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. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle 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.
Ingrid Rockovich remembers signing a contract with her club volleyball team stating she would not play any other sport. No basketball, no soccer, just volleyball. She was in high school at the time.
These types of contracts have become commonplace for travel and club teams. Coaches explain that, at the upper level of competition, players need to commit to their team and be accountable to their teammates. And that really doesn’t sound so bad, especially if this commitment leads to a college scholarship.
In fact, Rockovich, a former D1 volleyball player who now provides volleyball recruiting education at NCSA, explains that on her club team, everyone but one girl went on to play D1 volleyball. And for top conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12 and more.
“It was kind of like a D1 volleyball factory,” she laughs, “training athletes and sending them off to top schools.”
For every athlete who benefits from this type of contract, however, there is another athlete who can actually be harmed by it. So, how do you know if signing an exclusivity contract is best for your athlete, and what options are out there?
When signing an exclusivity contract might not make sense for your athlete
Rockovich lists a few common scenarios in which signing a contract with a club team may not be practical for a young athlete:
- They genuinely enjoy playing more than one sport. If an athlete loves playing more than one sport, this is the time for them to explore all of their options. “I liked playing basketball but I didn’t love it,” Rockovich says, “so it didn’t matter to me to let it go. But there are kids who love playing other sports, and you shouldn’t have to give that up.”Multisport athletes can still get recruited—and it can even help their recruiting! There’s no need to limit them to one sport if they enjoy playing more than one.
- They aren’t an elite athlete. For athletes who won’t be playing in college or are looking at D2, D3 or NAIA schools, being exclusive to one sport probably won’t move the needle in their recruiting.“I was pretty lucky—I was getting recruited by D1 schools by the time I was 15. So, I realized that I should be dedicated. But for people who aren’t getting heavily recruited, it’s really not necessary to commit to one sport,” Rockovich points out. Find out if you’re an elite recruit, “The difference between a five-star recruit and an average college recruit.”
- The athlete’s sport doesn’t really require specialization. To play for a top school in sports like volleyball and gymnastics, college-bound athletes tend to focus on just that sport to be competitive in the recruiting process. However, in football, track and rowing, for example, athletes aren’t necessarily expected to specialize. In fact, many D1 football coaches have spoken out that they prefer recruits who are well-rounded athletes and have gained different skills from other sports. Check out “A few surprises in the data behind single-sport and multisport athletes” to learn more.
- The club has a history of injuries and burnout. Clubs have different strategies for how they train and treat their players. Some, like Rockovich’s club, focus on overall fitness and agility to limit overuse injuries, or injuries caused by too much repetitive motion on one particular part of the body. Others, however, emphasize hours of scrimmaging or sport-specific movements, which can put too much physical strain on young athletes.
When exclusive club team play can help your recruiting
For Rockovich, signing the contract with her club team made sense, and, eventually helped her get recruited by the Utah State University. It can also increase players’ sense of responsibility and commitment to their team.
“[Signing the contract] helped our team, because we all knew that we were committed. There was no reason for anyone to be anywhere else. Everyone was at every practice and every tournament. There was a huge amount of accountability and everyone was dedicated to the cause and more unified to the general goal of being a top tier club team,” she says.
And, Rockovich and her teammates were all elite recruits. Playing in nationally recognized tournaments year-round gave them exposure to D1 coaches who eventually signed them.
If you’re looking to commit, find the right club program
If your athlete will benefit from committing to a club team, Rockovich points out that parents need to do their research about the club before signing. Go to a tournament and watch that club and its players, coaches and parents. Are the players running around between the games? Are they in shape? Do they have a bunch of athletes who are out injured? Do the players interact well with each other? Is the coach watching them? Is the coach lax in their discipline? Do they have a more structured approach? Are the parents cheering on their players or busy yelling at the coach or referee?
At the end of the day, Rockovich points out that it’s a very personal decision.
“It’s all about the realistic expectations you set for your college experience.”