The domino effect of squash recruiting

By Julian Illingworth

co-founder College squash insiders

9 time us national champion and yale 06'


When will coaches be able to tell me anything concrete about their recruiting spots?  

This is one of the most common questions we field at CSinsiders, and the resulting lack of clarity is one of the most frustrating parts of the recruiting process parents and applicants often endure.  

To understand why this issue exists, you need to look at college squash recruiting as a transaction.  All things being equal (academics, profile, personality/fit, etc), college coaches want the best squash players they can possibly get, and families in general want their kids to get into the "best" school possible as they define it.  

Coaches are put into a difficult balancing act between trying to attract players who would improve their team - that are also likely to commit to the school if given support.  Applicants like to keep their options open, and are often wary of telling schools "I'm not interested in you".  Coaches on the flip side are looking for the best recruits they might have a chance at, and thus are wary of committing to support a player that isn't in their top tier.  

What that means in practice, is that coaches wait until their top targeted recruits are off the board (have committed to other schools) before they will commit to other recruits.  This doesn't usually happen until last minute, so that last month can be very frantic as coaches and applicants jockey with each other.  We refer to this as the domino effect in recruiting, once player X is off the board, then the coach can committ to his 2nd choice, player Y.  

One thing to note is that we've found college squash coaches across the board are truthful with their applicants, and generally will not string an applicant along.  If they say explicitly that they are giving you a recruiting spot, its yours and they won't go back on that.  But to read between the lines, if they aren't telling you this, that means they may be holding out to try and get a stronger player or applicant.  

We recommend clear and direct communication with a coach.  Don't be afraid to have the "tough" conversation with them.  Ask how many players they are waiting to hear on, and where you stand squash wise in relation to the other applicants they are considering.  All parties benefit by knowing where everyone stands in the process.  

This is one of the biggest reasons why schools push early decision, because early decision brings clarity and forces the applicant to commit officially to one school (although "early action" does keep their options open).  This is true for normal applicants and recruited student-athletes, however normal applicants are often "rolling the dice" by applying early to a school where it is unclear they will gain admission.  Student-athletes have a huge advantage in this regard, as coaches can often get a pre-read (or at least an indication), and be quite confident that the applicant will get in if they apply early.  

Last thing to remember is that college squash recruiting is vastly different depending on the school.  Talk to the coaches, be direct, be truthful, and be realistic.  Coaches can offer a wealth of knowledge, and will know the specifics of how their institution works.  

The process is complicated and nuanced - we can help talk you through these issues, and act as a sounding board for you as you go through this process

Good luck!  

The secret science of squash recruiting




Put yourself in the shoes of a college squash coach. Your job is evaluated based upon the team you assemble each year. Your goal is to create a team culture that strives for excellence -on the court, in the classroom, and, perhaps most importantly, by reputation. The reputation of a college squash team is the most important piece to the pie because this is the part that will continue to breed success year in and year out and achieve credibility both among prospective students and their colleagues. In this regard, character and sportsmanship are as essential a component as talent and skill to a college coach.  

The college squash coach has a complicated and nuanced job. They must:

1) actively recruit strong high school squash players who fit into their team culture.
2) make their current team better by creating organized and structured practices, training programs, and effective in-match coaching.
3) assemble a team that is always competitive, upstanding, and fair.
4) consistently produce a team that is aligned with the mission, core values, and philosophy of the institution that they represent and thus adheres to the standards imposed by Athletics Directors, alumni supporters, current students, and current parents.

While these responsibilities are inherent in all coaching environments and are not unique exclusively to college squash coaches, in some ways, college squash coaches have it tougher than coaches in other intercollegiate sports. The stakes are high and, yet, there are fewer college squash teams and fewer recruits than in other NCAA sports. Additionally, many coaches have, "less pull," in getting students in than other sports within their institutions.

In this regard, college coaches have less margin for error in their recruiting and have to be very precise tacticians in the game of recruiting and producing a strong team annually.

This is where the, "science of recruiting" comes in to play.

With limited resources, a college coach needs to make the most accurate assessments possible in picking students who they believe fit into their school and team culture. They need to find students who will be able to balance the stress of being a student-athlete along with the motivation and ability to continue to improve throughout their college career. They need to find students who they believe will be valuable team players for four years and have the abilities to make am impact and win at the college level. They need to judge character and determine that their recruits are willing to play in a team environment, handle pressure, and want to stay with the sport for four additional years throughout the highs and lows of arduous long seasons. 

On the contrary, to many junior squash players, squash is perceived as a path and leveraging tool towards getting into a better college. For some of these students, their ambitions on the squash court ends the second that they arrive onto a college campus.

For a college coach, this, "burn out" effect presents them with their biggest threat. By selecting a student who is no longer motivated, the coach loses credibility within their institution and also squanders one of their very precious recruiting spots. Additionally, many students have reached their peak in high school. They have formulated their style of play, developed muscle memory and patterns of play that are very difficult to change, and have exhausted themselves mentally by expending countless hours towards training with a specific goal,. In this regard, many young college squash players believe that they have reached their athletic potential as players and enter college having lost their creativity and joy for playing. 

In light of this, a college squash coach is always looking for recruits who are still hungry and inspired by squash. Coaches are looking for players who they believe still have potential to improve. But, measuring potential is difficult. Potential is the intangible ingredient that isn't included in a student's ranking; potential is where a student will get to - not, where a student currently is.

College squash coaches are well versed in measuring potential. They have formulated their own unique five year plans for their high school recruits and draw from their knowledge, expertise, and experience to use their tools to predict the college squash trajectory of each prospective recruit. They have a scouting eye and are constantly looking for strands in their prospectives that they believe can be harnessed towards improvement and achievement that fits into their puzzle of success.

At CS Insiders, we have the tools to help you share your story and unleash your potential. Using data, analytics, and our own personal knowledge from coaching and playing on teams, we can help you prepare for and provide the information that coaches want to hear about your five year periodized plan towards staying motivated, improving every day, and achieving college squash success. 

Recruiting is a roller coaster

By Mark lewis

Middlebury Head Coach

Former U.S. National Team Member

Former U.S. National junior team coach

Recruiting is a roller coaster. There are ups and downs and twists and turns that all wreak havoc on everyone’s state of mind. Before you even get on the roller coaster, expectations are high and you bristle at the thought of meeting college coaches and visiting campuses. Before you know it you are headed up the incline of junior year, working hard to excel at everything. Often there are moments of feeling overwhelmed. You try to remain grateful that you get to play squash and that you love the game and that the game is a respite from the stresses of classwork and test prep. Then again, you find yourself worrying about getting enough wins on court to show your potential value to a college coach.

The student-athlete must prepare themselves for the academic rigors of high school and stay on top of their game with training and tournament play. It is all very stressful. Add to this the need to figure out where they really want to attend college and you have a recipe for psychological turmoil.

To get through this ride, there is much to consider. I suggest each student-athlete consider size, location, and strength of academics and strength of squash team for starters. As you get further into the process, I suggest talking to and meeting the coach and some team members to get a feel for the team. The best insights into the team will come from current team members talking about practices, work/study/social life balance and how team members get on with their coach.

As you sort through potential schools coaches are looking at all of the pieces (grades, test scores, on court results, match history, behavior on and off court) to find players who will fit into their team. This is no easy feat because each player will hopefully grow, mature and change during their college years. Coaches are trying to see what a recruited athlete’s future might look like and if it matches the vision the coach has for their team.

Perhaps the biggest intangible a coach looks for is the character of the recruit. How will the student athlete handle pressure? How will they deal with adversity because it will come. There will be times of real stress on every front – academic, athletic, personal. I believe that many coaches today believe as someone once said that competition does not necessarily build character, it reveals character. Coaches look for the player who can call their own double bounces, who can call strokes against themselves. Coaches look for players who respect themselves, their opponents and the game.

Towards the end of the recruiting process, the part of your brain that drives instinctual decisions based on a feeling of connection to a school will be the best source of a well-informed decision. Basically, after you have turned over every stone to create your best self, listen to your gut. Problems arise when your gut doesn’t fall in line with a recruiting spot. You want to go to school “X” but there isn’t a spot there for you. Then you have to decide if you’re going to put your eggs into the basket of your dream school or if you’re going to fish around for a recruiting spot at another school. I suggest that you push all the buttons to attend your dream school and if that does not pan out, you can reset your sights and dive into another school.

In the end, I suggest that if you are a student athlete or parent that you enjoy the process of getting to know schools and coaches. It is an opportunity for a high school player to really get to know themselves and what’s important to them. From the coach’s perspective, they are always looking for an impact player. Someone who raises the bar for the team. This can mean that the student athlete is an exceptional player and it can also mean that they bring a level of passion and enthusiasm to the team that will elevate everyone’s play. As my predecessor John Illig used to say, “swing for everything.”

Middlebury Squash Team Page