There was a very interesting article earlier this year from New York Times writer Nathanial Popper titled “Committing to Play for a College, Then Starting 9th Grade” discussing how early young athletes are committing to colleges and university, even as early as middle school. This situation is causing some anxiety for the young athletes, their parents and even college coaches. Do I think this is right? No. Do I think the NCAA should do more to prevent the recruiting of athletes at the middle school and early high school age? Yes. But that is is a a conversation for another day. Today, I want to discuss the pressure and anxiety a young athlete (and their parents) might be feeling due to these circumstances and provide insight to relieve some of this stress.
A lot of different dynamics start coming into play during the recruiting process including:
- College Coaches start showing up to games/tournaments
- Coaches start talking to players
- Young athletes start taking “unofficial visits”
- Parents start talking (or gossiping) that if you don’t commit early you will “miss out” on scholarship or financial aid options
- A couple players you play with (or at the same level you are) commit to a school
- Coaches make you an offer – maybe put an expiration date on that offer
At this point I can definitely see how an athlete can feel some pressure. We are all human but in my mind the ONLY reason an athlete should commit before their junior year of high school (and I think this is still too early) is if the athlete got a great offer (basically a full ride) from their DREAM school. This will be a very few number of athletes because how many junior high or freshman and sophomores in high school know 100% where they want to go to college? Not many.
The point of this article is to tell young athletes and parents WHY this situation should not cause as much anxiety and stress as it seems to be causing:
BECAUSE TALENT & PERFORMANCE SUPERSEDE EVERYTHING. YOU WILL PLAY AT THE LEVEL YOU DESERVE TO PLAY AT REGARDLESS OF WHEN YOU MAKE A DECISION (with the assumption your grades/test scores are where they need to be).
Do you have to stay in touch with coaches and present yourself in a positive way? Yes. Should you continue to reach out to coaches and try to get more school interested in you? Yes. Should you worry that if you turn down an offer from a university when you are a freshman or sophomore in high school that you will never get it back or receive another offer that is similar? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Winning and being competitive is important to every college coach regardless of Division. Do many coaches enjoy developing young men and woman students-athletes to succeed in the real world and life after college? Of course. But every college coach has to build a competitive team and most coaches are trying to build one that wins in the regular season as well as at the conference, regional & national levels. Do you know the best way to start building that team? Finding the best players available year in and year out. Do you think if they have knowledge of a player who can help their team be better they are not going to do every thing in their power to try and recruit that player? NO WAY! How do you think schools pickup transfer student-athletes whose programs/teams were terminated.
College coaches will find a way to make that student-athlete a legitimate offer. You might be thinking to yourself how are they going to do that if all the scholarship money is already allocated? There are numerous ways:
- Coaches could work with their financial aid office to make sure the student-athlete get’s a good deal financially your freshman year. Their are grants, loans & different approaches to financing tuition which could make this happen. This gives the coach one year to re-organize the scholarship money so the student-athlete receives some the remaining years.
- The coach could tell another recruit who is expected to be a freshman the same year as the student-athlete to wait and spend another year at a prep school, club or junior team before coming to college
- Not all freshman recruits stay all 4 years: All college athletic teams have players transfer, quit the team, drop-out, flunk out, get thrown out or even turn pro early. This can lead to spots and money being opened up.
In short: If they want YOU, they will find a WAY
I write this to young athletes and their parents for a few reasons:
- To relieve some stress and anxiety relating to the recruiting process
- To help young athletes put more focus on becoming a better athlete and less about the recruiting process
- To empower athletes and parents that they have some control of this process and not allow coaches to pressure you into decision you are not comfortable making
- To not get caught up in all the “gossip” about “having to commit early or risk missing out” that other players, parents and even high school/club coaches might be spewing
Young athletes should maintain focus on becoming a better student and athlete as well having a pro-active plan when contacting school and programs. They shouldn’t waste their time and energy worrying about what other athletes are doing or whether they will “miss out” if they don’t accept an offer early…………if the athlete is GOOD ENOUGH the offers will take care of themselves.