At some point, you realize college athletics is a realistic goal. Being a professional athlete might have been your dream since the first time you played T-ball, scored a goal or laced up your skates. Most players understand that the odds of being a pro are slim, yet we hold onto that dream in some fashion as long as we are playing.
Eventually, the dream of professional athlete is delayed when we think of going to college and playing your sport while you get an education (then we can go to the pros)! Surprisingly, few high school players see themselves going to college for athletics. You never know what triggers the mind to think it is a realistic goal. For one player, Greg Robins of Westford, Mass., it was a summer camp at UCLA, attended out of convenience to a family vacation, where he was first told, “You can play somewhere in college if you continue to work hard at it.” Today he is preparing for his freshman baseball season at Kenyon College in Ohio.
When you have the goal, the natural inclination is to work toward achieving it. Hence the process begins to take more shape.
Determine your talent level—where can you play?
At the NCAA, NAIA and junior college level, there are almost 2,000 colleges in the United States alone that offer college athletics. The quality of play at these schools varies dramatically and covers all classification levels, so there is a good chance that you will fit in somewhere. The question is, which level are you most suited for? Where do you stand the best chance of competing for playing time? Where can you play and also find the right academic environment?
How do you determine your talent level? A few suggestions: Compare yourself to former teammates and opponents who are now playing in college. Where are they, how are they doing and were you competitive with them?
Ask your coach to evaluate you during the summer and during school. Ask an opposing coach what he thinks.
Ask a professional scout for an opinion on your level for college sports recruitment.
Go to a college summer camp and ask for an evaluation.
If you have a private instructor, use their experience with other players to give you a comparative idea.
Attend showcases or tournaments with players from other areas to see how you match up. Ask these players what colleges they are considering.
Look for a match with your playing ability and academic level
There will be schools where you can play baseball, but the academic fit is not right. Or you might be a good academic fit, but the baseball is not right. The trick is to find the best combination. When you do find a school that seems right, find out what conference its teams play in, and add those other schools to your list.
For example you might be a match for Knox College in Illinois, but the other schools in the Midwest Conference—Beloit (WI), Lawrence University (WI), Carroll College (IA), Grinnell College (IA), Illinois College, Monmouth College (IL), Ripon College (WI) and St. Norbert College (WI) have potential. Schools in the same conference are often very similar in makeup, profile and location.
Open a dialog with the coaches
A coach can’t recruit you if he does not know about you. And if you don’t express interest in a program, coaches will look elsewhere quickly for college sports recruitment.
In The Making of a Student Athlete, we cover contacting coaches in more detail. The basics are to pick up the phone, write a letter, send an e-mail, stop by their office and attend a practice. Do something to get your name and eventually your abilities in front of the coach.
Play in front of as many coaches as possible
Few coaches will recruit you without seeing you play in person, or at the very least on film with one of two strong recommendations from trusted sources. Go ahead and call coaches and ask them what showcases they or a staff member plan on attending for college sports recruitment. If you find a common event, attend it for maximum exposure.
A few other ways to play in front of a coach are at camps, summer travel teams, state summer olympic games and showcase tournaments. The higher-level showcase and travel teams expose you to higher-level people; specifically, NCAA division I and II programs and the better division III schools.
Evaluate every school that comes into the picture
Inevitably, your quest to showcase your skills will catch the attention of coaches from schools that weren’t on your initial radar. This is a good thing. It gives you more options to choose from. Take the time to review each option, even if you are not familiar with the school. You never know what it might bring you.
Visit the schools that seem like the best match
Visits play a big part in your decision and the coach’s decision to recruit you and possibly offer you a scholarship. Visits are classified as official and unofficial. Official visits, which are rare in baseball and limited by NCAA rules, are when the school pays for your trip. Unofficial visits are paid by you, and there are no limits how many times you visit a campus. “Junior day” visits, while an official and organized event on campus, are not official visits. They are unofficial as long as you pay your way, even if you are formally invited.
Apply and commit
Eventually you will have your top choices selected, and you will need to let a coach know that they are your top choice and that you will attend if offered or admitted. If you are lucky and good enough to be offered a scholarship, it will often be during the early signing period in November of your senior year. This is where you sign a National Letter of Intent, a legal document binding you to the school for at least one full year. It also binds the school to you for one year of athletic aid.
The whole commitment process is not an exact science and it is often the most gut-wrenching time of the recruiting process. This is where you might hear an ultimatum from a coach. Something like, “We need to know now! Otherwise, we have to move on to the others on our list.”
Play ball and stay eligible!
Once you are admitted, the fun begins. The key will be adjusting to life away from home, the rigors of college academics and the increased demand that your sport places on you. Will you be able to handle it all? Hopefully, yes. The summer after high school graduation should be a time to follow the team's off-season conditioning program and play your sport as much as possible in preparation for your college debut.
By Dave Galehouse, varsityedge.com and Ray Lauenstein, athletesadvisor.com, authors of The Making of a Student Athlete: Succeeding in the College and Recruiting Process.