Question # 1: “How do I choose the school that is right for me? “
Across the country and overseas, there are thousands of Colleges and Universities that offer a unique experience to incoming students. Athletes, however, start to condense their options based upon the school’s athletic program. College coaches may begin the recruiting process by offering scholarships and the promise of a starting position. Although such factors may be of great importance to a young athlete, it is important to keep in mind that anything can happen between the time of recruitment and college graduation. Subsequently, a variety of school factors should be considered with equal importance. In fact, researchers have found that although athletes have additional factors to consider, all college-bound students will examine a variety of factors that are unrelated to athletics. In this article I have compiled a list of some factors that may be most important to your athletes:
- Academics: what are the degree options/grades needed to attend/does the school have an accredited program in my field of interest
- Cost: is the school SUNY/private
- Scholarship: do they offer academic/athletic/or no scholarships
- Location: how far from home, is the campus in a city/rural area/town
- Number of students: 1,500/6,000/50,000
- Campus: big/small, enclosed/spread out
- Housing: on campus/off campus, is housing guaranteed
- Culture: big sports, school spirit, commuter, individualistic
- Social: atmosphere, safety, clubs, Greek life, opportunities in your area of interest
- Athletics: consider the team’s division, conference, record, commitment
As a parent or coach, you can provide support in this process by discussing the pros and cons of each factor. During those discussions, it is important to decipher whether your athlete is indifferent to some of these factors, such as distance from home or campus size, OR if he or she is unaware of likes and dislikes. Furthermore, there may be some factors that are more important to you, like cost or safety, which must be openly communicated and understood by your athlete.
Finally, the most influential experience you can provide to your athlete is a visit to as many schools as possible. In my personal experience I was able to compare and contrast over 10 schools, which helped me to decide what I like as an athlete, a student, and a teenager.
Question # 2: “What do I say when I speak to College coaches?”
Once you have helped your athlete explore some College or University preferences, it is time to prepare an interview with the coach. In some instances, the College coach will seek out the athlete whereas many other athletes must initiate communication. In either case, a list of questions should be prepared in advance. While organizing, make sure the athlete does some homework, looking for team roster size, positions that will become available, team colors, sponsors, etc. These little details can be worked into conversation to show serious interest.
If the coach has seen the athlete play or has read over their resume, the first question should be straight to the point, “How do you see me fitting into your program?” The following questions should then focus on the coach, seeking his or her philosophy, playing style, tactical approach, typical practice layout, etc. As a coach or parent, you can help the athlete to determine likes and dislikes by discussing his or her experiences on past and current teams.
The next set of questions is the toughest for athletes to imagine because they do not know any better (unless they have an older sibling who plays a college sport). I have compiled a list of some aspects that I believe may vary from school to school. Once again some factors may not matter to one athlete, but are important to another. Either way, each question helps build the conversation and develop rapport.
- What time are practices? Do they interfere with classes? How do you manage that?
- Are fields in walking distance to campus?
- Do you have your own practice field, or share?
- Do you have your own stadium?
- When does preseason start?
- What is off-season training like?
- Do you have a lifting coach? A varsity weight room? Athletic trainer?
Question # 3: “When College coaches are watching me, how do I manage my stress and stand out?”
It is widely agreed upon in the psychology literature that adolescents are in a time of identity exploration. They are constantly questioning, “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” Now consider your athlete who is asked to expedite their exploration and decide the next step in life by 16 years of age. The stress can become overwhelming, especially since the decision is largely determined by academic and athletic performance.
When college coaches are watching, I have found that a majority of athletes have unrealistic expectations and they imagine the worst possible outcome. For example, “Don’t mess up!” or “The coach won’t like me!” As a parent, you can be a great source of relief by reminding your athlete of three key components to success:
1. What are your strengths?
Remind your athlete of performance strengths by communicating some techniques or plays that he or she has done well in the past. The recollection of positive past performances has been found to enhance confidence and optimism in future performances.
2. What is your role?
Reminding your athlete of a role serves two purposes. First, it seems that the recruiting process strikes a fear of not being noticed. However, an athlete may do more harm than good when trying to play outside of his or her skill set. Second, a role provides an athlete with a clear focus towards performing the tasks of a position as well as the skills that he or she has to offer to the team’s overall success. Having a clearly defined role helps an athlete to stay focused on performing as opposed to thinking about recruiters watching.
3. What is within your control?
If something is out of your athlete’s control, teach to 'let it go.' If an athlete spends time and energy focuses on things or people that are uncontrollable, such as recruiters, then time and energy is directly taken away from his or her ability to focus on controllable factors, like technique, tactics, or decisions, etc. Keep in mind that energy is a limited resource and can be exhausted on thoughts about coaches watching, bad refs, or a rainy day. As my college coach used to say, “Control the controllables!”
In summation, the college decision-making process can become a stressful time. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open and help your athlete to determine where he or she will excel in the next chapter of life- athletically, academically, and socially.