Championship Coaches Typically Have Their Pick Of The Blue Chips…..

What Player Qualities Make Their Choices Easy?

Playing University sports can be one of the most rewarding experiences that any athlete can ever have.  A high level of competition, teammate camaraderie, learning new athletic/academic skills, and building multiple positive relationships, are all beneficial results from playing university sport.  Currently there are just over 177, 000 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and over 5,800 CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) athletes on scholarship.  The average dollar amount that each athlete receives in the NCAA is around $15,000 per year, and CIS athletes are around $5,000.  The value of education alone, makes playing university sport very lucrative, but if you can be one of the lucky ones to receive a free education, the benefits are even more substantial. This may be why parents, and sometimes athletes themselves, set their sights and work on the process to reach their goal of playing at the next level.
Having a determined, goal driven mindset can be very rewarding.  Athletes who know what they want and set their sights early, typically are very focused on what it takes to reach those goals.  But, do athletes really know what University coaches are truly looking for when it comes to recruiting players to play on their teams.  Remember, this is a significant investment for the schools, and the coaches reputations rely heavily on their recruits to fit the philosophy and vision of the program.  This ensures cohesiveness and bodes well for team success.
We contacted some of the best NCAA and CIS coaches in the business to see what exactly they look for in the players that they are making their investment in.  Coaches included multiple NCAA and CIS championship coaches, and some of the most insightful, influential people in their profession.  Each coach said something unique, but there were a couple overlapping themes that kept popping up.

This seems like a no brainer, but sometimes elite athletes wonder why they are not more heavily recruited.  Well, I will tell you from experience that coaches want to spend their time with good, upstanding young men and women.  It rarely ma


tters that you a stud on the field, ice or court, if you’re not a nice person away from sport.

Ron Fogarty (Head Coach of Princeton Men’s Hockey) mentioned that he will often go to high school teachers,
coaches, and guidance counsellors to get a sense of the athletes character.  He also mentioned that he likes to see eye contact and an overall level of respect during conversation.
Brian Wiseman (Asst Coach of University of Michigan Men’s Hockey) stated that they also look for players with good character, and who are good teammates.  This may be very obvious to recruiters through actions towards teammates, or body language while on the ice or bench.
Don Vaughan (Head Coach of Colgate University Men’s Hockey) said that his primary focus is hockey IQ, and skating speed.  He qualified this saying that being a good teammate and trust are more important, and that “If you’re not of strong character, the  first two don’t matter.

Chris Oliver (Head Coach of University of Windsor Men’s Basketball) echoed some of the earlier sentiments and elaborated with, “If you are not a good person, this eliminates you. I don’t want to spend multiple years of my life with a bad person.”

This trait is very difficult to teach.  Athletes generally enjoy working at their craft and know what it takes to increase their abilities, or they don’t.  Some athletes are big fish in small ponds and have always been the best player in their class.  Other athletes aren’t aware of what exactly it takes to keep up with the other elite athletes.  Both of these issues can be resolved by educating our teenagers on the importance of practice, and doing the right things outside of their arena as well.
Jim Harbaugh (Head Coach of University of Michigan Football) said that he expects his athletes to allow no one to outwork them.  He also suggested that athletes need to find unique and creative ways to separate themselves from others.
Bill Fennelly (Head Coach of Iowa St. Women’s Basketball) suggested that great players have to have great work ethic and passion.  They must be accountable and make no excuses.
Greg Fargo (Colgate University Women’s hockey coach) had this to say on the topic “Elite athletes understand in order to reach higher they have to put in the work and not just work but quality work. The higher you reach, the fewer opportunities are out there. Plain and simple – outwork your competition.
It isn’t good enough to put in the work some of the time, or to have outstanding performances infrequently.  Coaches want consistent outcomes, which mean ultimately they want consistent behaviour, habits.  There are a few things that players CAN control within their sport.  They may not be able to avoid referee judgements, a tough opponent, or even injury, but what they can control is routine and habits.  Perform well once, and you may get noticed, perform well in every game and at every practice and you get put on a different, elite radar.
Coach Fennelly offered that you control your own effort and enthusiasm and the great ones bring it every day and raise the level of those around them.
Brian Wiseman elaborated on Coach Fennelly’s sentiment, adding, “We want kids that have a certain skill set and that are committed to getting better everyday. That usually comes through their work ethic, their attention details and the ability to be coached”.
Chris Oliver also made some enlightening comments by contributing,  “We want players who will work, commit and work towards getting better on a daily basis. We rarely recruit a player we have not seen practice or work out. Our evaluation is more impacted by watching practice than a game.

Jim Harbaugh-

“Attack every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind”

This mentality of consistent day in a day out behaviour can have a profound effect, not only in sports performance, but in business, relationships, and overall health.  Create good habits, and think about them daily.
Student-athletes are special people.  I truly commend the effort it takes to balance, school, sports and social life in university or college.  This is likely why most coaches stress the importance of being dedicated to academics and managing time effectively.  Coaches understand that athletes need a certain educational skill set prior to getting to campus in order to be successful.  Most programs have intentions of graduating as many of their athletes as possible (unless you’re Kentucky basketball), and as such, require athletes to be students first.  In fact Ron Fogarty listed it as the number one thing that he looks for.  Of course, Ron coaches at an Ivy League school where academia is paramount, but this doesn’t undermine the fact that student-athletes in general must be dedicated to classroom success, just as much as they are playing their sport.

Chris Oliver made it abundantly clear by offering “If you are not a good student, this eliminates you. I want to coach a player and help him improve. I don’t want to manage him academically or in life.”

Michael Faulds (Head Coach Laurier University Football) requires his athletes to be good students, hard workers, and to be able to manage their time effectively.
 Coaches often have specific skills that they look for in athletes, especially if they are pursuing a specific position player in a sport that requires various abilities depending on position.  As an example, if Coach X is looking for a small forward for a basketball team, they may be evaluating their back to the basket play, or their three point shooting abilities.  There are also general skills that coaches look for in all of the athletes they recruit.  A lot of football coaches recently are looking for pure athletes.  Anyone that can run really, really fast is getting a look by most major programs.
John Cook (Head Coach of Nebraska Women’s Volleyball) who are the defending National Champs expresses his desire for players who have a superior functional movement ability, efficient arm swing and an above average vertical.  All of these skills translate directly to volleyball success.  These are also skills that athletes can improve on in various forms of training.
Don Vaughan, Brian Wiseman and Ron Fogarty all pinpointed that skating is a primary skill that they look for in recruits.  The game of hockey is a game of speed.  If you don’t have the wheels to play, it doesn’t usually matter how smart you are, or how hard your shot is.  You will have a limit to your potential if you can’t keep up.   Skating is also a tangible skill that may be improved upon with extra work put in inside and outside of the arena.
As a player, I always tried to ask my coaches what I could do to be a better contributor.  I didn’t always get the answer that I wanted, or the easiest solution, but I always knew what I needed to improve on.  What I didn’t have the courage or the knowledge to ask was HOW to get better at the things that the coaches thought I might benefit from.  I often compared myself to others and felt like situations were not fair.  I was wrong.  I used this as an excuse to not seek out more.  Don’t make excuses.

Jim Harbaugh really brought this to light for me when he said,

“Compete, ask for nothing but a level and fair field on which to compete.

Ask detailed questions.  If your coach doesn’t know how to help you get faster, or develop a routine for studying, or improve your vertical, he can likely point you to a professional that specializes in specific skill development.
Coach Fargo details this attitude by saying,
“The best in their craft understand they are never a finished product, instead they are constantly working to be the best version of themselves. They are not overcome by failure but instead realize shortcomings are opportunities for growth and development.
In terms of character development and some of the more innate abilities, players CAN get better at these as well.  It may be even harder to change your attitude, than it is to increase your acceleration or arm swing, but given the obvious importance that some very successful coaches put on it, it better be something you are working on to make an impression.
I want to personally thank each and every coach who took the very valuable time out of their busy day to give back to youth athletics.  As coaches, their primary objective is to develop players, and to the ones who pulled back the veil of University Sports for the purpose of this article, we very much appreciate your experience, knowledge and insight.