College coaches are looking for players to help their team win the next national championship. High school players are looking for coaches and teams that will enable them to contribute and have a rewarding experience. How far ahead should you plan to play college sports?
No time like the present
When should you start looking for college sports scholarship opportunities? Now. No matter your age, now is the best time to plan if you hope to have a college sports scholarship in your future.
Getting a college sports scholarship for any athlete is a challenging accomplishment. You must have that mix of talent, character, decent grades and test scores to be worthy of a college coach’s time to recruit you.
Know your options
The NCAA (ncaa.org) reports that there are nearly 400,000 college athletes. Add to that the many NAIA schools (naia.org) that offer some scholarships and some of America’s community colleges. Check out the National Junior College Athletic Association (njcaa.org). Some community colleges with programs aren’t listed under the NJCAA, so search by state. In some states, community colleges do offer athletically based financial aid.
Earning a sports scholarship usually begins when someone is young, shows talent and becomes dedicated to a sport. It is something that happens on a court, in a pool or on a field and must be coupled with classroom accomplishment.
In general, top athletes who get the Division I scholarships are noticed as early as eighth grade. Verbal commitments are a possibility at any age, and scholarship offers go out to high schoolers. Final letters of intent are signed senior year.
Your next steps
Visit college Web sites, or search for schools at nextSTEPmag.com/Match. Make a list of 25 or more colleges you’d consider.
Keep an open mind about America’s many colleges. Look into the not-so-obvious choices, such as small colleges and out-of-state colleges.
Visit ncaa.org. Click on “about us,” then “membership” to find the list of schools sorted by sport. This will allow you to do a search by sport and division.
Markisha Lea, former USC full scholarship women’s basketball player, says: “I was recruited by many colleges but I still had a chance to consider where I really wanted to go—I didn’t just react to the coaches who called me. Make the recruiting process your own.”
Reach out to the college coaches at the schools you’re interested in to learn about their summer camps and scholarship opportunities. Assume that 98 percent of college coaches in America haven’t heard of you. Change that!
Chris Hayes, former linebacker of the Green Bay Packers and a former Washington State University scholarship football player, says, “Being a college athlete is a mindset that begins before you ever step onto a college campus. You must be willing to work hard and outwork the people around you to stand out. Skill, plus being in the right place at the right time because you put yourself there, will get you to the next level.”
Create a profile on a free site like prepchamps.com or trupreps.com. Then let college coaches know where they can find your profile.
When you have some varsity-level footage of yourself in action—or have competitive times for swimming, track or field events—let the coach know about your performances. As a general rule, highlight tapes aren’t absolutely necessary. You could send several quarters of different football games where you played well. Putting two of your best basketball or soccer halves together works, too.
Once you get a solid video together, you can post clips online. But coaches are going to want more than just a couple highlights to get a solid sense of your talent level.
Freshmen: Explore colleges and work hard to contribute to your team. Learn academic requirements and get a solid start on your grades.
Sophomores: Begin reaching out now. Seek summer college camp opportunities. Contact a few coaches.
Juniors: Make direct contact with several coaches and follow up with them often. Video footage must go out this year. Register for the NCAA Eligibility Center at ncaaclearinghouse.net.
Seniors: Cultivate relationships you’ve started with college coaches. Promptly send new and compelling video footage of your moves to earn new scholarship opportunities.
Laura Mitchell is CEO of Sports Dreammakers (athleticinspiration.com) and the author of the Map of Your Future and the Map of Your Future Workbook, Making the Squad, and the Smart and Savvy Parents’ Guide to Helping Your Teen Reach Their Athletic Dreams. Mitchell is a college sports counselor at several high schools in the Los Angeles area.