If you’re a high school athlete who wants to capture the attention of college coaches—and turn their interest into a scholarship offer—you need to shift gears, stop thinking like an athlete and start thinking like a shameless self-promoter.
Below is a list of behaviors you would ordinarily never dream of exhibiting, but need to display—at least for a little while—to give yourself the best possible opportunity as a college athlete.
College teams want players who have accomplished great things. When talking to coaches, don’t be shy about sharing your top plays, games, awards and honors. It may feel like bragging, but it’s necessary. College coaches have limited time to devote to recruiting top prospects, and it’s up to you to make sure they know what you’ve accomplished.
What to do: Call, email and visit as many coaches as you can if you want to play for them. Send letters with a highlight tape and an athletic résumé that sing your praises. If coaches don’t know about you, they can’t recruit you. Keep them updated via email about your big performances when they happen. When you meet a coach, speak confidently about yourself, making sure to mention how your abilities and accomplishments would help the coach’s program.
2. Talk about people behind their backs
You might feel uncomfortable talking about what other coaches or schools are doing or saying, but you need to let every coach who is recruiting you know that he or she is not the only suitor at the dance. Let them know you have options. Competition is a good thing. College coaches appreciate knowing they’re not alone in thinking you’re a good player.
What to do: If a school offers you a scholarship or a nice financial aid package, tell the other college coaches who are recruiting you. If one school offers you money, there’s a greater chance another school will too.
3. Talk back to coaches
This may be the most difficult thing for you to do. You spend your whole career listening to your coaches, never questioning them and trusting every word they say. But in the recruiting process you must question the coach. You have to pry for the truth.
What to do: Ask coaches the following questions: How do they rate you as a player? What position do they expect you to play? How many other players are they bringing in at your position? If you don’t ask, they’re not going to tell you.
4. Hit people up for money
You might be used to keeping your head down and your mouth shut and tackling problems all by your lonesome. But college is expensive, and if you need financial support, be up front about it. There’s no shame in asking for money in this case.
What to do: Ask if the coach is planning to offer you a scholarship. If the program doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, ask the coach how he or she can help through other forms of financial aid. Colleges have money to spend to support incoming students—make sure you get your fair share.
5. Put an “I” in team
This is the one time you should put yourself before your team or potential team. Make sure the roster is filled with people you’d like to play with and befriend. If you don’t like the athletes’ attitudes or their values, don’t go to that college. You will spend more time with those athletes than anyone else on campus, and you shouldn’t have to change yourself to fit in.
What to do: Spend time with several members of the team during college visits. Don’t limit your interaction to your host and his or her immediate friends. Talk to players on the team who might not be starters or star players. They will give you a better idea of what the team persona and program environment are really like.
6. Ask “what’s in it for me?”
It’s nice to be wanted and it’s always flattering when a college coach tells you they “need you at their school.” But this is your college experience, and it will shape many other things in your life. You need to make sure you’re getting everything you need out of the relationship.
What to do: Make sure the college provides more than just an opportunity to play. Does it offer your preferred major? Is it in a part of the country where you’d like to live for four years? Is the social life on campus in line with what you like to do? Just because the coach wants you doesn’t mean you have to go there. Make sure the school is right for you.
7. Be a heartbreaker
Breakups are never easy. You will doubtless build strong relationships with many of the coaches who recruit you. That’s their goal. A strong emotional connection improves their chance of landing you over a rival school. But you owe it to them to be up front when you’ve chosen someplace else.
What to do: Once you make your college selection, only one coach is going to be happy, and you have to let the other ones down. Pick up the phone and let them know as soon as you’ve made your decision. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.