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. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason 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.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what a college coach is looking for at a recruiting event?
It’s the kind of information that can prove to be invaluable. Fortunately, having worked with many other coaches during my own coaching career, I can provide insight into how coaches approach recruiting events and what student-athletes can do to maximize their exposure. Obviously, coaches attend combines, tournaments, sports camps and showcases to evaluate student-athletes in person. Even though coaches can vary in their approach, most tend to have similar goals. Knowing those goals can help you stand out from the pack. So, what are coaches really up to at a recruiting event?
Scouting athletes that have contacted them in advance
Just like in the real world, people skills and good communication can help you go the extra mile in your recruitment process. A recruiting event can host hundreds or even thousands of prospects in one place. Coaches oftentimes arrive with a pre-planned schedule, ready to check out athletes that have already contacted them ahead of time. (Which you should also do.) Even before recruiting season officially begins, most coaches can still read potential recruits’ emails. Spend time ahead of the event researching coaches’ contact information and send a 2–3 sentence, attention-grabbing email introducing yourself. You can also try making a call or even sending a tweet. Either way, reaching out ahead of time is a smart move.
Read more: How to Email College Coaches
Observing as many athletes as they can
During peak recruiting season, collegiate coaches can spend eight-hour days scouting and watching games, sometimes several days or weekends in a row. Oftentimes they’re on the road, traveling to where top prospects are playing. That’s why recruiting events are appealing to coaches: they allow them to observe many student-athletes in one place and be efficient with their scouting. On the flipside, it’s difficult for athletes to stand out in this kind of hectic environment. Even though coaches are always on the lookout for student-athletes that show next-level talent, there are other factors that come into play. As a student-athlete, always remember that you can leave an impression both on and off the field. That’s why you’ll want to introduce yourself to coaches in person. Just remember: be confident and don’t send your parents to do the job for you.
Looking for the coachable athletes
Game-time performance is obviously important to coaches, but they’re also trying to find student-athletes that are coachable. This means they’re not only looking at the game—they’re also observing the sidelines and seeing how athletes interact with their teammates, opponents, coaching staff and even parents. As an athlete, what is your attitude out on the field? Are you high-fiving and supporting your teammates? What kind of demeanor did you exhibit when the coach pulled you out of the game? Are you still paying attention to the game when you’re on the sidelines? Do you look like you’re having fun and displaying proper fundamentals, or are you pouting and complaining to officials? It’s also important to consider whether you’re getting teammates involved in the game. Sure, you may be the best athlete on your high school team, but there’s a good chance that won’t be the case on a college squad. Coaches are looking for the student-athletes who listen and are engaged, exhibit a passion for their sport, and have a positive influence on their team.
Hoping to find athletes that have flown under the radar
While every coach has a shortlist of top prospects that they hope to recruit, getting every name on that list to commit to their team is a longshot. Coaches need to fill a full roster, which means they need to discover student-athletes that previously were not on their radar.
Every team has its own unique culture and coaches are on the lookout for athletes that can thrive in that specific culture. They’re also looking for athletes that play well with others, with the hope that they’ll fit into whatever system they’ve installed. That’s why at recruiting events, it’s important to play the right way, support teammates and exhibit class and a level of maturity. Even though coaches are busy scouting specific players, they always have one eye open, looking for athletes that carry themselves the right way. Put in the extra effort and you could end up grabbing the attention of a coach that was not expecting to scout you. And you know what’s a great way to show extra effort? Following up with coaches after the event with an email. Share what you learned at the recruiting event and showcase your enthusiasm, and it just might be enough to win over a coach.