Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Before you commit...Advice from former college coach

Official Visits
In my experience at a college coach and recruiter I always thought it was, or would be, a very bad idea for student athletes to commit prior to going on an OFFICIAL visit to the school that they plan to attend.  I always felt that there were so many things that could be observed by both parties (athlete/family, coaching staff) that would help to determine if it was a good fit for them long term.  Of course, as a recruiter you are going to do your best to present your program in the best light possible, to the degrees of hiding the things that you know will be a detriment to getting a commitment.  If athletes and parents are aware and can look past the bells and whistles you will be able to get a GREAT idea of what the next four years will look like..

The first thing that I would pay attention to is the interactions.  Those between the players and the coaches, as well as the player to player interactions are the most important (EVERYONE will be engaging with you as a recruit or a parent because they HAVE to be!).  It is always telling how many girl's come around and speak with the coaches 'just because.'  If they are choosing to come around and the relationships between players and coaches seem genuine and not forced it's usually a good sign.  Conversely, if the only time you see players on the team is at scheduled events it could be a bad sign for the way a staff maintains relationships.  Lastly, be very observant of the players on the team when there are no coaches around.  Programs that have players that they trust will plan for a lot of time for the recruit to be alone with the athletes.  They do this because they know how important it is to give a realistic picture of how the team interacts away from supervision.  As a recruit you will learn quickly what the team is like and what they like to do.  You will know there is a problem if they feel comfortable enough to offer alcohol/weed, or even if any of the girl's on the team feel comfortable enough to drink around you (or to have been drinking then come around).  If they are comfortable enough to do that in the few weekends each year that they are supposed to act appropriately then it is very much a part of the culture.  In my experience, it is typically a bad sign if the players on the team are asking a number of questions about your personal relationships.  This can (and usually does) signify that they are checking your boundaries for future relationships.  The last type of interaction to pay attention to are between the coaches and alumni.  It can be very telling how many former players will come to games and want to interact with the coaches.  If there are no former players in attendance there are usually reasons.  Some of these may be; that the coach didn't foster a meaningful/mentoring relationship that the student athletes deemed important for their life, the community doesn't offer very much in the form of post graduate employment forcing ALL previous players to go away for work opportunities (the same will be true for internships and growth opportunities), or that the university doesn't do a good job of providing a college atmosphere that brands people and keeps them vested in the culture (this one will be apparent if it is a new coach as the players coming back will be there because they LOVED their school and the experiences that it provided).  No matter what the reason is, if no alumni are around then it is not typically a great sign when looking at the big picture.  
The second reason why I think it is so important to go on the official visit is to get a clear picture of what the city/school looks like when you are there.  Take your visit, if possible, when school is in session, and so that you can be there on days and times when the campus will be at its fullest.  This gives a true picture of the social demographics of the campus, and how that matches up with what you are looking for.  It will also give you and idea of what the community is like.  For many colleges the university makes up a large percentage of the local population.  If you visit in the summer you will likely not get a good idea of the community and if it is a place that you will enjoy living for 4/5 years.  
Lastly, taking your official visits is important because it will allow you to see (hopefully) at least one practice and potentially a game.  Most schools will allow you into the locker room for the pregame speech because it can be planned out and is typically very positive.  Ask (recruit/parent) if it's possible to be around for the halftime speech or post game talk as this will give a much truer idea of what the experience is like.  Also, when watching practice be attentive to how the coaches teach.  As an observer are you able to grasp the concepts that are being taught and the manner in which they are being taught?  Look to see how patient the coaches are with the players and how the players interact with each other.  If the players on the team are positive and encouraging throughout (especially when things get hard) it is usually a good sign.  Try to be at the practice as much as possible!  This is where you will be able to see the most and coaches/players are most likely to forget you are there and be themselves.  Remember to be attentive to the details and try to ignore the show they they will put on the entice you.  Thank you and good luck!