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 and play at the college level. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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.
As part of the 2019 NCSA State of Recruiting Report we surveyed over 20,000 athletes, parents and coaches — for club, high school and college — about a wide range of topics associated with the recruiting process. When college coaches were asked what the most important quality in a recruit was, the most common answer was character, with 35 percent of college coaches reporting the response. Athletic ability followed at 23 percent, then location at 22 percent and academics at 19 percent. But how important is character really and why do coaches value it?
Clearing the character test first
Even if a recruit has outstanding stats and grades, coaches want to make sure they clear the character test before making an offer. “I think watching athletes play and how they interact with their coaches, teammates and parents is the most valuable,” stated one college coach in the NCSA survey. “It was [important] 10 years ago, and it still is today. Those interactions show a lot about the athlete’s character.”
Read more: What your body language tells coaches
Coaches want to make sure you’ll succeed in their system
Some coaches at powerhouse programs are in an enviable position where it’s no problem for them to sign the most talented athletes and generate recruiting buzz and attention. For most other college coaches, they have to be a bit more strategic and thorough in their recruiting process and find recruits that they will then mold into college-level athletes. That’s why finding high-character athletes who are coachable is so important for coaches, because it gives them more confidence that a recruit’s enthusiasm, approach and work ethic will allow them to come into a new situation and a new system and adapt. An added bonus is high-character athletes help the rest of the team to do the same. This can seem a lot more appealing than having a hotshot recruit come in and cause friction in the locker room.
Read more: How to tell if an athlete is coachable
High-character athletes still have to meet an athletic standard
The truth is that even though coaches may stress finding high-character athletes, those athletes still need to meet an athletic standard of being good enough to compete for a specific program—and oftentimes that bar is very high. College coaches often have many options when it comes to potential recruits and the competition for roster spots can be intense, so even though they say that character is most important, what they really mean is that character is most important and the athlete is also good enough to compete on this roster. In their mindset, that’s just a given.
Coaches have a lot on the line
At the end of the day, coaches are looking to do well in their career and support their families. This means that they have to win games, and if they lose too many, their career may be at risk. When college coaches recruit athletes, they not only worry about whether the athlete will perform at a high enough level, but also whether the athlete will maintain their grades and conduct to stay eligible and contribute to the team. When they recruit athletes that have good character, it’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about throughout the season.
Think you have the character it takes to compete at the college level? Read NCSA’s guide on how to get recruited.