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 and play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois and went on to play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college athletes 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.
You may hear things on TV and social media about athletes living and breathing their sport, but the truth is that it can be an unwise approach for high school athletes to do the same, potentially derailing grades, health, college recruiting and personal development.
Sure, student-athletes should apply themselves and aim to succeed in their athletic pursuits, but there are also other things to be mindful of if you hope to win a college roster spot and flourish on campus.
So, why should you balance your sport with other activities? Read on to find out.
Learn time-management skills
Student-athletes at the college level are busy. While student-athletes competing at the NAIA, Division III and Division II levels may have a little bit more free time than Division I athletes, it still takes plenty of planning and hard work to balance athletics with academic and social commitments.
According to the NCAA, Division I athletes spend an average of 34 hours per week on academics on top of 36.5 hours per week on athletics.
Additionally, two-thirds of Division I student-athletes spend as much or more time on athletics during the offseason as they do during their competitive season. In addition to practice, strength and conditioning, film review and supplemental workouts, college athletes may also spend time on academic meetings, injury treatment and prevention, sports psychology sessions, team fundraising, nutrition sessions, compliance meetings, community service and media activities.
This can create a jam-packed schedule, and you’ll need to learn how to balance your athletic commitments with everything else that’s going on.
Keep your grades up
The simple fact is that there are thousands and thousands of high school athletes competing for available college roster spots, and only a handful of them are truly elite, standout athletes. So how do coaches tend to make a decision about who else to extend an offer to with so many athletes to choose from?
Oftentimes, the decision comes down to grades.
Sure, coaches also look at character, coachability and experience in addition to athletic skills, but grades often end up being a tiebreaker between recruits.
It’s a lot easier for a coach to extend an offer to an athlete that will likely get admitted to the college, rather than one who is on the cusp academically and may be denied by the admissions office. Good grades are also a sign that the recruit is a hard worker, and coaches always like that.
So, make sure to spend time on your studies because grades and ACT/SAT test scores are definitely important in the college recruiting process.
Your body needs time to recover, especially when you’re still growing at a young age. College athletes do not spend all their free time in the gym weight lifting. They also spend a significant amount of time on injury prevention, increasing flexibility, nutrition planning and film review.
Being an athlete is not about taxing your body 100 percent of the time.
Additionally, your mind needs a rest too from the pressures of competitive sports. It’s helpful to spend your free time visualizing aspects of your game, but you can also find benefit in relaxing and plugging out. Try meditation or spend time on one of your interests.
Which leads us to the next point…
Learn about yourself
For most college recruits, the end goal is getting a college education. After all, your chances of going pro in your sport are slim.
According to the NCAA, the chances of simply making it from high school to an NCAA roster are low for most sports, including major sports like men’s basketball (3.2%), women’s basketball (3.8%) and football (6.9%). Then, of the more than 480,000 NCAA student-athletes, fewer than 2% eventually go pro in their sport.
That means you’ll definitely want to get a good education so you can later turn it into a good career. But it can also be difficult to pick a major in college and find what you’re best at or most interested in. That’s why it’s a good idea to start early and consider what you’d like to do in college and after your athletic career is over. Spend some time thinking about this and you may surprise even yourself with what you’ll learn.
Balancing sports and activities can be difficult, but it’s a lot easier if you plan ahead. Fortunately, NCSA can help. You can start by signing up for a free recruiting profile and checking out our College Recruiting Guide.