The recruiting process is a lot like trying to sell a product. Think about it: You have to be educated about your audience (the college coaches) and know what they’re looking for in a recruit. Then, you have to show them how you would be a great fit. You need to build relationships with these coaches and keep them interested in what you have to offer.
A great way to make a coach less interested in you? Asking the wrong questions.
We talked to six former college coaches and athletes to determine the questions that they do not want to get from recruits in their initial communications. The coaches included:
- Pete Kowall: Played D1 soccer at Western Michigan and has been a college coach for 25 years.
- Ellen Brown: Played D1 and D3 soccer and has 20 years of coaching experience.
- Ben Whitcraft: Played college lacrosse at Marymount University and coached lacrosse at various D1 and D3 colleges.
- Joyce Wellhoefer: Competed in collegiate softball, basketball and track, as well as coached 20 years at the D1, D2 and NAIA levels.
- AJ Trentini: Played college football at Concordia Lutheran University and began his coaching at Huntington Beach High School.
- Jason Smith: Played college baseball at Aurora University and has eight years of NCAA coaching experience
Avoid asking about scholarship money early in the recruiting process
All the coaches unanimously agreed that nothing makes their blood boil quite like a recruit asking about scholarship money in an initial email or call. Here are a few examples of questions they’ve received on this topic:
- “Coach, can you give me a scholarship?”
- “How many scholarships does the school give you?”
- “Are you going to offer me?”
- “When are you going to make an offer?”
- “Well, you can pull some strings at admissions to get him more scholarship dollars, right?”
- “Am I qualified for merit monies?”
- Using “Scholarships Wanted” in an email subject line
Timing is everything when it comes to asking about scholarships. Coach Pete Kowall explains that athletes should never ask about scholarships in their first few calls and emails. As a coach, he says, it’s easy to tell which athletes are “scholarship hunting” and which ones genuinely want to compete for his school. Don’t bring it up until the coach has watched you play and has stated that he or she is interested in recruiting you.
What to ask instead: When you’re first getting to know a coach, there are plenty of questions that should come well before you start inquiring about scholarships, such as:
- “What is your recruiting timeline? When would you like your recruiting done for the class of [insert your grad year]?”
- “What is a ‘typical day’ like for a member of your team during the season? What about during the off-season?”
- “What goals do you have for your team during the next four to five years?”
- “Are your players close with each other outside of practice and games?”
- “What are the biggest challenges for a student-athlete at your school?”
- “What type of orientation program is offered for incoming freshman?”
Questions about the school that you could have researched on your own
We talk a lot about the importance of research in the recruiting process, and there’s a reason we do. College coaches expect recruits to have a basic understanding about their program and their school. Here are some questions that indicate you don’t:
- “Do you have my major?”
- “How’d the team do last fall?”
- “Are you a Nike or adidas school?”
- “Who do you play?”
- “Who’s in your conference?”
As a general rule, if you can Google it, you should. Coaches want to recruit athletes who show that they are knowledgeable about their team. This signals that the athlete took the time to do their research, which indicates they are actually interested in the program.
What to ask instead: Focus on questions only the coach can answer. Such as:
- “Are there any majors that are most popular with athletes?”
- “Do most of your players graduate in four years?”
- “What are the key positions you are looking to fill in the (your grad year) class?”
- “What is your coaching style/philosophy?”
Asking favors of the coach or demanding that they do something for you
This category of questions is a little tricky because your tone and how you phrase the question make all the difference:
- “Coach, I’m playing at [insert showcase or tournament]. Can you come see me play?”
- “Can you call me back at [insert phone number]?”
- “Will you get me drafted?”
- “I’d like to come on an official visit. When can we schedule it?”
- “How much playing time will I get as a freshman?”
- “How many bats/gloves/turfs do we get?”
- “What do you look for in a player?”
These questions don’t seem too inappropriate at first glance. But each of them is essentially telling the coach to do something that will benefit the athlete. Instead, consider how to phrase the question in a way that puts the burden of the work on you, the recruit.
What to ask instead: Rather than telling the coach to come to your next tournament, ask them what tournaments and showcases they’ll be at. Then, you can plan your schedule around theirs, rather than the other way around. Similarly, avoid telling the coach to call you back. The better approach is to let the coach know when you’ll be calling them. Remember: You’re still trying to show the coach why they would want you on their team—if the coach doesn’t hear from you, they’ll find someone else.
The final question in this grouping might be the biggest head scratcher of them all. But Coach Ellen Brown points out that asking what a coach looks for in a recruit is like asking a dog show judge what they look for in a puppy. It’s too broad with too many answers. Instead, focus on asking what the coach is looking for at your position.