Dear Coach Bryant:

My daughter has played at the same club, under the same coaching director, since she was 10. Based on his early assessments she has always assumed he would help get her into a good college sports program. But now that she’s in high school and no longer the “top dog,” she isn’t getting much direction from him.

The coach is pushing most of the other club members to go to State U. While my daughter seems very dependent on the coach, I’m not sure State U is the best place for her. I’m also unsure the coach knows any other options to suggest. I don’t feel like her college questions are getting answered – or even heard. How can I best help her?

Seeking independence

Dear Seeking:

You are smart to ask this question. Parents and athletes often don’t know who they can trust to direct them to the right school-team-program. While most coaches want what is best for their athletes, some of them have a myopic view of what’s out there, favoring schools they’ve known about in the past without learning about evolving options. Some are even pulled by their egos, and will direct their players toward colleges that would bring their programs more prestige, rather than what’s best for an individual student. And as you’ve seen, coaches in these competitive clubs tend to focus on their highest-potential players, rather than devoting equal attention to all their students’ recruiting concerns.

To best help your child explore her options, I suggest you:

Take a holistic approach.

A private coach doesn’t know his/her athletes academically. He or she may not even really know an athlete socially. An effective college search should not focus solely on where your daughter can play her sport, but where she can learn and grow in every aspect of her life. 

Take an advocacy approach.

Help your daughter learn to advocate for herself. When I work with the families of high schoolers, I don’t call coaches. I don’t advocate on the players’ behalf. I instead talk to players, teaching them how to advocate for themselves. It’s essential that your daughter find her own voice. Part of that process might include helping her practice ways to talk with her teammates and coaches about her college concerns.  

Take a realistic approach.

While your daughter needs to advocate for herself, she also needs to learn how to accurately assess her value as a player. She needs to figure out her “net worth” to both her current team and a future college team. If she can realistically answer the question, “Where would I be considered a highly-desirable recruit?” she is more likely to find a school where she can thrive.

Take a broader approach.

To answer that question, your daughter will need to expand her network. While she may have only heard about the program at State U, I can guarantee you there are playing options elsewhere. It’s important that she explore all of her avenues, rather than limiting herself to what she has heard about through her club. This is a great time to explain that an athlete’s college search is much like a job search. Just as you would never rely solely on one individual to secure your professional career, you shouldn’t rely on one coach to secure your college career.

Take an independent approach.

To break free from that type of coaching dependence, help your daughter do some research. Ask her to find out where local athletes at her level have gone on to play. Then ask her to expand her research to athletes outside your hometown. Challenge her to talk with players and coaches from other clubs and schools, extending her research to colleges she hears mentioned. Soon she should be ready to not only identify potential colleges, but independently contact coaches at those colleges, asking about their recruiting processes and whether she might be a good fit for their teams.

The Reality

Coaching your student athlete in the college selection process is a big job. It’s especially challenging for parents who are juggling multiple children’s concerns on top of their own careers and the demands of everyday life. That’s why parents hire me to help them through this process. But the reality is that high school athletes can be coached to find their “right” college by following the approaches I’ve outlined. As your daughter works through this outline she can find her own voice and make a solid, independent decision about where she wants to not only play her sport, but truly thrive during her college years.