Deciding if you want to play collegiate athletics is a tough decision that boils down to more than just being a good high school athlete. It requires careful consideration not only of your skill but how much of a commitment you want to make to your sport and team. Playing in college requires dedication, time, and energy while providing community, stability, and the opportunity to play the sport you love at the next level. However, it is important to weight the pros and cons before deciding collegiate sports are right for you.
Pick the right level of play
Picking the right level of play is essential at the collegiate level. And picking the correct level isn’t all about skill level either. Obviously, not everyone is talented enough to play NCAA D1, but even those who are, may find that playing at a different level of competition is better suited for their needs.
There are many levels of collegiate athletics ranging from NAIA to community college to NCAA Division I, II, and III. All of these require different levels of commitment. How often you practice during the season, what days games can take place, how many games you can play a week, and what you will be required to do during the off season are governed by the rules sanctioned by each level of competition. Even different conferences within the same level of competition can require different commitments. It’s important to assess how big of a time commitment you want to make to sport and ask coaches at each school where you are thinking of playing what they require of their athletes before you decide to become part of the team. Making the right choice based on how much time you want to commit to a team is essential to having a good collegiate experience. It’s not always about playing at the top level that you can, but rather playing on a team with a level of commitment that you will enjoy.
Part of deciding what level you want to play at comes down to what kind of activities outside of your studies and sport are important to you, and how much free time you want to have throughout your college career. Not surprisingly, sports at any level of competition in college require a lot of time and take time away from other interests, activities, and leisure. If you are interested in joining Greek life, band, drama, or working, athletics are certainly not out of the question. However, you may find that playing sports along with committing to other activities keeps you rather busy and unable to try everything college has to offer. That can be a great thing as it provides stability and a consistent day-to-day schedule, but it can also lead to burn out. It’s important to access how much time you want to devote to each area of your college life while you consider becoming a college athlete.
Choosing the community, you want to be a part of
While deciding to join a team, community is one of the most important aspects to consider and often one of the most rewarding parts of being a college athlete. College athletics come with a built-in set of friends. Your team will be a set of peers you spend a large portion of your time with, share long bus rides with, sleep in hotels with, and perhaps remain at school with while the rest of your classmates are gone for winter break. There is a close bond that develops between college athletes. Playing sports leaves you part of a unique and small community within your college that understands not only what you are going through playing college athletics, but what you love by the nature of being an athlete.
Often friendships formed here are formed for life. But college is also an opportunity to explore, to form many new communities, to insert yourself into novel areas of life you haven’t yet experienced. Part of choosing to play sports is choosing one of the communities you want to be part of for the next four years. Before joining a team ask yourself these questions: Where do you want to form your community? Is being part of a team important to you? Athletics can be a great and easy way to build new friendships, to establish a new home base in your new world, but can also take time away from building new communities in different parts of your college life that you have yet to explore.
The impact sports have on your body
Along with considering the aspects of community, time, and skill, there is also the equally important consideration of the toll college athletics can take on your body. There is a jump in difficulty that catches up to even the most experienced of high school athletes during those first years of college play. Beyond college athletes play level, there can also be a difference in age between the athletes in freshman year versus more senior students. A freshman who is still a developing teenager can now be playing with and against a senior who is a full-fledged adult with four years of experience of playing at a high level along with countless conditioning and strength training sessions. Not only is it demanding to be a part of that world for four years, but it is also demanding and difficult to step into it from high school.
When playing sports in college, there are usually only a few off days during season and there are practices multiple times per week before and after the regular season. This isn’t a months-long commitment it’s a year-round grind that can take a toll on your body. Injuries in college sports can have a range of severity and can happen to nearly every athlete at some point in their career. The thing to consider is how much strain you will be able to handle by playing at the next level? Is your body burnt out from high school sports or do you have more that you want to give?
For the love of sports
The most important part of playing in college is perhaps the most overlooked. Playing collegiate sports should really be a question of your passion for the sport you would like to play. Do you love the game? Playing in college is less about pleasing your parents, doing what your coach asks, or following your friends. It’s about you. The key to enjoying collegiate sports is being in love with playing the game. It may sound silly, but this is a commitment that will take time and energy away from a lot of other things you could be doing at college. Your passion for the sport is essential in your decision to continue playing at the next level. It is what will make those early mornings, late nights, and weekends away from your dorm all worth it.
Playing collegiate athletics can be a very rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful, time consuming, and difficult on your body. Deciding if you want to play at the next level isn’t easy, but there are many things you can consider such as the commitment you are able to make, the community you want to be a part of, and how much you love the sport. While it takes a commitment to play sports, you can later continue to evaluate if this is the right choice for you after you have started playing in college. We wish you luck in making the right choice for your sports playing career as you transition from high school to college.
By Laura Forrest Hopfauf