As a parent, it’s only natural that you want the best for your child. But, by that same measure, a parent’s aspirations for the child might also make it difficult for them to objectively assess their child’s level of athletic talent. Throw in the uncertainty of the recruitment process, and not knowing where your child stands can add tension to an already stressful situation.

So what’s the best way to ascertain where your kid stands as a recruit? You can start by simply looking at the lineup.

Why The Starting Lineup Matters

It seems easy to point to a team’s starting lineup and decide those are the best players on the squad. While that’s a pretty good indicator, there are also lots of variables and gray areas. And, when you add in that every athlete has a different skill set, college coaches may look at a player’s position in the lineup as just one factor in their assessment of a recruit. 

But, before we get into the variables, parents should understand that seeing their athlete in the starting lineup of his or her high school team means they can get recruited. Can starting at a AA high school football program equate to starting for Alabama? Unless your child is among the top 1% of high school talent in the nation, that might be a long shot. 

A high school athlete’s position in the starting lineup does matter to college coaches, however, because it provides a coach a view of a player’s athletic progression within a fixed set of standards. How an athlete evolves from his or her freshman to senior years within that continuity matters. Coaches also consider an athlete’s progress against their competition level. That’s all a roundabout way of saying being a starter at a 6A high school will likely carry more weight with coaches than starters at a 2A program. 

One other important note to consider about a team’s starting lineup is that high school coaches want to win. Unlike college coaches, in most cases, high school coaches aren’t highly paid and don’t have unlimited resources. And 99.9% of the time, they’ll put the best players in the starting lineup to help them win. 

For the most part, a high school coach’s job is to develop their players in the time they’re allotted to help their program succeed at the high school level. While the two can overlap, in general, it’s not their job to develop a player to play in college. It’s rarely personal or political. Ultimately, a high school coach will always start the players that give a team the best chance of winning. 

The Gray Areas

While the high school sports hierarchy is black and white, assessing an athlete in the starting lineup of a club team is often a gray area. For some sports, club teams are a more competitive tier of competition. For others, club sports represent an opportunity for a parent to pay for their child’s chance to play. And that’s where being in the starting lineup may not be the clearest indicator of a player’s talent and ability.

Unlike high school sports, club sports may not always compete against comparable competition. An A team can compete against B and C squads in a tournament one weekend and then play AA teams the next. A player who starts on one team this weekend may compete on another squad the following week. Finally, most club teams compete primarily in tournaments, and that doesn’t offer the consistency of an organized season competing against comparable opponents. 

In addition, where money is involved, things can be manipulated. Youth sports are filled with stories of disgruntled parents shuffling their children from club to club in search of more playing time, or even starting their own team to feature their player. While such instances aren’t all that common, the fact that they can happen will lead college coaches to view some club sport athletes with a wary eye.

Finally, a club sport may not offer a college coach a full picture of a continuous season like an organized high school team. The same competition or lineup differences noted above simply lack the continuity that many coaches look for. A season of high school statistics carry far more weight with recruiters than all-tournament honors from a weekend club competition. 

Where Does Your Athlete Line Up?

Add it all up, and if you’re wondering where your child might rank in the eyes of a college coach, pay attention to their standing on their high school team. Granted, for some sports, club teams are the better path to competing in college, but where high school and club sports are on equal footing, college coaches will always look at where a recruit lines up in high school first. 

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