USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Fred Bastie, the owner and founder of Playced.com. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology-based recruiting software identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and their recruiting advisors provide a recruiting experience that is trusted by college coaches and backed by a money-back guarantee.
The goal of every serious high school athlete is to sign a National Letter of Intent at a prestigious college. For most athletes this means hard work both on the field and in the classroom, starting as early as eighth grade.
We all know that participating in athletics while attending high school is difficult. Being a student-athlete can monopolize your time. Classes, homework, practice, lessons, camps and tournaments leave you with little time to relax. You might have to miss a party (or two) to play in a game, or a trip to the lake because your summer team has a tournament. I know that when you’re in high school these are big deals, but you make the sacrifice because the reward of a college scholarship is worth it. That said, once you sign, you’re making another commitment. You can’t sit back, relax, eat some pizza and watch television until it’s time to head to college. If you want to have a successful freshman year then the hard work has just begun.
There are many things you should be doing if you want to maximize your chances to compete for playing time. Here are my top three.
Be ready when you arrive on campus
While signing a National Letter of Intent officially ends your recruiting process, your college career has just begun. It’s not time to hit the brakes; it’s time to accelerate. You don’t just want to show up to college; you want to be ready to compete for playing time right away.
It goes without saying that every athlete wants to play and not sit on the bench. For that to happen, you have to be ready when you step foot on campus. College coaches expect you to show up strong and well-conditioned. You need to arrive in the best condition of your life. Not only does that reaffirm to the coaches that they made a good decision, it helps build respect and trust. You have one shot at being a college athlete, there is no excuse to not be 100% physically prepared from Day 1!
Many scholarship athletes come to college expecting to play right away, but the truth is, there are no guarantees. Newsflash: You’re not the only player the coaches have signed. In addition to competing for playing time with the new crop of signees, you’ll also be competing for playing time against current players on the roster, the proven veterans. That gives them an advantage. You need to be ready to compete at the first practice.
Size up the competition
Once you sign, if you really want to play as quickly as possible then it’s not a bad idea to “size up” the roster. How many players are there at your position and how do you stack up against those players? With a little work you should be able to determine who you will be competing against for playing time. If they are upperclassmen with game experience, do your best to find out the secret to their success within the program. There’s a reason they play, so figure out what they do well and commit to doing it better. You might want to spend additional time in the weight room or refining your skills before you hit campus.
Then talk to the coaches and ask them what you need to do to contribute to the team. Be specific and ask for specific answers. It’s no fun to sit on the bench, so work hard before you leave for college and be as prepared as possible once you move into your dorm room.
Understand that life as a college athlete will require adjustments
Let’s face it, playing a sport in college is not like a full-time job, it is a full-time job. Scholarship athletes can spend as much as 50-60 hours per week at practice, watching game film, lifting weights and preparing for games. Being a college athlete will be one of the biggest commitments of your life, so you better be prepared for the grind.
College life is an adjustment for all students, not just student-athletes. You’re on your own for the first time, you need to learn how to manage your time and if you add the requirements of being part of a team, it can be overwhelming. The athletes who take the time to plan their class schedule, take advantage of the tutors offered by the team and work hard generally adjust much faster and play sooner.
Coaches understand that there is an adjustment period for incoming athletes that is caused by dramatic increase in classroom and athletic workload. However, many athletes don’t realize the effect that these new changes in lifestyle will have on their performance. Those who mentally and physically prepare themselves for the workload usually adjust quicker.
Here’s the deal
Earning a college scholarship is a great moment for any high school athlete, but you don’t want that to be the end, but rather the beginning of one of the greatest experiences of your life. Take care of your body and work harder than everyone else, because someday instead of watching the national championship, you might be playing in it.