Restricted Assessment: Recruitment Amidst the Pandemic
by: Derek Marshall
The recruitment of student-athletes can be a daunting task for varsity coaches during a normal year, let alone during a global pandemic.
With the variety of ever-changing restrictions imposed by various levels of governing bodies, the difficult yet important task of student-athlete recruitment has changed over the past year. Rather than relying upon in-person observations of sought-after athletes at tournaments and games, coaches must now rely upon highlight tapes, game films and if regionally permitted, streams of live competitions.
“There’s been no face-to-face contact interaction by coaches with specific student-athletes,” said Mike Havey, Director of Athletics and Recreational Services.
“U Sports, at the outset of this [the pandemic], put an embargo in place, that still exists, about face-to-face contact with student-athletes.”
This embargo, as well as other restrictions ensuing from the beginning of the pandemic, have impacted the normal recruitment practices of Chris Cheng, head coach of Lancer men’s basketball, and Chris Gravelle, head coach of Lancer men’s volleyball, among others.
During a normal year, as a means of establishing and developing a personal connection, Cheng has taken to the road to meet with prospective athletes.
“I’ve been crazy a couple of times,” said Cheng. “I would leave early in the morning and drive to Toronto or close to in the GTA, to see a recruit, just to take him out to lunch and come back in time for practice at 5:30 pm.”
Gravelle has found a significant increase in the number of student-athletes reaching out to him this year.
“Because there was no competition in club volleyball this year, and nationals and provincials did not happen last year, there was a huge sense of urgency from the student-athletes,” said Gravelle. “They were much more proactive earlier in the process in reaching out, speaking for men’s volleyball.”
Gravelle indicated that he has received about 3 to 4 times the regular number of inquiries this recruitment season than he historically has in a regular season.
Yet, without current competition and in-person observation, accurate assessment of athletes is proving to be difficult for varsity coaches.
“It is really tough with boys because they mature late. A lot of volleyball players, being long lanky body types, mature very late. So, it is hard to assess,” mused Gravelle.
“In-person observation is huge because you get to see how they act with their teammates, how they react to a bad call, any adversity in the game. You really get to see that,” said Cheng. “You get to see who they are as a teammate when things are going good, but especially when things are going bad.”
Many of the recruits considered this year by Cheng and his assistants were actually identified in the past two years.
Looking forward, future recruitment will likely be impacted by this year as well, since coaches struggled at identifying new prospects this year to monitor for growth for upcoming years.
A constant from prior years mixed in these new and challenging times in recruitment are the desired attributes of the student-athletes.
“The attributes that lead to success haven’t changed, fundamentally, but what’s changed is the opportunity to assess those is different,” opined Havey.
Held at a similar level of importance to the overall skill and ability of a prospective player, for Cheng, is fit, which is difficult to judge from player-created, self-promoting highlight reels. Cheng utilizes platforms such as FaceTime or Zoom to connect with individual players safely and he monitors their social media posts to help with his assessment of fit.
Varsity coaches dedicate a significant portion of their time to their teams to mentoring the development of players both on and off the court, field or rink. Proper assessment is fundamental to ensure the recruitment of athletes that will complement the values, vision and standards of each team.
“If I am going to spend time away from my family to be with another family, I want to at least enjoy who I’m coaching with and who I’m coaching, and they need to enjoy me as well,” said Cheng. “So, having thing right fit of individuals is very important for our culture because our culture is built with the people in it.”