The Prospective Student-Athlete: Maintaining a Professional Image

Tom KovicCorrespondent IJune 5, 2008

“First impressions are remembered best,” and I think this holds true for prospective student-athletes and how they present themselves to coaches as they navigate the contact phase of the college recruiting process.


Below are some simple tips to consider that will help prospects as they begin cultivating relationships with college coaches.


Dress for the Occasion


Projecting a positive personal image in the eyes of the college coaches is very important, and your outward appearance is a great starting point. The first thing a coach sees before he shakes your hand is you and your outward appearance.


I am not saying you need to “dress for the prom,” but you should make every effort to dress in a casual, but clean and professional manner. Torn jeans and a dirty t-shirt with sneakers just won’t cut it in the competitive world of college recruiting, and you are only decreasing your chances of remaining high in the active recruiting file by exhibiting a poor appearance.


In preparation for the initial meeting with the coach, wear a nice pair of khakis or shorts, polo shirt, and a pair of casual shoes. You will remain comfortable and the coach will be impressed with your outward style.


Know Your Stuff


You will be meeting the man or woman who may very well have a direct impact on your life over a four year period, and I strongly suggest you make every effort to enter the first meeting as an educated and knowledgeable consumer.


The college search is a comparative analysis of several institutions, and the more you know about your “product,” the better prepared you will be to communicate effectively with the coaches. I suggest a balanced approach, whereby the information you gather is an equal mix of the academic and athletic data, combined with information about the general social environment of the institution.


Accumulating a basic but confident appreciation about what your schools of choice potentially offer will not only grow your knowledge about different programs, it will help differentiate you from the rest of the pack. College coaches will immediately pick up on this and appreciate the effort you have made in learning about their program.


In addition, by taking time to research different programs, you will begin to develop a solid “information foundation” to build your short list of personal questions for the coaches.


Ask Pertinent Questions


Equate the time you spend with a particular college coach with preparation for a championship game. You do not have a lot of time, and every minute counts!


Based on the information you have gathered and your preparation for the meeting with the coach, I think it makes sense to limit your questions to specific areas of recruiting and narrow them down to half a dozen or so. This may not seem like a lot, but trust me...the coach will be probing you and your family, and additional questions will naturally surface during the course of the conversation.


Begin by creating general question areas that are important to you (academic requirements, athletic opportunities, on campus support, safety, financial aid etc.) and build your specific questions within these general areas.


This is a great exercise and you will soon find yourself with a bunch of questions that will need to be narrowed down to a manageable list that covers important areas of the college search.


Listen Intently


Obviously, the family wants to probe the coach, but remember that communication is a two-way street, and “hearing” what the coach has to say is very important.


Coaches tend to communicate in a “non-committal” language, especially during the early phases of recruiting, and for good reason. They do not want to raise the hopes of the family and prospect too high too soon, especially when it comes to the possible offer of athletics scholarships, admissions assistance, and the availability of squad spots.


Recruiting for the college coach is an art, and the best recruiters will provide prospects and families with a solid foundation of information about their program, but without making any early promises. They will work with the family slowly, patiently, and with care—but with an “eagle's eye” for hints and comments that will provide them with the information they need to determine the level of sincere interest the prospect has in their program.


Show Confidence


There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and knowing the difference between the two will serve the prospect well. As a college coach, I saw many different personalities in prospects, but nothing frustrated me more than an athlete who came into my office with an “attitude.”


Coaches are looking beyond the level of athletic and academic talent prospects bring to the table and, in many cases, look strongly at personalities and attitudes when evaluating future members of the team.


College coaches are looking to add “strong links” to the team chain they have built over the years—prospects that project a sincere and winning personality that displays a high level of confidence will separate themselves from the rest of the pack, impress the coach, and create a possible “tie breaking” criteria that will assist the coach in formulating his recruiting rankings.


Maintain Eye Contact


As insignificant as it may sound, maintaining eye contact with the college coach during a face-to-face meeting is very important, and it projects an indirect level of self-confidence in the prospect.


Some athletes have a natural tendency to maintain eye contact with people they interact with, while others tend to look away. This may require some practice, and if the prospect is a little weak in this area, I suggest using “mock interviews” as a tool to add some “polish” to this area of communication.


Coaches have an uncanny skill of “reading” prospects and typically “go with their gut” when making initial evaluations. The eyes are the “gateway to the soul” and can be a very effective tool of communication for the prospect.


Cultivating a “shining” personality takes skill. Not only does it need to be developed, it can become a tool that the prospect can use strategically to leap frog over a portion of the recruiting pool…But it takes practice.


That being said, developing strong communication skills and projecting a positive and professional self-image will serve the prospect well and help him or her gain greater respect in the eyes of the college coaches.


Tom Kovic is a former Division I college coach and the current director of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for prospects and families as they navigate the college recruiting process. Tom is the author of “Reaching for Excellence, an educational guide for college athletics recruiting. For further information visit: