Want to Play College Sports? What You Need to Know Before Deciding

I’ve worked with thousands of high school student athletes who think they want to play college sports. My question to them is why?  What is it that makes them want to play in college?  

The number one answer in response to the why question is this:  “Because I love it!”  

If that is your answer, then keep reading.  

There are many things you need to understand, and prepare for, before deciding to play sports in college.  There are many differences between high school and college sports.  

Here are several.  

Academic readiness

College sports require a significant commitment of time and energy; way more than what is currently required of you in high school. Make sure you are ready to balance your schoolwork with your athletic responsibilities. This is a tough adjustment for most. Your time management will most likely be tested in a major way. 

When you are researching colleges, make sure you look into the academic support.  Even straight A students usually require some assistance in college.  

Time commitment

Playing college sports requires a huge time commitment on your part. Your daily schedule will change depending on when you are in and out of season, but by and large your day will be packed with school, athletics, and the responsibilities of being a student athlete. Some of those responsibilities are speaking engagements, community service, and events for fans.  

What comes third is your social life. Not many athletes are prepared for this adjustment.  

Female water polo athlete about to pass the ball with a focused look on her face

Physical and Mental Demands

You must prepare for your mind and body to be pushed beyond anything you have done before. High school can only prepare you so much. What you experience in college will force you to make adjustments.  Your study habits, sleep patterns, eating schedule, and anxiety levels will all be challenged.  

For some athletes, this will be the first time you are told you must sit the bench, run faster, jump higher, get stronger, stop crying, and go harder. This experience will push you beyond your comfort zone.   

It’s hard to prepare for it, but it is good to do as much as you can in the preparation. Part of that preparation is just understanding that you will go through an adjustment.  

Support Systems

You are used to having your parents, teachers, coaches, and others readily available to help you.  Many of you will find out you have taken these folks for granted.  

When you get to college, you have to reestablish all of these systems from the ground up. You have to learn where to go if you get homesick, need help with your academics, need tutoring, need someone to talk to outside of your team, or need mental wellness help.  

Reestablishing these systems will be key to your success in college and on campus resources will become more important, especially that first year in college. 

Soccer coach getting after his players in practice

Coaches Expectations

Expect that your future college coach may say things, during the recruiting process, that will make your college experience sound amazing. But when you get to college, things could be a lot different.  You have to prepare for the coach’s expectations. For many student athletes, the high school and or club (or personal trainers) expectations will be different than the college. They are different people with different leadership styles and methods. 

It will be an adjustment for each new coach you work with in college. And that includes every assistant coach as well as the head coach.  

Team Culture

Every team is different and every year, with changing players, team chemistry will change. Usually, though, you can bank on the culture.  The culture is usually set and directed by the head coach. Expect the culture of the team and program to be different than what you have been used to.  

The culture could be one based on mental toughness, support and encouragement, or community-based. It could be more military in style or lean toward a more family oriented style.  

The culture is what you will be walking into.  It’s best to know upfront what to expect and if it fits what you want in a team culture.  

Financial Support

For many college student athletes, there will be some financial assistance that comes with their position.  But for others, they’ll have to find financial support.  There are many opportunities out there for financial assistance when it comes to college, but most will come with forms and paperwork.  

It may be paperwork for scholarships, grants, awards, or other opportunities.  Be prepared to research and find ways to help supplement the cost of college.  

Some student athletes will be offered Name Image and Likeness deals.  If this is the case, be prepared to fill out more paperwork, possibly get a lawyer or agent (or both), and be responsible to give up more time to adhere to the responsibilities of the deal.  

FAFSA application on a notebook with money and a calculator in the background

Recruiting Process

Understand that the recruiting process is different for each sport and both genders.  Each sport has a different approach for both the athletes and the coaches. Every recruiting journey will look different. The most important thing is to keep your priorities in front of you, and make your process your own.  Try not to compare it to others.  

Every college coach is looking to fill the needs of their program and those needs change every year.  What may be true one year changes for the next.  Therefore don’t take anything personal.  Just stick with your process and keep working at it. 

Bottom Line

The bottom line is before you choose to play college sports, understand that what you are about to encounter is different from anything you have experienced to date.  Before you decide to play make sure you are aware of all that goes into playing college sports. It is not as easy as it looks. But you can find a place that feels right for you. . .all of you. 

The best way to find a place that truly fits your needs and wants is to understand what you want in a college experience and to try to match those needs and wants with the college you choose. Take the PCM6+ Assessment to help you learn, understand, and confirm what is really important to you as you look ahead to college. You’ll find it on the Find My Team Home page.  

Getting a personal guide can help you find your way to a college that truly fits your needs and wants. Find My Team is that guide.  

When you are researching colleges, make sure colleges and college programs have what you are looking for. Do they match your values and needs? Look beyond the sport you play. Ask lots of questions and find a place that is a fit for you. 

College can be an amazing experience, but you must take your recruiting process seriously and find the place that matches who you are and who you want to be. 

Find My Team prides itself in helping you find your best college fit.  Schedule a free meeting to discuss if what we offer is what you need.  Your college experience depends on it.  

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