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. Nelson Gord is a former collegiate and professional ballplayer, successful high school head coach, and also the founder of the largest travel baseball club in Illinois. Nelson 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, helped create NCSA Team Edition, the free recruiting platform for club and high school coaches.
For many sports, club teams have become the primary focus for student-athletes looking to get recruited and score a roster spot on a college team. There are a few reasons for this, one being the elevated level of play and another being the schedule, which tends to line up with the time that college coaches are out of season and have more time to recruit. And while for some sports it has become downright essential to play on a club team, there are still many benefits to be had from competing on a high school team, even for club-focused sports. Coaches can help communicate these points to athletes and families to help them enjoy a more well-rounded experience, and I’ve included some here.
Playing high school sports is much less expensive
Sure, there will probably be some costs, but for some sports, this basically comes down to shoes and shorts. This is usually a stark contrast to club sports, which require fees, equipment and can pile up the expenses for travel and meals.
Athletes and parents have more free time
Playing club almost always entails a bigger time commitment than high school sports, starting with the fact that athletes have to commute to practice instead of just walking to the gym after class. Add in travel for the big tournaments and events, and things become a lot more involved than just hopping on a school bus for away games.
Athletes have to learn to play with the hand they are dealt
While most club teams are generally stocked with talented players, high school teams tend to be more of a dice roll. Some classes will be very competitive and others won’t be. This requires the standout athlete to possibly take a bigger role on the team, and it may even lead them to play out of position if the team is undersized. This can be an excellent opportunity to round out one’s skills and gain valuable experience.
Games can have more meaning
Club teams can rack up the game count at tournaments, which can be great for reps and development. However, playing fewer games for a high school team can give them more weight, especially when it’s easier for relatives and friends to attend and cheer on athletes. Additionally, representing one’s school and community is a great feeling. Qualifying for the playoffs, winning a district title or even playing for a state championship is a special experience!
There’s less pressure to perform
Standout athletes will always want to pay their best and perform to the extent of their abilities, but there’s definitely something less stressful about playing without college coaches constantly evaluating you at big club games and tournaments, as they often do. It’s easier for athletes to stay loose and have fun while playing.
Playing high school ball can be a great learning experience. While most standout athletes are used to being the best player on their team throughout high school, in college they may spend years in a bench role before winning a starting spot. That’s why it’s important to learn how to deal with situations that aren’t perfect. High school sports can teach athletes valuable leadership skills, how to improve players around them and how to develop skills at a different position, among other things. By taking the right approach athletes can leverage their high school experience to help their college recruiting.