What College Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Want in a Student-Athlete

By Steve O’Brien – Goal: College Athlete

What do College Cross Country and Track & Field Coaches want in a Student-Athlete?

AT GCA, we have asked hundreds of College Cross Country and Track & Field Coaches this question:

Describe the qualities that your program is looking for in a potential student-athlete?

We have received a range of thoughtful and relevant responses from College Cross Country and Track & Field Coaches across Divisions I, II and III. We wanted to share some of the best answers to give young/high school cross country and track & field athletes some perspectives that they might be overlooking and motivating them to put more emphasis on these qualities to reach their goals and become a College Cross Country and/or Track & Field athlete:

Ashley Campbell – George Washington University – Assistant Coach

At George Washington University, our cross country program is in the developing phase. We have high aspirations for the program and in order to reach our goals we need to be recruiting athletes that are talented and are a good fit for GW. First off we look at the runners personal best times in different events and we see how they have progressed from when they first began running till now. We have certain time standards for those who would be eligible for athletic scholarship, however we do accept walk-ons. We believe in developing athletes so we look for those who have potential for improvement. The high school cross country and track program that the recruit is coming from is also very important to us. We like recruits who come from successful high school programs because they have experience competing at a National level and understand the importance of competing as a team. Talent is important to us but throughout the recruiting process we really try to get to know the recruit and get a sense of their character. We are looking for dedicated, hard-working, internally motivated individuals. Academics and running must be their top priority. We also want athletes who want to be a part of a program where they can have an impact and help get the program to where we expect it to be. Academics are extremely important at GW so we also make sure they have been successful on that end as well.


Kristen Morwick – Tufts University – Head Coach

The 5 things I look for (in ranking order) for athletes on my team:

1) Commitment to the sport of XC/Track & Field

2) Work Ethic

3) Intelligence

4) Team Attitude

5) Ability

A quote I have on the board above my desk is indicative of what we look for:

Sacrifice: to give up, destroy, renounce, and surrender your ego, excuses, bad habits, and fears – in the belief of an ideal or pursuit of a goal. Another motto is “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard”. This pretty much sums up what I look for in kids…I want kids who are two feet in – give 200%


Joe Connelly – Saint Michael’s College – Head Coach

Does the recruit have a passion for the sport. Those who do are athletes you can work with over time. For distance runners and XC skiers nothing leads to competitive success the same way as just getting in daily workouts over a 3-5+ year period.

Otherwise there are 4 attributes I look for; 1) Courage, 2) Talent, 3) Determination, 4) Durability. Of these, talent is the least important.


Jim Butler – Connecticut College – Head Coach

Being a coach of a sport where performance is measured by the clock, the first thing we look for is the recruit’s times over specific distances. We also evaluate their performance in big meets (conference, state and regional championships) as an indicator of their competitiveness. If the runner we are recruiting comes from a successful program, that is important too. I also inquire as to the experience a runner has in terms of years running and average and top mileage run per week, because many times kids have not yet trained near what they will be asked to do in college. Because we are a highly selective liberal arts college, the student’s academic performance is critical in our recruitment. If a prospective shows early on that they are not even close to what our school requires, we will not continue to initiate contact with them. Finally, we are looking for good people who will become good teammates.


Jim Boulanger – University of New Hampshire (UNH) – Head Coach

The qualities I am looking for in a student athlete is simple. In the sports of cross country and track and field an athlete who has a passion for his sport. One who knows that he would toil in anonymity because it is not a big publicity sport. He would need to have a tremendous work ethic, desire to excel, and have a strong competitive nature when he steps on the starting line, in the ring or on the runway. Also knowing it might just be him and a stopwatch, or tape measure.


About Steve O'Brien
Steve O'Brien is the co-creator of Goal: College Athlete (GCA). The website was built to inspire young athletes to reach their goal of playing college sports. Information includes a pro-active plan to get the attention of college coaches and also insight from college coaches on what qualities they look for in a potential recruit. Steve played College Hockey at the University of New Hampshire, graduating in 1999. Questions? Send Steve an email at [email protected]

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