Throughout the recruiting process, you are likely to hear college coaches talk about how they are looking for student athletes who will “buy in” to their program. While the past success of the program, the prestige of the coach, the scholarship you receive, the facilities, and the competition level are all things you will take into consideration, the most important thing for you to figure out before making your final decision is whether you can fully buy in to the baseball program and the school. It is important, therefore, to understand what coaches mean when they talk about buying in to their program.
This concept can be difficult to understand in the context of the recruiting world because so much of what is happening is about you. Everything about the recruiting process is individualistic. You are figuring out how the program best fits into your interests. The coach is talking to you on an individual level, selling you on the program, and making you feel important as a potential part of the program. Once you commit to a program, however, this all changes. It is no longer about you but about what is best for the program, and this is a challenge for some student athletes to grasp. You should feel honored to be recruited by a coach and feel proud that what you have accomplished up to this point makes you a sought after player. But once you step foot on that campus in the fall, none of your past accomplishments mean anything. Buying in to the program means you understand that the program does not revolve around you.
When I was the recruiting coordinator at Kalamazoo College, we installed a graphic on our clubhouse wall with our Core Covenants. It is the first thing you see when you enter the clubhouse, and I was sure to take every one of our recruits to that first during their visit. I wanted them to know exactly what we were looking for in potential student athletes and what our expectations were of the guys in our program. Our message was clear – if you were not a player that could buy in to these Core Covenants, you were not a good fit for our program, no matter how talented you might be on the field. I believe these Core Covenants encompass what all college coaches are looking for when they are talking about someone buying in to their program.
Integrity is about character. Integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is watching. For many student athletes, college is the first time away from home, away from parents, away from people telling them what to do and when to do it. Whether it is in your academics, in the dorms, or on the playing field, buying in to the program means being a student athlete that a college coach can trust to make good decisions.
Selfless in this context means sacrifice. It is easy to think of laying down a bunt to move up a runner into scoring position as being selfless; however, it means so much more. Are you someone who is up and cheering your teammates when things are going well, but sitting on the bench and pouting when you are struggling? Are you a guy who will take time to mentor a younger player? Will you be a guy who will put in time before and after practice to work on your game? Will you be someone that helps tutor a teammate who is struggling in a class? Are you someone that leaves the dugout without picking up or carrying anything or are you one of the first guys to grab something that needs carried? Buying in to the program means that you will be a student athlete who thinks of his teammates and the program before he thinks of himself.
Passion means enjoying what you do. It means that when you are taking part in a team activity that you are giving it everything you have. Passion means that there is nowhere else you would rather be and everyone around you knows that is true. To be passionate means to be fully devoted to the task at hand and not quitting until the job is done. Buying in to the program means that you love what you are a part of and your joy is infectious to everyone in the program.
W.I.N. stands for What’s Important Now. Baseball is a game of failure, and it is inevitable that sometimes we look back on our past mistakes. Baseball is also a game of anticipation as we focus on what is to come. The most successful players are ones who can focus solely on the job they have right in front of them, controlling what they can control, and not focusing on what just happened or worrying about what is to come. One pitch at a time, one at-bat at time, one inning at a time. Buying in to the program means that you are someone who knows how to stay in the moment.
Team first, Team last
This one is self-explanatory. Everything is about the Team. College coaches are looking for guys who are about the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back of the jersey. If you are someone who only cares about your stats or your lineup spot or your innings, than you are not a team-first guy. Buying in to the program means accepting your role, doing your job, and trusting the coaching staff and your teammates.
Compete With Relentless Energy
College coaches want gritty baseball players. Will you be able to look your teammates in the eye and tell them you gave it everything you had and that you never quit? If I’m your coach, am I going to know the score of the game by the way you are competing? Or are you playing the game the same way whether you are up 10-0 or down 10-0? Do you play the game knowing that there is no time clock and the game is not over until the other team earns that final out? Buying in to the program means that your coach trusts that you will never back down, never be intimidated, and always leave everything on the field so that no matter the result, you can go home with your head high and no regrets.
Finally, college coaches are looking for players who hold themselves to a high standard. Excellence means despising mediocrity in everything you do. Excellence means having a sense of pride in what you do, never accepting anything but your best, and holding others in the program accountable to that same standard. It means paying attention to detail. Buying in to the program means that you are willing to hold yourself to the standard of what is expected of anyone who wears that uniform.
College coaches are always looking for talented baseball players. But even more important, they are looking for players who buy in to the program. Successful college baseball programs are full of guys who fit these Core Covenants, and a less talented group that is bought in to these ideas is always more successful in the long run than a more talented group of knuckleheads. You should want to be in a place where you are held to a high standard, where the coaching staff is honest and caring, and where you know that you will be appreciated and pushed to be the best that you can be. If you can find that place, you will have a phenomenal four years and be able to look back fondly on your college career as a time of learning, growth, and bonding that you could only have experienced through college baseball.