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Parents: EMPOWER your Athlete to Talk to College Coaches

Photo courtesy of Eric Keane of KeaneEye Photography

It happens every Fall. The inboxes of our coaching staff fill up with emails and questionnaires. Back-to-back national championships attract attention and we take time to look at the next potential athletes. With so much recruiting material to sift through, about one third of the candidates make it past the first stage of sorting. Each coach in each college sport has their own process, their own season and their own specific timeline. The information below shows you how our process works.

Remember, every program is a little different. This brief piece is intended to help you. Challenge yourself as a parent to see the good in this advice that can - and maybe will - sting a bit. To begin, allow me to present some basic numbers that grant a small peek into what many coaches are dealing with in terms of volume, interest and communication. Our program receives over 100 questionnaires and around 75-100 individual resume online packets throughout each year. These include emails of interest and a variety of other gimmicks sent by paid recruiting services.

Of those athletes submitting questionnaires, depending upon their year in school and whether they are eligible for contact per NCAA rules, about half will receive packets of information or some form of digital return requesting playing schedules, film or various other items to evaluate skill. Approximately 25-30 of those 50 athletes will receive phone calls. About 15-20 will receive in-person, coaching staff evaluations.

At the end of the day, out of 100-plus candidates, as an equivalency sport, between 5-7 official visits will be offered and those athletes will receive partial scholarship offers. Keep in mind this means that 5-7% of each recruiting class pool will receive opportunities. Depending upon roster and sport, classes may be smaller or larger but the percentages are still small. Yes, I realize many of you have probably seen the statistics on the small margin of athletes who receive scholarship opportunities.

As a result, and to help many more athletes in the process of helping themselves, here are my brief pointers to parents and their athletes on how to stay out of the early throw-away pile. Again, each coach is different, but I have a sneaky feeling with the "sense of entitlement" and "helicopter parenting" topics most of you have read about or been accused of, many coaches may see commonality with these points, so listen up.

1. If you (as a parent) are shouldering the majority of the effort in the recruiting process, the coach can always tell.

At one point in my career I had a prospective student-athlete writing to me weekly. That was quite impressive. When I started to notice a striking similarity between the athlete's misspelled words and the mother's I politely asked the athlete about one of the emails I received. Over the course of the conversation the athlete casually admitted that she had not been authoring any of the emails over the last few months. Those emails describing her deep interest to attend were written by her mother. While this was deeply embarrassing for the athlete and not her fault, it was alarming for our staff to feel we had been falsely assuming we had developed a quality relationship with the athlete herself. Keep in mind that while those time-consuming and expensive full-color recruiting packets you put together for your child are aesthetically pleasing, they hold no more weight than a personal email directly from the athlete themselves.

Emails or calls from the athletes are free of charge and allow them to practice professional contact. In my experience the first packets to be relegated to the NO pile are the ones written directly from the parent(s) expressing every detail of how talented, intelligent and involved their student-athlete is. As coaches, we are more concerned how invested the student-athlete is. Granted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with guiding your child in this process which can be full of questions and challenging at times.

However, the moment the sentence "WE want a spot with your program" or "It's OUR dream to play at your university" appears, it could also be the moment a coach imagines you running blocker in every challenge your child faces for the next four years. Even if you are not that parent, perception is reality.

2. Do not call a coach to market your child.

As I coach a women's sport, one of the most reoccurring themes in the conversations I have with parents is centered around an explanation that their daughter is a great athlete but she is on the shy side, lacks a bit of confidence, or maybe she doesn't like talking on the phone. Take my advice. None of these characteristics are likely to change if we are not allowing our athletes the opportunity to become stronger in those areas. Removing initiative from their plate isn’t helping them. You take control thinking your child will have a stronger chance if you lobby for them, but that is extremely nearsighted.

If your child does not like talking on the phone or is too shy to call a coach, it may be time to ask them what it is they truly want. Try having an honest conversation with them and explain that even if you call on their behalf and are successful in garnishing attention, how do they believe that is helping them for the future? Try giving them examples of new, inevitable conversations about scholarship, school visits, academics or any other issues about their education that may arise in the next 4 years. Perhaps follow this up with points demonstrating how showing initiative to the coaching staff is the best way to prepare and practice for harder conversations that are bound to happen in the future.

When all else fails, having their high school or club coach speak to them initially is another avenue. Athletes understand that practice makes you stronger and more prepared for games, so this comparison helps them see the bigger picture. High school coaches and club coaches are more than happy to make the introduction call with their take on your child as an athlete. If it helps, imagine that your child is in a race in the recruiting process. You can assist them by cheering them on and supporting their training beforehand. However, you cannot be the starter gun, nor can you run the race for them.

3. If a coach does indeed respond to your marketing emails or phone calls, be grateful and pass the baton to your child as soon as possible.

If your child is the McDonald's Player of the Year, Gatorade All-American or is the state champion in his or her sport four years in a row with a 4.3 GPA and perfect SATs, it's likely they may make it to the second round. However, think long term. What do you want your child to gain out of the recruiting experience? More importantly, what are your child's own goals? If they are successful in the recruiting process, the next four years of their life will be full of conversations concerning playing time, time management, team rules, standards, professor conflicts, personal relationships, etc.

These are real factors of college life that will require independent decision making. To complete all the legwork for the athlete in the early stages cheats them out of their first steps to making hard choices and facing hard consequences. Brace yourself. They’re going to need to be able to do this without your help.Upon receipt of these types of inquiries and market strategies by parents, they will receive this template email.

4. Support your athlete by listening, gently encouraging and stepping back.

I have come across many wonderful, supportive parents in my 10 years in NCAA athletics. For those athletes who did not make it to the next round, I genuinely hope they end up somewhere that makes them happy and meets their personal needs. In many cases of those who have not advanced to the stage of being offered an athletic scholarship - while it is evident to our staff that the parents and the athlete have different goals - it is not always as evident to the parents. I have watched loving parents who naturally want to see their child attend the college that they desire regardless of what kind of fit they are for the institution and vice versa.

Remember, as you offer up your credit card number to pay the video editor for your child's highlight film or complete the 50th email blast of the night to your child's top pick of schools, please remember that while initiative shows you what a person wants, absence of initiative is a strong indication and message of what they do not want. Listen to your athlete, and when you are exhausted from sending emails and digital athlete resume packets out by the dozens, be kind to yourself knowing you want the best. But remember, if your athlete is not sitting right next to you, or is not actively involved, it's saying something.

5. Understanding and applying advice 1-4 are only your first steps.

Following each of these points up with consistency in the process isn't easy.

You may want to jump in when things become tough or even when you child is rejected or there is no response from a coach or school. Regardless of what kind of history your child has as an athlete with winning, losing can be good for them in the sense of having to go to plan B or the third school of their choice. There are endless scenarios in the recruiting process where you are needed – things like finances, student-athlete medical or health plans, meal plans and various other steps where you have an integral role. Cherish these steps and be supportive, but when it comes to initiative with what could be their future coaching staff and teammates, take a step back and do your best to let go.

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