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.
There’s no doubt that the life of high school athlete can be hectic. Year-round schedules for some can make the valuable life experience of a part-time job nearly impossible. And parents often fill the role of personal assistant, making sure their athlete is up in time, travel from practice and games is handled, appointments are made, and permission slips are signed and handed in. Unfortunately, all the help that goes into making an athlete’s life a little easier may be making things a little tougher as they begin to enter adulthood.
As they will soon discover, recruiting brings with it a whole new set of duties and responsibilities and some student-athletes will be in for a bit of a rude awakening as they begin to compete for college roster openings.
While much of this new responsibility falls on the student-athlete, parents and families can play a huge role by properly equipping their son or daughter with the basic life skills to make recruiting success possible. Even if they decide not to play sports in college, here are just a few of those basic skills your athlete should be comfortable doing on their own as they prepare for college and beyond.
1. Managing time
For many student-athletes, classes, homework, practices and games add up to more than a full-time job. With little downtime, it’s crucial to plan each day wisely. In college, there’s no family around to depend on, so it’s on the student-athlete to organize their obligations in a planner and to start learning how to prioritize tasks based on level of importance.
The recruiting process is a perfect time to coach your student-athlete to manage their time well. There are plenty of tasks related to recruiting—researching schools, email and calling coaches, etc.—they require good time management or they simply won’t get done. Self-sufficiency is going to be a make-or-break skill.
For more insight, check out these nine time management tips from a DI athlete.
2. Handling money
Your student-athlete may earn a full or partial scholarship, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have other financial obligations. College is an expensive investment and the choice of where to go and how to pay for it is a family decision. It’s important they understand the concept of money as a tangible thing instead of an abstract idea. Incoming college freshmen should also know how to build a budget and stick to it. Discuss the concept of managing money with your student-athlete while they are in high school along with simple ways to save–even at the grocery store, to avoid creating bad spending habits.
Insider Tip: Encourage your student-athlete to open up a credit card before college. That way, under your guidance, they will already be familiar with the responsibility and have the benefit of building credit early.
3. Organizing important documents
No one tells you about all the paperwork that’s involved with being an adult. Credit card and loan statements, tax and medical documents, financial aid forms—it’s a lot to keep straight. Your student-athlete probably hasn’t needed a system for keeping track of important, so they might not understand the time-savings significance of having crucial information organized and readily available. They don’t need a whole filing cabinet; an accordion folder and/or a folder on your personal computer desktop will work just fine. Your student-athlete should start with organizing important high school documents, such as copies of physicals, student ID numbers and passwords, award certificates, letters of recommendation, and copies of SAT/ACT scores.
4. Writing a professional email
Your student-athlete should have the upper hand when it comes to writing professional emails. Hopefully, they will be communicating with college coaches regularly during the recruiting process. But at the college level, there are more people to communicate with: professors, landlords, advisers, financial aid officers, etc. If the family has been handling most of their student-athlete’s professional correspondence, they might be lost when they only have themselves to rely on.
5. Getting around
Being transportation-savvy will save student-athletes a lot of time and prevent many headaches. Although their travel to games will be taken care of, a college student should be able to read a map and independently use public transportation. If they are driving on campus, they should know how to properly service their vehicle. You might consider having your student-athlete go on one of their unofficial visits alone if the campus is nearby. This will test their ability to navigate unfamiliar areas as well as setting appointments and managing their time.
6. Collaborating with others
Student-athletes, especially if they play team sports, already appreciate the significance of collaboration. Being on a team drills into you the concept of working together toward a singular goal. But as they move closer to college, they will have to adapt to a new team with new coaches and classmates they don’t know. Being flexible and open-minded will be the key to success at the next level. Encourage your student-athlete to join groups outside of the sports realm in high school. Not only will this give them experience collaborating with different types of people, diversity of interests and activities looks great to potential colleges.
7. Carrying on a conversation
The amount of new people you come into contact with in college is exponentially higher than in high school, and it can be a shock to many freshmen. Making a good impression in person can open up opportunities for your student-athlete down the road. Some of the fundamental traits of a good conversation include making eye contact when speaking, and knowing when to talk versus when to listen.
Make sure that your student-athlete takes the front seat when communicating with college coaches as early as possible during the recruiting process. College coaches want student-athletes on their team who are mature and independent. Showing you can handle yourself in a conversation goes a long way.
8. Fighting their own battles
It’s not uncommon to see families getting heavily involved in their student-athlete’s life in high school. Often referred to as “helicopter parents,” these family members tend to take charge during disagreements with coaches or administrators and argue on behalf of their student-athlete. Although it might be hard not to stand up for them, it doesn’t set your student-athlete up for success when they’re on their own. Knowing how to fight your own battles is a pivotal part of growing up. Here is some helpful information on the parents’ role in communicating with college coaches.
9. Asking for help
While it might seem contrary to the previous skill, asking for help is actually one of the most adult things you can do. It means you understand your own limitations and are able to admit when you can’t handle something alone. Many student-athletes go to college and feel overwhelmed with the countless pressures upon them. Knowing how to find the resources you need to gain balance in your life will serve them well. Instill the confidence in your student-athlete to ask for what they need.
There are plenty more life skills your student-athlete will need in college—many of which they will learn on their own through trial and error–and that’s not a bad thing. The best you can do is get them as much experience and responsibility as possible before they fly out of the nest.