Relationships are Key When Being Recruited
A Big Ten coach shares helpful tips for finding the program that’s the best fit
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When University of Illinois Head Coach Shauna Green was deciding to play for Canisius College nearly 25 years ago, the recruiting process was very different from what it is today. Coaches had to call players on their “home phones,” social media didn’t exist, and there were significantly fewer opportunities to watch games. But players still used the recruiting calls and visits to develop relationships and determine whose energy and philosophy they gravitated toward or felt connected with the most. And in all the years since—as Green completed her standout playing career in college, and then worked her way up the coaching ranks from Loras College, Providence College, Northwestern University, the University of Dayton, to Illinois—she’s never stopped believing that relationships are the most important factor for players to consider when committing to a program. She also believes there are ways recruits can better assess those relationships and increase their chances of selecting a program that’s the best fit for them.
Players need to understand themselves first
First and foremost, Green recommends players spend some time really thinking about the traits of coaches and teammates they tend to thrive with. Rather than just going off an ambiguous gut feeling, it helps when players are more intentional and concrete about what they’re looking for from the people they will be spending most of their time with, including the personality types, communication methods, and motivational styles that work best for them.
Coaches vary on things like how accessible or involved they are with players outside of practice, the distribution of “tough love” versus positive feedback, and how they react or penalize players when mistakes are made. It’s helpful when players can think back to their previous coaches and the coaches’ characteristics or tendencies that helped the player improve, feel successful, and enjoy the experience.
Players should also think about the relationships they’d like to have with their teammates. Teammates aren’t always going to be best friends, but when players identify their preferences in terms of how much time they want to spend with their team outside of practice and games, what they like to do when hanging out, how they prefer to communicate when there is tension or conflict, and the kind of support they need during rough times, the odds are much greater that the player will find a program where they feel like they belong, can flourish, and have fun.
“Players have to really understand what's important to them, and that takes some soul-searching,” Green said. “But I think knowing what you want and not settling for anything less is important.”
Follow the teams in consideration
After a player nails down their personal priorities, and programs begin to show interest, Green believes recruits should take a look at those teams and their players on social media. This can help recruits gain an initial feel for what the program is all about and even provide some behind-the-scenes glimpses of what their life might be like if they commit to that program. During the season, social media posts tend to be more about games, player performances, and accolades, but off-season posts can reveal a little more about the teams’ personalities during team-bonding experiences, volunteer efforts, and other social gatherings.
In addition, Green highly recommends recruits watch a lot of the teams’ games and attend some practices if they can. This not only offers more insight into how the coaches and players interact with each other, but it also provides a valuable view of a team’s playing style and allows the recruit to more easily determine whether they’ll fit in. When recruits can find a team that aligns with their preferences in terms of pace of play, the types of offensive sets or defensive systems they use, the degree of freedom players have, and how bench players are leveraged, it can often help reduce future frustration and dissatisfaction.
“A mismatch in style of play, and their role in that style, can contribute to a kid not being happy at the school,” Green said. “And I just think the more you can watch a team play, you're going to get a feel for their system. You can see what you want as a player, what you can handle, and what you can not.”
Ask the tough questions
After getting a general feel for what a program is all about, Green suggests that recruits then take it to the next level by asking the tough questions.
“I tell our recruits all the time to talk to the players,” Green said. “We had 13 kids on our team this year. I tell recruits to talk to all 13 and ask them hard questions. Ask them anything. We are an open book. You know, because us as coaches, we can sit there and say this is our culture, this is that. Well, if our kids aren't feeling that, then it's not our culture. It's just what we want it to be.”
Green recommends really delving into the specifics and asking the current players what it's like on a hard day, what it's like when the coaches are really mad about something, and how the program addresses turmoil or discontent. Especially in terms of identifying a team culture that fits, she believes the only people who truly understand it are the players.
“Recruits are trying to make the biggest decision in their life up to that point usually,” Green said. “I want them to ask those questions. And I've found out over the past few years, the kids are going to tell you the truth.”
Then, before any recruit makes a decision, they need to visit the school and meet everyone in person, including their potential teammates. While Green believes the relationships players have with their coaches are extremely important, the number one thing for a recruit is enjoying being around their teammates. They are the people they’ll spend the most time with. “It’s going to make or break their experience,” Green said.
If it doesn’t work out, transferring is still an option
Sometimes a player conducts all the recommended due diligence, but circumstances arise or change that make the program not a good fit anymore. And although Green still places the highest priority on recruiting kids out of high school, building those relationships, and treating them right, she also sees a place for the transfer portal in addressing certain needs. She believes the process the second time around can be easier because the players tend to have a better handle on their non-negotiables.
“I think that's why I actually love transfers,” Green said. “We've had a ton of success through our years with transfers because they have such a clear-cut vision of what they want.”
Another part of Green’s success with transfers is due to how she develops such solid relationships when initially recruiting them out of high school. Even when she misses out on a player that first go-round, if the player enters the transfer portal, the foundation established during the earlier recruiting period can make the transition a lot easier.
“No one goes into college with the mindset to transfer, but they should be happy, and this should be the best time of their life,” Green said. “I firmly believe that. It’s going to be hard, but it should be fun, and you should be able to grow every single day.”
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Love coach Green! She seems to be putting a new, positive atmosphere in place in Illinois. It's a big improvement for the school.