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How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes as AJ Barker

Junior walk-on AJ Barker, the Minnesota Gophers’ leading receiver, abruptly quit the team this past Sunday, November 18th. His reason for leaving stemmed from a dispute between Barker, head coach Jerry Kill, and the athletic training staff. Barker injured his ankle October 27th while scoring a touchdown vs. Purdue.

The trainers and coaches felt that had Barker followed their instructions he would have recovered from his injury by now and returned to the lineup. Barker feels that the training staff didn’t have his best interests at heart. Barker also claims that Kill has been publicly berating him while privately kissing up to him and telling him how important he was to the team.

Any way you look at it, this situation stinks for both Barker and the University of Minnesota: Barker doesn’t have a team to play for and only has one year of eligibility left. The best case scenario for Minnesota is they lost their best receiver; the worst case scenario is they may lose some recruits due to the bad press.

Lesson 1: The Relationship With Your Potential Coach Can Make or Break Your College Experience

This is exactly why we say you need to spend your time developing your relationships with coaches throughout the recruiting process. If it turns out that you and your coach don’t get along then your college athletic experience can take a serious turn for the worse.

You can get to know potential coaches by talking to them as much as possible while you are still in high school. You can also try to contact some current team members to ask them about the team and coach. Sometimes you can get a better idea of a coach’s personality and style by hearing from the kids who already play under him than you can from only talking directly to him.

Lesson 2: Social Media and the Internet Are Not the Best Places to Vent Your Problems

Barker took to Twitter and Tumblr to explain his position. And what was the result? A 4,000 word rant explaining why he quit. Whether his position is right or not, these types of things can snowball out of control once the internet gets involved. By discussing things publicly, Barker is bringing the media and fans into this mess. Other coaches at schools may hesitate to recruit Barker because they may think he has too much baggage for what he brings to the table; after all, we all know the internet and social media has caused prospects to lose opportunities in the past.

Lesson 3: In most cases you should follow your trainer’s advice

Barker claimed that the trainers didn’t have his body’s best interest at heart, but in his letter he explicitly states that he didn’t always ice his ankle because he didn’t like how stiff it felt after icing it. That sounds like pretty standard advice from a trainer. If you aren’t going to follow their directions, make sure you have a completely clear line of dialogue with them and the coaching staff about why you are uncomfortable following their instructions.

Lesson 4: Barker Has More Power to Transfer Because He is a Walk-on

Barker can simply say that he wants to transfer because he is a walk-on. Barker does not need a signed release to talk to other coaches. He can start talking to them about transferring immediately (now that he’s off the team). On top of that, he can transfer anywhere he wants and not have to sit for a year, which means he could go to a rival school and play against Minnesota next year.

If you signed a scholarship you will need to get a release from the athletic department just to talk to other coaches. They can also restrict what schools you are allowed to transfer to, and they usually don’t allow you to go within the same conference.

Lesson 5: Don’t Quote Your Mother’s Best Friend

Barker tells Kill in his open letter what his mother’s best friend thinks about the coach:

He’s an ego-maniacal, self-centered, narcissistic jerk who appears to care about no one but himself, and certainly not AJ’s health. And AJ just happens to be his best player, who he obviously will sacrifice at the drop of a hat

Even if Barker is right in this whole situation, bringing up name calling from his mom’s best friend just looks childish. If you want coaches to take you seriously then you need to act like an adult. Barker doesn’t sound like an adult when he is talking about his mom’s best friend in his letter. Hopefully for Barker coaches won’t avoid recruiting him because of this, but coaches look maturity in the athletes they recruit, and childish behavior like this brings up some serious red flags.

Did AJ Barker react the right way, or is Coach Kill and his staff in the right? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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