Posted On October 13, 2010 by PUSC
By Ramona Barber
Ramona Barber is the Iowa State Youth Soccer Association Education Director and a contributor to Sports Communication Publications
Every year there are always a small number of athletes known as blue chippers. A blue chip player is an athlete who is considered a superstar. Penny Hastings author of How to Win a Sports Scholarship says that blue chippers “typically are national record holders, state champions and/or holders of national scoring titles.” They are individuals who can come into any high-level program and make an immediate impact. Coaches seem to have an inner radar that makes them very aware of these athletes. However, blue chippers are a scarce commodity. The vast majority of players are not blue chippers. The rosters of most college teams are filled by serious, competent athletes who do not stant out quite so much as individuals. In any given year, there are more athletes who dream of playing college sports than there are openings on college rosters. Therefore, the majority of athletes who want to participate in college athletics need to be very pro-active in searching out and pursuing all possible opportunities.
There is no magic formula that can guarantee automatic selection to a college sports program, but, there are some guidelines which can improve an athlete’s chances. After five years of traveling throughout the U.S. giving athletic workshops, visiting colleges, and interviewing coaches, I have concluded that those student-athletes who do both their academic and athletic homework have the most success in getting college coaches to give them a chance. Coaches are more inclined to select players who seem to value the academic as well as the athletic programs available at their schools. Very few coaches are even remotely interested in athletes who are just fishing around for a place to participate without looking into the total experience that their college offers.
The main reason that many good athletes never get the chance to compete in college is their own unrealistic perceptions of their personal ability. It is also sad but true that athletes are too often sabotaged my well meaning parents or club/high school coaches who foster inflated expectations. Unrealistic dreams and expectations often lead athletes to severely and unwisely limit their options by refusing to consider anything but the most highly visible, nationally ranked programs. These programs have athletes competing for a chance to play. For example, Creighton University’s nationally ranked men’s soccer team processes over a 1,000 letters a year from would-be players. This does not include e-mail inquiries. In a normal year, they will receive over 700 telephone requests for information. The competition for the few positions open on the squad is intense.
While Coach Bret Simon makes a serious effort to evaluate all potential players each year, only a very few athletes are offered chances to compete at Creighton.
When contacted by a prospective recruit, most coaches will reply with a form letter and a profile sheet. The profile sheet should be returned promptly. A player should continue to send the coaches additions to their profiles and updates on their sport schedules. There are a variety of rules governing when a coach can call a player but there is not rule against a player calling a coach. Players should be reasonable about the calls they make. It won’t help their cause to call a coach on a daily basis. If after repeated attempts, a player fails to get a response, he/she should read between the lines…the coach is not interested!
If a coach is interested, he/she usually prefers to communicate with the prospective player and not parents or others during most of the recruiting process. If a player is recruited to a college, he/she is going to have to be able to communicate with the coach. College sports are not like youth sports which foster personal interaction between coaches and parents. College coaches view students as young adults. While they are more than willing to communicate with parents about legitimate concerns regarding their children, they are very wary of the parent who makes himself a nuisance before the athlete is even offered a position. I have heard many coaches say, “I would have recruited the kid, if it weren’t for his parents.”
With the exception of those sports that feature timed or distance events, there is no universally accepted or objective standard to judge the performance of young athletes. During the recruiting process, it is the college coach’s perception of an athlete’s ability that counts. As strange as it may seem, a top recruit at one college may be considered a reject at another school. There is a fine line between communicating an athlete’s abilities and outright bragging. Coaches like self assured, confident athletes but still expect them to be respectful and humble. Coaches do not take kindly to players who give them the impression that they are doing the coach a favor by considering his school. A player is always better off if he/she remembers the old saying “show, don’t tell!” Prospective collegiate athletes should try to arrange for coaches at colleges that interest them to evaluate their performance one or more times. The more highly rated the sports program, the more times a coach will want to evaluate. Parents and club/high school coaches should remain in the background during the evaluation process. The more pressure that parents or others put on the college coach, the more likely that the coach will begin to look for fault in the player’s performance. After the evaluation period, the player should politely ask if the coach thinks that he would be able to earn a spot on the squad. Very few college coaches enjoy having to tell young athletes that they do not have a place for them. If the coach says no, his response should be accepted with good grace.
Although it might be hard and unpleasant, it is helpful if a player can ask the coach who is rejecting him/her what can be done to improve and what other college programs the coach might recommend. Some coaches will give helpful responses and some will not. But, if the player has already been rejected, he/she has nothing to lose by asking.
A player should wait until he is sure a coach has a sincere interest before he/she brings up the subject of scholarship money. It is very embarrassing for both sides if a player or parent is asking how much money is going to be available at the same time a coach is trying to diplomatically communicate that there is no opening on the team. Keep in mind that everyone coming into a program is going to be offered money. In many cases, only the blue chip players are offered significant athletic scholarships.
College coaches often communicate with each other. It is not unusual for them to discuss the new crop of hopefuls. Every year I hear stories of parents who disagree with a coach’s evaluation of their child and proceed to call the coach and tell him that he is an idiot. Publicly venting disappointment will not help any one and will give the athlete a very bad reputation. The coach has the right to have who he wants in his program.
In very high profile athletic programs, it is not uncommon for the assistant coach or coaches to be responsible for recruiting. While the head coach makes the final decisions, he often depends on his assistants to separate realistic prospects from those who have no chance. Sometimes a head coach does not get involved in talking to prospective recruits until the final stages of the recruiting process. It is a major mistake for players, parents or others to pass over the assistant coach and insist on talking with the head coach. You should realize that when there are close decisions as to who to make offers to and who to pass up, the assistant coach’s input is often the deciding factor.
Keeping in mind that “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Players should seriously evaluate the programs of all the coaches who show an interest in them. If a school is definitely not a good match, they player should thank the coach for his interest and tell him the truth. On the other hand, if a player discourages coaches who are genuinely interested simply because they aren’t his/her first choice, then that player may end up with no place to play in college. This is sad because, a player doesn’t have to be a blue chipper to be a significant and valued member of a team!