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Want to play college sports? Be proactive

Last modified: 9/27/2015 1:11:02 AM
Q. What do parents and high school students need to know if the child wants to play sports in college? My son is starting his sophomore year, and he’s a three-sport athlete, with two strong sports. He would probably play Division 3 soccer or tennis at best. Do we contact recruiters or coaches, or do we hope and pray they will contact us?

K. Pratt

A. The fuzzy yellow ball is traveling faster than I would like toward the far side of the court, and I have a decision to make. As I assess the situation, I either acknowledge my limitations or I take a risk and commit, realizing the chances of a return are slim. Unafraid of a challenge, I leap with my racket toward the foul line, swinging awkwardly. Today, the odds are somewhat in my favor and as my body grinds to a stop on the hard, green court, the ball returns to the far side of the net. The point is mine and so are the scrapes and bruises to remind me of my gamble.

Though I was a more regular tennis player as a boy, my game is now limited to once a year when I gather with colleagues at a professional conference each summer. In this case, I am playing doubles with the deans of admission from Providence College, Connecticut College and Southern Methodist University. I am clearly the weakest link. My students will be pleased to know that their admission applications are not being evaluated based on the athletic skills of their college counselor. For student athletes, however, their candidacy can be tied to their ability to impact a college’s sports program.

As with my annual attempt to relive my youth, athletic recruiting involves some risk taking, humility and sometimes scrapes and bruises. It also requires a realistic perspective on one’s skills, level of play and willingness to dedicate substantial amounts of time to development and competition in one’s sport.

The Derryfield School’s head boys’ lacrosse coach and coordinator for college athletic recruiting is Chris Hettler. He is also the head goalie coach for the New Hampshire Tomahawks elite lacrosse program. He has counseled numerous Division I, II and III college athletes. These are his observations of the process:

“The trend and reality in college recruiting for high school athletes is that the recruitment process is happening earlier and earlier. Many D1 programs in sports across the board are recruiting as early as freshman year and some D2 and D3 programs are as well. Many more D2 and D3 programs still wait until the summer and fall of senior year. Depending on the level you wish to play, your college search process could start as soon as your freshman year. Many parents and athletes are overwhelmed and stressed by this process. The key to surviving is being proactive and organized in your approach.”

Like with tennis, in athletic recruiting one cannot stand still and wait for the ball to come to them. If a student has excelled in one or two sports and is interested in college-level play, then it is important to consult with high school and club coaches to determine the appropriate division the athlete should be targeting. Next students must be intentional about contacting college coaches to get on their radar. As Hettler explains, “There are literally thousands of other kids just like you who want to play in college. You should treat this process much like you would a job interview. You need to sell your best self to coaches at schools in which you are interested.”

How does this work? Visit a college’s athletic website and fill out prospective student athlete forms, email and call college coaches and participate in camps, clinics and showcases to gain exposure. Be prepared to send coaches a current academic transcript, an athletic profile and video footage from games. Most important, visit colleges and get a sense for the academic fit and campus/community feel will help inform the recruiting and search process. Apply the broken leg test. Is this a college that is appealing and engaging even if athletic participation is not possible?

The short answer to our reader’s question is that a proactive and intentional approach to athletic recruiting in necessary.

In many sports, this requires thoughtful planning from the beginning of high school to ensure that students have taken the appropriate course program, standardized tests and approach to athletic participation to position themselves to be attractive to college coaches and admission offices. Still want to know more? The New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation produces a Student Athlete Guide and organizes free workshops for student athletes and their families.

As I peel myself off the tennis court, I am aware of my college admission colleagues staring at me, likely thinking the same thing I am.

There is a good reason why I played club rugby in college and did not attempt tennis or any other varsity sport. I wipe the blood off my elbow and smile. I’m just happy that I finally won a point.

(Brennan Barnard lives in Hopkinton and is the director of college counseling at the Derryfield School, an independent, college preparatory day school for students in grades 6-12. He has been working as a counselor and admission officer for two decades and has helped hundreds of families navigate the college process. Send questions about admission, financial aid and college to jvanpelt@cmonitor.com, with the subject heading “College Guy.”)


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