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 athletes 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.
Nowadays, it seems every article about parents and recruiting includes the words “helicopter parent.” Parents just want to help. Coaches just want to recruit. So where are we all going wrong here?
To get some answers, we asked our NCSA Recruiting Coaches, who are former college coaches, to give me their perspective on the situation. If parents should be supportive in the recruiting process, but not overstep, how can they find the perfect balance?
Here’s what they had to say about how parents impact recruiting, and the ways they’ve been most helpful on the path to college.
Coaches want to get to know your student-athlete
Joyce Wellhoefer, a former Division I, Division II, and NAIA college coach for more than 20 years, recalls a recruit she removed from her prospect list, even though she was a top athlete.
“We invited her on a visit, but the whole time she was there, I never got a chance to connect—or really even talk to her—because her mom kept answering questions for her,” she says.
College coaches evaluate a student-athlete’s personality just as much as their athletic skill set. At the end of the day, they want to recruit someone who is going to be the right fit for the team’s chemistry, and who is coach-able. The best way to learn that? By talking to the student-athlete.
When the parent is the one calling the coach, sending emails, and answering their questions on visits, it doesn’t give the coach a chance to bond with the student-athlete. College coaches know that you want the best for your child, just like they want the best fit for their team. So don’t hesitate to sit back a little and encourage your athlete—especially a shy teenager—to be confident enough to talk directly to the coach.
Read more: Yes, College Coaches Do Evaluate Parents
Coaches need to know the recruit is interested
Andy Drake, who coached at the Division III level for three years, said that college coaches look for recruits who are expressing interest in the school. He points out that this impacts smaller programs the most. “I need to know that you want to be here because you want to be here, not because mom and dad want you here,” he says.
Again, that’s where you want your athlete to lead the charge. College coaches are always going to be more drawn to recruits who are showing interest and have taken the time to research the program and school. This is one of those opportunities where your child can really shine and show coaches their personality. Do they have time management skills? Interests outside their sport? The independence to make it through freshman year of college? When your child shows coaches the many facets of their personality, this is when they will stand out the most!
How parents can help their student-athlete in the recruiting process
Now, maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “That all sounds great, but there’s no way my child can do this on their own.” You’re right. Not a lot of teenagers have the time to take on their recruiting on top of all their many responsibilities. And college coaches recognize that you’re a big part of the process. In fact, getting to know the parents is important, too.
“Having support from parents is extremely beneficial for college coaches,” says Emily Johnson, who coached at Division II and III schools over a 17-year span. “As a coach, you are recruiting the whole family. It’s important to talk to the parents and get to know them.”
Bottom line—coaches know this is a big decision for the whole family, and they’re looking for parents who are invested but who don’t own the recruiting process. They support their athlete but give them the responsibility. So, here are ways you can do that according to our coaches.
Introduce yourself at the right time
Introducing yourself to a college coach is one of the easiest ways you can make a memorable impression. But you just need to know when to do it. For example, when you see a college coach at an event or tournament, and you know they haven’t heard of your athlete yet, it’s probably not the best time to approach them. College coaches always have a list of recruits they want to evaluate in person. Typically, they’ve seen their highlight film ahead of time and are now taking a second look.
Instead, your family should use this game plan: find programs that are a good fit, reach out to the coach and send highlight film, follow up with phone calls, use their current coach as a reference the college coach can turn to if they’re not allowed to contact your athlete directly, and essentially get on their radar to get that second evaluation. That way, when you say, “Hi Coach, I’m [Name]’s mom,” they know exactly who you are and are eager to speak with you.
Learn more about creating a strategy to contact coaches on the NCSA website.
Help your athlete stay organized
As you can see, that’s a lot for one person to do, but this is the perfect place for you to step in and help your child. For example, you can create a spreadsheet of every school your athlete is interested in. Because you can find yourself in the beginning phases with one college and nearing the end of the recruiting process with another, it’s important to track all of their coach communication and likes and dislikes about the school. Note: Before you add a college to the list, make sure your family has done their research and visited the team’s roster, so you know your athlete has the ability to compete there and the grades to be accepted.
You can proofread their emails, do practice runs of their phone call with a coach, and even give them information about a program so they can learn about it. You can also build a relationship with their high school or club coach, and even their high school counselor, to really get an understanding of their options and which colleges you can add to their target list and start researching. Basically, there are a lot of tedious tasks you can take on.
Help them explore their college options
Once you have that spreadsheet built, your family needs to start understanding what your athlete wants in a college experience. This may be the most important thing you can help them do because you know your child better than anyone. When they’re only at the high school level, they have no idea what to expect in college, especially taking on such a commitment like becoming a college athlete.
Expose them to different situations where they can start to visualize their future. For example, an easy, inexpensive way to do this by visiting a local college and bringing them to a college game. Even better, check out a few programs in your area that compete in different division levels.
“I’m amazed at how many people don’t watch college games in their own sport,” Wellhoefer says.
Even just streaming games online will help your student-athlete start to prioritize some of their personal preferences. Does playing time matter to them? Do they want to be close to home? Do they want to spend time doing things outside of their sport? Encouraging your child to know the answers to these kinds of questions will give them more confidence in their college choice.
If you take anything away, I hope it’s this: college coaches appreciate your hard work and how dedicated you are to your child’s future. That’s why they want to see you empower them and let them start to explore parts of their recruiting process on their own.
Drake sums up a parent’s role with this analogy: “Let’s say your athlete is on a college visit and you’re getting a tour of the campus with the college coach. Your athlete should be walking next to the college coach, side-by-side, talking to them. The parents should be right behind their child, supporting them and letting them lead the way.”