USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
“Get good grades.” What sounds like just good old grandmotherly advice has never been more true or more critical for student-athletes. Really, it’s no joke. Coaches will tell you, “A good forty time will get you a look, but good grades will get you in.” Academics play a huge factor not only in recruiting and admissions but also in financial aid and scholarship awards.
While many student-athletes understand the importance of their GPA, they often need more help beyond hearing “go to class, pay attention, and do your homework” to succeed. Like everything else, academics become easier and a little less stressful when there’s a plan in place. The following tips will help your athlete maximize their classroom performance.
We’re going to start by making sure your athlete is taking the right classes.
NCAA Core Courses
In order to compete in DI sports, the NCAA has a 16 core-course requirement. Simply put, that means your son or daughter will need at least four years of high school English, math, science, and social science. The NCAA will look at their core-course GPA to determine their academic eligibility. So, those As in art appreciation, typing, and physical education won’t help your student-athlete very much in the eyes of the NCAA. As early as their freshman year, make sure to work with their counselor so they have course schedules that will get them where they need to be as a student-athlete.
READ MORE: What’s the minimum GPA for a D1 scholarship
The ACT and SAT are not just ‘one and done’
Standardized test scores (ACT and SAT) are still a big part of the admissions process for many schools. The good news is, if you plan accordingly, you can take the SAT as many times as you want and the ACT up to 12 times. The NCAA uses the best scores from each section of the ACT and/or SAT to create your final score, so taking the tests multiple times is to your advantage.
Just know that taking it more than three times is not likely to help you.
Any standardized testing prep available from your school or online will be a big help. And remember: The day before the test, your athlete will get more from a good night’s sleep than studying all night for the ACT or SAT. In fact, they should take a study break the night before and eat a good breakfast in the morning. Staying hydrated can actually help boost test performance, too.
Write it down, stay organized, create space
Studies show writing things down improves your memory. So, plain old pen and paper can do a lot for your student-athlete’s studies. And it can do a lot for helping them stay organized, too. Have a big assignment and a due date? Write it down. Do they have an upcoming quiz? Write it down.
Student-athletes who have a lot on their plate need to keep some kind of written planner to stay on top of their studies. This will allow them to better remember things and create the proper space to dedicate time to study and homework. Creating space is also a good idea in the home. If possible, there should be a place where they can routinely hunker down with limited distractions to get the work done. Have them always start with their toughest classwork first, and then move to the easier assignments.
Don’t settle for the minimum
There’s an old saying, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Grades should be just as important to your child as their athletic performance; they should want to achieve their personal best. Just getting the minimum is almost always not enough to get into schools on your child’s target list. You’ll find most colleges and universities have much higher academic standards than the NCAA minimum. The goal here is not total perfection but improvement.
Any increase in GPA is going to help expand their recruiting opportunities.
Follow your own path, not your teammates
Student-athletes spend a lot of time with teammates in class, at practice, and traveling to games and competitions. In many ways, a team is its own small, tight-knit community. There are many teams that set the right tone and balance of sports and school. There are others, however, where teammates may have a more a casual attitude toward academics. It’s often fueled by the belief that if you’re good enough, a college coach will just get you into the school.
In these situations, any extra time spent studying or staying after class to get help becomes that much more difficult because of the social pressures involved. Of course, your athlete shouldn’t let the wrong ideas of others prevent them from doing what’s right for their recruiting journey, but often that’s a tough lesson for teenagers. You can remind them a big part of recruiting is staying focused on your goal. Shut out the noise and do you what you have to do.
Lastly, don’t cheat on sleep
A lot of late nights can lead to lower grades. Virtually all the key measures from athletic performance, to GPA, test scores, and mental toughness can be improved not with more work but with more sleep. Getting organized, keeping their day productive, and creating a routine with a set time for lights out (that means phones, too) can only help improve their academics.