Since age six, my daughter has been playing sports. Naturally athletic and with a strong competitive spirit, she played a variety of sports until she got to high school and began focusing on track. A varsity athlete her whole high school career, she now faces a decision – should she try to continue competing in college?
Understanding the Different Levels of College Sports
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) designates three levels of college play (Division I, II and III) that vary in terms of time commitment and eligibility requirements. To find out more about NCAA and the differences between the divisions, check the NCAA website.
Dave Galehouse, writer and director of VarsityEdge.com, says, “I caution parents to never evaluate a program simply by what division it is. Each program is unique and there are many programs throughout the country that while they might be Division 2 or Division 3, they are recruiting Division 1 type talent to their school. This is especially prevalent in New England where you have many Division 3 colleges where talented athletes are attending for the high level of academics those schools offer.”
Most colleges also offer sports at a “club” level. At some schools, club level sports are highly competitive, and there are a wide variety of sports to choose from. There are also opportunities to play sports at a recreational/inter-mural level. Recreational sports are ideal for students that just want to socialize and play for fun.
Time Commitment and Other Factors to Consider
Any athlete considering playing at the college level must be self- motivated, disciplined and passionate about their sport. The time and commitment necessary to play at a college level is very high. Students must think about whether playing sports is worth missing out on some other college experiences such as joining campus clubs, participating in Greek life, or going home to visit family on weekends and holidays.
Rick Wolff, writer, sports psychologist and host of The Sports Edge on WFAN says, “Even in the off-season, athletes will be going to the weight room three times a week. Most new college athletes aren't aware of the time commitment to being on a team, and for some kids, they have a hard time balancing academics with sports. It also means less time to socialize with classmates or do other things in college.”
Another factor to consider is that even if a student makes the college team, they may not play very much. Wolff says, “It's very hard to keep motivated to keep practicing when you're on the bench all the time - especially for those athletes who were stars in high school.”
Meeting People with a Common Goal
For athletes that are passionate about their sport, playing at a college level can be a great experience. On a college team, athletes will immediately meet other students with a comment interest. Wolff says, “A lot of freshmen actually have a difficult time making new friends on campus but with athletes, sports tend to be a universal language, and new friendships are made right away. Regardless of whether you continue to compete on a college team, those friendships are already made and usually stay for life.”
Athletes get to travel with the team and visit other campuses and places they might otherwise not have seen.
Student athletes learn valuable life skills. Galehouse (who played baseball in college) says, “Many employers seek out college athletes because they often make great employees. College athletes have learned how to balance their time, how to work with others as a team, and learned how to handle both success and failure- all traits that employers desire.”
Scholarships Are Hard to Come By
High school athletes may think their sports records will give them an advantage when applying to schools and that they may get offered scholarships to attend.
Many schools are looking for athletes for their programs and a commitment to a sport does look good on an application. But athletic scholarships are very hard to get. Division 1 colleges offer the most scholarships while Division 3 schools and club teams do not offer any scholarships.
Research Options But Be Realistic
If an athlete does think they have what it takes to play in college, they should discuss their plans with their current coach and college counselor. They can help an athlete contact coaches at colleges to determine if there is a recruiting opportunity. Students should try to set up meetings with coaches and current players on the team.
If a student is not recruited, there are walk-on opportunities at many colleges. But Galehouse cautions, “Being a walk-on isn't the easiest path to success, because you are competing not only against returning players, but also players the coaching staff recruited personally and may have extended athletic scholarship money to.”
The reality is that for many talented high school athletes, playing at a college level may not be an option. Even students that do play sports in college may not continue to play all four years, either because they decide they don’t want to or because they get cut from the team. For this reason it is important that teens choose a school that is right for them socially and academically as well as for playing sports.