Hearing What They Want To Hear: A Parent’s Guide to Coach-Speak

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Advice for Parents, College Athletics Recruiting

Dear Coach Bryant:

Last month you explained the truth behind being a college “walk-on.” That helped our family. Before that we didn’t understand why the coach at my son’s favorite university mentioned his possible status as a walk-on in an apologetic way. Now we’ve figured out that our athlete would be a team asset just because of his high GPA — not because that team needs another first baseman.  And that he might actually never play.  

So, now my son is talking to other coaches. But we don’t want him to hear a coach say one thing, only to later realize he was saying something else. Can you give us other examples of how to interpret coach-speak?

Cautious in Columbus

Dear Cautious:

I’m glad my previous post helped your son understand what a coach was telling him. I’m also glad you asked this question, because it touches on some of what I teach my clients about coaching communication. Even when a college coach speaks truth, students tend to hear what they want to hear. Common misunderstandings include:

The Watch List.  

When the coach says, “We watched you play, and liked what we saw. We’re going to keep watching you,” the typical student immediately thinks they are being recruited. But what that coach is saying (in a nice way) is that the student is on the team’s “B” list. That coach is not prioritizing that student as a top recruit and may never do so. While that coach may continue to watch the student play, there may never be a way for that student to move to that team’s “A” list.  

The Eligibility Question.  

When the coach says, “We don’t know if we’re going to have a spot for you. I’m waiting to hear whether another player is coming back for another year of eligibility,” the typical student expects to get a call clarifying that current player’s plans. However, the call may never come. What the coach is saying (in a nice way) is that he/she is not willing to make a spot for that student.

The Money Mention.  

When the coach says, “Our school has really great merit opportunities,” the typical student thinks they may have a full-ride to that school. The coach might even tell the parent that the program is “fully funded.” However, neither a fully-funded program nor great merit aid means a particular player will receive any money toward tuition or other costs. While I always want students to initiate coaching conversations, I also tell parents to directly clarify whether a school is a financially viable option for their family, and to do that early in the recruiting process.  

The Comparison Conundrum. 

When the coach appears at a district or regional game to watch a few select standouts, the typical student assumes their past accolades and current performance will guarantee recruitment. However, there’s always somebody better out there. High school students often don’t understand they are competing with recruits from other regions, states, and countries. Just because a coach kindly watches a student’s game doesn’t mean that coach will recruit that player.

The Reality

“Hope” in the recruiting process is not a strategy. Hope leads students to hear what they want to hear. The reality is that coaches create spots for players they want on their teams. That’s why I encourage rising seniors to communicate with 10 to 14 schools, including both their hoped-for schools and those they know will make a spot for them. That process takes a lot of work. And while most students need help doing that, the results can be life-changing. Those who find their right-fit schools will not only be able to play their sport in college, but through this first “job search” be highly prepared for post-graduation success.


I am Coach Amy Bryant, a 19 – time NCAA National Championship player & coach who helps high school student-athletes navigate the college search and athletics recruiting process. I believe every student-athlete is unique and requires an individualized plan to find the best college match.


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