Wilbur Avataria is a good soccer player. He's been in touch with a dozen or so college coaches, visited a handful of those schools, and scored a stunning goal at Dallas Cup. Recruiting is moving along pretty well for him. But there's one glaring exception: he has no idea how serious any of these coaches are about having him on their teams.
Yes, he's sent them a profile, a copy of his transcript, and a video. He's visited their campuses, watched practices, and stayed with players. And he's gotten the coaches to see him play. It really seems like he's actually being recruited. (He text messaged his teammate the other day: "omg! it's happening!!! ttyl")
The problem? Despite the strides he's made, his status is still largely unclear. For all he knows, there could be 50 other players in the exact same position - and in fact, there probably are. College coaches maintain massive databases that contain up to 1,000 players. Gradually, coaches pick up information about the players in their database and then try to make well-reasoned judgments about who's right for their team.
Some players like Wilbur do everything right - they provide coaches with transcripts, schedules, videos, recommendations, etc. - but then fail to ask The Question: "Where do I stand?" The answer to this question is the only thing that really matters in recruiting. It lets you know whether you should continue your recruiting efforts with a given school or look elsewhere.
Doing the legwork to get to a college coach to know enough about you to make a well-reasoned judgment is essential. But once this has been accomplished, you must ask the college coach for an honest assessment. This information is invaluable; knowing where you stand with each college will help guide you through the rest of the recruiting process.
Before you go practice on your little brother, remember that The Question isn't meant to be an interrogation. You don't want to back the college coach into a corner with aggressive questioning. No less, the coach has the responsibility to provide you with an honest answer.
Here are four responses you might hear:
1. Join Us! In the best case scenario, the coach will tell you that he'd really like you to come play for his team. Would he have volunteered this information had you not asked? Who knows? The point is, asking The Question got you the answer you needed.
2. Uh, Sorry. There's always the possibility that you'll hear something like, "We don't feel like you're a good fit for our team." Ouch. It may sting, but getting this sort of honest response, painful as it may be, is actually a good thing. It lets you focus on the schools that are interested.
3. More Info Needed. Another response you may hear is, "We need to see you play more before we make a decision." This is great because it helps you plan your next steps. Ask what tournaments and camps he's going to be attending and then find a way to get to one of those events.
4. Ambiguous Blah. You may also get an ambiguous response along the lines of, "We think you can contribute." Don't be afraid to ask a follow-up question like, "What exactly does that mean?" The coach may still not be forthcoming, which is why it's essential for you to communicate with coaches at multiple schools. If things fall through in one place or are too ambiguous for comfort, you always have other warm leads.
No matter how the conversation goes, you should feel good about yourself for taking charge and asking the tough question. The best player-college coach relationships are built on honesty and respect. By being forthright about your interest and asking the coach to do the same, you're setting the right precedent.
(Avi Stopper played at Wesleyan University and coached at the University of Chicago. He is the founder of CaptainU, a recruiting web application that allows players and college coaches to meet, exchange information, and build relationships. Avi is also the author of the recruiting guidebook Make the Team and the host of the college recruiting podcast Radio CaptainU.)