Recruiting has changed.
College coaches are no longer recruiting just the student-athlete—they’re recruiting their parents, too.
“An increasingly large part of the evaluation process for us is evaluating the parents,” Pat Fitzgerald, head football coach at Northwestern University, told Coach & A.D. in 2017.
“When we talk about our fit we evaluate parents too, and if parents don’t fit, we might punt on the player and not offer him a scholarship. And that has changed over a decade. Ten years ago I’m not sure that was as big of a role, but now that’s a big part of it.”
Although some athletes are so talented they’ll still get heavily recruited even if their parents are totally nuts (see: Lonzo and LaMelo Ball), they represent a very small fraction of the total prospect pool.
For the other 95 percent, recruiting is insanely competitive. For high school athletes hoping to continue their playing careers in college, a crazy sports parent can absolutely be a deadweight on their recruiting.
If a sports parent exhibits one or more of the following behaviors (and they quite often go hand-in-hand), it could be a major red flag for college coaches.
1. You Speak for Them
When a parent does all the talking for their kid, that’s an immediate red flag for college coaches.
One, the student-athlete potentially lacks independence and confidence. Two, it limits the coach’s ability to truly connect with them. And three, it gets the coach thinking the parent could be a persistent thorn in their side should their child join the team.
“What we’re seeing far too often nowadays, and I know all (my) peers are seeing it too—in comes the student-athlete, with the parents, and the student-athlete doesn’t utter a word. And we’re seeing that a lot, and it’s really unfortunate,” Anne Walker, head coach for Stanford women’s golf, told the Positive Coaching Alliance. “I’m not going to coach dad. I’m not going to coach mom. I’m going to spend four years with that kid.”
Mentality and personality are a big part of the recruiting game. For a coach like Walker, who’s helped mentor 18 All-Americans since 2012, connecting with a recruit is an important part of her evaluation process.
“If she leaves and she hasn’t uttered a word and we haven’t connected at all, then I don’t know who she is or how she is or if we’re going to connect or if she’s a good fit for me as a coach,” says Walker.
Coaches like to see confident student-athletes who take initiative and can hold an insightful conversation—not ones who sink into the background while their domineering parents speak for them. Even when it comes to things like emails, a message from the athlete makes a much bigger impact than a message from the parent.
“I always notice and am impressed with kids who are diligent with their emails, calls, etc.,” Andy Fleming, head men’s soccer coach at Xavier University, told The Recruiting Code. “Often you can sense when a parent does this for them or when a parent is more excited than the kid.”
This might sound like a small thing, but coaches absolutely notice it, and it can even be the differentiating factor between two prospects who’re very much similar on paper.
“It’s a way they’re really able to decipher between two similarly skilled players who play the same kind of position. One athlete takes the initiative and reaches out and asks questions—and maybe loops in their parents where appropriate—but the other athlete basically has their parents driving the process,” says Matt Musico, a college counselor at Collegewise with extensive experience in the recruiting process.
“What kind of personality makes more sense on a successful athletic team? Obviously, it’s the person who takes initiative and wants to take on that leadership role.”
2. You Prepare the Path for Your Kid
Prepare your child for the path, not the path for you child.
It’s a powerful quote, and one that’s being increasingly disobeyed by modern parents.
We live in an age of “over-parenting” where parents often do not allow their children the chance to persevere through tough times or learn from their mistakes.
Instead of encouraging their child to work hard and set goals so they can earn more playing time, they simply transfer them to a team where they’ll immediately be treated like a superstar. And instead of encouraging them to learn from their own mistakes, they shift the blame for any shortcoming onto coaches or teachers.
Just look at the massive transfer rates in sports like college football and basketball, which are now higher than ever.
“We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through (tough times). There’s a lot of kids who should transfer for the right reasons. But three-quarters of the kids are transferring because they didn’t get enough shots, didn’t get enough ball, didn’t do this or that. We’re helping create a society where, when the going gets tough, you bolt and leave,” Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State men’s basketball, said on The Drive With Jack Ebling radio program.
Parents who believe their kids are entitled to start right away are a major red flag for college coaches—as are parents who openly complain to college coaches about their child’s high school teachers or coaches.
College coaches want parents who are willing to give their child tough love. They want parents who will give their child a chance to work through hard things and ultimately come out on the other side better for it. They want parents who trust them.
“Parents today don’t want to give their child a chance to fail. The first time there’s adversity, the kids don’t know what to do. They are not able to fight through things…I think freshman year is hard. I think everybody has a tough time freshman year. For generations, freshmen have been calling home several times and saying how much they hate it and how things are not working and parents have been letting them vent before explaining that a commitment has been made and it’s going to be followed up on and ‘we’ll see you at your game next week,’,=” Muffet McGraw, head coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball, told The Province.
“Now it’s different. Now you’ve got some parents who I think are like, ‘You’re probably right.’”
If a coach gets the sense that a recruit isn’t ready for the massive jump in competition and responsibility that comes along with transitioning from high school to college, they’re going to think twice before making them a part of the team.
“Coaches want to make sure they’re recruiting students who are also emotionally and socially ready to take on this kind of culture shock that they’re going to get by not just going off and playing a college sport, but possibly living on your own, taking care of yourself, and being responsible,” Musico says.
3. You Go Berserk on the Sidelines
This one’s pretty simple—if a college coach comes to watch your child play in high school, and they see you being a loud-mouthed jerk in the bleachers, they’re probably not going to be all that interested in recruiting your child.
It really doesn’t matter who you’re yelling at. Yelling at your kid is not a good look. Yelling at the ref is not a good look. Yelling at the other team’s parents is not a good look. Yelling at your kid’s coach is certainly not a good look.
This includes coaching from the sideline! No coach wants parents yelling out random instructions and criticisms from the peanut gallery, and if you’re doing it now, why should they assume you’ll change your ways once your kids gets to college?
Cheer for your child and cheer for their team. You can do that as loudly and as proudly as you’d like. But once things veer over into criticism, it’s a red flag.
It’s not rocket science. College coaches like to recruit athletes with decent parents who treat people (including their child and one another) with respect. Although parents play an integral role in the recruiting process, they must remember it’s ultimately about the student-athlete.
“If we’re using the metaphor of a car, you want the kid to be in the driver’s seat and the parents to be there to guide them through it,” says Musico. “(But) typically, it’s the other way around.”