Five major differences between high school and college sports

Five major differences between high school and college sports

NCSA Recruiting

Five major differences between high school and college sports


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.

We take a lot of leaps in life—the transition from high school to college is unquestionably a big one. Add athletics into the mix and that’s a lot of change for an 18-year-old. What most recruits fail to realize before they get to college, they are going from one of the best high school athletes in their area to hopefully good enough to get playing time on their college team.

To help your student-athlete prepare for what’s to come, we asked Kristin Heidloff, current NCSA Head Recruiting Coach and a former Division I college-athlete at Georgetown University, to break down the biggest differences between high school and college sports. Here’s what she had to say:

Training is much more intense

I remember visiting my high school to watch a basketball game during my freshman year of college and I was shocked. The level of play was so slow. Had I really gotten that much stronger in just a few months? But it was true. When you’re a freshman in college, you’re training on the same program as 21 and 22-year-olds and they push you. Every practice is like an All-Star game. It’s extremely rare for a freshman to be the best player on the team.

Everyone is talented

There’s a whole new dimension added to practice when you’re in college. Every player on the team is good, meaning your spot be taken at any point. Think about it from the coach’s point of view—this is a business for them and if you’re not performing, they’ll replace you. It’s not like high school where your coach is also your science teacher. This is their career and everything is much more competitive.

Your team is everything

One year I spent Thanksgiving with my team and made a turkey at my coach’s house, and then got on a plane the next morning to go to a game. I lived with my teammates, had classes with them, and traveled with them. We did everything together. They became my best friends, my sisters, my family.

Free time is limited

The longest winter break I ever had was 5 days. I flew home on December 22ndand then flew back for a game on the 26th. You always hear that being a college-athlete is a full-time job, but I really think being a Division I athlete is harder than a full-time job. If you have class in the morning, followed by practice, rehab in the training room and then studying, you’re looking at an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. day. That’s why time management is crucial. Your parents are there to guide you in high school, but in college you quickly learn how to manage your responsibilities.

Your coach is more involved in your academics

We practiced every day from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it was rare for someone to have class during that time. Your college coach wants to know schedules so they can maximize their training programs. In season, we would take one less class to lighten our course load, which made summer school mandatory. We also had to participate in two to four hours of study hall each week. Some coaches receive bonuses based on how their team performs academically so they take it pretty seriously.

Remember that the Division I experience like Kristin’s is the top end of college sports. Other levels, such as Division II, Division III and NAIA, are less demanding and allow for more personal time. It’s important to understand which fit is right for your student-athlete academically, athletically and socially. Setting expectations at the beginning of the recruiting process will help your student find the best program for them and make the transition from high school to college sports stress-free.


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