By Brennan Barnard
With a mix of excitement and trepidation I turn the handle on the heavy door, uniform with the small cork board affixed and the number 235 next to our names written in magic marker. “Hey, I’m Alex,” he says, a nod of his head acknowledging my presence. It was in this moment that I knew that I would have many half-nelsons in my future and would unlikely see much varsity “mat time,” if at all. We had arrived for preseason training for our Division I wrestling program and my freshman roommate was the human muscle. As our introduction unfolded, I learned that we had wrestled in the same weight class in high school, he in Virginia and I in Pennsylvania. How was this possible, when he looked like he could crush me with one finger and maybe not even work up a sweat?
I had a successful high school career and when the college coach contacted me, he was encouraging, but perhaps not concerned for my personal safety! Was he really going to put me on the mat with these animals? Suddenly, I was relieved that I had not made my college choice solely on the leadings of the wrestling coach and a desire to continue a sport that I loved. Over the next few days of practices and team meetings, my suspicions were confirmed; I was fairly low, if not last, on his recruitment list. In fact, it was quite possible that the coach had enlisted me so that the other wrestlers had someone to run moves on without worrying how badly injured I could become. I had initially been apprehensive about whether or not I wanted to compete at this level in college and I was quickly seeing the writing on the ceiling, as that is where I had plenty of opportunity to look from my back.
Competitive athletics requires the “Six S’s”: skill, stamina, strategy, strength, sacrifice and sanity (trademark pending). As it turns out, so does the athletic recruiting process. Collegiate athletics can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling, allowing students to continue something they love, while also creating connection, camaraderie and opportunity. As high school students aspire to college level competition, it is important to consider these six areas and determine the appropriate approach:
Skill: Just how good are you? It is in an applicant’s best interest to get a good read on his/her ability to play in college. Coaches should be able to help determine if an athlete is Division I, II or III material. For some sports, online statistics can also reveal where a student stands in relation to athletes at the college level.
Stamina: Many student athletes have been competing in one sport for as long as they can remember. Is four more years an appealing concept or will club or intramural athletics meet one’s expectations?
Strategy: College athletic recruiting is somewhat of a moving target and the process is very dependent on each particular sport. For some competitive programs, college recruiting starts early in high school or even before. It is important to be aware of the recruiting timeline for the sport and division to which a student aspires. A well thought-out plan for academic and athletic achievement is crucial.
Strength: While certainly recruited athletes need the fortitude to endure and navigate the college process, this “S” has more to do with the awareness that most college teams require significant training during the off season. Athletes should consider that strength training will likely be a part of the daily routine.
Sacrifice: It is important for student athletes to enter into this commitment with an understanding of how competition will impact the college experience in both exciting and challenging ways. There are many benefits to being a recruited athlete and also pieces a student will have to compromise. Often it is difficult to study abroad or be involved in other areas of campus life and sometimes course choices are restricted by practice and travel schedules. College coaches and current athletes should be able to provide an accurate picture of the benefits and challenges of being on the team.
Sanity: Perhaps the most important “S,” this is just a reminder that like everything in life, collegiate athletics requires balance and an ability to maintain perspective. It is always helpful to apply the “broken arm test.” Would this college still be on the list if one’s health was compromised and competition was out of the picture?
Fortunately for me as I entered college, I was not too proud to accept the reality of my situation. With intense commitment, significant training and equally as much bruising, I might see some competitive mat time by my senior year, though even that was in question. Had I opted for a Division III program, perhaps the outlook would have been more promising. Instead I decided to play rugby during the fall and spring for all four years of college. We practiced three days a week, played other college teams on Saturday mornings and enjoyed the relaxed team camaraderie. I also sang with an a capella group, continued acting, double majored, studied abroad and was actively involved in campus life. Granted, rugby still earned me my fair share of bruises, but somehow it was all worth it.
Want to test your college recruitment knowledge? Define for yourself the following terms:
• The Four-Year Clock
• Dead Period
• Official Visit
• Core Courses
• Verbal Commitment
The answers and more can be found on the NCAA website