Many prospective student-athletes (PSAs) find that participating in a Recruiting Tournament or Showcase can be stressful when the sidelines are packed with college coaches there to watch them compete. On top of that, most players have no idea what the coaches from each program are looking for, or whether they are looking for the same thing. While there is no easy answer to these questions that applies to every coach, there are some answers that apply to most coaches that will set your mind at ease. Read on to hear directly from the college coaches regarding their advice to prospects.

Before the Tournament

Your job begins long before you leave your house to travel to the event you are competing in, and that means being proactive about communicating with coaches. Here are some tips for how and when you should be communicating to improve the chances that coaches will attend your games and watch you play.

“My advice for prospective recruits is to contact the schools you are interested in well ahead of the tournament you will be playing in. Not the night before or day of. Although coaches check their messages on the road, you don’t want your email to fall through the cracks because it was last minute. Be sure to proofread your e-mail and if you are copying and pasting your e-mail to multiple schools, be sure you have the correct college name listed and send to the correct college coach, and that you have both the school and coach’s name spelled correctly! The e-mail should also be from you, the recruit, not your parents. Unfortunately, many tournaments still do not provide complete or accurate rosters of every team participating. In your e-mail include specifically what team you play on and what jersey number you will be wearing.” – Division III Head Coach

“Be sure to send coaches an email letting them know the event you are attending. Simply 2-3 sentences. Provide your Team Name and indicate your graduation year, uniform color, and jersey number.” – Division I Assistant Coach, PAC-12

“Coaches vary greatly in their recruiting styles and opinions about what they need to see from a prospective student-athlete during the recruiting process, but my advice is this: be your own advocate; if you want to be seen, make sure it happens. Many coaches will roll their eyes at me for saying this, but it never hurt anyone to over-communicate. The reality is, often head coaches across the country don’t have full-time assistants, and will only have one coach recruiting at a tournament held at three separate locations with more than 500 participating teams… so make it easy for coaches to find you! Chances are we already know about your schedule change, but ultimately it doesn’t hurt to make sure we’re aware because there are limited opportunities in the schedule to see you play… and definitely tell us if your number has changed. Again, if you want to be seen, make sure it happens!” – Division III Head Coach

“Prospective student-athletes should be consistent when communicating with coaches and registering for tournaments. Many of our recruiting software programs are connected through a player’s email address. Therefore, using the same email address for all events and communication will ensure that a coach doesn’t miss the opportunity to see you play, keep your evaluations organized, and keep track of all communication.” – Division III Head Coach

“Our school recruits a little differently since our academics are so specific. We really rely on athletes reaching out to us prior to tournaments to let us know they will be there and why they are interested in our school. Oftentimes we get an email the day before the tournament which makes it really difficult to add an athlete to the schedule. Receiving an email the week prior is the most helpful since that is when we are planning our schedule. When we get last minute emails that don’t explain an athlete’s interest in our institution, we are less likely to get them in our schedule since we prioritize the athletes who reach out beforehand and who show a strong interest in our academics. Also, it is very helpful to wear colored socks or headbands since we often review film after the tournament and numbers can be hard to read. “ – NAIA Head Coach

“Before the tournament, it would be in your best interest to e-mail the coaches a few days in advance letting them know what tournament you will be playing at, what club team you play for, and your uniform number. After that, just play tough! Do not get frustrated and overthink about coaches being present. You will most likely play your best game if you are having fun, because at the end of the day, that is why we play!” – Division III Head Coach

On the Court

Many coaches care less about the specific plays you make during the game, and more about how you react to different situations that happen. They also think your attitude matters. When you are playing in a tournament, you’re playing with and against other great players. How can you make yourself stand out?

“Recruiting advice for prospective student-athletes: keep grinding, keep hustling, be respectful. Coaches pay attention to way more than whether or not you drop a ball, if you are working hard and being respectful, people are going to notice, work ethic stands out to us, it’s a characteristic that all of us want to have in our student-athletes. Hustle, grind, be respectful, repeat.” – Division I Head Coach

“No player will have a perfect tournament; and the officials won’t either. How you respond to adversity is an important indicator of what coaches can expect in the future. Those cues can be verbal or physical. While mistakes aren’t the end of the world, a bad attitude can be. Remember, one mistake is not the end of the world. Oftentimes, coaches are looking at how you handle mistakes (both yours and your teammates). And, a final thought: the same thing applies to parents. I have stayed at games just to find out which player belongs to certain parents.” –  Division III Head Coach

“My biggest advice to prospective student athletes would be to get involved on the court… whether covering a hitter, hustling for a ball, and communicating. You will make mistakes and that is okay, but how you react to those mistakes is very important. It’s also very important to be able to see your number. My eyesight isn’t as good as it once was and sometimes the numbers are hard to see.” – NAIA Head Coach

“Play Hard: A great work ethic and toughness will always take you far on the field and off it. Play Smart: Keep it simple, stay fundamental. Stick to your gut and make the smart serve, pass, set, or attack not always the overly pretty one. Play Together: Team is always stronger than the individual. Remember that you will always need your teammates. The better you make them look, the better you look too.” – Division I Assistant Coach

“Mistakes happen, what you do after a mistake is how coaches determine if your character is up to their level. Did you pout, yell at, or blame a teammate, coach, or official? Or do you hustle to save the next play? During a timeout do you run to your teammates, or slowly walk back in? Do you listen and hear every word your coach says in a huddle, or do you sit in the back and look at what the college coaches are doing? The recruiting part is far beyond points scored!” – Division II Coach

“Be conscious of the little things, such as hustle and body language. We see you hustling after an out of system ball or hustling on transition. We hear the encouragement you give your teammates when something doesn’t go as planned. When good or bad things happen, what does your body language say about you? When you are speaking with your teammates and coaches, does your eye contact and body language show that you’re engaged in what they’re saying? Doing the little things and being a good teammate never goes unnoticed.” – Division III Head Coach

“The greatest advice I can give to prospective student-athletes competing in recruiting events is to relax and not worry about who is on the sideline of their games. Many players try to do too much out on the court to impress a college coach they see on the sideline. As coaches, we love to see players compete and gauge whether their style and finesse will fit our program. By playing within their abilities, and showcasing the best parts of their game, players demonstrate what makes them special. If prospective student-athletes play with confidence, trust their teammates, and show passion for the game, they will impress the coaches on the sideline.” – Division II Assistant Coach

What the Coaches Want to See

Even though how a player conducts themselves on the field is important, and how they react even more so, there are some specific things coaches look for when they set up on the sidelines with their binders, highlighters, and iPads. Volleyball skills matter, and so does athleticism, work ethic, and confidence. Keep the advice below in mind while you’re playing.

“When it comes to what we’re looking for in any given player in a tournament, I’d have to say hustle and contagious energy is always an attention-grabber. Do you get excited when your team makes a big play, and do you work at hyping up teammates to get back into the swing of things when your team drops behind on the scoreboard? I love that stuff. I want the kid that truly looks like she’s having a blast out there, even if it’s 100 degrees, even if it’s her fourth game that day. I’m not saying that’s easy, but that’s what makes it even more enjoyable to watch. Have fun and forget there are coaches watching, we can’t play the college game anymore, we need players. Balls in your court, kids!” – Division II Head Coach

“Play with presence. Stand out by being the hardest working player on the court; cheering for your teammates at every opportunity; being coachable – make eye contact with your coaches and teammates when they speak to you; and show your passion! I don’t want to have to spend 10 minutes trying to find you on the court. Perform under pressure. Yes, we are watching. If you can’t play well when we are watching, then can you handle performing in a high-pressure game? How you manage this is the trick… picture us in panda suits if that works or practice your butt off so that you know you are prepared!” – Division I Head Coach

“Here are the top 5 specific things I look for when I watch a tournament game:

  1. Work Ethic – Do they go the extra mile OR do they get flustered and quit on a play? How do they react when something doesn’t work out how they anticipated?
  2. Team Player – How do they communicate with both their coaches and team on/off the court? Are they big picture focused or selfish? Are they coachable?
  3. Purpose – Do they accidently make plays or are they intentional about their decisions?
  4. Court Sense – Do they understand transition? Do they see the court? Do they give help? Do they place themselves in position to be a factor?
  5. Footwork – Are they controlled when handling the ball? Can they breakdown defensively?” – Division II Head Coach

“You can teach skill. It’s much more difficult to teach heart.” – Division III Head Coach

“Be Memorable: This doesn’t just mean scoring lots of points! What I notice more than anything while watching club tournaments is the athleticism, hustle, and activeness of a player. Do the dirty work that ultimately leads to team success. Sometimes that player doesn’t get the stats for what she does, but it makes a huge difference!
Be Unselfish. Everyone loves a great individual player, but at the next level it is the athlete that can see the next two steps of the game that becomes a true impact player. Having poise with the ball and raising everyone’s level around you with your ability.
Be Talkative. So many coaches tout communication on the field, and the players who do this at tournaments stand out. All positions need communication. It is all going to make you a better player at the next level if you communicate with your teammates on the court.” – Division III Head Coach

“Club is filled with so many competitive opportunities for recruits to showcase their talents. My assistants and I recruit at quite a few tournaments, and we are working hard to identify the true standouts among hundreds of players. At large showcase tournaments it’s important for athletes to find a way to compete no matter the conditions, or the score of the game. Coaches want to see hustle and effort. So much of college athletics is about desire and intensity; it’s not all about skill. Teamwork is important so don’t always go for the glory yourself, instead set your teammate up for success. Celebrate the great plays and be encouraging and supportive on the court – immerse yourself fully and enjoy the games! Always be respectful of officials and coaches, and know that your body language speaks volumes about your attitude and enthusiasm.” – Division I Head Coach

“The old saying of “play like nobody’s watching’ is easier said than done, but mentally prepare yourself before the game to do just that. Don’t even look over at the sideline- we see you, we promise. Take a deep breath and play the game. Missing an easy pass because you saw a big-name school sitting on the sideline and you tensed up, doesn’t give anyone much hope you will be able to drown out the noises in a college stadium. Relax. Be a team player at all times. Although you may be the top scorer on your club team and can run the game up 20-0 by yourself, you may not be the top scorer on your college team. Show us what else you can do. Get the rest of the team involved and try something new. Creativity catches attention. Coachable players are what we are looking for. If your coach pulls you out to make an adjustment in your play – go back in and show us that you are trying to fix it. Hustle is the takeaway word. There are just as many different levels of colleges as there are players on a team – each looking for something specific to add to their program. Hustling matters and can’t be taught. It is self-discipline and something that all coaches won’t turn down.” – Division III Head Coach

After the Event

What happens after the event is almost as important as what happens while you are playing. Don’t forget to follow up with coaches at the schools you are interested in to let them know how the tournament went and that you are still interested in their institution. It’s also a good idea to make sure you contact coaches to let them know if their school is no longer someplace you are considering. Communication is critical and it can make all the difference.

“Evaluate yourself, think about what you did well and what you can improve on for your next event (as an individual and as a team). Give it a few days, then contact the schools you are interested in (even if they weren’t there) and let them know what you thought. It goes a long way to be able to evaluate yourself and have goals set. I know I appreciate hearing from prospective student-athletes, especially if I didn’t attend an event, because that means they are still interested in us and continuing to work to their potential. If you receive an email from a coach, RESPOND, even if after browsing around their website you’re not interested. There is no harm in saying that a particular school isn’t the right fit. Not everyone is a good fit for every school, and we know that, so just let us know. If you don’t respond, some may hold out hope that you’re interested, which doesn’t seem fair.” – Division III Assistant Coach

“Don’t expect an email the next day after a tournament from a coach about if they liked you or saw you. There are a lot of players! Instead, follow up with the schools you like, and reach out for feedback about what we may or may not have seen. How coaches can respond will vary based on your age and the Division of the school due to the new recruiting rules. But it’s nice to hear from athletes that want to learn how to get better. Follow up with your club coach about what you can do better as an individual, and ways you can better your team going into the next tournament. Get back to work with the feedback you get from other coaches. This can be done by watching film, or getting on the field at camps, clinics, or in your backyard!” – Division I Assistant Coach, PAC-12

“If any coach takes the time to see you play and contacts you after the tournament, you need to respond – especially if you had contacted them initially requesting that they watch you. Whether you end up being interested in that particular program or not, it shows maturity and respect, and is good practice for the future.” –Division III Head Coach

A Few Notes for Parents

It’s impossible for parents to escape the notice of college recruiters, especially if they are misbehaving. Remember that coaches are recruiting more than your daughter – they are recruiting the whole family and they want to be certain you will fit in. Conduct yourself accordingly.

“Parents, Hi… We know it’s you! Prior to tournaments and throughout the recruiting process, encourage your daughter to express her own genuine interest in a program and avoid sending generic emails just because you’ve seen the school’s name on the tournament website. We know when recruits (and parents) do this, so mention specifics about the school, and why you’d excel there academically and be a good fit for the volleyball program.” – Division III Head Coach

“Mom and Dad, you really need to keep the cheering positive. We have all dropped players because their parents have been psychos on the sideline of a club game.” – Division I Head Coach

“Here are a few rules all parents should follow:

  1. Please don’t coach the team. They have coaches on the sideline. They got this! Also, they are purposely running that offense or defense. Your suggestions are directly in conflict with the coaches’ plan.
  2. Please don’t officiate the game. Those people with the whistles are doing the best job they can. I’m sure they don’t have a dog in the fight. We have a shortage of officials and you aren’t helping by berating them from the sidelines.
  3. Please refrain from snickering at the other team, players, coaches and officials. It’s not good role modeling. I hope you don’t do this in front of your kids.
  4. Please don’t loudly sigh or give the side eye when Sally shanks the ball. I’m most certain this will not aid in her passing the ball next time.
  5. Please do read the rule book.
  6. Please support all of the players. Ask them open ended questions after the game and get to know them off the field.” – Division III Assistant Coach

Article edited and reposted from The official blog of the IWLCA. Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash