Parents of Blue Chip Athletes Need More for their Student than a College Degree


Hey Coach!  Adding more targeted athletes to your list of signees is easier than you think—especially if you understand:

  • Recent developments in the recruiting landscape
  • A major source of parental anxiety
  • Some simple yet powerful steps you can take to get parents on your side


Parents and recruits know the odds of making a living as a professional athlete are astronomically long.  And even when talent and good fortune allows them to play at the next level, professional careers are remarkably short.  That’s why athletic departments have support programs in place that improve a recruit’s chances of earning a college degree—one that serves as a back up plan.

That landscape—the importance of a college credential—has changed in that it is no longer enough to convince recruits to sign with your program. For one thing, all colleges and universities with major athletic programs have them.  For another, parents are quickly becoming aware that a college degree by itself doesn’t deliver what it once did.  It used to be if you had a degree you had a professional white-collar job if you wanted one. Now, according to the Department of Labor, nearly 50% of Americans with college degrees have jobs that do not require them.  It seems as if there are plenty of college graduates toiling away at jobs tending bar, waiting tables and walking dogs.  The promise that your school gives recruits the best chance of graduating isn’t nearly as compelling as it used to be: And that is a major source of anxiety for parents.


The dirty little secret about college is that there is little agreement among those who run higher education (faculty and senior administrators) about what students should be learning.  It is not surprising that a recent survey of CEO’s reported that 80% believe higher education is not preparing students for success in the work place.  Even though there are plenty of unemployed and under-employed college graduates, human resources executives complain of being unable to fill jobs because of a lack of qualified candidates with appropriate skills (both hard and soft).

Far too many of today’s students graduate and move back home to live with their parents because they cannot afford to do otherwise.  An astounding 36% of Americans ages 18-32 live at home with mom and dad.

That students are not job-ready at graduation has parents worried.  The good news is there is a lot you can do to ease their concerns and get them on your side during the recruiting process and after.  It’s a matter of making some relatively simple adjustments to your recruiting protocols.


  1. Add career services to your recruiting tool kit.  Have the campus career services center give you and your staff (if appropriate) a review of the tools they have available to help students with everything from talent and career assessment to internships, resume writing, interviewing and networking.  Most campuses have these programs.  Sharing them with the athletic department to improve recruiting is a “no-brainer.”This will extend the objectives of your current support programs beyond graduation to job and career readiness—a sure fire attention-getter for parents.
  2. Empower students and parents to self-manage the career readiness process.  Did you ever wonder why students don’t want to listen to parents about having a backup plan?  Remember your own playing days and the anxiety you felt about your ability to be competitive at the next level?  I remember mine, and my son remembers his.  We both whispered to ourselves time and time again,  “I can do this.”  In retrospect, we see how difficult it is to gain the necessary confidence when the advice coming from others has you developing a “backup” plan in the event of failure.So rather than shrink from the ambition some recruits have to play at the next level, think about ways they can build a broad personal platform inclusive of their athletic skills.   That is, help them see college as an opportunity to develop a complete array of skills that a variety of employers (including those with professional athletic interest) will find attractive. As it turns out, many of the skills required for successful careers in business overlap with what it takes to be a successful athlete.Invite parents as full partners in the process.  Conventional wisdom has it that when the kids go off to college it’s time for mom and dad to step back and let go.  Those that don’t are seen as helicopter parents, overly meddlesome in the lives of their kids.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The complexities of today’s job market make the partnership with parents an essential element in the job readiness process.
  3. Encourage parent and recruit to visit the campus career services center together.  When recruits and their parents visit together, they get a fuller understanding of the services provided and how to take advantage of them.  But even more importantly, they can identify employers who come to campus to recruit and what they are looking for in entry-level candidates.  This is a way to engage parents and recruits in career-oriented activities co-sponsored by the athletic department. Of course, the information (and opportunity) is available to any who know to take advantage.  It is also a time when parental guidance is critically important because it gets the student involved in the career preparation process ahead of when they normally pay attention.Encourage parents and students to read the position descriptions employers leave behind.  This gives the recruit ample time to develop the kind of profile employers find attractive.  Much of the research has already been done and I can report that the 7 most commonly mentioned skills include communication, teamwork, decision-making, self-improvement, leadership, honesty and integrity and problem solving.  Parents play a critically important role in helping recruits develop those skills during their time in school.
  4. Show parents and recruits where and how skills are developed.   The four arenas of development include academics (classwork), extra curricular activities, volunteer opportunities, and internships.  Participation in each of these areas with specific purposes in mind gives the recruit a leg up in the career preparation process. Traditional support programs aimed at graduation can be broadened to include the development of job-ready skills.
  5. Provide social media education.  Today’s recruit already knows how to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and numerous other social media tools.  They may not know that employers, including professional athletic organizations first take a look at their social media presence to better understand the person in whom they are interested.  The first step in the educational process should be to help each student clean up their on-line presence and keep them that way going forward.  It is their opportunity to remove material employers might find objectionable.The second step involves education around using social media to extend personal influence and do some image polishing.  We admire our athletes and think particularly well of them when they appear to be responsible citizens.  Tweeting out to a sick child met during a hospital visit can go a long way toward building a positive personal image.  It’s part and parcel of building the kind of personal profile a broad spectrum of employers will find attractive.

These are just a few ideas college coaches can use to improve their recruiting.  There are others.  Upon request, my team and I are available to:

  • Coach the coach and his/her staff
  • Meet with players
  • Meet with recruits and their parents
  • Develop customized recruiting materials (videos, brochures and individualized messages)

Just think what additional blue chip athletes can do for your program.

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