The Suzy Merchant Test

MSU Women's Basketball Coach - Suzy Merchant

I am stealing the following story from a blog post written by Scott Westerman, Michigan State University’s Associate  Vice president for Alumni Relations and Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association.  Click here to read the original article.

Every high school and youth athlete should read, understand and live the concepts described below.  It is amazing how simple (and telling) these characteristics are but how hard it is for some players to grasp their importance.

The Suzy Merchant Test

The three characteristics Suzy looks for in a basketball recruit are these:

Work Ethic

The NCAA only allows coaches to have a brief glimpse into the faces of the kids they hope to attract to an athletic program. Suzy would tell you that you can dig into the statistics all day long, but it’s really all about the person behind the numbers. And since her time watching a potential recruit is very limited, she’s developed a test that quickly gives her a handle on all three of these key dimensions.

What does the kid do during the warm ups? – How you practice says a lot about how you’ll play.

How do you behave when you’re sitting on the bench? –  You may be a star in high school, but it’s likely you’ll ride the pine during your early years in the big time. Are you attentive and engaged? Does your energy when you’re not a in the spotlight inspire others who are?

Do you cheer for your teammates? – Unfortunately, more and more of our elite athletes focus beyond the lessons that can be learned in college and have an eye on the pros from the moment they sign a letter of intent. It sometimes becomes a “me” thing. If you want to make the cut on Suzy’s team, it had better be all about “us”.

How do you behave when the game is a blow out? – If you’re way ahead, are you still giving it the best you’ve got? And if you’re way behind, are you still playing to win, even when winning seems impossible?

Do you look your coach in the eye? – Paying attention to someone who is there to help you is key, even when you’re hurting or angry. Eye to eye is also the ultimate lie detector.

What happens after the game when you come out of the locker room? – Suzy recounted her final visit to watch a highly touted recruit play a big game. The Coach travels incognito to these things. The kid’s don’t know she’s there. She watches for all of the traits listed above and computes the score. But the ultimate question is where your true priorities lie. On this particular evening, the recruit’s team pulled off a come from behind win. The fans were ecstatic and so were her parents, who were in attendance. Suzy quietly followed them down to the locker room area. When the young superstar came out, her father was beaming with pride, “You were terrific! We are so proud of you,” he said.

“Give me the car keys. I want to go over to Amanda’s,” was her response.


Whatever your aspirations, you will eventually be faced with the Suzy Merchant Test.

  • How well have you prepared?
  • Do you use your time on the bench as the learning experience it is supposed to be?
  • How do you interact with those around you, especially your so-called subordinates?
  • Are you magnanimous in victory and humble in defeat? Do you stay focused when you’re out in front? Do you learn from your mistakes?
  • Do you pay attention to feedback?
  • Are you honest and ethical?
  • And where are your priorities? What are the most important things in your life?

Whatever your game, there will come a time when you’re no longer the star. How you have treated everyone you meet along the way will determine whether you continue to prosper or crash and burn. Because, in the end, the game we’re all playing is the game of life. How you perform the smallest tasks says a lot about how well you’ll do when it’s your turn to lead the field.

Suzy Merchant’s team won the Big Ten Championship outright in 2011. She was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Ask anyone on the team about this achievement and they will say, we did it together. This last point is really what it’s all about.



About rheadmore

I spend my working day at a great higher education institution by the name of Michigan State University. I try to spend a majority of my free time coaching youth sports, baseball and basketball are my favorites. This blog is dedicated to enhancing youth coaching and helping youth become successful and well contributing members of society. This philosophy was passed on to me by my father who always stressed leaving something better then the way you found it. I have been trying to live by those words for most of my adult life. Thanks for checking out my blog.
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