Reality of College Sports Scholarships
Perhaps no area of youth sports has changed more in the last 25 years than the pursuit of college sports scholarships. Along with the travel ball movement and the money involved to play youth sports, striving to get one of the coveted college sports scholarships have turned the youth sports environment into a dog eat dog one for many.
Of course, the analysis of all that is a story for another day and one that I address in my coming book, Creating a Season to Remember. As far as the college sports scholarships go, the competition for them is intense and the old way thinking that the better players will automatically get them is not always accurate. The philosophy of “if he or she can play, they will find them” can leave a qualified athlete with few options. Another mistake many people make is relying on a player’s high school coach to find them a college opportunity. A few high school coaches may do that but most do not have the time or desire. However, it never hurts to mention to the varsity coach and discuss at some point that their son or daughter is interested in playing at the next level. They may help or at least suggest colleges and things to do in the process.
I used to just shake my head in disbelief when parents of junior high aged players would mention that their child was hoping to get a scholarship to play in college. I have come to realize that the times have changed and there is no such thing, within reason, as beginning the process early enough. It is becoming more common for the highest profile players to receive a scholarship offer before reaching high school. The days of waiting until players are juniors or seniors to search for a college opportunity are over. That waiting may be too late as it makes getting recognized more unlikely and limits the school possibilities.
Much effort goes into who gets the relatively few scholarships and an early plan is necessary for those interested. Even before players reach the high school level, parents can do some initial things. Each subsequent year they can add to the process, so their child has the best chance to compete with all the other seekers. Many parents pay a lot of money to college scholarship services for things they can do on their own. When money is not an issue it is OK, but the paid for services may or may not work as intended. Of course, players still must have the ability to play at the next level and many who sign up for those services simply do not.
Following are the necessary steps to help an athlete get the college sports opportunity.
Pre-high school tips for college sports scholarships attainment
- Be realistic. The process, of dealing in reality, is twofold. First, everyone, players, parents and coaches must understand the odds are against most athletes from getting one in the first place. Two, wanting to play college ball and having the ability are two different things. Being a very good player in high school may not be good enough because the size and skill level in college is a big jump from high school.
- Have hope but don’t yell it. With the above in mind, it’s OK for parents of very talented athletes to desire a college sports scholarship for their child at a young age. However, they should keep that thought to themselves. Putting those expectations and ideas in kids’ minds is unfair. Athletes have enough to worry about just playing sports and working on their schoolwork. Additionally, bragging parents is a turn off to others and suggests parents who are pushy and expect too much.
- Think grades early. I have known many athletes who only begin to think about their grade point average after a year or two of high school. It is difficult to overcome average to poor grades after a slow start. The GPA is a big factor for getting schools interested in the first place for all but the very top athletes. All things being equal, college coaches will opt for the better student when deciding who to award money to. A high-grade point average and college entrance test scores, ACT or SAT, can open doors and increase chances, especially at the high-end academic colleges. Parents should help kids who need help with their schoolwork from a young age, so they are comfortable with things once in high school. When money is a family issue, spending less on sports play and more to help kids in the classroom will be a worthwhile thing down the road.
- Have the player talk to a school counselor early in high school. Many a student athlete gets blindsided down the road from being unaware of the NCAA rules and regulations. There are times when college coaches can communicate with players and it is crucial to be aware of all the do’s and do not’s. Knowing how and when to register for eligibility with the NCAA clearinghouse is crucial, too.
- Remind son or daughter to always be coachable. At some point, their high school and travel ball coach will be asked about the player and they can be a big ally. A college coach’s first call about a player will be to their high school coach and a bad review about a players character will hurt their chance at one of their college sports scholarships.
- Be open to all college levels. It is difficult to know exactly where a player’s ability fits even if they are college material. Overestimating the level a kid is capable of playing is a common mistake. People should begin by scouting out schools of all levels from Division one, two and three, along with junior college and NAIA options. Over time, things will settle at the level a player fits best, but that is difficult to know until maybe their senior year of high school. Many a career ended because a player got in over their head when they could have continued playing if they were at the correct level for their ability and potential.
- Think of areas of study interest. It may be difficult for college interested students to know what they might want to study in college but even a general idea can help them find the right academic fit. Most colleges have areas they excel at and players should look into those when just starting to look for colleges to attend, whether sure of wanting to play in college or not. For example, when kids have a leaning towards teaching, they should seek colleges that excel in that department.
- Look for colleges that fit every aspect of a player’s life from the social, academic, and location. Looking at schools far from home may not be a good thing for some kids whereas, for others, it may be fine or even advantageous. Figuring out the size of a school and academic status is important, so students are not overwhelmed with either after arriving.
- Look at the cost. Rarely, do athletes get a full ride which covers all their fees, even for the best athletes. Most sports give a portion of the total costs, so parents must consider the situation. Strapping anyone with a good deal of debt from student loans is troublesome, too.
- List at least five good fit colleges according to the above criteria at each level of play beginning in freshman or sophomore year. This list can easily change but it is a good starting point.
College sports scholarships take time
- Don’t’ go hog wild with having son or daughter attend college showcase exposure events but attending a few can benefit them. It only takes one coach to like a player and the showcase may give everyone an idea of how one stands in comparison to the top talent.
- Talk to the player’s coaches. Most high school and travel ball coaches have a good idea of a player’s talent and potential. They should give parents an idea of what level the player may fit and what college sports scholarships may be possible.
- Network – It never hurts to talk to friends, colleagues and team parents. Often, a tip from someone can lead to a college opportunity.
- Research coaches and programs and ask questions. It is important to remember that you want the best fit for your son or daughter, so do not just jump at any coach who is interested and assume it is a good match.
- Send an initial letter to the coach. This letter from the athlete should introduce them self, their sports accomplishments so far, and their interest in the institution. There is no need to go overboard with their accomplishments but just enough to get their name on a schools radar. A handwritten letter from the player may work better than an email one with an older coach. For the most part, coaches want to deal with the athlete and not the parent, so parents should stay behind the scenes at the start.
Other necessary college sports scholarship steps
- Have some video and a small resume to be ready to send off. Most coaches will have that as the next step as the chances of them seeing all the top talent personally is small at the start.
- Follow up with the follow ups. Most coaches will respond with something, and based on their response, students can decide if the school is worth pursuing. It is common to receive a letter inviting them to an offseason camp of their sport at the school. Players should not get over excited about these invitations because almost everyone gets one. It is important to follow up with everyone who shows any interest as one never knows where it could lead.
- Recheck with school counselors each year of high school. It is necessary to be sure all the correct steps are being taken, so no rule violations occur, especially when campus visits begin.
- Visit on own, when possible. When an offer is made, it is not a bad idea to check out a game and a practice or two without the coach’s knowledge. How coaches are and things are run may be different than expected from just talking with coaches.
- Be patient. Except for the most talented of players, the scholarship process takes time for many reasons. Many coaches do not want to commit too early. Also, a college team’s needs may change after the season and after committed players change their minds, which may open or close a possibility.
There is usually a fit for talented kids that are determined to play college ball, even if it means trying out for the college team. An athlete’s ability usually shows up and college coaches will recognize it.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.