additionally, every mature athlete knows that the success of the team will result in individual recognition. College coaches are impressed with athletes who give credit to other players, compliment the coaching staff and are not self-centered. If you are good, everyone knows it. You don’t have to broadcast it to the masses.

  1. Work Ethic

Although there are others, the final intangible on my list is work ethic. A wise man (my dad) once told me, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” You can’t fake work ethic and your current coach isn’t going to say you’re a hard worker if you aren’t.  So, if you want to be lucky enough to play in college, then you need to work hard to earn that scholarship.

Here’s the deal

Those are the 6 intangibles I believe will make a difference in your college recruiting process. You might have noticed that all of them have to do with your actions and how you carry yourself both on and off the field.  Effort, leadership, sportsmanship, attitude, work ethic and being coachable don’t have anything to do with talent, but can make a difference in your recruiting efforts.  Intangibles are an indication that an athlete will work on their own, with the team and without constantly being pushed.  That will be viewed as a positive by any college coach.


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