An Open Letter to the Athlete We Must Stop Recruiting

An Open Letter - Fearless Coaching

Many high school athletes aspire to earn a spot on the roster of a college team. Often, the athlete, or their parents, make significant mistakes in this process. Often, the athlete doesn’t understand the right – and wrong – priorities.

Becky Carlson is the Head Coach of the NCAA D-I Rugby team at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Earlier this week, she posted an excellent article about recruiting prospective student athletes for college athletics. It exactly matches comments and stories I hear from a wide variety of other college coaches and that I have observed firsthand. Linked here is her article; read it very carefully! Then come back to this post.

An Open Letter to the Athlete We Must Stop Recruiting

Shocked? Good! She speaks the truth! Get busy!

Or as you read did you think that all these things should be obvious? You just became a top prospect! Call us! Right now! 😉

Below are some additional thoughts and opinions from someone who coaches middle school, high school, college, and adult athletes and teams.

High School Athletes

We want to know about your character. We want to know how you handle adversity. We want to know how you relate with and to others. We want to know how you interact with your teammates and coaches. We want to know what you value and your priorities. We want to know what kind of effort you put forth of your own volition – in sports and in the classroom. We want to know how much or how little you take responsibility for your failures and how you handle your successes.

We want to know about your grades. We want to know about your academic goals. We want to know about your post-college goals and plans.

We want to know what sports means to you. We want to now your goals and dreams and aspirations. We want to know what you are passionate about, in sports and in life. We want to know about your other sports and activities, past and present.

Finally, we want to know about your capabilities in the sport. Yes, that is last. Oh, and if you can’t or won’t tell us your grades or scores early in the recruiting process, we know you don’t own them and that is a red flag. Tell us your grades and scores, how you feel about your them, and what you are doing to improve. Be specific so we know exactly what the grade or GPA score is for, and don’t give us your best practice score – competition is what counts.

Contact the coach during the summer before your junior year of high school. We even get emails from freshmen and sophomores, and email our replies once the NCAA contact-permitted date arrives. Be sure to give your first and last name, year in school and when you expect to graduate, where you live and the name of your school, your club if any, your GPA and any other academic information, and tell about yourself. If you don’t hear back right away, follow up. Be polite yet persistent! (Remember, if they don’t know your year in school, you will get NO response.)

Recruiting rules and dates vary for NCAA Division I, II, and III, so if you don’t hear back right away, keep sending periodic updates with grades, scores, and major competitions where you will be participating. Also, the college coach can email or talk with your coach at any time if you provide their name and contact information.

If you initiate contact, and if you respond to emails and phone calls on a timely basis, that sets you apart. Athletes who can’t be bothered to respond certainly are not showing good character or initiative.

High School Parents

If you make the first contact and/or make most or all of the contacts, you do your child a severe disservice. If you have to make contact on behalf of your child, there is a good chance you are wasting your time. We already know what we need to know. I’m not being harsh. Just stating reality.

Of course, once your child has established contact and we have a dialog underway, we would love to hear from you as well. This is a big decision and you should be informed about the school, coach, and team that will become a huge part of your child’s life. Just don’t dominate the conversation, especially on a visit.

When your child can’t get a word in edgewise, we can’t get to know them. Then we might pass on your child when they otherwise would have been great for us, and us for them, but we could not tell and wouldn’t take the chance.

Also, model appropriate character, especially at games. Be a good fan. Be a good sport parent. Don’t know what that means? Google is your friend! And read this posting:

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

If you are not a good sport parent, your child doesn’t want you at the game. Neither do their coaches and neither do your child’s teammates. Please don’t be that parent!

High School & Junior Coaches

College coaches really don’t care about our recommendations unless they have gotten to know us well and trust our opinion. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how things work. Too many coaches give glowing recommendations for average athletes. Let your athletes shine for themselves.

This past year, I suggested to the head coach of one of the top NCAA rifle teams that she might want to take a look at a certain athlete that I have the pleasure of working with. I didn’t give her a glowing recommendation of the athlete, I just stated that she might want to take a close look. The coach understood me and appreciated that I didn’t do a sell job. Later, I facilitated a meeting at their mutual request to take place after a major competition ended and they took it from there. A year later, the young lady joined that coach’s team… she didn’t need my recommendation, had shined on her own, and earned a spot on the roster!

Encourage your athletes to get their grades, work on their sport, focus on themselves, and on the things they need in life to succeed. Grades, scores, and recruiting will turn out just fine.

College Athletes

Think you’ve got it made? Nope!

Maybe you got lucky in regard to some of the things she wrote about. Don’t take the chance that your time will run out. Your spot is not assured for all 4 years. Did you spot anything in the article that you can improve upon? Yes? Good, get busy! No? OK, hopefully that means you are not delusional and instead are one of those “perfect” athletes. If so, help your teammates become better teammates. Lead by example.

College Parents

This is college. Your child is an adult. (I know that is a shock, and sometimes they still seem to act like a child.) We deal with athletes as young adults. It is part of their development in the college years. Get out of your child’s way and let them be a college athlete. Luckily, most parents understand this.

Sadly, a few don’t. The worst examples: One couple lied to their child about which colleges accepted the student in order to force their child to go to a certain school. The student found out. That didn’t turn out well.

Another athlete was told that if they didn’t make the starting roster they would not be allowed to return to school the next semester. Yup!

You can’t make this stuff up!

Again, luckily, most parents let their child fly from the nest. You know who you are. Your child and the coaches thank you!

We love having you at the games. Remember this is college. Let your child be a young adult. Be a good fan. Be a good sport parent. Don’t know what that means? Google is your friend! And read this posting:

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

If you are not a good sport parent, your child doesn’t want you at the game. Neither do we and neither do your child’s teammates.

These parents are the very reason their child’s scores – and grades – are dropping. Sadly, we have seen it happen, far too many times. Please don’t be that parent!

I hope this has been an eye-opening and helpful post. Please share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions for improvement, either below or privately, as you prefer.

College sports can be a wonderfully life-changing experience. Enjoy!


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The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

Original photograph "The Natural" by Greg Westfall

Original photograph “The Natural” by Greg Westfall

[Revised Tue 05 Nov 2019 – Added assessment link.]

[Revised Tue 25 Feb 2020 – Added additional content.]

I came across a delightful item today and have based this post on it and its theme.

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports – Or Any Performance – By Brad M. Griffin

His post is based on work discussed in What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform – By Tim Elmore

Please take a moment to read both short excellent posts – and then come back here to read the rest of this post.

Be sure to take the self-assessment at the end. It might be the best part of the article!


As a coach, I agree wholeheartedly with the messages in the two posts. Athletes want their coach to inspire and teach them. Athletes want their parents to encourage and love them. Period.

Elmore gives us insight into how important this topic is to student-athletes when he writes about the effects of unhelpful sport parents:

“What we parents may not recognize is the pressure and angst this kind of involvement applies. May I tell you what student-athletes are telling me?

  1. I love my mom, but when she does this, I get the feeling she doesn’t trust me.
  2. My parents are great, but I feel like I have multiple coaches telling me what to do and I get stressed out over it.
  3. I’m getting blackballed by my teammates because my mother keeps texting me and my coach, to give suggestions. I wish she would chill.
  4. I feel like I’m never quite good enough; I can never fully please my parents.”

These are very important concerns and have a dramatic effect on the athletes. Student athletes tell me exactly the same things. Luckily, most instead tell me how helpful their parents are to them, but not all. You can assess where you stand at the end of this post.

As discussed by Elmore, parents need to transition from supervisor to consultant. You must let go of your child, allow them to spread their wings, let them find their way, own the sport on their own, look to their coach for instruction, and look to you for encouragement, love, and support… and not coaching.

I do have one very important change to the suggested things to say afterward. Instead of “I am proud of you.” I feel it is much better to say something that sounds similar on the surface but that is very different and more to the point: “You should be proud of yourself.” It is not about your approval and how you feel about yourself as a parent. It is about your support and encouragement of your child and how they feel about themselves.

  • Things to say before a competition:
    • Have fun!
    • Play hard!
    • I love you!
  • Things to say after a competition:
    • Did you have fun?
    • You should be proud of yourself!
    • I love you!
  • The most important thing to say anytime:
    • I love to watch you play!

As a coach, I am very good at the first item on the lists about fun. Athletes and parents sometimes are taken aback by my emphasis on fun. But they catch on. It isn’t about frivolity.

Although I don’t say the exact words “Play hard” I do encourage the athletes to give it a great effort in the right manner. I need to be sure the athlete doesn’t think I am telling them to focus on getting a high score; I want to encourage them to focus inward, give their best on what they can control, and allow the score to take care of itself. It always does. Afterward, I often tell the athletes how much they should be proud of themselves. We always find  a silver lining and a lesson learned.

As for the third item on the lists about love, a coach should rarely say that, and then only where there is a well established long term coach-athlete relationship and where the message cannot be misunderstood by the athlete or parent – or a bystander who overhears and thinks the worst. In my case, this third phrase is often replaced with “I believe in you!” An athlete’s face really lights up when their coach says that and means it. But say it only if you truly mean it; even 12 year old athletes have a highly refined “BS” meter.

I do sometimes say “I love to watch you shoot!” and athletes really respond to that as well. It is amazing to watch them work and I truly do love to watch them shoot, so I tell them. Not often enough, but now I will a lot more.

It means a lot to an athlete when their coach believes in them and when their coach – and especially their parent – comments on how much they love watching them play.

Some coaches and parents think there is no need to give an athlete encouragement when they are doing what is expected of them, reserving it only for special results. Our expectations, or lack thereof, in no way diminish the effort the athlete made and we need to acknowledge that hard work each time.

Here are some additional thoughts based on the original article, its comments, sport parent courses, and on personal experience. Most parents already “get” these topics and a few will benefit from a review.

  • Parents (who are not coaches) should:
    • Watch and listen during training and competitions when appropriate – after all, this is your child, not the coach’s child
    • Be positive and sportsmanlike to all – including officials and volunteers – and to athletes, coaches, and parents from other teams or programs and your own
    • Remember, it is never about score or winning – let the coach handle that
    • Thank the volunteers and officials – congratulate the athletes, coaches, and parents from the other teams or programs and your own
    • When speaking to the coach in front of your child, only positive things are to be said and nothing about suggestions on improving your child athlete’s performance or technique
    • Speak with the coach privately beforehand or afterward if there are concerns or suggestions about the coaching, the team or program, and/or about your child athlete (speaking in front of your child on these topics is damaging to your child and/or to the coach and/or to other athletes, except when your child wishes to have you as part of the conversation with the coach on a topic)
    • Do not step in to “help” the coach, especially if you feel the need to correct your child’s behavior while the coach is actively working with the athlete
  • Parents who are coaches should:
    • Follow all above items
    • If multiple coaches are available, have the other coaches do the majority of the work with your child if and when possible (there are notable exceptions where the parent/coach and child/athlete have an understanding, and these relationships work quite well in some cases)
    • When coaching your child, be sure you two have frequent and very clear communication – including that when acting as coach and athlete it is a peer-to-peer partnership. (Can you handle that and walk the walk on this point? If not, you may not be ready to coach any child, especially not your own. Yes, the coach is in charge of the program, but when working with an athlete, a collaborative peer-to-peer relationship with all except true beginners is most appropriate and effective.)
    • Remember that the coach hat goes on and off as you enter and leave the training ground and the field of play – yet the parent hat is permanently attached even when the coach hat is on, so tread lightly
    • Parent/coaches who can do these things are very special – you and your child are very lucky!

Not discussed directly in any of these posts, but clearly researched and documented elsewhere is the number one reason why kids leave youth sports: the car ride home.  You may be shocked to learn how many happy kids, after a loss, are crushed by a well meaning parent saying how it is too bad they lost, how low their score was, or how they messed up that one thing — when the child wants to happily talk with you about how much fun they had, how much they learned (sometimes even related to that “messed up” item and now they know what to do about it!) and how they are glad you were there to watch. Instead, they clam up and are stone silent, or, if pressed, become angry and lash out at their parents for forcing the issue.

Tell your child – and mean it – that you are happy for them and love them and that you love to watch them play – regardless of the outcome. You might get invited to watch more often. Careful though, they might happily talk your ears off on the car ride home!

Coaches: We especially need to remember and practice these concepts as well.

Now, please take this assessment from Dr. Goldberg. Work on it until you get an excellent report. You owe it to your child athlete.

If you are a parent who feels they don’t need to waste their time on such an assessment, I have very bad news for you: you are the problem. Again, please, take the assessment and work on it until you get an excellent report. You owe it to your child athlete.

I am always happy to speak with parents about any topic related to their child athlete, including how to be a great sport parent.

Feel Center!


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