Tips for Communicating With Your Child About College Recruiting

The college recruiting process is an ever-changing, confusing and uncertain journey.  It’s not an easy process, but it will be much easier if there is good communication. The communication needs to begin at home, where she is comfortable.

You want what’s best for your child. How can you foster great communication so you and your daughter can walk through the process and get to a college where you know she will thrive, grow, mature and become a success?

Here are some tips to help keep the conversations about recruiting open, honest, fun and engaging.

Put Down the Phones and Be Present

Try finding time to put all phones down and just “be” with your child. This is harder than it sounds, I know. Everyone is so busy. There are so many obligations – work, errands, dinner, other siblings or family, homework, practice, friends. The list is endless. That is precisely why it is important to connect.

Being present with your children forces you to be still and avoid being distracted. If you are rushing around and trying to talk to them, you will miss things they are trying to say or you will misinterpret the real meaning of their words. Today, more than ever, your children need you with regards to the pressures of sports, academics, college and the recruiting process. And COVID-19 has not been friendly to young student athletes.

In my communication with high school and college athletes and coaches, the anxiety, frustration and stress are at an all-time high. Even if your children are not saying it, they may be anxious about their chances of playing high school seasons, being seen by college coaches or missing opportunities to play college sports altogether because of COVID.

Young athletes need a voice of reason and they will definitely need guidance if they are going to tackle the recruiting process, no matter what level they play.

Two women laughing together

Listen and Laugh

Your child needs you to hear him or her. Listening to every word without judgment or interruption is key to continued communication in the future. Your child will likely say something that you disagree with. He or she may list a college that, in your mind, is too far or too close to home, too small or too large, below or above a certain talent level, in the middle of a city or in a town that is in the middle of nowhere, or one that could strain the budget.

Demonstrate you are listening and let them speak their dreams. You are their strength. You are their sounding board. You are their encouragement. You will help them land in the right place.

No matter what they say about the recruiting process, listen and watch carefully. You may learn new things about your children, things they may have not said before. But also laugh a little and have fun with the process. Continued conversations, mostly driven by your children, will help ease tensions that come with the possibility of playing in college. Real wants and needs surface with good communication, which will allow you to help match those factors with the right college.

This does not mean that you don’t have an opinion, but, if you let your child speak and he or she knows you actually hear them, they will trust your guidance even more. Eventually, most student athletes ask their parents for their opinions.  

Avoid Comparing to Other Student Athletes 

Comparing ourselves or our children to someone else’s situation is human nature. We like to see how we stack up. Your children may even do this on their own, measuring where they are compared to a friend, sibling or teammate. The only problem is, most of the time, we are unaware of the circumstances and the situations that are involved in the other person’s process. It’s an individually diverse process. Everyone comes at it from different angles, scenarios and circumstances.

If you or your child follows someone else’s plan or process, it may not work for your child and family. You have to look within the family first. There will be stories from other people. There will be advice from other people, but it must be relevant to your child’s situation for it to be of any use or guidance.

The more you as parents, or your child, compare to someone else, the less you focus on your own situation. If, for example, some athlete on your child’s team earns a scholarship at a top-level college, that does not necessarily mean your child should, too, or that he or she would even be happy at that college.

Keeping your eye on your own bobber plays a huge role in a successful recruiting journey.

Always Show Your Support 

Your children have dreams, fears, needs and desires. They want you to know them, but they also want your support. Someone somewhere will tell them that they can’t play, won’t make it, aren’t good enough, won’t last or some other confidence-shattering thing that will birth the seed of doubt. Knowing your support is present increases the chances that these remarks will fade from the minds of your children, allowing them to continue to push through the obstacles they face being an athlete.   

There are lots of ways to support your young athletes. You can attend their competitions, ask questions about how they like or dislike parts of the game, take them to college games or give a hug when they are down about their performance.

Even if your child is a player that is getting a lot of attention because of a high talent level, just showing support and communicating that support can go a long way. The pressure of going somewhere “because of talent level” is not a great criterion if it is the only thing measured. There is so much more that goes into playing in college.

I have seen many athletes get to the highest level and be very unhappy. They had the talent, but, in searching for a college, they forgot to look at all of the characteristics outside of sports that make a difference.

Young female student athlete poses outdoors with her soccer ball and shoes

Show You Care About Your Child’s Process

Doing all the steps above—being present, listening, not comparing to someone else and showing great support—will have no huge benefit if your child knows you don’t really care. Your words and actions both have to prove that to your child.

When they talk to you, let them know you truly want what’s best for them. Let them know you will help do the research, sort out lists, go through mail or whatever else needs to be done. Let them know you care and are willing to share in the load of the recruiting process.

Show interest in academics, career goals and things beyond sport as well. If every conversation turns into a recruiting or sports conversation, your child will think that is all that matters to you.

Ask Questions Without Forcing Answers

Allowing organic communication with your child is the best way to foster future conversations. If it feels forced, your child will make up excuses to avoid you or to not talk about recruiting.

However, if there is free-flowing conversation, asking questions becomes easier. Questions fall into conversations naturally when they don’t come with pressure to answer a certain way. Allowing silence after a question is also good. Your athlete may not know the answer at the time you ask, but he or she is probably thinking about it more just because you asked. 

Forcing the answers will just cause stress and anxiety.

Supporting the unknown and the uncertainty is going to be important in the recruiting process. Some things will not have immediate answers. Continued conversations will help flush out the unknown, or at least ways to deal with the unknown. Eventually, the answers will come.  

View of a hand on a car's steering wheel, driving down a country road

Let Your Child Drive the Conversation

Take the back seat as much as you can. You are there when your child needs you, but you are not driving the process. Allowing them to be in control fosters leadership and accountability.

Your athlete can do this. Be honest with them about your feelings and your opinions, but they are backseat to your child’s feelings, needs and wants. Your opinions do matter, but if those opinions drive the process, it becomes your process and not your child’s. That could be disastrous.

Your children want you to be happy with their choices and will work hard to take into account all of your considerations. Let them know you want them to drive the process and decide how and when the conversations concerning their recruiting process happen.

Working together in two-way communication will help you, as a family, navigate this process much easier.

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