Recruiting: A Coach’s Perspective, John Paul

West Coast StarzLacrosse Recruiting

Lacrosse Players & Families,

It’s an exciting time of year. Your high school or middle school season is approaching fast. Club team tournaments and recruiting events are over for now. But does that mean that the recruiting process stops? Of course not. College coaches will continue to evaluate you, even if you are committed, just as you and your family will continue to evaluate where the right fit may be.

As a guy who has been a college coach for over 20 years, one of the things I can bring to this conversation is the perspective of someone who’s been on that side of things. But I don’t want to just give you the standard recruiting talk that you hear at events. Let’s go a little deeper.

As a college coach I had a reputation as a great recruiter (so I hear), but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I never felt like I was doing that great a job at it. Sure, I could identify talent. And yes, I was very comfortable talking about my team and my university and the values that were important to me. But I still felt like something was missing. More on that in a bit.

This brings me to today’s topic: What is a college coach really looking for?

You can make a list of all the things you hear all the time – athleticism, grades, leadership, lacrosse IQ, motor, specific skills, etc. But really this question boils down to just two things.

  1. Will this person help us improve our culture?
  2. Will this person help us win?

For some coaches #1 is more important (that’s why I put if first). For others #2 is most important, and #1 could even be rephrased to say “will this person do no harm to our culture?” Regardless, these are the two things every coach is looking for, and they are directly related.

Let’s look at the culture factor first. Every team’s ideal culture is different. It is based on a lot of factors including overall school culture, coach’s philosophies and values, team goals and priorities. Notice I said “ideal” culture. It’s something every team is striving for but will never quite reach. Some places may have clearly defined definitions for what it looks like. Others don’t. The best come the closest to reaching and maintaining that ideal.

Teams, and therefore coaches, need players who will help the program reach the ideal. This is where I felt most uncomfortable as a recruiter. I never felt like our process gave me the time or the information necessary to make good enough reads on how someone would fit the culture we were building. This doesn’t mean we were getting a bunch of bad kids. Far from it. The vast majority of our guys were great people with the right intentions. But I didn’t really know how they would fit until they got there.

Does this sound familiar? Your coach (club or high school) tells you a college is interested. You call the coach and talk a bit. You visit, either for an unofficial or a prospect day. You talk a few times on the phone before and maybe after. The coach offers. You commit (or not, but let’s tell the commitment story here). That was the D1 recruiting process in a nutshell. And believe me, it makes culture focused coaches very uncomfortable.

Yes, I would ask our recruits’ coaches questions about what kind of people they were. But I almost always felt I needed more. There is simply not enough time, and college lacrosse teams don’t have the resources, to be able to get to know a recruit in the way they would like.

I think the second factor, “will this person help us win,” is a little simpler to describe. Sure, it mostly boils down to athletic ability and lacrosse talent and work ethic and ability to fit whatever role is needed at the time. You know how to make that impression. Execution and effort take care of most of it, and both can be controlled by the work you put in and the attitude you bring every day. If you have the God-given athletic ability necessary, you know what you have to do to show you can play at a high level.

But this is where we come back to #1 because your influence on winning also has to do with the kind of impact you will have on the team culture. What kind of leader, on and off the field will you be? Just as important, what kind of follower will you be?

So, in a process where the college coaches aren’t getting the information that will make them comfortable that you will be a great fit, what can you do to help them (and yourself)?

  1. Put some thought into what your own goals and values are. Write them down and keep them somewhere that reminds you daily. Your locker, your wall, your wallet, your phone’s screen saver, wherever.
  2. Share them. With teammates, friends, parents, teachers, counselors and current coaches. This keeps you accountable, and it also helps you refine them.
  3. Then find ways to share them with college coaches during the recruiting process. You’ll have opportunities to do this directly, and if you’ve been open with others the college coaches will hear about them (and how you are following through on them) from the people they talk to about you.
  4. Admit when you slip up. Nobody is perfect. Coaches want people who are self-aware and confident enough to honestly track their growth. If you do slip, a defined set of values and goals makes it much easier to get back on track and to prove to others that you are serious about doing so.

One other note on communicating with college coaches. Have a plan whenever you connect with them. How do your questions and answers and stories fit into a true picture of you? Let them get to know you. This will help them make the best decisions, and ultimately that will help you end up at the right place.

Recruiting, and from your perspective the college selection process, is not a perfect science. Mistakes will be made. But there are ways to make it better, and thinking about this from the perspective of a college coach can be valuable.

I hope this was helpful. Again, if you have issues you’d like me to address, let me know. Next up – “Our sport is not elite, but you can help it get there.”


John Paul

WCS Recruiting Consultant