Article Written By: Bruce Capers

Head Coach, Gordon State College

Young high school student athlete aspiring to play college sports

The Mental Skills That College Coaches Look for in Recruits

When evaluating college basketball prospects there are several things coaches look for in recruits. In addition, there are skills student-athletes can develop to improve their mental performances in practice, games, and film sessions.

There are so many boxes to check during the evaluation process. Basketball coaches like myself look for the following traits in recruits. Mental training prepares the mind to help you perform at your best, mentally and physically.

1. Recruits that Pay Attention to Detail

The little thing wins championship rings. The small details coaches review in practice like ball fakes before passing, understanding the opponent’s offensive strategies, and ability to help explain concepts to teammates. The athlete who requests film study does not look at what they did well, but to improve on what they can do better.

2. Athlete Leadership Skills

Student-athletes who focus on the team and not themselves. One who looks for solutions to problems instead of pointing the finger or blaming other teammates. The athlete has the ability to make others around him better. Teammates look to you for advice and direction.

Athlete Practices Yoga On The Beach As A Part Of Her Mental Skills Training

3. Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills

Student-athletes who are always in communication with their coaches and teammates. Reminding the team by looking towards teammates, a certain way, pointing a certain direction, yelling instructions out loud, running up to teammates to communicate private information, and using signals.

4. Coachable Athletes

The student-athlete who can handle constructive and destructive criticism from coaching staff and teammates. Keep a positive attitude even when things are not going your way. Be supportive of teammates and the team's overall goals.

5. Student-Athletes Who Have Clear Goals

Student-athletes who know what they want to accomplish. They have clear goals to the point where they can visualize them before they happen. Make sure goals are difficult yet realistic, measurable, and attainable.

6. Confidence and Self-Belief 

Coaches just like your opponent can immediately sense your level of confidence and self-belief. Student-athletes who believe in themselves reveal it in their look, walk, and actions. You notice them when they walk into the room. They are different.

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7. Self-Motivated Athletes

Coaches love to recruit athletes who display self-motivation. They have a cause, a memory, or a goal that fuels their focus and self-determination. Nothing can get them off track.

Ways to Improve Mental Skills

Student-athletes can improve their mental level of performance by taking the initiative to seek knowledge and learn from others. The following are a few tips to develop mental skills.

1. Master the art of time management and organizational skills

Athletes who stay ahead in their academics, get to practice and class on time, work on aspects of their game before the coach gets there, stay focused and on task, and always have all their equipment ready to go. You should not have to look for your tools.

2. Study the sport from a historical perspective

Many of the best players study past players, games, and situations on and off the court. Talk with people who have been in the toughest situations, and learn from the mistakes of others.

Young Athlete Practices Positive Self-Talk

3. Stay Focused and on Task

Now that you are organized, use time wisely, and as a student of the game make sure you keep your eyes on the prize even in your spare time. Watch the game film of your opponents. Work on weaknesses before practice and stay late afterward. Do not get trapped into doing what others do to be accepted. Stay on your path and let nothing distract you or jeopardize all your hard work. Remember everybody cannot do what you do and go everywhere with you.

4. Critical Thinker

Coaches love athletes who are critical thinkers. Developing your critical thinking skills is vital to enhance your overall performance. Critical thinkers want to know who, what, where, when, why, and how. They want to stay informed with all the information to develop their most effective process. They understand the advantages and disadvantages of situations before acting or responding to them. They understand the benefits and consequences of their actions. They are problem solvers.

5. Attitude

Coaches like players who have and keep a positive attitude. Athletes who look to turn negatives into positives. Athletes who constantly encourage and motivate themselves and others. Athletes who lead by example. Athletes who never fail, but learn from their mistakes and then turn them into victories. Coaches like athletes who reveal positive body language.

In summary, coaches recruit athletes who exemplify a certain level of mental and physical toughness. Usually while out on the recruiting trails coaches run into student-athletes that set themselves apart from all the others. They look, act, and walk with a sense of confidence and self-control. They believe in themselves because they have prepared to do well. They expect to do well. They expect to perform well and win by doing the right things on and off the court. Make an assertive effort to be coachable and a teammate that makes those around him/her better. Remember, the one thing you bring to the table each day that you are in 100% control of, is your attitude. Guest what it is contagious.

Bruce Capers Head Men's Basketball Coach at Gordon State College