Deciphering Codes of Communication in College Recruiting

Deciphering Codes of Communication in College Recruiting

By Tom Kovic

Effective communication between prospects and college coaches can be a critical component in the final choice in the college search for high school athletes. That being the case, communication is truly an art and college coaches are masters in providing prospects and families with valuable information, yet in very subtle and non-committing formats.

As prospects head down the homestretch in the college search, and begin to narrow down their college choices, having a clear understanding to where they stand in the recruiting process is crucial. Even prospects that have made verbal commitments to attend their top choice college need to be clearly in the loop to what this “gentleman’s agreement” represents.

This article will focus on the general manner whereby college coaches tend to communicate a variety of messages and how to identify tips, hints and codes that coaches use to convey these messages.

As team managers, college coaches have an innate and uncanny ability to target goals, determine clear strategies and execute successful plans with relentless persistence. It’s part of their make-up. They are simply winners. That aside, most coaches do not use rocket science when determining how and when to reach goals…They are at their best in the trenches…Gut thinkers… Who advance one inch at a time.

The same strategy holds true when it comes to recruiting prospective student-athletes and families. Every coach wants to win, plain and simple and the best coaches realize winning takes time, patience and the right core of team members to accomplish the task. If their recruiting aim is to matriculate 8 prospects in a given year, they may begin the process with 200 interested athletes. Aim 1 is simply to “divide and conquer.”

Families and prospects who have placed a great effort into gathering information about the college search and targeting a clear plan of action. The next step is to simply execute the plan to the point where they begin asking tough questions. Below are some examples:

  • Coach, based on your assessment of me as a prospective student-athlete can you give my family and me an idea to where I stand on your priority list?
  • How many athletic scholarships do you have to offer in my recruiting cycle?
  • Can you give me an idea to the level of support you can offer in the admissions process?
  • If athletic aid is exhausted, are their alternative grant opportunities you can help us explore in the area of financial aid?

A good college coach and recruiter (and I mean this in a very nice way), will not initially answer direct questions with straight answers. They are masters at speaking in codes and feel very comfortable navigating grey areas of recruiting with confidence. They have a mystical way of answering every question with a polite and acceptable answer that doesn’t back them into a corner.

The family that best understands these tactics will have the best chance in understanding the unique make-up of college coaches. The trick is simply to listen, learn, understand and listen more closely again!

A good example is with the current senior class, especially those boys and girls who are being recruited by select D-3 and D-1AA college coaches. In these cases, the main goal is not an athletic scholarship, but the level of support a coach can potentially provide in admissions and/or financial aid.

The majority of official visits have been made and offers of admissions support have been offered, especially to prospects in the coach’s top tier. In many cases, prospects have multiple offers of support and they are hunkered down and making their final choice.

Lower tier prospects who are still “alive and in the hunt” are, in many cases not getting straight feedback from the coaches and for good reason. It is a domino effect strategy that good recruiters are masterful in playing. Simply stated, support for the next prospect in line will be determined by the decision of the one in front of him.

When families approach this crossroad in the college search, I suggest a firm, but polite approach with the coaches. You don’t want to lose your footing on the recruit priority chart, but you do need feedback. Below are suggested approaches:

  1. Identify beyond a shadow of a doubt your top college choice.
  2. Prepare your case and identify 3-4 simple but substantial components that separate you from the pack.
  3. Line-up a phone meeting with coach.
  4. Express confidently your commitment to attend, and firmly state the strengths you possess that can help drive the program to a higher level.

The college search for athletes is a personal journey and one that needs to be organized, managed and navigated impeccably by each prospect and family. That being said, college coaches devise their personal recruiting agenda and will approach it as fiercely as they do coaching in an effort to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.

It takes courage to step up to the line and speak candidly with coach about where you stand on her priority list. In the end, the prospect and family who exercise a well prepared plan of action where “tough questions” are carefully communicated have the best chance in getting to the answers that in some cases, they may not want to hear, but they respectfully deserve.

Tom Kovic is a former Division I college coach and current President of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for families on college recruiting. For further information, visit:

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