What’s Your Game Plan for College Sports?

The calendar has turned to 2017, the days are lengthening and, if you’re a high school junior who plays sports, you may be wondering how athletics fits into your college application process. I’ve been there. I was a student-athlete going through the recruiting process, and, later, I was a college coach.

What I’ve learned is this: the most basic questions are the most important ones to ask. Whether you’ve been thinking about your collegiate athletic career for years, or are just starting your college search, think about the big picture first. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:  

  • Why do you want to play your sport in college? Competing at the next level can be a steppingstone to a career or a way to finance a college education, while for others, it may be the continuation of a lifelong love of sport or an easier path to finding friends. Whatever your reason, it’s important to understand why you want to continue your athletic pursuits and how that might shape your college search process. If your goal is to play professionally, where can you find the greatest exposure or stand out most from the competition? If you’re after a reduced-cost education, do you want a scholarship at the NCAA Division I, II, or NAIA level, or would you consider a Division III or Ivy League school that can offer significant financial aid? If you love your sport and never want to stop playing, how might tryouts and current rosters impact your ability to do so? If you’re looking to connect with teammates, how much time are you willing to devote to building those bonds? Starting with the “why” question can help orient your college search process to get you on the right track towards finding a good-fit school.

  • What do you want your collegiate athletic experience to be? Regardless of level, no two athletic programs offer the same experience, thanks to a number of factors: location, athletic conference, schedule, practice format, coaches, team culture, facilities, and community support. A Swarthmore softball player’s experience will be vastly different than that of her friend who plays softball at another Division III college in Southern California; the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s season stretches a month longer than the Centennial Conference (of which Swarthmore is a member), its games are held almost exclusively on weekends, and teams typically don’t travel on spring break. Identify what you want, and then create your list of questions for coaches and players at schools you consider in your search.

  • What/who is this process really about? During my time as a college coach, I met prospective players, family members, coaches, and athletic recruiting advisors who were so focused on how others might perceive the player’s “commitment” that they often lost sight of what’s most important in this whole process: finding an institution and a program to foster the student-athlete’s personal, academic, and athletic development. Remember, this process is about you and what you want out of your college athletics experience. Stay focused on that, and don’t be afraid to politely remind others, when necessary.

High school juniors: now is the time of year to gather your thoughts and map out a game plan for your college search process. If you’re a student-athlete, familiarize yourself with the various governing bodies of college sports (the NCAA, NAIA, USCAA, NJCAA, NIRSA, among others), register for the NCAA Clearinghouse, and fill out Recruit Questionnaires on college websites to join program mailing lists. Regardless of where you are in your process, though, revisit these questions to help to keep you focused on what’s important.

Josh Throckmorton is a former college baseball coach, and now works in the admissions office and volunteers with the baseball program at Swarthmore. Originally from New England, he rooted for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, but can appreciate watching Philadelphia-native Matt Ryan throw a football. Josh currently spends most of his time reading and struggling to make microwaved mug desserts.

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