This article was originally posted on ESPNW.com
College coaches want to see recruits who are mentally tough. Recruiting athletes who can handle disappointment and frustration, who compete fearlessly. They don't care if you make a mistake, but they do care how you react to that mistake. They watch closely to see who can deal with negative feedback from a coach or a referee. They watch how a player reacts to pressure during the final minutes -- her play selection, decision making and leadership -- more than whether they make or miss a last-second shot, serve or pitch. They pay attention to how a player treats her teammates in the midst of adversity. They see who plays to win, even when they lose.
With the first of the recruiting periods on the horizon, I thought I'd dedicate this column to what college coaches will be looking for in gyms, pools, and fields across the country this summer.
I called up a few of my Division I coaching friends to ask them what they watch out for on the recruiting trail.
Much to my surprise, they didn't mention height or athleticism or sport ability first. They didn't mention talent or skill. There is one thing, above anything else, that virtually every coach in America wants, and that is toughness.
Coaches want players who fight, who play hard, who are passionate about the game. They have their eye out for competitors, athletes who are aggressive and fearless. They want players who are tough, mentally and physically.
There are two types of toughness that college coaches look for, and both are needed to survive and thrive within the rigors of college athletics.
The first is the most obvious toughness: physical toughness
Coaches pay attention to who dives for the pop fly, which guard picks up full court on defense, an athlete who doesn't mind a little contact, players who hustle in every play. They notice who gets back up after a hard foul, who plays hard in the final minute even when they are tired, who runs to the huddle at a timeout. They notice who plays to win even when their team is losing by a mile & or winning by 20.
They notice the players who are physically tough in every minute of every game.
The second type of toughness might be the single biggest determining factor for a player's success or failure at the next level -- mental toughness.
Coaches know this and watch closely for the players who have it.
While stats are of course important, coaches don't care as much as one might think about scoring or percentages or about what jersey you wear. They really don't care about what shoes a player has on or if her headband matches her sweatband. They want hard-nosed, tough athletes who come to win and never stop until the final buzzer. That is all they care about.
And this is why: Coaches do not want to have to teach you to be tough. In most cases they are handing you a free education and depending on you to help them win and keep their job. Many of them are former players who would give their right arm to be out there on the court playing again. Patience with players who don't play hard is not in their DNA.
Coaches also know that college athletics will be a challenge for you, mentally and physically, and they want players who can rise to the challenge. They gladly will spend time developing your physical skills, teaching you to play within an offensive system, working on defensive principles. They don't want to spend time teaching you to compete. In fact, they don't have the time.
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So if you are going out there this summer with big college dreams in mind, remember this: It's not about how many points you score or the highlights on your recruiting film, or the shiny shoes you wear; it's about guts, determination and toughness. That's what coaches look for, that's what they demand, and in the end, it's the only thing that will help you be successful.
It's also a really fun way to play.
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